No Blood No Foul Breaking Down NBA Basketball Wed, 27 Jun 2012 15:46:07 +0000 en hourly 1 Detroit Begins Rebuilding Project, Charlotte Adds Talent Wed, 27 Jun 2012 15:46:07 +0000 JL Detroit’s decision to trade Ben Gordon for Corey Maggette and a 1st rounder is a good one – it saves Detroit money, balances their rotation, and begins the rebuilding process. Here’s what we know:

  1. At best, the Pistons are a borderline playoff team as currently constructed. Miami, Indiana, Chicago, the Hawks, and the Knicks are all but certain to make the playoffs in 12-13. After that, Detroit could be competing with a Boston team that’s reloaded, an Orlando team that somehow manages to hang on to Howard, the Bucks, Philly, and perhaps even the Wizards – 11 teams in all. If we assume that only 3 playoff spots are up for grabs, that’s 6 teams competing for 3 spots.
  2. More likely, the Pistons are a lottery team. The odds of Detroit making the playoffs ahead of Boston, Philly, Milwaukee, the Wizards, or maybe Orlando aren’t too hot. 50% seems generous.

Lottery Teams Are Supposed to Rebuild

The generally accepted best practice for a lottery team is to trade away veteran players, acquire draft picks and young players, and maintain cap flexibility. The Maggette trade is the first move in this direction, and depending on how patient the Pistons can be, they’re only one or two more trades away from where they need to be. There are only two more players that Detroit needs to try and move:

  • Tayshaun Prince is under contract through the 14-15 season, for an average salary of $7.23 million
  • Villanueva is under contract through the 13-14 season, for an average salary of about $8.25 million

While Villanueva is likely impossible to move (he’s a grossly overpaid rotation player), Prince would seem to be a trade candidate. He’s still a capable starter, and his combination of defense, rebounding, passing, outside shooting, and playoff experience would benefit numerous teams (I’d bet the Lakers would love to have Prince were it not for the massive salary cap implications). His salary is also very reasonable for a starting SF.

Of course, Tay’s contract length is an issue, as he’ll be turning 35 in the last year of his contract. The gamble with trading for Prince is that he’s going to age well, and as a result I expect Detroit will have to take back a contract that runs through the 13-14 season. I also expect Detroit will have to trade Prince for a lesser player – exactly the same sort of deal they made for Maggette. Outside of swapping Prince for Golden State’s Richard Jefferson, I don’t see a lot of options on the horizon right now.

But, as we’ve seen dozens of times before, the situation can change rapidly. While Joe Dumars has laid some massive eggs in the last few years (trading Billups, overpaying Gordon and Villanueva, offering Hamilton a ridiculous extension) it seems that he’s finally moving the team in the right direction.

Additionally, it wouldn’t surprise me if Detroit tried to move Stuckey this year. He’s a little too old to stay on a rebuilding team, and he has what is essentially an expiring contract (it’s only partially guaranteed for the 13-14 season). Numerous teams would have an interest in Stuckey; Portland, Toronto, and Utah for sure, with Dallas, Orlando, the Lakers, and Phoenix in the mix depending on how free agency goes.

Why Charlotte Traded for Gordon

Charlotte added salary and gave away a 1st rounder to get an overpaid player…and in my opinion they didn’t do too bad. Gordon is a gunner who can stretch the floor, and he’s coming off one of his more efficient seasons in his career. Considering Gordon is only 29, and considering that Charlotte desperately needs talent, this is a relatively low risk move for the Bobcats.

What’s more, Gordon might just surprise everyone in the NBA if he’s given 30-35 minutes of run on a nightly basis. If he were to hold his shooting percentages from last season while playing 33 minutes a night, Gordon would be averaging 16pts a night while passing out 3 assists and grabbing 3+ rebounds. It wouldn’t be $12.4 million worth of production, but it wouldn’t be bad.

Finally, Gordon will push Gerald Henderson to improve, and depending on his production, Charlotte just might be able to flip Gordon again for an asset.

Bottom Line: It’s not the sexiest trade, but it’s a smart move for both teams. Detroit officially begins to rebuild, while Charlotte adds an underrated scorer for nothing more than 1st round pick and a broken down old guy named Corey.

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2012 NBA Playoff Predictions – Conference Finals Sat, 26 May 2012 18:50:14 +0000 JL While the 2nd round isn’t quite over (Boston has to play Philly tonight), it’s time to make some predictions.

In the West, I expect the Spurs will beat the Thunder in 6 games. In the East, I expect Miami to beat either Philly (5 games) or Boston (6 games). Here’s why, as well as a recap of my 2nd round predictions:

Thunder vs Spurs

This is a classic example of speed and athleticism vs execution and experience. While the Thunder are clearly more athletic, the Spurs can counter OKC’s athleticism by:

  • emphasizing defensive rebounding to limit second chance opportunities
  • sacrificing offensive rebounds to get back on defense
  • fouling as little as possible
  • scheming to deny Durant
  • encouraging Westbrook to take a lot of mid-range jumpers

I’m also of the opinion that the Spurs can minimize the impact of Ibaka and Perkins by playing Bonner, forcing OKC to either move Ibaka out to the perimeter or – more likely – take out Perkins, move Ibaka to center, and then shift Durant over to Bonner and play Sefolosha as a SF. In my opinion, this hypothetical line-up:

Westbrook at PG (Green or Parker covers)
Harden at SG (Green or Ginobili covers)
Sefolosha at SF (cross-match – Bonner covers)
Durant at PF (Leonard covers)
Ibaka at C (Duncan covers)

favors the Spurs, as they can scheme to limit Durant, hide Bonner on Sefolosha, and let Duncan go to work on the smaller and less experienced Ibaka.

Still, “scheming to deny Durant” is easier said than done, and encouraging Westbrook to shoot is not a fool-proof strategy. San Antonio is going to need Parker and Duncan to shine, and they’re going to need Ginobili to play well enough to put one of OKC’s guards (Sefolosha, Harden, or possibly Westbrook) in foul trouble.

OKC can win if Durant and Westbrook get hot, or if Parker has a bad game. In my opinion, OKC doesn’t have a line-up that can punish the Spurs. Ultimately, OKC will lose this series because they can’t defend well enough to overcome San Antonio’s precision execution.

Finally, and this might sound crazy, but there’s absolutely no reason that San Antonio can’t sweep the Thunder. The Spurs execution is perfect. If OKC tries to win with gambling defense and pure athleticism, they’re going to give up a lot of open 3′s and layups off of cuts.

Heat vs Boston (or Philly)

If the Heat draw Philly, the series will be over quickly. While Philly’s depth and execution has been surprising, they’re a less capable version of the Pacers. As we saw in the 2nd round, an inexperienced team isn’t capable of executing well enough to punish the Heat for their aggressive defense. Philly will lose the same way that Indiana did, but they’ll do it faster because they don’t have the interior presence that caused Miami so much trouble.

If the Heat draw Boston, the series could go 7 games. Boston has shown that when they’re emotionally involved, they’re a tough out. There’s also the fact that Miami has no one who can cover Rondo for 40+ minutes, and that KG is playing like he’s 10 years younger. Boston can’t be taken for granted here.

Still, Miami’s talent is undeniable, and if they get back Bosh, I would guess a Boston series goes no more than 6 games.

Recapping My Second Round Predictions

- I missed the Celtics vs Philly series, as I really didn’t expect Philly to be so competitive. I assumed that Philly wouldn’t have the confidence to challenge Boston, but I was wrong. Philly needs a big man to be a real contender, but they’re a game away from being a real contender now, which just goes to show a deep team that plays tough defense should never be taken for granted.

- I missed the Pacers/Heat series by a game, but only because Bosh got hurt. I’m not going to apologize for that.

- I had the Thunder beating L.A. in 5, but I really didn’t anticipate all the games would be so close. OKC stole at least one victory, and needed Kobe’s help to win another. While OKC was clearly the better team, L.A. showed that some clever scheming and emphasis on rebounding could take OKC out of their comfort zone.

- I thought the Clippers would win at least one game. I’m going to blame Chris Paul’s injury for missing my prediction.

- Lastly, I thought the Grizz would beat the Clippers, and that didn’t happen. The Clippers are a better team than I thought, and the Grizzlies aren’t nearly as good when Zach Randolph isn’t 100%.

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Thoughts on The Nuggets Future Tue, 15 May 2012 17:20:44 +0000 JL Denver’s performance against the Lakers in this year’s playoffs highlighted their youth and their dependence upon jump shooting, but it also showed their potential:

  • Faried, despite being undersized, will grow as a scorer. The Nuggets should look forward to having a very good “dirty work” player which opposing teams can’t cheat off of.
  • Galinari, despite overhandling the ball and making some mystifying choices on defense in the playoffs, has shown he can be a semi-reliable half court scorer. Combined with his length and his outside shooting, he’s a tough match-up.
  • With his combination of speed, shooting, and aggressiveness, Lawson has shown star potential. I just read a great little recap of the Nuggets season that compared Lawson to Tony Parker…and I think that’s generous, but it’s also interesting. Lawson definitely hasn’t hit his ceiling yet (at least I hope not).
  • When Afflalo’s confidence is high, he can score surprisingly well. When it’s not, he’s still an excellent defender.
  • Chandler is a solid all-around player who would be a great 3rd scoring option.
  • Mozgov continues to show potential as an all-around big man, only I’m not sure he’s the right all-around big man for the Nuggets.
  • Koufos didn’t have much success in the playoffs, but in the regular season he performed pretty well. Worst case, he’s a solid rotation player.
  • McGee showed he has the potential to be a dominant talent, but also showed that he’s got a lot of work to do to get there.
In order for the Nuggets to plan their future, they need to figure out:
  1. Who is untouchable and who has value?
  2. What do they need?
  3. What are the goals?

Which Nuggets Are Untouchable? Which Have Value?

Of all the players on the roster, the most important are Lawson and McGee. In my view, these are the only two players who have a shot at growing into true stars, and therefore they should be almost untouchable in any trade discussion. Lawson is close to reaching the star level now, and I’m excited to see where his game improves during the off-season.

McGee, on the other hand, isn’t very close to that star level. He needs at least another 2 years, and perhaps another 3-4 years…and perhaps never. In order to be a star, McGee needs to get to a place where his scoring skills can match his raw physical gifts. He needs a much more refined post game and passing skills when the inevitable double team arrives. He also needs to understand how to find flow in the offense, where to be, etc. He’s got a lot of learning to do to be a better offensive player.

Defensively, McGee’s size and his aggressiveness already make him a defensive asset. With some good coaching, McGee can learn when to go for the block and when to stay on the ground. Coaching can also help him learn how to be a better help defender. If you assume he’s going to continue to grow and get stronger, his ability as a one-on-one post defender should grow as well. I see McGee becoming a significant defensive presence next season (like Marcus Camby even), especially if the Nuggets re-sign him.

After McGee and Lawson, the other untouchable players are Koufos, Faried, and Hamilton. Koufos should be considered untouchable due to his combo of low salary and potential – the Nuggets simple can’t find a backup big with his skills for any less. In the case of Faried and Hamilton, it’s too early to trade them as their potential still isn’t clear.

The rest of the roster should be considered available for the right offer. Here are the players with value and why they’re movable:

  • Galinari and Chandler have both just about hit their ceiling, which means it’s time to think about selling.
  • Afflalo has definitely hit his ceiling. When your assets hit peak value, you always have to think about moving them.
  • Mozgov is a good prospect, but the odds that he will become a star big man are low. His potential is still intriguing, however, so there are a few teams that would be interested in trading for him.
  • Brewer and Fernandez are replaceable, and they might have some value for the right team.

Harrington and Chris Anderson might have value in a trade, but they’re both old and pretty well paid, so they’re not exactly hot commodities. I doubt anyone would be interested in trading for one of these players without offering a similar type of player in return.

What Do The Nuggets Need?

Everything except a starting point guard. They’re good – but not great – at every other position, which means trading for a great SG, SF, PF, or C would be an upgrade over the player currently holding that slot on the roster.

What Are The Goals?

Aside from the obvious (winning a championship), the Nuggets goals should be:

  1. Continue to stockpile and grow assets
  2. Maintain salary flexibility at all times
  3. Structure the roster so that all the players peak at about the same time
  4. Leverage their assets and flexibility to obtain an elite player and make a championship push

What Should The Nuggets Do Next?

Considering that so many of the Nuggets current players have yet to reach their peak, and considering that the current roster can compete in the playoffs, the Nuggets don’t need to do anything. They can continue to develop their talent and see where it takes them. However, there are some problems with the current roster. First, the Nuggets will have 15 players under contract, assuming they keep all three of their draft picks and amnesty Anderson. Second, they have roster overlap at the forward positions, with four starter-level players to share two slots. Third, pending some other roster moves, the Nuggets will essentially be ‘capped’ out once they re-sign McGee in 12-13 and then again when they extend Lawson in 13-14 (I’m assuming both will earn deals in the neighborhood of $10 million a year). Once the Nuggets hit the cap, goal #2 is impacted, which in turn impacts goal #4. Therefore, the Nuggets should:

  1. Amnesty Chris Anderson. Perhaps the Nuggets could “pay” someone to take Anderson in exchange for one or two of their 2nd round picks in the upcoming draft (unlikely I think, but who knows in this draft). Otherwise, he’s a good amnesty candidate.
  2. Trade Mozgov by the 2013 trade deadline. It’s clear that McGee is the future (or at least the guy the Nuggets want to work with), which means Mozgov is the odd man out. Considering his size and cheap contract, someone will take a flyer on him in exchange for a draft pick or an interesting rookie.
  3. Waive goodbye to Rudy Fernandez. He adds depth, shooting, and he’s a surprisingly good passer, but he’s also a drama queen. Portland traded him for a reason – he should be signed and traded.
  4. Sign a veteran PG to back-up Lawson. While Lawson might have the experience he needs to close out games on his own now, I’d like to see Denver bring in a veteran to run the point and help manage close games down the stretch as needed. Delonte West, John Lucas, Kirk Hinrich, Andre Miller (who probably won’t sign), and Chauncey Billups should all be on Denver’s radar. Hinrich would be a great addition in my view, mostly because he can backup either position, he’s a solid defensive player, and has years of experience. Keyon Dooling and Royal Ivey would both be good 3rd PG options, assuming Denver doesn’t keep Stone or draft a PG.
  5. Bring McGee off the bench for the first half of the 12-13 season, mostly because he needs to do a lot of work to prove he’s not a knucklehead. Starting Mozgov and/or Koufos over McGee will help ensure he’s continuing to work hard.
  6. Trade cap relief for talent this summer. One of Denver’s smartest moves last year was turning off-season cap space into Fernandez and Brewer, two young guys who may have trade value this summer or next spring. If Denver waits to sign McGee and doesn’t renounce Fernandez, they’ll have $5 million in cap space they can use to help another team reduce their salary. If they renounce Fernandez, that goes to $8 million before re-signing McGee. Undoubtedly there are teams in the league that would send Denver $5-$8 million in expiring contracts in exchange for a pick or a good young prospect.
  7. Be on the lockout for the next big deal. Denver has a great combination of youth, picks, and cap flexibility. They should focus on turning these assets into a star should one become available.
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Fire Mike Brown After One Season? Come on! Sun, 13 May 2012 21:39:33 +0000 JL Fans and analysts alike have consistently panned Mike Brown as a coach. When Brown was coaching the Cavs, we heard that his offense wasn’t creative and that he’s not a very good X’s and O’s guy (at least on offense). Now that Brown is coaching the Lakers, we’re hearing that anything less than a Lakers triumph in the first round is cause to fire Brown.

This is ridiculous.

Since the Lakers won, Brown’s job is now “safe.” But just in case this idea rears it’s head again (and it will), here’s why it’s so resoundingly stupid to fire Mike Brown after one season:

1. It’s a shortened season. A new coach must be given a chance to install a system that maximizes his available talent, and Brown hasn’t had that chance. He’s never had a full training camp, nor most of the practices a team usually has during the season.

2. The Lakers have no spacing because they have no shooters. Contrary to popular belief, coaches don’t score points. If the Lakers had any sort of reliable perimeter shooting outside of Kobe, they’d be a heck of a lot better. The thing is, Blake, Barnes, and Metta World Peace (MWP) are below average 3pt shooters who can go on bad shooting streaks that last weeks at a time. It’s pretty tough to have an elite post game if you don’t have perimeter shooting, because the defense will double the post players without it.

3. Bynum is too immature to be counted upon. We’ve all seen what the great Phil Jackson managed to accomplish with just Kobe and a bunch of role players – it was disappointing. Yet no one called for firing Jackson. Today, we have Kobe, a bunch of role players, and then Gasol and Bynum. While I’ll get to Gasol in a minute, the problem with Bynum is obvious: He’s immature. Chronically so. No coach should be penalized for Bynum’s knucklehead behavior and inconsistent effort, where Bynum is a star one day and a role player the next.

Some people might say that Brown’s job is to “motivate” Bynum, but this is bullshit. You can’t motivate stupid, and Bynum is just about as stupid as someone can be when you consider his wealth, inflated ego, and status in one of the world’s biggest media markets. Bynum is impossible to motivate externally – the best Brown could do is refuse to play him until he “shapes up,” but I doubt that would help L.A. win more games. If anything, Brown should get credit for extracting more performance out of Bynum than the great Phil Jackson managed to get a year prior.

4. Gasol is a duplicate player. I think Gasol is getting a bad rap for his play in L.A., mostly because he’s being asked to play out of position. When the Lakers played their best in years past, Gasol was a starting center. Now that Bynum has begun to emerge, Gasol is being asked to play PF. In today’s NBA, many starting PFs are “tweener” guys who can often move and/or shoot like SFs. Gasol would be better off playing at the 5, where his lack of speed and agility wouldn’t be such a problem on defense.

This is true on offense as well – Gasol’s strength is his unique combination of post play, passing, and shooting. Yet his post game is an afterthought most of the time (Bynum gets all the good post looks), and Gasol’s passing isn’t generating points because LA has no shooters. This means that the only way Gasol can contribute is to be a jump shooter, and that’s just not a good use of his talents. Gasol needs to be traded for a quicker PF as well as a guard that can shoot.

5. Scoring is down because the pace is slower. I think the more casual fan looks at the Lakers lower scoring totals and assume that Brown is doing a poor job. However, the Lakers play at a much slower pace this year, so scoring is lower.

6. Jackson’s coaching shoes are impossible to fill. Brown is following one of the greats, and while comparing him to Jackson is natural, it’s grossly unfair. Jackson was absolutely a better coach than Mike Brown, but Jackson was also better than most or all of the coaches in the NBA. Brown is doing fine all things considered.

The problem in LA is the roster, and that’s not Brown’s fault.

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2012 NBA Playoff Predictions – Second Round Sun, 13 May 2012 01:27:14 +0000 JL As I write this post, the 2nd round has been underway for about an hour (only I haven’t seen a minute of them yet). Here are my predictions:

Eastern Conference

  • Boston over Philly in 6
  • Miami over Indy in 5

Western Conference

  • OKC in  5 games, no matter who they play
  • SAS over Memphis in 6 games OR SAS over the Clippers in 5

More on these picks – as well as a recap of the first round – below.

Eastern Conference Semis

I’ve got Boston over Philly in 6, but my fear is that Philly won’t show up. Prior to Derrick Rose going down, Philly looked like a team that was just about ready to fold if you include their mediocre performance to close out the regular season. Of course, winning a playoff series can invigorate a team, so perhaps my fears of a Boston sweep are unfounded.

Of course, when you look at the matchups, the only area where Philly really has an advantage is their bench. Boston has a clear advantage at the PG (Rondo) and Center (KG), and I think the rest of the players are a about a push…only it may be that Pierce will outplay Igoudala as well.

As for Miami and Indiana, the Heat should win in 5 games. I saw exactly what I thought I would of the Pacers in round 1 – a young team that doesn’t have the experience or confidence to compete. Not only did Indy lose a game to an inferior team in the first round, they damn near coughed up two more. Indy should have run rough-shod over the Magic, and the fact that they didn’t is proof that this is a young team still learning how to win.

Still, if you’re a Pacers fan, you’ve got a lot to look forward to in years to come.

Western Conference Semis

I’ve got the Thunder winning their next series in 5 games no matter who they play, and frankly that’s probably high. OKC has the combination of offense and defense to sweep either the Lakers or the Nuggets. L.A. could take OKC to seven games, but they’ll need everyone to play perfectly to do so…and I think we’ve seen that Bynum is far from reliable in this regard. Denver would need all their scorers to hit their shots to push OKC, and even then they need to execute perfectly down the stretch to beat OKC in one game, let alone winning three or four.

Regarding the Spurs vs the Clippers, I see it being a short series (5 games). Chris Paul is a truly incredible talent, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to outplay Tony Parker enough to carry his team. Beyond Paul, we have Blake Griffin and Caron Butler. Griffin is a handful (more of a handful than I thought, in fact), but my guess is that Popovich would be able to scheme to minimize his impact. Butler is a fine veteran player, but the Spurs have three or four guys that can play as well as Butler or better. Throw in San Anotonio’s superior depth, and the only way the Clippers win a game is behind some Chris Paul heroics.

Finally, if the Spurs draw the Grizzlies (and I think they will), it will be a tough out. While San Antonio is clearly the better team, the combination of a beefy Memphis front line and a tenacious defender to disrupt things (Allen) will make the Grizzlies a tough matchup. Nonetheless, the Spurs offense is powerful and the defense is above average (and, unlike last year, Splitter can contribute and Z-Bo is still rounding into shape). They will be able to outscore Memphis just enough to win, probably in 6 games.

As always, my predictions are prefaced on the notion that there aren’t any major injuries.

Recapping my First Round Predictions

- I missed the Chicago series by a mile, but only because Rose got hurt. Up until the last minute of that 1st game, it looked like Chicago was going to cream the 76ers, so I’m not going to apologize for this one.

- Like everyone in the NY media, I probably gave the Knicks a bit too much credit…but I will say that this series could have gone an extra game had Shumpert not hurt his knee. I’m not going to apologize for this one either.

- I gave Orlando too much credit thinking they could win two games. The stats were pretty clear that Indy was going to blow them out, but I believed in SVG and veteran guile a little too much. Having said that, a couple of the games were a lot closer than they should have been, so at least I wasn’t off by much.

- I called the Boston/Atlanta series dead on, including the fact that Josh Smith is an immature player who ultimately cost his team.

- I called Spurs/Jazz dead on too, but that one was obvious.

- I gave the Mavs too much credit because they’re stocked with cagey veterans. The stats were clear that this would be a sweep.

- Lakers/Nuggets is still up in the air, but my prediction didn’t account for McGee’s impact on the series, and looking back it should have been more obvious that McGee would be a big of a matchup problem for Bynum. I’m not nearly as confident that the Lakers will win this series as I was a few days ago, especially after seeing Bynum lay an egg in game 6. Still, don’t bet against the Mamba in game 7…especially at home.

- I completely missed the Memphis/Clippers series, even if I ultimately picked the winner (I have Memphis, but we won’t find out if that’s right until tomorrow). I just didn’t see much in Blake Griffin in the handful of Clippers games I’ve watched, but it’s clear that he’s grown substantially. More than I gave him credit for, as I didn’t think he’d have much impact and clearly he has.

As always, if I botch a prediction, feel free to mock me in the comments.

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2012 NBA Playoff Predictions – First Round Sat, 28 Apr 2012 18:06:10 +0000 JL As I write this post at 1:30pm Eastern, the playoffs have just begun…here are my predictions:


  • San Antonio sweeps
  • OKC in 5
  • LA in 7
  • Memphis in 6


  • Chicago sweeps
  • Miami in 6
  • Indiana in 6
  • Boston in 6

More on these picks below.

Eastern Conference First Round:

Chicago vs Philly – Chicago should sweep the 76ers. Philly seems to be sliding a bit right now, but more importantly they just can’t muster the offensive production to overcome Chicago’s defense. This series will be a low-scoring affair, with 5 games only a small possibility.

Miami vs NY – Miami in 6. While Melo will certainly show up big in at least one prime-time game, his poor defensive habits and ball-stopping play will hurt his team as much as his offense helps. Ditto for Amare, who’s mediocre offensive contributions will be a non-factor when compared to his defensive lapses. Perhaps if Jeremy Lin were healthy the outcome would be a little closer, but as of now NY’s best players are Melo and Chandler, and those two aren’t enough to overcome LeBron, Wade, Bosh, a solid cast of role players, and an under-rated coaching staff.

Indiana vs Orlando – Indiana in 6. I’d still pick Indiana if Dwight Howard were healthy, as Indiana’s combination of excellent defense and athletic youth will give Orlando fits. However, since they’re a young team, I fully expect Orlando to outfox them at least once and likely twice. Helping Orlando’s cause is the fact that Stan Van Gundy outclasses his counterpart in Indiana (Vogel).

Atlanta vs Boston – Boston in 6. Boston’s defense has been outstanding over the last third of the season, and something tells me their status as an underdog makes them incredibly dangerous. Atlanta, for all their talent, relies too heavily on Josh Smith, a chronically immature player who probably won’t ever win anything at this level. Joe Johnson is the x-factor here, but I don’t think he’ll outplay Pierce. Most importantly, Atlanta has no answer for Rondo.

Western Conference First Round:

San Antonio vs Utah – San Antonio sweep. Utah’s massive front line combination of Jefferson, Favors, and Millsap is sure to cause problems for San Antonio’s defense, but Utah’s defense is completely outclassed by the Spurs. Considering that San Antonio’s coaching staff is smart enough to come up with a variety of schemes to counter Jefferson (Utah’s best player and biggest advantage), I don’t see any way Utah wins a game. Their defense just isn’t that great.

OKC vs Dallas – OKC in 5. Frankly, all my study tells me that this will be a sweep, but Dallas probably has another gear they’ve been saving for the post season. Still, OKC outmatches Dallas at every position but one…and I don’t think Nowitzki can carry Dallas any further than Durant can carry OKC.

Lakers vs Nuggets – Lakers in 7. As a Nuggets fan, this is a series that’s close to my heart. While I’m genuinely curious to see how L.A. matches up with any number of Nuggets small ball line-ups, I’m reminded of the fact that L.A. has two players Denver can’t match up with. The first is a guy named Kobe. The second is Bynum, who is too big and too good for any of Denver’s young bigs. Still, Denver is going to trick L.A. into running a little more than they should, and that means they could make this a series.

Memphis vs Clippers – Memphis in 6. The Clippers biggest asset is Chris Paul, a guy who seems to elevate his game during the playoffs. However, Memphis has more talent at every position except point guard, a deeper bench, and arguably a better coach. There’s also the fact that Paul has a groin injury and that Tony Allen is going to make Paul’s life very very difficult.

Some Other Notes

1. Obviously, injuries can change the outcome of a series. I’m not owning any prediction where a team’s best players don’t show up to play every game (Chicago and the Clippers in particular).

2. The Knicks are incredibly overrated as a playoff team, mostly because NY media types love the home-town team. Don’t be surprised if this series is a big fat dud.

3. The Nuggets are going to have to find a way to play some combo of Al Harrington, Kenneth Faried, and/or Danillo Galinari on the floor at the same time if they want to win the series, but none of these players can possibly hope to contain Bynum or Gasol. Denver will use a variety of tricks to try and manage this mis-match, but I fully expect to see either Mozgov or Koufos on the floor all game long. That’s not going to help Denver’s offense.

4. Dallas could surprise everyone, but I don’t think so. Looking back at years past, it’s the same team Dallas had before Chandler arrived – one that laid a couple of 1st round eggs (most famously against the 8 seed Warriors).

5. All the stats tell me that the Clippers should win their series, but the match-ups are strongly in favor of Memphis. Will be very interesting to see this one.

6. While I admit I’m a bit of a Nuggets homer, I see this series being close. In years past, the 1st round has always seemed to be the toughest for LA (seems like they use the 1st round to get up to speed), and I genuinely believe that Denver’s scoring ability at the perimeter will make this a tough series for low-scoring L.A. Obviously, I’m hoping for an upset.

7. If you’re reading this after the fact and my predictions are wrong, feel free to give me the business in the comments below. Just know that I, unlike you, made the effort to predict the outcomes publicly. No points are awarded if you don’t even bother to play.

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