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NBA East 2nd Round Picks

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2011 at 5:32 pm

1) Chicago vs. 5) Atlanta

While watching the first round of the playoffs, my feeling all along was the Hawks were a tougher match-up for the Bulls than the Magic.  Atlanta is deeper, more athletic as a whole, and has more players capable of going off for 25 on a given night.  That being said, outside of center and shooting guard, Chicago has a decided advantage at every other position on the floor (including a major bench advantage). While Atlanta has enough athletic defenders to make life tough on the Bulls wings and forwards, nobody has the make-up to contain Derrick Rose.  Kirk Hinrich was supposed to be the guy assigned to Rose, but a major hamstring pull has his playing time in doubt, and even if he plays he won’t be 100 percent.  Rose should shred the Hawks even more-so than he did the Indiana Pacers in the first round.  The biggest question mark for the Bulls is the health of Carlos Boozer who was most recently listed as day-to-day with a minor turf toe injury.  If Boozer is limited, or doesn’t produce more than he did in the first round, then Taj Gibson has to step up.  Honestly, at times I think Gibson is the better option anyway.  He is a better defender, more athletic, and seems to play harder.  Jamal Crawford was the x-factor against Orlando for the Hawks, but the Magic didn’t have a guy like Deng at 6 foot 9 to chase him around.  Which brings me to my biggest selling point for the Bulls: defensive match-ups.  Along with Deng who can match-up with almost anyone 6’9 and under, Keith Bogans was born to guard players like Joe Johnson, and I think he will keep him in check.  Al Horford has played well at times against the Bulls this year, but Chicago has enough front line defenders to wear him out over the course of a series.  Defensively, I don’t think there’s a better team in these playoffs that Chicago matches up better with than the Hawks…

Pick:  Bulls in 5

Rajon Rondo LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat battles Rajon Rondo #9 of the Boston Celtics for control of the ball at TD Garden on February 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.

2) Miami vs. 3) Boston

This match-up intrigues me more than any potential series we could see in the playoffs.  On one hand you have the ultimate definition of “team basketball” in Boston, and on the other the ultimate “isolation athletic machine” in Miami.  Watching Miami struggle at times against Philly in the first round really made it hard for me to believe that they are ready to take out a killer like Boston.  For my money, Philly was the worst team in the playoffs, even a step below Indiana who was deeper, longer, and better defensively (not to mention a star wing in Danny Granger).  For Boston its about team defense, and exploiting the vacancy in the point guard position that the Heat have.  Do you move Wade or James over to guard Rondo and let either Allen or Pierce reign free?  Do you trust Mike Bibby and Mario Chalmers to keep Rondo in check?  Either way I feel like Boston has a decided advantage with Rondo orchestrating the offense, and finding ways to exploit mismatches.   You can argue that the 5th or 6th best player in this series (Rondo) is by far the most important.  On the other side, Miami has the big three.  You can tell me that Chris Bosh will be the X-factor, but I don’t buy it.  You can tell me that D-Wade has to be the closer, and thats true to a degree.  The most important player for Miami is LeBron James.  He is the best player on the court in this series.  He is the best all around player in the NBA.  He will be the one who decides this series.  People have talked about this being the most important series in his career to date, and I would agree.  Will he dominate like he is capable on both ends of the floor?  Will he put on the cape, drop triple-doubles, and lock down a much less explosive Paul Pierce?  There is no doubt in my mind that he can, but that doesn’t mean he will.  I still don’t know if he is a killer.  I don’t know if he is ready to take the next step in his legacy.  But the great thing about this series is that now Lebron has no excuses, regardless of the outcome.  He has the running mates, the home court advantage, and along with it he also has the expectations.  Sure, its the first year of the Heat experiment if you want to call it that, but didn’t they win more games than Boston?  Shouldn’t they be favored in the series at the higher seed, playing at home?  Should there be any excuse for them not to win this series?  My answer is a resounding no.  Rise to the occasion now, or end another season with more questions than answers, heading into a lockout and possibly being in the dark for a year, with more mounting pressure than ever.  Miami needs to win this series for more reasons than they probably realize.  They have the pressure, and America wants to see them fail.  Physically everything is in place, but in looking at the past this is a mentally weak team playing against their polar opposite.

Pick: Celtics in 7


Playoff Madness All Around!

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 8:10 pm

The NBA and NHL playoffs are nearing the end of their first rounds, and there has been nothing but chaos taking place in each league. Top seeds are getting everything they can handle and then some from the teams they should easily take care of. In turn, we have been provided with high drama as a result. Make no mistake about it, I’m a hockey guy. But the NBA playoffs have had their share of storylines that have managed to get me to seriously start paying attention again.  With that said, I can’t keep quiet, I have to let some steam loose.

Opening Faceoff

I have to start with the impending debacle that could be taking place in Vancouver tomorrow night. Once up 3-0 and looking ready to cruise into the second round, the Vancouver Canucks have gotten straight-up cracked by the defending champs. Chicago has looked great since falling into a big hole, and now they look unbeatable. The focus here is obviously on the meltdown the Canucks are having. Much like the last two seasons, the focus is on Roberto Luongo. Not surprising, since this was supposed to be the Canucks’ year. Luongo and the ‘Nucks were great in the first three games, but they’re bleeding a fast death right now. Add in the drama surrounding Luongo’s Game 6 benching, the re-emergence once Cory Schneider pulled his hammy, then the Hawks beating him for the winner on a rebound that I could have poked in from Indianapolis. The guy just doesn’t look comfortable out there. He’s giving Canucks fans a horrible flashback to Dan Cloutier in 2002. I don’t know if he’s actually hurt or just that rattled, but he’s got nowhere to hide come Tuesday night. Game 6 of this series had me as captivated and dialed in on a hockey game as I have ever been. Needless to say, I can’t wait for Game 7. The way that the Canucks have played (scared, timid, etc.), they look like having the pressure of a nation bringing them down and they’re a dumpster fire waiting to happen. If they lose, people are getting fired and players will get traded. I could go much further in to this, but I’m not about to start rambling. If you have a question, feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me (you’ll have to ask), I’d be more than happy to add more thoughts.

Moving to the other Game 7 of tomorrow between Buffalo and Philadelphia. This has been entertaining and a train wreck of bad hockey at the same time. How this series is still going on, I have no idea. Philly’s goaltending has been terrible and the Sabres haven’t slammed the door shut when they had the chance. Ryan Miller can only do so much and he is getting ZERO help from his defense. Chris Butler shouldn’t go out in public in Buffalo after taking a penalty that led to the tying goal in Game 6 and not putting a body on Ville Leino on the winner. They haven’t been able to close a game when they’ve had the Flyers down and nearly out. I have to give credit to the Philly skaters for playing at such a high level when they’re in a hole. But if I’m a Flyers or Sabres fan, I don’t feel good about my chances once this round is over.

The other game Tuesday features the ongoing bloodbath between Montreal and Boston. I have had a ton of fun watching these two teams beat each other senseless, and I expect Boston to close the series tomorrow night. If the Habs manage to win, then Game 7 takes place the following night. But the reason I like the Bruins is the fact that they have tightened things up defensively and Tim Thomas was great in Game 5. They also caught three lucky breaks in Game 5 with the save of the playoffs by Thomas, the non-goalie save of the playoffs by Mike Ryder and Zdeno Chara’s giant skate getting in the way of a puck headed for an empty net. You need luck like that to get somewhere in the playoffs, and the Bruins have caught the breaks. A contrast to how the team’s rivalry has always gone.

To round out the hockey talk, I’ve got to tip my hat to the Nashville Predators for winning their first playoff series. David Poile and Barry Trotz have always done so much with so little, and have kept the Preds competitive despite their lack of financial support. After seeing them get a raw deal in last year’s series against Chicago, this has to feel like vindication for Nashville. Toronto would kill to have Poile and Trotz working for them. But Trotz has been the coach in Nashville since the beginning, and he remains one of the best in the game. Even though he resembles a bowling ball with a head on it (a head that also looks like a bowling ball). Nashville gives any of the remaining teams left in the playoffs trouble because of how well they play on defense and how good Pekka Rinne is. This is a team I wouldn’t be excited to see in round two.

NBA Playoff Quickies

Since most of my attention has been diverted to the NHL, the NBA has been secondary. That doesn’t mean I haven’t had fun watching. Here’s a few thoughts regarding the NBA’s first round:

  • The Bulls certainly haven’t coasted through their series the way we all thought they would. The Pacers have been able to match up with Derrick Rose and company, and each game has been close as a result. I was at Game Three, and Rose wasn’t making the best decisions that night. Add in that the Pacers were able to extend their zone in the half court and have Tyler Hansbrough harass Rose once he got over the half-court line. They were able to win and they had a letdown in Game Four, like many thought they would. Still, this team needs to emphatically finish off the Pacers before they scare anyone in the East again.
  • I expected better from the Knicks once the got back to MSG. I know they were hindered by losing Amare Stoudemire to a bad back, but they went down with a whimper against Boston. Listening to sports talk radio and to my colleague, I don’t see the Knicks being a contender in the East any time soon because of the talent in Chicago and Miami. I could see the Knicks becoming a more-hyped version of the Atlanta Hawks over the next few years, and I think that’s an insult to Atlanta.
  • Good to see Memphis not only pick up their first ever playoff win, but they have given San Antonio fits throughout their series. I haven’t had a chance to see much of it, but I love upsets and don’t care much for the Spurs, so I’m pulling for the Grizz throughout.
  • The Lakers are in trouble. The way they’ve performed against an undermanned Hornets team should send red flags flying. If I’m Philip, I’m doing everything I can to get that team going. No way they should be playing to the Hornets level, regardless of how good Chris Paul is.

Finally, with all the playoff magic happening, I haven’t had a chance to talk about my first love; the Cubs. Sure, I’ve caught some games here and there and have listened when I’m on the road, but I haven’t been able to focus a lot of attention to them. I value my happiness too much to do so. But I have noticed two things; Starlin Castro is a beast with the lumber and the pitching staff SUCKS. Castro has started off like a poor man’s Hanley Ramirez, the difference being the lack of power and his insanely bad defense. My brother asked me if I thought Castro could become a 30-30 guy. I told him only in one of those 30s is in errors. But he’s given the fans something fun to watch and judging by the attendance, the Cubbie faithful could use that.

What they can’t like seeing is the inflated ERAs that the starting staff has. When Matt Garza has the best ERA on the staff, and that ERA is more than 4.5, it isn’t a good sign. It’s almost as if, and I can’t believe I’m about to say this… the team misses Larry Rothschild (Yes, I threw up once I typed that). If this team wants to have any thought of challenging in the mediocre NL Central, the pitching staff needs to start putting together some quality starts.

Countdown: NBA’s Five Best Clutch Snipers

In NBA on April 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Last possession of a big playoff game, your team is down by 3.  Who do you want taking the last shot?  Well it obviously isn’t King James (I think we are all witnesses to that).  So lets countdown the five players I would want spotting up with the game on the line:

Honorable Mentions:  Dirk, Matt Bonner, Steve Nash, D-Wade, Chris Paul, Paul Pierce, Carmelo, Peja, D-Rose

5.  Kevin Durant

KD is 6’10 with a quick release, and ups his three point percentage from 35% during the regular season to 46% in the playoffs.  In Game 1 against Denver he went 3 for 6, and in Game 2 he was 3 for 7.  I’m not going to pretend that Durant has accomplished very much in his young career (no playoff series wins) but if I’m playing OKC and Durant gets a good look at the game winning/tying 3 against my team….I’m looking away from the TV because its probably going to splash.

4.  Kyle Korver

Kyle Korver wouldn’t have been on this list last year, and maybe not until this week.  Korver has always been deadly from downtown, but this year he has taken two big steps to land him at number 4.  KK has been building and showing flashes of clutch all year.  He led the NBA in 4th quarter 3’s during regular season this year.  Impressive.  What has he done since?  In Game 1 tied with under a minute to go, Kyle drains a spot up drive and kick 3 from the left wing to give the Bulls their first lead of the game.  Game 2?  Korver drops another game sealing dagger, this time from the right corner after a great pass from Noah.  Game 3 on the road?  Korver paces the Bulls struggling offense in the second half, with 12 points, 10 of them coming in the 4th quarter, both 3’s coming in the 4th, finishing 2×3 from downtown.  Korver rarely takes bad shots, can spot up or curl off screens, and he makes you pay for helping.  Why was Derrick Rose able to drive into the paint last night for the game winning lay-up?  Because the Pacers wouldn’t help off Korver who was ready to spot up on the left wing.  He kills you if you guard him, and he kills you if you don’t.

3.  Ray Allen

Do I need to get into stats with Jesus Shuttlesworth?  I didn’t think so.  Ray Allen is the all-time leader from deep for a reason, and if you need a refresher go look at what he did to the Knicks in Game 1.  Talk about ripping the heart out of your opponent.  Ballgame.

2.  Jason Kidd

J-Kidd isn’t a traditional three point shooter, and isn’t the first person you would have thought of on a list this short.  But this isn’t about a 3 point shootout, this is about having balls when the game is on the line, and Kidd has shown he can get it done.  Kidds regular season three point percentage?  34%.  His playoff three point percentage?  46%.  Have you ever seen a guy create space the way Kidd can without using the dribble?  Game 1 against Portland Jason Kidd comes out and knocks down 6 three pointers, including a dagger with 25 seconds left in the game.  Game 2?  Kidd goes 3-6 from downtown, 50% for you math majors at home.  In the only Dallas loss so far, playing catch-up Kidd hit the biggest shot of the 4th quarter last night that would have made it a one possession game, but it was ruled a 2.  Upon further review, they still ruled it a 2.  Upon further review, they got it wrong.  Jason Kidd is clutch from deep and as mentally tough as it gets, other than…..

1.  Kobe Bryant

Love him, hate him..whatever.  Kobe is an assassin.  I don’t need stats, a spreadsheet, or expert analysis to explain why Kobe tops this list.  Kobe has done it time and time again, most recently in game 82 to clinch the 2nd seed in the West, and once again rip the soul out of Sacramento.  All I’ve got to say is this:  Ask yourself – You have to pick one player to hit a shot with your life on the line that currently plays in the NBA.  You really going to go any other direction?  Its Kobe, and no one else is close.  (All-time life on the line?  1. MJ  2.Larry Bird  3.Kobe  357. LeBron)

(And with this article, LeBron will now sink 3 game winners in the Eastern Conference Finals against my Bulls, including Game 7.)