One of the most intriguing NBA playoffs in recent memory didn’t disappoint in the first round. Shockingly, the #1 seed San Antonio Spurs fell to the #8 Grizzlies. But I don’t buy into the idea that this means the Grizzlies are now a better team than the Spurs. Ginobili was playing with one arm, and Tim Duncan was probably only 80% coming off his late season ankle sprain. These sorts of unlucky injuries can mean everything in a playoff series. Remember Lebron on one arm?
The Atlanta Hawks also shocked the Orlando Magic. Which shows conclusively that how a team plays down the stretch in the regular season means almost nothing. Was there a worse team than the Hawks in the last month of the season? I remember the Celtics were also horrible last year in March and April. And of course, the Lakers were 3-7 coming into these playoffs.
Round 2 begins tomorrow, and with it the promise of more intriguing matchups. Jump for the 411.
Lakers (-300) v. Mavs (+240)
The media is trying to build up the Mavs chances to upset the Lakers in this series, but I just don’t see it. The Lakers had little trouble with the Mavs in the regular season, and I expect that to continue. The Mavs problems start in the middle: Andrew Bynum looks at Tyson Chandler like a taste treat. And they end, of course with Kobe Bryant. The Mavs will try DeShawn Stevenson on him, who is a pretty decent defender. But he’s not a 2 way player: his shooting percentages were ridiculously low the last few seasons. And in fact, the Mavs don’t have any go to players in their backcourt to complement Dirk Nowitzki. Terry is their main guy, but I’ve always thought that he struggles to get his shot off in the playoffs.
Predictions: Chandler in constant foul trouble. Kobe romps. Gasol and Odom cancel Nowitzki. Lakers in… five?
Wagers: I don’t like laying long odds in series, but I view this line as way too low. I would lay 3-1 on the Lakers.
Bulls (-500) v. Hawks (+350)
All chances of this being a competitive series went out the window with the Hinrich injury. Do you remember what the ridiculously overrated Brandon Jennings was able to do to the Hawks in the playoffs last season? Derrick Rose will make that look like kid’s play. The Hawks backcourt, sans Hinrich, is one of the worst defensively in the league, and their frontline isn’t imposing enough to defend the rim from Rose’s predations.
There are some injury wildcards: Rose is playing on a recently sprained ankle, and Boozer is day-to-day on a turf toe. But it won’t matter.
Predictions: The fans in Chicago begin chanting “Ole!” every time Jamal Crawford picks up Derrick Rose in the halfcourt. Bulls in…. SWEEP?
Wagers: I think laying 5-1 on the Bulls is quite reasonable, if you can sweat that kind of bet. If you have a friend from Georgia who is willing to split the juice, that would be even better. I would lay 4.25 to 1 on the Bulls in a heartbeat.
Celtics (+170) v. Heat (-200)
Once again the former World champs, now defending Eastern Conference champs are being disrespected by the bookies in the first round. I bet the Celtics throughout last years playoffs (excepting the Finals), but this year, I think the bookies may have it right.
The Celtics handled the Heat easily in the first three games of the regular season. But that was then. Before the Perkins trade. The Celtics have some serious chemistry problems right now, due to their uncertain situation in the middle. Krstic played well after the trade, but then he got injured, and is now behind Jermaine O’Neal in the rotation. Shaq has been out for months. Will he even help if he returns?
The Heat, meanwhile, have been playing better and better. Mario Chalmers has emerged as their best player at the point. Joel Anthony is back and playing well in the middle. Chris Bosh is playing better.
And then, of course, there’s feltbot’s David Stern rule: Never, ever bet against the face of the NBA. In the East, that’s Lebron and Derrick Rose.
In their last regular season meeting, the Heat blew out the Celtics. I think that’s a harbinger of what’s to come.
Predictions: Lebron and Paul Pierce engage in a battle for the ages, with Lebron prevailing. His defense is as dominant as his offense. The Celtics struggle to guard Dwayne Wade. On the other end, Wade does what no man has done before: make Ray Allen look old. Wade’s defense is also dominant. Bosh cancels out Kevin Garnett (oh, how those words taste bitter in my mouth).
And there will be several blown calls in crunch time, all favoring the Heat.
Heat in… 7, making feltbot sweat.
Wagers: Laying 2-1.
Thunder (-300) v. Grizzlies (+240)
I’m saving the best for last. The Thunder are everyone’s darling right now, everyone’s pick to meet the Lakers in the next round. And maybe they will advance through Memphis, but if they do, it may not be because they’re the better team. I think this line is ridiculously wrong.
1) Marc Gasol will dominate Kendrick Perkins in every way imaginable. Size, weight, health. Inside scoring. Perkins will get absolutely nothing against Gasol, and I don’t think he is healthy enough to return the favor.
2) Tony Allen. Did you see what Aaron Afflalo did to Russell Westbrook in the last series? It’s about to get worse. Westbrook will struggle to shoot 40% in this series. But that won’t stop this selfish gunner from continuing to ignore his teammates and hoist bad shots.
3) Shane Battier. Gallinari and Chandler did a decent job on Durant, about half the time. This is about to get worse as well. Battier might be the best wing defender in the league right now, who studies every opponent’s tendencies religiously. Let’s see which way he pushes Durant.
4) Zach Randolph against Serge Ibaka: I am absolutely relishing the prospect of this matchup. The wizardly floor-bound vet against the amazing high-flying, shot-swatting 21-yr-old prodigy. I just have a sneaking suspicion that Randolph is going to win this battle. Why? Here’s a hint: Jumpers like to jump.
On the other hand, there is a very good reason not to pick Memphis to win this series. It would be disastrous to the NBA’s marketing plans and TV revenues. If you think I’m joking, or even half-joking about this, you would be wrong. Kevin Durant is the new face of the Western Conference. The last remaining standard-bearer for all the league’s small market teams. Don’t bet against the face of the NBA.
Predictions: Westbrook has a miserable series. Battier holds down Durant to merely exceptionally good. The rest of the Thunder struggle mightily to pick up the slack, and the Thunder shoot under 40% from the field for the series (just as they did against the Nuggets, with Afflalo back).
Ibaka finds himself in constant foul trouble against the crafty Randolph. Both Perkins and Ibaka struggle to keep Gasol and Randolph out of the paint.
And the refs steal at least 2 games for the Thunder in crunch time.
Memphis in 6. Err… Thunder in 7, thanks to a series of godawful calls in game 6.
Wagers: Very tempted to take the +240, but I don’t want to bet against the face of the NBA in a series. And I think there’s a better way to bet on underdogs in the playoffs. I’m going to bet Memphis in selected games,
starting with game 1, taking +6.5.
[Edit: Actually I may back off game 1, due to the short turnaround. Hoping the Grizzlies lose game 1 and taking the points in game 2 seems like a better plan.]