The Playoffs: Round One

 —  April 22, 2005

Normally at this time of year in Los Angeles Laker flags start popping up on cars like cherry blossoms in Washington DC. Everywhere you turned people were wearing Laker gear, talking playoffs and showing some civic pride. This year we get the “news” that Phil Jackson is a viable coaching candidate. Shocking.

Today, I’m wearing my Dodger jersey (and if I had one, a “DePodesta was right” T-shirt, something the entire LA Times sports staff should be forced to don). At the gas station this morning two people were wearing Dodger hats. Last night at the grocery store I saw people wearing Dodger shirts. It’s great to see — if we don’t have the Lakers at least we have one team overachieving.

That said, I’m still going to be watching the NBA playoffs. Here are some first round thoughts and predictions. Please feel free to contribute your own.

Western Conference

Phoenix and Memphis. Jerry West is brilliant, but for the past two years Bryan Colangelo has been better. Phoenix in four.

San Antonio and Denver. This is going to be interesting, if San Antonio were healthy it would be one thing but they are not. George Karl will try to exploit this — he has enough big bodies (even if they don’t play defense) to throw at Tim Duncan, then Manu Ginobili will get run until he drops. San Antonio catches a break with the number of days off in the first round. The franchise that produced the greatest first-round upset in history will come close again, but I’ll take the Spurs in seven.

Seattle and Sacramento. Paging Hawkeye Pierce. We may even need Frank Burns to attend to the walking wounded in this series. All season long the Sonics were the darlings of we fans of the new thinking in NBA stats, but injuries and more have pulled the team apart. Sacramento is not better without Chris Webber, but they’re not worse either. Seattle is 2-8 in their last 10 games, with teams shooting 55% (eFG%) against them. I can’t pick a team that cold, so I’ll take the upset of Sacramento in six.

Dallas and Houston. I like Houston, but I like Dallas more. The Mavs are a solid all around team and Houston, with its average offense (15th in the league in offensive efficiency) is not there yet. I’ll take Dallas in six.

Eastern Conference

Miami and New Jersey. The Nets come in playing their best basketball of the year, 8-2 in their last 10 and Vince Carter averaging 39.75 points per 48 minutes in that span. On the other side of the ledger, Shaq is not 100% and it may take a couple of games for the team to gel around him again. You think that means I’ll call an upset? Miami in six.

Detroit and Philadelphia. There may be no team playing better right now than Detroit. The Sixers come in hot as well, having one 8 of their last 10, but Tayshaun Prince can shut down Iverson. Detroit in five.

Boston and Indiana.
If there is one series I have no feel for it’s this one. Whose star is going to hit the bigger clutch shots — Paul Pierce or Reggie Miller? I’ll take Pierce. Celtics in seven.

Chicago and Washington. If Deng and Curry were healthy this would be a no-brainer, but instead we get the battle of the backcourts. I think the difference here is defense — on the season Chicago has been the second most efficient defense in the league (97.4 points per 100 possessions) and in the last 10 games, without Deng and Curry, that has fallen to 96.5. Meanwhile Washington on the season gave up 103.9 and in the last 10 — with their playoff lives hanging in the balance — it was 110.4. It’s still close, Arenas will have some big games, but give me Chicago in seven.