The undercards are finished. Only the heavyweights remain. Let’s get ready to rumble….
Jump for Feltbot’s platinum-plated picks for the 2012 NBA Playoffs Conference Championship Series!
SPURS (-200) v. THUNDER (+180)
There are a lot of reasons to like the Spurs in this matchup. Beginning with the general: Have the Spurs really won 18 straight games, combining the end of the regular season and the first two rounds? Yes, they have. This is one hot team. Hands down the best passing team in the league.
Kind of like the Mavericks were last year. Remember them?
The Spurs also won the regular season matchup with the Thunder 2-1, including the last two games home and away, which they won by 11 and 9 points, respectively. And that was before they picked up Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson. Hmmm.
Now let’s get to the specific. Pop is more than likely to go with a Nellieball front-line of Duncan and Diaw in this series, just as he did against the much bigger Clippers front line. This will in all likelihood force Scott Brooks to counter with Ibaka at five and Durant at the four, sooner rather than later. There is simply no way that the Thunder will want Perkins to guard Duncan out on the floor, let alone Ibaka on Diaw at the three point line. That is flat suicide.
And thus will commence what is likely to be one of the greatest Nellieball series in history.
But as good as the Thunder look on paper, I don’t think they have a chance.
Duncan v. Ibaka: Duncan dominated the regular season matchup. Duncan has historically had trouble guarding quick, athletic fours (see Child, Man), but Ibaka doesn’t have the handle or the touch to put the ball on the floor and drive around Duncan. He’s an alley-oop dunker and mid-range shooter.
And he’s an offensive rebounder. Oops. Not against Timmy.
As for his defense? Ibaka was all-pro this season. Nah. Duncan is too skilled and too big, just like Nowitzki was last year.
This is one matchup where size will matter.
Durant v. The World: Durant at the four is the Thunder’s best way to give the Spurs a matchup problem. I don’t think Diaw can stay with him. But Pop just has too many weapons to counter this. He can go big and play match-up zone, and kill the Thunder on the boards. Or, as I suspect, he will go small with Kawhi Leonard and Stephen Jackson on Durant.
Nellie liked guarding Durant with smaller players with superior quickness. With Monta Ellis, in fact, when that was all he had. And it was surprisingly effective. Bothered his dribble. Took away his drive.
Stephen Jackson will be even more effective. I am slavering in anticipation. I’m not predicting Durant will be shut down. But how about held to 50% shooting? Or below. In other words, well below what Metta World Peace held him to.
Ginobili, Green, Jackson v. Harden and Sefolosha: Something tells me that Pop’s players are going to know that Harden wants to go left. I mean really, really know it.
And Ginobili is a far better defender than Harden. Not to mention Jack, if Pop uses him on Harden. I think the Spurs win this matchup.
Parker v. Westbrook: Probably the key to the series. Parker absolutely destroyed the Thunder in the regular season. He’s too quick for even Westbrook. Can the Thunder find an answer?
I doubt it. Double-teaming is sure and certain death against the Spurs, with their deadly shooting at every single position.
As for Westbrook, I’m curious to see how Pop guards him. I didn’t actually watch any of the regular series games between these two teams. But judging by the boxes, Pop was content to let Westbrook gun.
I’ll eat my shorts if he doesn’t trap him now that we’re playing for money. That’s the right defense against the mediocre Thunder half-court offense. Force Westbrook to give up the ball. He ain’t that good at it.
Greg Popovich: Hands down the best playoff coach in the NBA. A master of adjustments. If there’s a matchup to be explored, a game-plan to be devised, or a tactic to be exploited, Pop will find it, and deploy it fearlessly. And this season, he has the deepest, most versatile and talented roster in the league at his disposal.
Oh, and one other thing: for the first time in years, he has the healthiest roster of the remaining four teams.
In Pop we trust.
The Injury Wildcard: I’ve seen the Spurs fall out of a lot of playoff series with injuries to Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. And you can throw Tim Duncan into that equation as well. They’re all extremely fragile at this stage of their careers.
That, in my estimation, is the Thunders’ best chance. That, and the David Stern wildcard.
Spurs in five. No, six. OK, seven. David Stern really, really, really wants the Thunder to win this series. That’s good for at least one game. At a minimum.
HEAT (-510) v. CELTICS (+430)
The Celtics beat the Heat handily three straight times in April, home and away. And that was before Chris Bosh got injured!
So why do I think that the Celtics have no chance in this series? [Edit: Now that the series line has been announced, it looks like the oddsmakers agree with me.] Well, they’re just too beat up. Avery Bradley just went out with a dislocated shoulder. He can’t play with that, can he? That leaves Ray Allen to chase Dwayne Wade around, and Ray Allen is playing on a bad ankle. A really bad ankle.
And then there’s Paul Pierce. He’s been playing on a bad knee, and one look at his box scores against Philly (who watched the games?) will tell you just how bad that knee is. And now, because life is cruel, he gets Lebron.
The Truth hurts.
I’m guessing we’re going to see a lot of old friend Mickael Pietrus in this series. Hmmm.
Brandon Bass had a big series going against the elephantine Elton Brand and the gimpy Thaddeus Young. I’m guessing things are going to be a lot tougher for him in this series, going against Haslem, Battier and Lebron.
There is Rondo, and there is Garnett. Two great players with champions’ hearts, for whom the Heat have heretofore had no answer. But I just don’t think they have enough of a supporting cast right now.
And you know what? What if the Heat were to go small, with Lebron guarding Garnett, Battier on Bass, and Miller on the crippled Pierce? And, like, run?
Nah, Spoelstra’s not that smart. Right?
Even so, Heat in six. No, five. They’ve got David Stern on their side.
If it’s a Spurs-Celtics final, heads will roll. The Commissioner will make it rain heads.
Not going to happen. Spurs-Heat in the Finals.
Run and Gun.