April is a big month in the East house. If it weren't for taxes and end-of-semester insanity, it would be the best month. Easter, Katelin's birthday (=Earth Day), sometimes Spring Break ... and the NBA Playoffs!
I love the NBA. Some of my richest memories are of moments scattered through my childhood and teenage years, watching and falling in love with playoff basketball. Initially it was all Jordan, all the time, but once my devotion coalesced around the San Antonio Spurs, everything was Spurs-centered. In the same way that I can often pinpoint the month and year, person and place of most movies I've seen, I connect climactic Spurs- or NBA-related moments with where I was, whom I was with, etc.
For example, this clip? Watching breathlessly with my roommate in my dorm, jumping from my chair with each spectacular Kobe shot (even as my sworn enemy!).
This one? (Sorry for the lower quality.) One year ago, the first Saturday of the playoffs, with a bunch of guys sitting in Katelin's and my tiny little first apartment in Abilene -- and our explosion, exclamation, dancing on the couch as the inexplicable comeback materialized.
So: I love the playoffs. (Click here to see all of this year's playoffs commercials.) No, the NBA is not the so-called boring NBA of 10 years ago -- the quality of play today is at its highest level in at least 15 years, if not more. The possibility of LeBron vs. Kobe in the Finals ... I can't even put into words how excited that makes me.
As for my Spurs? Back in October I predicted them prevailing over the Cavs in the Finals, predicated on health, alongside the Rockets taking care of the Lakers in the Western Semifinals. With Ginobili out through the playoffs, it is almost completely inconceivable, barring a monumental collapse by Los Angeles, for anyone but the Lakers to make it out of the West. However, my great hope is for my friend Josh Love's beloved Trailblazers to deliver, somehow, a great unexpected blow and defeat them in the second round. Unlikely ... but I can hope. We'd still likely lose in the Finals to the Cavs -- but I can hope.
Let's look at my predictions for the final standings before getting to playoffs predictions. (Actual in bold.)
1. Los Angeles Lakers (58-24) // Los Angeles Lakers (65-17)
2. New Orleans Hornets (56-26) // Denver Nuggets (54-28)
3. Houston Rockets (54-28) // San Antonio Spurs (54-28)
4. Utah Jazz (50-32) // Portland Trailblazers (54-28)
5. San Antonio Spurs (52-30) // Houston Rockets (53-29)
6. Portland Trailblazers (48-34) // Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
7. Phoenix Suns (46-36) // New Orleans Hornets (49-33)
8. Dallas Mavericks (44-38) // Utah Jazz (48-34)
9. Denver Nuggets (42-40) // Phoenix Suns (46-36)
Not bad, if I do say so myself. The only slip-up was unknowable: the Nuggets acquired Billups and Amare's injury tanked the Suns' chances. The Lakers did better than I expected -- I figured chemistry would implode at some point, and it may have if Bynum's annual injury hadn't come when it did -- and the Hornets didn't take the next step so many predicted. Other than that ... not too shabby.
(Allow me also to exult in the Spurs' unbelievable performance last night to clinch the third spot in the West and the Southwest Division crown. Down the whole game, six seconds left, down by three ... and of course Finley nails it. And of course Duncan delivers a masterful performance. And of course Duncan has now been to the playoffs all 12 of his seasons in the league, whereas neither Shaq nor Kobe nor KG can make the same claim. Count me one proud fan. Even knowing we won't get to the end, I am so excited about these playoffs.)
1. Boston Celtics (60-22) // Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16)
2. Detroit Pistons (56-26) // Boston Celtics (62-20)
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (52-30) // Orlando Magic (59-23)
4. Orlando Magic (48-34) // Atlanta Hawks (47-35)
5. Philadelphia 76ers (50-32) // Miami Heat (43-39)
6. Toronto Raptors (48-34) // Philadelphia 76ers (41-41)
7. Washington Wizards (40-32) // Chicago Bulls (41-41)
8. Miami Heat (40-32) // Detroit Pistons (39-43)
My one big prediction -- the Heat in the playoffs solely on the back of Wade -- came true, while my thinking that the Pistons, 76ers, Raptors, and Wizards would show up this year was totally off. Really, the Eastern conference is three teams with two honorable mentions, and that's it. Although as you'll see below, I am excited to see Mr. Dwyane Wade do his postseason thing.
Now for the playoffs predictions proper.
Western Conference First Round
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Utah Jazz (8) in 4 games
New Orleans Hornets (7) over Denver Nuggets (2) in 7 games
San Antonio Spurs (3) over Dallas Mavericks (6) in 6 games
Portland Trailblazers (4) over Houston Rockets (5) in 6 games
Lakers and Spurs picks are easy (at least for me!); the other two are tough. I say it's clear that the combination of homecourt advantage, a frothing-at-the-mouth fanbase, and a slew of primed-and-ready athletic young guys, the Blazers will take the Rockets. The 2-7 match-up between the Hornets and Nuggets is the most fascinating: two relatively even teams, each where the other was predicted by the pundits to be at the end of the year. But with the Hornets healthier than they have been, and (as Bill Simmons would say) with the best player on the court in Chris Paul, I'm taking the Hornets in seven.
Eastern Conference First Round
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Detroit Pistons (8) in 5 games
Boston Celtics (2) over Chicago Bulls (7) in 6 games
Orlando Magic (3) over Philadelphia 76ers (6) in 6 games
Miami Heat (5) over Atlanta Hawks (4) in 6 games
Cavs, Magic, and Heat are easy. And even with the Garnett injury, the Celtics still have the Bulls' number.
Western Conference Semifinals
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Portland Trailblazers (4) in 6 games
San Antonio Spurs (3) over New Orleans Hornets (7) in 7 games
I think the Blazers can give the Lakers a run for the money, but once again -- only the Lakers are beating the Lakers. And, whether it's the Hornets or the Nuggets, I have faith in Timmy, Tony, and Pop -- we can make it to the Semis.
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Miami Heat (5) in 6 games
Boston Celtics (2) over Orlando Magic (3) in 7 games
More than any other series other than LeBron vs. Kobe, I am beside myself with excitement over LeBron vs. D-Wade. The Cavs will prevail, but it's going to be a blast to watch. Possibly more controversially, I've still got the KG-less Celtics over the Magic. I just can't see a beat-up, trash-down-the-stretch Magic team triumphing over the heart, veterans, and Rondo-Allen-Pierce combo.
Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over San Antonio Spurs (3) in 5 games
A sad, sad sight for my eyes, but it's inevitable without Ginobili. We just won't have enough.
Eastern Conference Finals
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Boston Celtics (2) in 6 games
Still would've picked this with Garnett fully healthy, but now, with the way they play at home, the Cavs have it in the bag.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Los Angeles Lakers (1) in 7 games
And ... ladies and gentlemen, your 2008-2009 NBA World Champions: the Cleveland Cavaliers, starring Finals MVP LeBron James in an historic performance!
Be sure to keep up with all thing Spurs-related with Graydon and Tim over at 48 Minutes of Hell. Those guys are the best in the business.
And now, see you on the other side of two months. Tip-off is this Saturday, and I'll be watching that night with a Mavs fan here in Atlanta, cheering on the semi-renewed rivalry.
I love this game.