Sorry, everybody. No Worst of the Weekend today. I couldn't get to it. To be honest, I'm worn down, physically and psychologically. I took a little break from NBA basketball this weekend.
Here are some thoughts about all the playoff teams in both conferences.
The Pacers are going to be first round hors d'oeuvres. They might win one game, probably at home, if they get hot from downtown. But they are probably the most toothless of the playoff teams.
The Knicks can't play defense. Can't do it. Or won't do it. Or aren't coached to do it. Whatever the case, I trust their playoff hopes the way I'd trust a fat person to watch my candy bar.
Philly could put a scare into somebody -- either the Heat or Celtics -- because they play hard and they're well-coached. But I doubt they could expect to win more than one, maybe two games against the Heat. I could see them pushing Boston to seven games, tho'.
The Hawks. Oh, man. This team is very nearly the definition of mediocrity. Or maybe a wee little half-step above mediocrity. Last year's 53-win season was the apex for this group. They will never, ever make it past the second round. The only reason they're not a mortal lock for first round elimination this season is because of the Magic.
Orlando is just poorly constructed. Their best player, whom some people feel is the statistical MVP, can't hit free throws, keep his cool or be trusted with the ball in his hands in crunch time. If they want to win close games, they're going to have to trust Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu to get it done. That pretty much says it all.
It feels like the Celtics are washed up. That might be emotion talking. Or it might be the cold, hard facts. The talent's still there, for the most part, but their chemistry was destroyed by the Kendrick Perkins trade. That trade was the right move on paper. It was a savvy business decision made for long-term considerations. Put it this way, would the Celtics want to be paying Perk $8 million four years from now when Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are gone (or just forgotten)? No. But it cost them what was probably their last shot at a title. They don't believe anymore. I don't care what they say to the contrary.
Much as I hate to say it, the Heat will probably win the East. I know Chicago is a popular pick right now, and, as picks go, the Bulls are a good one. They've been a better team, play better defense, have a better bench. They bring it every night. But the playoffs usually are about the best players. The bench becomes less important. Tom Thibodeau's defense has slowed down Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James...but can it slow down LeBron and D-Wade every night in a long playoff series? Could anybody's defense?
The Bulls have had an amazing season, all things considered. I mean, 60 wins despite a combined 60 games missed by Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah? This is a detemined, dedicated group of players. Unfortunately, I think their flaws are going to be exposed in the postseason. That's what tends to happen when the schedules even out and teams can devise new schemes on a game-by-game basis. Chicago's D is fantastic but their offense relies so heavily on Derrick Rose that slowing him down becomes the key to beating the Bulls (much like slowing down James was the key to beating the Cavaliers the last few seasons). They're going to throw constant double-teams at Rose and dare Luol Deng, Boozer, Noah and, yes, Keith Bogans to beat them. I predict a Heat-Bulls Eastern Conference Finals in which the scores will be hard-on-the-eyes low and the LeBron-Wade duo will trump the Rose uno. As a Bulls blogger, this pains me.
Out West, the Hornets and Grizzlies are fighting over seventh and eighth place. Not sure it matters which team gets seeded where. The Hornets are without David West and there's something wrong with Chris Paul. And the Grizzlies are the Grizzlies. To me, Memphis is to this season what Milwaukee was to last season. That fun, unexpected, kinda out-of-nowhere team that will get eliminated, enter next season with heightened expectations, and then fail. Assuming there is a next season. Insert pessimistic lockout comment here.
The Frail Blazers have played so well despite so many injuries. And they're 7-3 in their last 10 games. But I see their road record (18-22) and point differential (+1.7) and wonder how good they'll really be come playoff time. If they play Dallas in the first round, they should be in good shape. Otherwise...
Ah, Denver, such a good team since 'Melo got shipped to New York. So scrappy! You know, maybe I was wrong, maybe the Grizzlies aren't this year's Bucks. Maybe the Nuggets are. That seem more accurate. Right now this team is riding high on the Ewing Theory and the fact that nobody really knows what to expect from them. That last part will change in a playoff series. I have this nagging "first round elimination" vibe. Also a "they're not going to be nearly as good next season" vibe.
A few days ago, I read an article in which Kevin Durant remarked that people had sort of "forgotten" about him this season. This was in reference to the MVP race. It might be a reasonable complaint, considering he's leading the league in scoring and the Thunder have won 54 games so far. In fact, thanks to last night's win over the Lakers, they could still conceivable finish with the second seed in the Western Conference. The Thunder do indeed seem to be a little better this season than they were last year. What's hurting him is that the team's improvement seems to be as much Russell Westbrook's doing as Durant's. Anyway, their middle-of-the-pack defense (15th in D-Rating) doesn't give me that championship feeling. Maybe Perk changes that. Maybe he doesn't. I guess we'll see.
Despite their recent four-game losing streak, the Mavericks could still finish second in the West if they win out and the Spurs beat the Lakers this week. But, man, does anybody outside of Dallas trust this team? Heck, does anybody in Dallas trust this team? They've been a one-and-out wonder during three of the last four seasons and I haven't seen much lately to convince me they're built for an extended playoff run. Let me put it this way: I would be willing to bet the bottom four seeds are all hoping they get a shot at the Mavs in the first round.
The Lakers' mystifying season continues. They've lost five in a row for the first time since 2006-07. They've alternated all season between looking unbeatable and helpless. But my take is that they've just been losing focus here and there. They're going for a threepeat, and I don't think the average person, or even knowledgeable NBA fans, understands what kind of focus and effort that takes. Now that they're in jeaopardy of losing the second seed, I'm beting they win their final two games. Then they'll probably look a little sluggish in the first round and then pick up steam on their way to the NBA Finals.
I know the Spurs have had a fantastic season...but something doesn't feel right about this squad. Their defense isn't horrible (11th in D-Rating) and they have the league's second-best offense (111.9 points per 100 possessions). However, they aren't strong on the boards and it feels like a team that pressures their outside shooters and can protect the rim reasonably well will beat them. Actually, you know what? I think getting out on their shooters will be enough.