Here’s something I don’t think I’ve ever said before: Thank God we now have the opportunity to watch some basketball played by teams that are trying to win.
Jump for my 2012 NBA playoff first-round predictions. As well as my bonus predictions for the conference champions and the NBA title, in case you happen to be looking at those lines (I’m not).
Before we get to the forecasting though, here’s a little scorekeeping on my season predictions to date:
Regular Season: The Western Conference played out pretty much as I predicted before the season. I didn’t expect the veteran-laden Spurs to have the best record in the West, but I did have them higher than most, at fourth. I had Memphis — the team that knocked out the Spurs last year — higher, but I couldn’t predict that Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur would miss the regular season.
The one surprise for me was the Trailblazers, who imploded. It was a classic case of an incompetent coach who was handed a roster that he didn’t know what to do with. (Something Warriors fans might be familiar with.) With the subtractions of Roy and Miller and the additions of Felton and Crawford, the Blazers should have gone from the slowest team in the league to one of the fastest. The only catch was Nate McMillan. He refused to change his approach, and lost his players as a result.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised. For years, I have been the only NBA commentator I am aware of who has consistently called Nate McMillan a fraud and an incompetent. I would have seen this coming, if I hadn’t watched the Blazers play a wide-open style in the preseason. What happened?
Replacing the Blazers — completely by default — were the Utah Jazz. The Rockets and Suns collapsed from injury and old age. The Warriors tanked. The Jazz are without a doubt the weakest team in the Western Conference playoffs in over a decade. But they do have a couple of intriguing young players who started to put it together over the last half of the season: Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors.
Preseason Bets: I only made one preseason wager this season, betting on the Indiana Pacers over 36. 5 wins. Kaching! The Pacers closed the season at 42-24.
As always, I considered betting on the Warriors as well. Why not? I know the Warriors better than any other team, I know they have been historically undervalued relative to their talent, and I know that their 26.5 wins line was completely absurd — an insult. Consider the fact that they won 23 games, while trying to lose.
But in the end, I made the right read of Joe Lacob, and the correct decision not to bet the Warriors. This is what I wrote before the season, in The Las Vegas Verdict on Joe Lacob’s 2012 Golden State Warriors:
…. And we haven’t even gotten to the biggest “if” of all: If Joe Lacob decides to support his team this year at the trading deadline. As I read the tea leaves, I have serious doubts about whether that will happen. I am actually growing convinced that Lacob is looking to blow up the core of this Warriors team with a Monta Ellis trade, and that it could happen this season.
And this is what I wrote before the season, in Joe Lacob and the Hidden Meaning of the Warriors Bench:
Joe Lacob does not believe in his basketball team.
Joe Lacob does not believe that the Warriors can build successfully around the core of David Lee, Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis….
Big Things are Coming.
And when they do, Monta Ellis will be going.
Make of this what you will. I’ll tell you what I make of it: I’ve been reading Joe Lacob’s mail for two years, alone and on an island. No other Warriors writer has sought to give you the real truth regarding Joe Lacob and the Golden State Warriors. And very few readers have agreed with me. I don’t care. I got it right.
And I’m going to keep reading Lacob’s mail going forward, beginning with my next post. Stay tuned for my season post-mortem, if you have the stomach for it.
“Now that we’ve got that over with…” — Joe Lacob, 3-19-2012.
Not yet, Joe. Not yet. More coming. But for now, let’s take a break and talk about winners.
Before getting to the first round matchups and my picks, I’ll ruin the suspense and give you my Finals prediction: Spurs v. Heat. And the 2012 NBA champion?
Greg Popovich. I mean, the San Antonio Spurs. Too talented, too deep, too versatile, too well coached. They can and will play any lineup, any style, and exploit any matchup. Size, half court execution, three point shooting, speed, spread fours, wing stoppers, veteran backups. Checkity, check, check, check. And the best playoff coach in the league. After the one Joe Lacob fired, of course.
Their second asterisk.
Spurs (-2000) v. Jazz (+1200): Next.
Lakers (-195) v. Nuggets (+175): It’s kind of scary that this line is so low, considering how much moronic Lakers money is going to get poured all over it. Kind of makes you think something must truly be up with the injury that’s kept Kobe Bryant out lately. It couldn’t be all about Metta World Peace’s suspension, could it?
The Lakers frontline has a massive advantage. The Manimal, Kenneth Faried, has been a revelation in his rookie year, but in the playoffs, undersized power forwards have been known to completely disappear against Bynum and Gasol. That’s you, Boozer. The Nuggets are really going to need Javale McGee in this series. I’m tempted to say that’s all she wrote.
I would love to give the Nuggets a fighting chance. Under normal circumstances, they might be able to flip this series by enforcing their up and down style of play. But here’s the deal: They’ve lost Wilson Chandler, who I think is one of their best players. Their other best player, Gallinari, is still coming off injury and doesn’t appear at all ready. Harrington is playing through a torn meniscus. And they’ve got a new team that’s never played together, much less in the playoffs.
On the other hand, Kobe’s injured, MWP’s out, and there is what I call the Derek Fisher problem. Do you remember how the ball always used to find Fisher at the three point line at the end of the shot clock? Do you remember how he always used to hit that shot? Well, nowadays that ball is finding Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake. One of whom can’t hit the backboard, and the other is afraid to even shoot.
Still, the Nuggets can’t win this series. Right? So why is this line so low?
I’m picking the Lakers. But I’m not betting them. And unlike the Warriors ownership, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I root for them, or any LA team.
Thunder (-475) v. Mavericks (+400): I don’t think the Mavs will look anything like the regular season pushover that went 1-3 against the Thunder. But without defensive stars Tyson Chandler and DeShawn Stevenson, and playmaker JJ Barea, I don’t think they have enough to hold off the Thunder this year.
It will be fascinating for me to watch the “new and improved” Brandon Wright in this series. I simply can’t imagine the player I once called “The Ragdoll” actually surviving real playoff contact with Nick Collison and Serge Ibaka. I expect blood, I expect dislocations, I expect fear of boxing out.
And I expect benching. Too bad they don’t have lines on these things.
Grizzlies (-200) v. Clippers (+180): The smart money moved this line in a flash from the opening Grizzlies -135. And I think the smart money’s right.
The Clippers are absolutely awful at the wings. None of those guys can play a lick of defense, and I just don’t think you can win a playoff series with that.
Blake Griffin is one of the most overrated players in the league, and he’ll be going against some real big boys who won’t let him dunk. He also can’t close games, with that horrendous 50% free throw shooting.
It’s all down to Chris Paul. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But he’s not going against Fisher and Blake this season. He’ll be going against Tony Allen and Mike Conley, the best defensive backcourt in the league.
The Grizzlies are not without their own questions. Zach Randolph has been far from inspiring since rejoining the team. And his belated insertion means the Grizzlies will suffer chemistry problems. Also, Marc Gasol has fatigued considerably in recent weeks, and may no longer be the dominant force we saw early this season and in last year’s playoffs.
It shouldn’t matter.
Eastern Conference: I’m far less knowledgeable on the East than the West — rarely watch it — so if I manage to drum up a strong opinion on something, you might be better off ignoring it.
Bulls (-1300) v. Sixers (+900): The Sixers stumbled into the playoffs, amid noises the team was quitting on Doug Collins. Doesn’t say much for their chances of an upset, does it?
On the other hand, the Bulls have played better this year without Derrick Rose than with him. And unfortunately for them, Rose is back. And he’s not even fully healthy.
I’m being facetious (a little). Rose won’t hurt the Bulls until they play the Heat.
Celtics (-190) v. Hawks (+170): Another somewhat surprisingly close line. But in this case it can partially be explained by the fact that the Hawks have homecourt. Can the Horford-less Hawks really beat the Allen-less Celtics? (Allen is expected to play, but his ankle is beyond bad.)
I don’t really know. Have I even watched a Hawks game this year? (I don’t count Mark Jackson-coached Warriors games as real basketball games.)
I don’t care. I’m betting the Celtics, on the principle that home court ain’t no thang when you’ve got the better team.
Pacers (-900) v. Magic (+700): The Pacers lost the regular season matchup against the Magic 3-1. So why are the Pacers 9-1 favorites in this series?
You know why.
Heat (-1100) v. Knicks (+700): Melo v. Lebron! In the playoffs!
BDiddy back in primetime! He won’t get turned over 7 times by Mario Chalmers like Jeremy Lin.
This series could very well be fascinating to watch. Certainly more than that series price indicates. The Mike Woodson Knicks are one of the best defensive teams in the league (though the return of Stoudemire has thrown a wrench in that). They are big and physical and won’t let the Heat bully them.
Do Stoudemire and Baron Davis have enough in the tank for one big playoff series?
I don’t think the Knicks can win — unless of course Wade gets re-injured, a very real possibility. But they could wind up scaring Heat bettors. And I do think they might be worth a bet or two, taking the points, in must-win games.