Monday, April 19, 2010

NBA Playoff 1st Round Predictions

I know the playoffs have already started and every game 1 is now in the books so I'm cheating on my predictions. I would have blogged about it sooner but I've been busy.

So Here it Goes:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1) Cleveland vs. 8) Chicago
Cleveland in 5.
Too much LeBron, too much Shaq and too much depth for the Bulls to handle. I think they could win one game in Chi-Town if Derrick Rose just goes off, but even that might be pushing it.

4) Boston vs. 5) Miami
Miami in 7
Oh this is going to get better and better by the game. I can't remember a Game 2 in the 1st round with more leading up to it. The KG suspension means the Heat have a great chance to steal one in Boston. The Heat completely dominated the Celtics for 2 and a half quarters in Game 1 then just let it slip away before the incident in the final minute of the game. The Heat proved they could outplay with the Celtics, but can they do it for a full game? They will need scoring from others not just DWade.

2) Orlando vs. 7) Charlotte
Orlando in 4
If there is going to be a sweep, this is the series for it. Charlotte is happy to get their first playoffs appearance in franchise history. Orlando has their mind set on winning the title and the journey starts here. The Bobcats just have no answer for Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson destroyed both Ray Felton and D.J. Augustin in Game 1. The Magic have it all, the Bobcats are good but just don't have enough.

3) Atlanta vs. 6) Milwaukee
Atlanta in 5
Without Andrew Bogut the Bucks don't have a chance to win this series. Brandon Jennings and John Salmons are good enough to carry them to a Game 3 0r 4 desperation win but anything more than that would be a surprise to me. Atlanta is an elite team. They have closed the gap in the East and are out to prove this postseason that they are in the same class as Cleveland, Orlando and Boston.


WESTERN CONFERENCE

1) Los Angles Lakers vs. 8) Oklahoma City
LA in 6
I love Kevin Durant but if the Thunder don't have a chance. If they win 2 games in this series it should be counted as a success. Kobe and Durant are pretty much even. But the Lakers are so much better up front it's not even fair. OKC's Russell Westbrook has a mismatch against Derrick Fisher but that is the only true advantage the Thunder have in this series. The Thunder will put up a nice fight but the Lakers are dominant.

4) Denver vs. 5) Utah
Denver in 6
Okur is done and Kenyon Martin is looking healthy. Each team has an incredible duo, the Nuggets have Melo and Chauncey and the Jazz have Deron and Boozer. But the Nuggets just have way too much depth for the Jazz to handle. 6th man J.R. Smith is better than any Utah's wings. Utah will win 2 games in Utah but Denver just has too much talent.

2) Dallas vs. 7) San Antonio
Dallas in 6
The Mavs and Spurs meet again. Both teams are aging but are led by great power forwards. Dallas has Dirk and San Antonio has Duncan. Right now Dirk is better than Duncan. The Spurs have 4 NBA titles, the Mavs have none. The Mavs are hungry for one last title run.

3) Phoenix vs. 6) Portland
Phoenix in 6
With the eminent departure of Amare Stoudamire this summer this will be the run for the Suns as well. Nash is 36 but he is still one of the best point guards in the NBA. Portland was able to slow Phoenix in Game 1 and steal a game in Phoenix. The Blazers looked good but the absence of star Brandon Roy is going to hurt them. Nash and Stoudamire will click in Game 2 and the pressure will be put back on the injured Blazers. If it does go 7, I still like the Suns.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

NBA Power Rankings-The Playoff Push Is On

1. CLV (61-17)-The Cavs are in cruise control after locking up home court and after LeBron locked up his second straight MVP.

2. ORL (55-23)-Boston's struggles and Atlanta's inexperience lead many to believe it will be a rematch between the Cavs and Magic in the Eastern Conference Finals.

3. LAL (55-22)-I'm still not sold. They lose 3 of 4 then they get a must win at home against a very good Utah team but then follow that up with a 19 point loss at home to the Spurs. Kobe and Pau have been great, it's time for Odom and Artest to step up.

4. PHO (51-27)-They won 10 straight then lost at Milwaukee on Saturday but rebounded with a good win Wednesday against the Spurs. Since the all-star break Amare has been the best big man in the NBA without question. This could be Nash's last chance at a ring if Amare leaves this off-season.

5. Utah (51-28)-They are one of four 51 win teams battling for that #2 seed in the West. Their remaining schedule is favorable, they play 2 sub .500 teams on the road and have the Suns at home to close the season.

6. DEN (51-27)-Even without Kenyon Martin, the Nuggets are in prime position to get that #2 seed in the West and win the Northwest Division. They have gone 11-6 without him as Melo and Billups are still one of the best duo's in the league.

7. OKC (48-28)-They win 4 straight, including road wins over Boston and Dallas. Then they lose two games by a total of 5 points to Utah (In OT due to a last second no call) and to DEN. I can't wait to see who this young Thunder team will play in the first round of the playoffs. Kevin Durant has surpassed Tim Duncan and Dirk as the best player in the Southwest Division.

8. ATL (49-29)-So quietly consistent. They just win. They are fighting with Boston for the #3 seed in the East. They've lost 3 of 4 though, which includes a loss Wednesday night to Detroit. Final 4 games are TOR, @WAS, @MIL, and CLV. It's time for the Hawks to lock it up.

9. DAL (51-27)-Oh wow, how a blowout home loss to the New York Knicks can change a season. A month ago the Mavs were the hottest team in the league riding a 13 game winning streak. Then they lose tot he lowly Knicks and now they've lost 5 of 10. From easily being the #2 seed in the West, to fighting for the division title. Dallas is looking like the Villanova of the NBA.

10. BOS (49-29)-They almost blew a must win game against Cleveland on Sunday. They are tied with Atlanta for the #3 seed in the East with 4 games to go. The Celtics just look out of sync at times. They play Milwaukee twice before the season ends and then they might play them again in the first round of the playoffs.

11. MIA (44-34)-They are the hottest team in the East having won 9 straight and 12 of 14. DWade is playing at his usual superstar level. The Heat have a playoff spot locked up and will play either the Hawks or Celtics in the first round. Both teams would rather see the Bucks than DWade and company.

12. SA (47-30)-4 straight wins including wins over the Lakers and Magic followed by a loss Wednesday night at Phoenix. George Hill has played great in the absence of Tony Parker and Manu and Timmy are playing like they are 8 years younger. Look out West, the Spurs might have one more run at the title in them.

13. POR (48-30)-With all of the injuries and lineup changes, Nate McMillen has to get Coach of the Year for having a team that could end up with 50 wins. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the healthiest player in Portland (74 games) and his 17.6 points and 8 boards have gone a long way.

14. MIL (44-34)-The Bucks have a candidate for Rookie of the Year (Brandon Jennings), Coach of the Year (Scott Skiles) and Most Improved Player (Andrew Bogut), if their was an award for mid-season acquisition of the year John Salmons would easily win that.

15. CHR (42-36)-They Bobcats clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history. Who deserves more thanks, Larry Brown or Stephen Jackson?


16. CHI (37-40)-The Bulls are so so close to that 8th and final spot in the East. Showdown in Toronto Sunday against Bosh-less Raptors could put Bulls back in the playoffs. The final stretch is tough 3 of 5 final opponents are playoff bound (CLV, BOS and @CHR).

17. HOU (40-38)-The Rockets beat the Grizz on Tuesday night in the "Battle of the Best Teams NOT going to the 2010 playoffs." They followed that up with a win over the Jazz. If I had a vote for the Most Improved Player I would give it to Aaron Brooks. Brooks and Kevin Martin are starting to click together.

18. MEM (39-39)-Geographically the city of Memphis is almost as far east as Chicago and Milwaukee. If the Memphis Grizzlies were in the Eastern Conference, they'd probably be in the playoffs this year. Zach Randolph deserves Comeback Player of the Year.

19. TOR (38-40)-Conspiracy theory anyone. It's like the Raptors are going out of their way to NOT make the playoffs right now. It's like they realize that Chris Bosh is likely leaving this off-season and if they do make the playoffs the Heat will have their first round pick. The Heat already got the better end of the Jermaine O'Neal-Shawn Marion trade and there's a chance Chris Bosh could end up in Miami this summer. So I think the Raptors are losing on purpose just to prevent the Heat from getting their first round draft pick this year. Then Bosh gets hit in the face against Cleveland and is now going to miss the rest of the season. Conspiracy I tell you.

20. NO (35-44)-Why did CP3 even bother coming back. He is clearly not the same player. In the 7 games since his return he's averaging 9.4ppg and exactly 8apg in 34 minutes a night. Even more the Hornets are 2-5 since his return. He needs to rehab this off-season and return to his old form next year.


21. IND (30-48)-They can build around Granger and Brandon Rush but they need a center and a point guard.

22. NY (28-50)-Danilo Gallinari is playing great. He's scored over 20 in 5 of the past 9 games. David Lee is still their best player, but is he in their long-term plans? We'll find out this summer.

23. LAC (27-51)-The Clippers starting line-up on Wednesday night was Baron Davis, Eric Gordon, Rasual Butler, Drew Gooden, and Chris Kaman. The line-up next year should include Blake Griffin, a top 10 draft pick (hopefully a SF like Al-Farouq Aminu or Wesley Johnson) and maybe a top free agent. The Clipps need change. Davis' time in LA is running out quick.

24. PHL (26-52)-It seems like only yesterday the 76ers were in the NBA Finals and AI was the best player in the NBA. That was almost 10 years ago. It seems like only last week Donovan McNabb was the Eagles starting QB. Oh wait that was last week. All the City of Brotherly Love has now is the hopes that the Phillies can win the NL again.

25. GS (24-54)-Congrats to Don Nelson on becoming the NBA's all-time wins leader as a coach. Now all he has to do is turn the Warriors around. They need to build around Stephen Curry and get rid of Monta Ellis.

26. SAC (24-54)
-Tyreke Evans is the man. Tyreke Evans needs the Kings to get some talent on demand. Tyreke Evans will bring the Rookie of the Year home. But Tyreke Evans is all alone. Get Tyreke some help Sacramento!

27. WAS (24-54)
-The Widards stink. On a positive note JaVale McGee is starting to play like a first round pick should and the Redskins got McNabb.

28. DET (25-53)-Detroit What? The lowly Pistons have won 2 games in a row! All joking aside, Jonas Jerebko has been a very pleasant surprise as a rookie.


29. MIN (15-63)
-They NEED Evan Turner in the worst way. Corey Brewer's improvement this year has been about the only good thing in Minnesota.

30. NJ (11-67)-This past season was beyond dismal. 2011 can be a very good season if they:
A) Get a good coach
B) Draft John Wall or Evan Turner
C) Sign a top free agent
D) All of the above
D could be the right answer with a cool Russian billionaire owner and around 30 million and cap space. The Draft will depend on if the Nets win the lottery. Their due to win something.

My Final Rankings and A Look back




It was crazy how this year sort of came full circle for a lot of teams.

-Many teams with high expectations heading into the year had less than great regular seasons but then made up for it in the NCAA tournament (Michigan St., Tennessee,Washington, and even California to an extent).

-On the other hand many teams started the year great only to finish terrible (UNC, Texas, and Villanova).

-Duke and Butler provided a great title game and had high aspirations entering the year but no one expected them to end up in the title game.


-Kansas, Kentucky and Syracuse dominated the season only to lose in the tournament.


-With Texas and Oklahoma struggling, Kansas St., Baylor and Texas A&M stepped it up in the Big 12 to have great seasons

-Many mid-majors came out of nowhere to be put on the National Scene (Northern Iowa, Cornell, St. Mary's, Murray St., UTEP, and Ohio when they beat Georgetown) but I was surprised that Siena actually took a step back by not winning their 1st round game for the first time in 3 years.

-Evan Turner came back from a major injury to win the Naismith Award. Either Turner or John Wall is likely to be the #1 pick in this year's NBA Draft.

-3 sure fire lottery/first round NBA draft prospects saw their stock fall due to their team's lack of success: Ed Davis-UNC, Willie Warren-Oklahoma(left), and Manny Harris-Michigan.

-3 players made themselves a lot more money than they could of dreamed of going into the season by having breakout years: Wesley Johnson-Syracuse, Ekpe Udoh-Baylor, and Gordon Hayward-Butler.
-Overall it was a fun season and the fans of college basketball were treated to many great games, great teams, and great players this year

Ranking. Team (Record)-Final Result-My Preseason Ranking

1. Duke (35-5)-National Champion 10
2. Butler (33-5)-Runner-Up 13
3. West Virginia (31-7)-Final 4 6
4. Kentucky (35-3)-Elite 8 4
5. Kansas (33-3)-2nd Round 1
6. Syracuse (30-5)-Sweet 16 NR-watch list
7. Michigan St. (28-9)-Final 4 2
8. Kansas St. (29-8)-Elite 8 24
9. Baylor (28-8)-Elite 8 NR-watch list
10. Tennessee (28-9)-Elite 8 3
11. Ohio St. (29-8)-Sweet 16 14
12. Purdue (29-6)-Sweet 16 7
13. Northern Iowa (30-5)-Sweet 16 NR
14. Xavier (26-9)-Sweet 16 NR-watch
15. Pittsburgh (25-9)-2nd Round NR-honorable mention
16. St. Mary's (28-6)-Sweet 16 NR
17. Maryland (24-9)-2nd Round NR-honorable mention
18. Cornell (29-5)-Sweet 16 NR
19. Washington (26-10)-Sweet 16 15
20. New Mexico (30-5)-2nd round NR
21. Villanova (25-8)-2nd Round (should have lost in 1st Round) 8
22. Texas A&M (24-10)-2nd round NR-watch
23. BYU (30-6)-2nd Round NR-watch
24. Temple (29-6)-1st Round NR
25. Wisconsin (24-9)-2nd Round NR-honorable mention
25 (tie). Dayton (25-12)-Won NIT NR-watch

10 Biggest Surprises:
Duke
Butler
Syracuse
Baylor
Northern Iowa
New Mexico
St. Mary's
Cornell
Temple
Vandy (23-8)

10 Biggest Disappointments:
Michigan (15-17)-pre-season 12
Oklahoma (13-18)-pre-season 20
UNC (20-17)-lost NIT title- pre-season 9
Teams that died down the stretch:
Texas (24-10)-lost in 1sr Round- pre-season 5 (was once ranked #1) lost 7 of last 12.
Villanova (was also once ranked #1) lost 6 of last 9.
Inconsistency was their middle name:
Georgetown (23-11)-Lost in 1st Round-pre-season 18
California (24-11)-2nd Round-pre-season 11
Mississippi St. (24-12)-NIT-pre-season 16
Minnesota (21-14)-Lost in 1st round-pre-season 17
Notre Dame (23-12)-Lost in 1st round-pre-season 19

What a Game!

Last night's championship game between Duke and Butler was one of the greatest games of basketball I have ever seen. From tip off, until that final shot by Butler's Gordan Hayward, basketball fans were treated to a masterpiece.

It was like watching a heavyweight fight. Both teams going back and forth. Just when it looked like one team was about to take control, the momentum was pushed the other way. It was only fitting that this game would come down to a last second shot.

Hayward almost put Butler ahead with just over 3 seconds to go but his shot which was contested by Duke's Brian Zoubek barely missed. Zoubek got the rebound and was then fouled. Zoubek hit one of two free throws. Then it Hayward raced down the court and heaved a half-court shot that barely missed off the backboard.

Duke won 61-59 to claim their fourth National Title as a school. It was also the fourth title for Coach K, which ties him for second all time along with Adolph Rupp (surpassing Coach K's college coach and mentor, the legendary Bobby Knight).

Kyle Singler was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. Duke's big 3 of Singler, John Scheyer, and Nolan Smith all played great. But the key to Duke's run was the little things that the role players like Zoubek, Lance Thomas and the Plumlee brothers did.

More than anything this was a great game by two great teams. Duke needed their A game to beat Butler. The Bulldogs proved they belonged with college basketball's elite. Butler played their A game with great athleticism, defense, hustle, and fundamental basketball.

Butler's two sophomore guards Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored proved they could play with and play better than Duke's star guards Scheyer and Smith.

Butler's stud big man Matt Howard got in early foul trouble but senior Avery Jukes stepped up to provide 10 points in the first half. This was how the Bulldgos did it the whole year. One man goes down and the others just come in and play basketball without losing a beat. That was what happened when Shelvin mack got hurt in Butler's win over Michigan St. in the Final 4 game Saturday night.

The atmosphere of Lucas Oil Stadium added another level to this incredible game. It was the hometown Bulter fans against the Duke's Cameron Crazies. Neither fan base ever got out of it nor did either fan base ever have a reason to be comfortable with a lead. It was great from start to finish.

It was pretty much the opposite of last year's joke of a National Title game between UNC and Michigan St. College basketball needed this to be a great game. The fans needed this to be a great game and I needed this to be a great game. Thank God we had a great game.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Butler is far from "Hoosiers"

A small school from Indiana goes for the title against a well-known powerhouse.

That's where the comparison ends between this year's Butler team and fictional Hickory High School in the movie Hoosiers.

Butler coach Brad Stevens is not old school coach Norman Dale played by Gene Hackman. Stevens is only 33 years old and is one of the best young coaches in college basketball today.

This Butler team is good. Very very good. They have won 25 straight games and haven't lost in the 2010 calendar year. They have a record of 33-4. The Bulldogs are far from underdogs. Just ask any team in the Horizon League.

They can beat the big boys too. In fact, if they beat Duke tonight, they will have a win against a team from every BCS Conference except the SEC (they didn't play any teams from the SEC this year).

But more than anything else, the casual fan will go into this game with the misconception that Butler is a team of corn fed Indiana white boys who will have to make up for their athletic deficiencies with great fundamental play and great hustle.

Make no mistake, this Butler team will play fundamental basketball, hustle and hit open shots. Eight of the fifteen players on their roster are white, and all are from Indiana. But this Butler team is very athletic too. Shelvin Mack, Ronald Nored, Willie Veasley and Shawn Vanzant (all African-American) provide a group of guards that are deep, very athletic and will get in your face and frustrate you defensively.

Coming into the season and the tournament the one major question mark that Duke has, is their lack of guard depth. John Scheyer and Nolan Smith are stars, but beyond them the Dukies don't have much. They have yet to play a team in this tournament with the depth and athleticism of Butler. Three of Duke's five losses came against teams that had good deep guard play (Wisconsin, N.C. St. and Maryland).

If Butler plays like Wisconsin did when they beat Duke earlier in the year by limiting turnovers, playing great defense and hitting open shots the Bulldogs could pull of the upset.

I realize that Duke's John Scheyer is a Second Team AP All-American, but Butler may have the best player and clearly the best NBA prospect on the court in Gordan Hayward. Hayward is averaging over 15 points and 8 boards a game. At 6-9/209 with incredible guard skills he is a matchup problem for any team. He reminds me of Mike Miller, but many have compared him to former Duke wing Mike Dunlevy Jr.

Duke will likely put forward Kyle Singler or guard Nolan Smith on Hayward. If they have Smith guard Hayward then both of thier forwards, Singler and Lance Thomas will need to defend the perimeter.

Duke has a major, and I mean major advantage in up front. They have 7-1 role playing big man Brian Zoubek, Thomas and the Plumlee brothers. But if Butler's stud big man Matt Howard is healthy and is able to stay out of foul trouble the Bulldogs will have somewhat of a low post presence.

Duke is a seven point favorite and they should be the favorite. I'm not saying that Butler will win. But if they do, it isn't the greatest upset in sports history. The Bulldogs are a great team. This isn't Hoosiers. It's not David vs. Goliath. It's not even the UConn-George Mason Elite 8 game of 2006.

It's TWO very good basketball teams playing each other for the National Title. Let's not forget that.