Oklahoma City Thunder
Season Series: Lakers 3-1
The defending champions the Los Angeles Lakers are in a much better position than I’ve noted the Penguins are in my NHL write-up. To be the champs, you have to beat the champs and in the NHL, the ‘Road to the Cup’ goes through Washington where as the Lakers has secured the #1 spot in the West and will make any opponent in the West have to steal a game in Staples Centre which is not an easy thing to do (the Lakers are 34-7 on their home court). Not only do they have the best player in the game in Kobe Bryant, but the Lakers in recent years have done the best job at surrounding Kobe with star-players giving Kobe the chance to win when it matters most. Last year, all critics were pushed aside and Bryant was able to win the title without Shaquelle O’Neil at his side. Yes, he had big dominant Pau Gasol, who averages 18+ points game while averaging a double-double with over 11 boards but that is how you win championships, by getting the most consistent players in the league and pairing them with the most talented. The Lakers were able to keep Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom (who are both just shy of double-doubles), while adding defensive specialist Ron Artest to shut down the opposing teams star and let Kobe focus on what Kobe does best… score points. The scariest part about the Lakers is that Bryum comes off the bench and their 5th starter is Derek Fisher, and if you are familiar with basketball what-so-ever, you know he and Robert Horry are two of the most clutch veteran players you could ask to have on your team (Horry is now retired and works for ESPN as a commentator). Kobe and Bynum are both banged up (Kobe with a swollen knee and aching index finger, Bynum with a sore achilles) but they sat out games at the end of the season and if the Lakers can stay healthy, there is no question they are the team to beat… not Cleveland or Orlando, not Dallas or Denver but Kobe Bryant’s Los Angeles Lakers.
Wow, you couldn’t ask for a better 1st round match-up. No, not the Oklahoma City Thunder vs the L.A. Lakers… but Durant vs Kobe. If you watch basketball, than you know how good Durant is, if you don’t, than you’ve only heard the names LeBron and Kobe for the past couple years and as much as I’d like to say that it’s about to change, to anyone who watches the wonderful game of basketball, it already has changed. Young phenom Kevin Durant has completely taken over the league averaging 30+ and topping point totals put up by Lebron, Melo and Kobe. Keep in mind Durant has played all 82 games and averaged almost 40 minutes per game. Not only does Durant make the rest of the league look like it’s his for the taking, but he also leads his own team in rebounds. The guy can only be summed up with one word… amazing. As for the rest of his team? Not so much. I know 2nd year point guard Russell Westbrook is really starting to find his way as well as Jeff Green who is in his 3rd season with the Thunder (1st actually in Seattle before they moved). Westbrooke and Green have helped out Durant so much but after the two of them, unless you live in Oklahoma, you may be saying James Harden who? and Nenad Krstic what? Exactly my point. Not only are the Thunder not that well known (they haven’t been good for very long and the last time Oklahoma City/Seattle fans had something to celebrate was the mid-to-late 90′s) but they’re team is so young that when you put them up against Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, among other veteran Lakers, they stand no chance. Give them a few more years and the 1986′ born Jeff Green will be that much older and more mature as a player while Westbrook and Durant might even be able to grow facial hair (they are both in 88′). When 65% of your scoring comes from guys who when they hear the words Commodore 64 they say “Nintendo 64? Huh?”… it’s going to be tough to beat the defending champs… …KOBE!
TheCoach’s Pick: Lakers in FIVE
San Antonio Spurs
Season Series: Dallas 3-1
Come playoff time in the Western Conference, in recent years if you don’t see Dirk Nowitzki and his Dallas Mavericks up near the top of the standings contending for the championship, than you’ve been watching the Japan Basketball League. Anyone who is a fan of the game knows year-in-year-out that the Mavericks will play a full 48 minutes of hard-nosed basketball in order to knock off their opponent and this year should be no different… it will be tougher considering the Western Conference is stacked with all playoff teams having 50+ wins (Oklahoma is the 8th seed with 50 wins). Through the season the Mavericks have done everything they can to improve themselves by upgrading their team by trading away Josh Howard and Drew Gooden for Caron Butler and Brandon Haywood. Butler (who is currently battling a sore hip), has been sensational offensively since arriving putting up more point than Josh Howard averaged, while the addition of Haywood has added a young defensive minded presence to the Mavs’ team. I’ll take the younger big-man who’s averaging just under Gooden’s point totals but is ahead of him in rebounds, blocks, a better assist per turnover ratio and he does it all while committing less fouls per game. In my mind, it was an extremely smart pick up and will only help Dallas for years to come. The starting line consists of Jason Kidd, who seems to have been in the league forever, Caron Butler/Jason Terry, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampler, with Haywood coming off the bench. Unfortunately for the Mavericks, they picked up Tim Thomas, who over 9 seasons has played with 7 teams and his constant poor attitude and conditioning kept showing him the door but this year was different. In early 2010, when Thomas vanished and was no where to be found on the Mavericks roster, many suspected that something had happened that made the Mavs cut ties with Thomas. Not true. In actuality, he was playing some of the best basketball of his career and not creating any fuss in the locker room but it was his wife who had fallen ill (illness unknown) and Thomas stated “I have to give up what I love, to take care of someone I love”. Stand up decision and whatever illness may your wife be battling Thomas, I wish the both of you the best of luck. The Mavs, with or without Thomas are going to be an extremely hard team to beat due to a vast amount of experience tied in with a vast amount of talent.
The San Antonio Spurs along with the L.A. Lakers have combined to win 7 of the last 10 NBA Championships and will be looking to keep the tradition alive and to be quite honest, it is possible. Much like the Dallas Mavericks, the Spurs have a wide variety of talent that has played together for numourous years and because of it, are very hard to beat come playoff time. The trio of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobilli and Tony Parker is quite possible the most well known three players on any team in basketball. More than Kobe, Gasol and ?, more than Melo, Billups and ?, the only comparison is Garnett, Pierce and Allen but they were all paired up near the end of their career to win a championship, the Spurs already have three of those under their belt. Along with the trio, San Antonio starts Richard Jefferson at small forward and Antonio McDyess at center and when either Ginobilli or Parker need a break, 2008 1st round draft pick George Hill comes in to relieve his teammates and give them some much needed rest. The Spurs can also put young big-man DeJuan Blair into the game when Duncan needs a break. Overall, the Spurs have a lot of talent and it doesn’t matter who they are playing, whether it be the Lakers, Mavericks, Suns, Jazz or anyone else, the Spurs know how to win. Even MyDress is underrated and overshadowed in San Antonio due to the fact that everyone loves the big fundamental Tim Duncan. The biggest concern I have though going into the 2010 NBA Playoffs is the following… Bruce Bowen retired. After last season Bowen, who has been selected to either the 1st or 2nd all NBA defensive team a total of eight times during his career called it quits and the Spurs lost not only one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, but also a leader by voice and by example. He was there for their three titles in 03′, 05′ and 07. The Spurs can give any team a run for their money but it will be extremely evident how much they miss Bowen come the end of this series.
TheCoach’s Pick: Mavericks in SIX
I came across this video, enjoy Mavs fans or anyone who wants a laugh…
Portland Trail Blazers
Season Series: Portland 2-1
As a Canadian, it’s pretty hard to cheer for the Toronto Raptors… with that being said, I’d like to see Canadian Steve Nash and his Phoenix Suns have some success in the playoffs for once in his career. Some would say the Suns are lucky to avoid facing Denver or Utah but they beat both teams to end the season off creating their playoff destiny as the 3rd seed. One thing that may help his is the fact that since trade rumours surrounding Amare Stoudemire stopped after the trade-deadline, Amare turned into a beast and was playing the basketball we’ve known to grow and love out of him. Amare is just shy of averaging a double-double which is something he has never been able to accomplish in his career (he always finishes with around 9.0 rebounds per game). Four years ago, when the Suns lost back-to-back Western Conference Championships to San Antonio and Dallas, they thought picking up Shaq would help. It didn’t so they dished him to Cleveland for Ben Wallace and Sasha Pavlovic which didn’t pan out and then Cleveland decided to buy out Wallace’s contract and now he’s in Boston. Best decision they could have ever made, because it opened up room for Phoenix to pick up free-agent Channing Frye who at 6 foot 11 inches, has done nothing but help open things up for Amare… more than Shaq or Wallace seemed to ever do. Since being dealt for Raja Bell and Boris Diaw, Jason Richardson has finally found his way on the Suns averaging just over fifteen per game. It can not be doubted that the Phoenix Suns have a handful of talent, they just need to find a way to win in the playoffs and the recent tweaking of their team has helped them out offensively and defensively. The Suns are a team full of veterans who know how to win basketball games, they’ve added youth in order to boast their chances at beating a strong Western Conference and last but not least, have Grant Hill… I mean, who doesn’t love Grant Hill after what he’s been through (long story short – doctors re-fractered his ankle to realign it with the bone in his leg). This was back in 2003 and Hill is still going strong. With Hill’s veteran leadership, Nash’s ability at point guard, the addition of Channing Fyre and the re-emegence of Amare Stoudemire, the Phoenix Suns are going to be one hard team to beat.
Early on in the season, I love watched the Portland Trail Blazers suit up with a healthy Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and even Joel Pryzbilla. Roy averaging over twenty-one points per game had a slight meniscus tear in his right knee and although he sat out for the remainder of the season, and said he will “try to play” against the the Mavericks. I myself have torn 80% of my meniscus (way more than Roy did) but I know how uncomfortable of an injury it can be… especially in a sport that involved the use of your legs so much with making cuts and jumping. One thing is certain, Roy will NOT be at 100%. Greg Oden won’t be playing as he had a season ending knee injury back in early December and hasn’t played since. Przybilla is gone with a knee injury as well. If you are thinking who they heck is left to play, you aren’t alone but surprisingly the Trail Blazers have found a way to continue to win a secure a playoff berth (winning over 50 games in the process). LaMarcus Aldridge has been a big reason for Portland’s success after Oden went down but he doesn’t have the same presence down in the paint as man-child Greg Oden did. Andre Miller has also done a great job of picking up the slack with Roy hurt and Nicolas Batum has stepped it up as well. When Oden went down, the Trail Blazers had a decision to make and in my eyes, they made the right one in giving up Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw (offensively production) for forward-center Marcus Camby who is more of a defensive minded player and has helped fill Oden’s void. If Roy isn’t at 100%, either Rudy Fernandez or Jerryd Bayless are going to have to do something they’ve never done before by leading Portland to a big-time victory. With Oden gone and Roy not 100% (maybe not even playing), it won’t matter what the rest of the Trail Blazers do because Phoenix will be too much to handle.
TheCoach’s Pick: Suns in FIVE
Season Series: Nuggets 3-1
The Denver Nuggets didn’t finish the season off the way they would have liked. In their last three games, they suffered two losses, the first one to San Antonio and the second one to Phoenix in a blow-out. The Nuggets losing against the Spurs wasn’t so bad, but the loss against the Suns put them into the 4th seed with how the season finished off in the West. Yeah, they still have homecourt advantage, but they are playing against one of the toughest teams in the league in the Utah Jazz. Needless to say, this is going to be one heck of a series! Ever since coming into the league Carmelo Anthony has been dominant and help improve his Denver Nuggets more and more each year to put them in contention. Why the Nuggets at one point picked up Allen Iverson was beyond me, but the best move they’ve made was getting rid of the guy. He is one skilled dude, I mean look at his highschool football tape for one. Unfortunately though, the guy is way past his prime and when the Nuggets let him go, they got that much better. It’s not just Melo though, it’s a cast of stars with Chauncey Billups who puts up almost 20 a game and J.R. Smith who’s just above fifteen. Nene Hilaro and Keynon Martin chip in for 25+ per night while helping Denver dominant on the boards. It doesn’t stop their either, add Aaron Affialo, Ty Lawson, Chris “the Birdman Anderson” and even Johan Petro has come out of no where while Martin was nursing injures. Martin had suffered a knee injury and missed 18 games but came back somewhat early and unexpected at the end of the season which is going to help the Nuggets in the playoffs ten-fold. Problem is, the Utah Jazz are good. As stated below, its not about Johnny Stockton and Karl Malone anymore, it’s Williams and Boozer running the show and running it well. Personally, I am looking more forward to this series than any other one in the NBA’s first round of the playoffs. This team has been great all season long (minus the two losses near the end), they did have a couple losses together through-out the season which is something they have to avoid against Utah but considering the Nuggets are 34-7 on their home court, it’s going to get might interesting. Only because the Jazz are 32-9 on their home court… you smell game seven? I do.
The Utah Jazz are not the boring team no body liked to watch when John Stockton and Karl Malone ran the offence years ago. Now you’ve got Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams who’ve taken their place and made Utah Basketball interesting again. I only say this because fans outside of Utah during the Stockton-Malone era hated it… at least everyone I know did, than again, I don’t know anyone from Utah. Throw Mehmet Okur in the mix with Andrei Kirilenko and you’ve got more talent. Both Okur and Kirilenko have been battling injuries as the season has come to a close (Okur – Achilles, Kirilenko – Calf). I’d be extremely surprised if both don’t suit up and play in the first game of the playoffs but don’t expect them to be at 100%. In the two-month span from January 9th – March 10th the Jazz played 19 games, winning 17 with their only losses coming against the Nuggets and Lakers. During that time they beat Miami, Cleveland, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver and Portland and Dallas twice. All of those teams are in the playoffs and Cleveland, Denver and Dallas are contenders to win it all. The Jazz would not be able to beat the teams they do without the four previous mentioned players but it doesn’t end there. C.J. Miles and Paul Millsap combined for over 20 points per game while Millsap matches Kirilenko in the block department. The Jazz wanted one more piece to complete the puzzle that will get them to the NBA Finals for the first time since losing back-to-back appearances against the Bulls in 1996-97 and 1997-98 but they traded Ronnie Brewer early in the season to Memphis and he had helped out defensively by leading the team in steals. From 1983-84 to 2002-03, over 20 straight seasons the Jazz were in the playoffs before failing to for three years but bounced back with what is now their fourth consecutive play-off berth. After getting worse each year (lost in conference final, then 2nd-round, then 1st round over the last two years) the Jazz will look to get back to winning in the playoffs and hopefully do something Malone and Stockton never could… win it all.
TheCoach’s Pick: Nuggets in SEVEN
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