Oh my God if you don't like basketball you'll hate this.
Okay, the playoffs are in full motion. The NBA playoffs are a beautiful but imperfect tournament that provides me with dozens of hours of entertainment every year. I love the NBA playoffs more than I do March Madness. Why? Simple: better basketball. People always talk about the atmosphere in March Madness and how it's so great, when really it's so-so, in terms of fan emotion. March madness does have a greater sense of urgency and player emotion, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that we're watching kids out there. The fans are really watered down from regular season play because the student bodies are not as prevalent due to the neutral locations. Meanwhile, NBA fans pack their local stadiums to watch the best players in the world play the best basketball in the world. Sorry kids, that's unbeatable.
I mentioned earlier, though, that the NBA playoffs aren't perfect; they're not. The first round has so much fail-potential. March Madness is perfect for this reason. There's no way you can watch March Madness and not be entertained. In the NBA, however, there's so many chances for less-than-perfection. More teams make it into the NCAA tournament, but there are more games played in the NBA playoffs (15 series', between 4-7 games per series, as opposed to 67 games). So you get to see the teams more, they're better, the games are just as exciting, but it lacks the key that makes March irresistible: the upsets. The NBA playoffs are characteristically predictable, but that doesn't make them less enjoyable.
People watched in amazement as Connecticut and Butler put on an abysmal showing in the NCAA Championship game, shooting a little for a ton on both counts, and presenting a blowout to fans as the lasting memory of a crappy 2010-11 season. Meanwhile, the NBA irons it out to benefit the later rounds, making sure that the NBA Finals are going to figure out the absolute best basketball team in the world.
Each NBA series though is worthy of interest in some form or another. Here's my breakdown of every matchup. (Sigh, said the person still reading for solidarity.)
1. Chicago Bulls v. 8. Indiana Pacers (CHI leads 2-0)
The lovable hometown favorite. I say "lovable" because I love them and so should you. The Bulls function like your favorite superhero, Batman. They have the will, the talent, the gadgets and the swagger to get the job done, but not by making it look easy. Derrick Rose leads the team against an Indiana Pacers squad that aspires to little more than stub Chicago's toe on their way to the next rounds. The Pacers have been a thorn in Chicago's ass, and it shows, as my brother is a panicky mess, worrying about teams like Orlando and Atlanta, let alone Boston or Miami. But the Bulls are designed to win close games. They had less wins by 10+ points (28) than Miami (33), despite winning 4 more games. The Bulls win because Derrick Rose closes the game out like no one in the league right now, and if I'm Indiana, I expect to play like this against Chicago. If the Pacers get a game in Indianapolis, I remain unworried.
Indiana's version of Joakim Noah — Tyler Hansbrough — is proving utterly hatable to everyone but Pacers fans, and the rest of the Pacers are following his scrappy lead. The only advantage held by the Pacers is at center, where Roy Hibbert is too big for Noah to handle. Luol Deng is a reasonable match for Danny Granger, but the real mismatch is at point guard. Derrick Rose is simply too much for the Pacers, and we'll definitely see Chicago advancing within a week or so.
4. Orlando Magic v. 5. Atlanta Hawks (Series TIED 1-1)
This is one of two candidates for playoff series' that don't matter. Orlando made the NBA Finals in 2009, but got beaten handily by Los Angeles and hasn't had as good of a team since. Atlanta, meanwhile, has been a hilariously pathetic team in the playoffs, getting swept out of the last two postseasons in the second round each time. I wouldn't mind seeing them suffer a similar fate (and frankly, that's possible), but it remains to be seen if they can beat Orlando. The window is closing for this Magic team, and Dwight Howard might want out sooner rather than later if Orlando can't muster a first round win. Atlanta, meanwhile, has held the same nucleus of guys (minus a Mike Bibby or two) for the last three years and has been pathetic in the postseason each time. There window is also closing. Two good teams. Neither of them great. The NBA doesn't want to see either of these teams make a run, so you shouldn't either.
2. Miami Heat v. 7. Philadelphia 76ers (MIA leads 2-0)
The Heat shook off some jitters in Game 1 to overtake Philly, and then dominated them in Game 2. Philadelphia is overmatched in this series, because Philadelphia sucks. They somehow have managed an over-.500 record in the regular season. There prize is to get whupped by the Heat. They might steal a game at home, but I'd put my money on Miami thwomping them twice and making Philadelphia wonder why it can't put Michael Vick on its basketball team (HELLUVA POINT GUARD).
3. Boston Celtics v. 6. New York Knicks (BOS leads 2-0)
Everyone wants this to be a good series, including these two teams. They want to hate each other. They're Boston and New York, they have to hate each other. New York once again has star power (other than Isiah Thomas thank God) with Carmelo Anthony, who will try to take on a real-functioning basketball team with more than just a clusterfuck of stars as we've seen in New York and Miami. Amare, Carmelo and the gang have pretty much asked Boston to become rivals and Boston has responded by just repeatedly beating them in close games. The NBA equivalent of holding the pipsqueek kid back by his head as he swings pathetically under your arm. I think the Knicks can win two games in this series, maybe three even if they hold serve at home, but I definitely don't see them coming back.
That's the Eastern Conference. Here's the West.
1. San Antonio Spurs v. Memphis Grizzlies (Series TIED 1-1)
In the first major upset game of the postseason, the Grizzlies ousted the Manu Ginobili-less Spurs on their home court. The Grizzlies are wonderful, despite the fact that they're from Memphis. I think, personally, that it wouldn't be farfetched for Memphis to upend San Antonio in the first round. San Antonio's old. They're offensively excellent, but defensively lacking and aging faster than wood (which actually holds its age quite well). The Grizzlies are solid all around, and have been on the cusp of the postseason for a few years now. Don't expect them to go quietly. Fuck it, I'm taking the Grizzlies in 6.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder v. Denver Nuggets (OKC leads 2-0)
Fuck this series. I reeeeally like both of these teams. They rank 1 and 2 in my "teams I'm rooting for if the Bulls die in the playoffs" rankings. Denver is No. 1, and this is all because they traded away Melo. They've got ten guys (Felton, Lawson, Afflalo [get healthy!], Smith, Chandler, Gallinari, Martin, Harrington, Anderson, Nene) who I love to watch playing in their too-deep rotation, and none of them are all that damn good. This results in a bunch of dudes trying to be as awesome as possible, akin to the 2007 Warriors that set my heart ablaze all (four of) those years ago.
Meanwhile, the Thunder have this new hipster fanbase that's going crazy because the state of Oklahoma finally has a professional sports team, they've got Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, both of whom are tantalizing scorers with swag to match. They've got the scowl in Kendrick Perkins and Serge "I-blocka" (Ibaka) banging in the low post*, add James Harden's awesome playoff beard/mohawk and you've got an equally supercharged team that lights up the scoreboard and burns tons of highlight tape. This series has gone OKC's way so far, but I'd be shocked if it was over before it got back there. I think Denver can stretch it out, but OKC has the advantage and shouldn't fuck it up. Thunder in 6/7.
2. Los Angeles Lakers v. 7. New Orleans Hornets (Series TIED 1-1)
Get outta here. New Orleans is playing their asses off and still got beat by a sorta-trying LA team. I really like New Orleans' heart, and I think they can take a game on their homecourt, but they don't stand a chance against an LA team that so clearly overmatches them. Chris Paul is fantastic, and when he's on, is as fun as anybody to watch. However, the Lakers have too much size, too many 3-point shooters and too many Kobe Bryant's for the Hornets to feasibly win this series. In a lovely underdog story, the Hornets lose Game 7.
3. Dallas Mavericks v. 6. Portland Trailblazers (DAL leads 2-0)
The winner of the "doesn't matter" award, this series is pretty damn boring. Dallas and Portland have no fun rivalry to draw from, no outstanding star players to duel, and no realistic Finals chances for either team.
So why watch this series?
Well, Dirk shoots one of the prettiest slash ugliest jumpers in the world, and watching him is amazing. The Mavericks also have several high-octane energy guys that can make a game fun to watch. The Blazers will try to out-tough the Mavs, and will probably come up short. Having said that, I think this series goes six games before the Mavs run into the buzzsaw that is the LA Lakers.
So, that's what the first round of the playoffs looks like. I am in the process of loving it, and will continue to do so until a champion is crowned in June. Hell yeah.
As for further predictions (because I'm pretty sure Classic Brian would fire me if I wrote another lengthy sports post like this one), I'm just going to say Lakers over Thunder, Bulls over Celtics, Bulls beat the Lakers in the Finals in six games. Derrick Rose will not be denied.
Anyway it's super late and I only got three hours of sleep in the past 40 hours, so I'm gonna work on that.
Sorry this was late.