This has got to be one of the greatest NBA seasons I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. From the off-season trades that brought together the powerhouse “Big Three” in Boston, to the perennial powerhouse Pistons showcasing Deeee-troit Basketball once again, to the emergence of the LA Lakers and New Orleans Hornets as the shocking leaders of the Western Conference, and finally to the Denver Nuggets being the first team in NBA History to record a 50 win season and finish as only an 8th seed heading into the playoffs.
NBA Playoffs 2008 kicked off this weekend, and boy did it ever live up to the hype! Although we didn’t see too many upset wins, as most of the top seeds beat the lower seeds (Ahem….sorry Pistons fans), it still proved to be exciting in almost every contest. The pinnacle was clearly the Suns/Spurs double overtime thriller, but I doubt many NBA fans were surprised about that given these two high performing teams in clutch time. If history repeats itself from previous playoff meetings, the Suns and Spurs series will be a possession to possession, highly aggressive battle from start to finish.
Even though NBA Playoffs 2008 started this weekend, I’m still hearing an abundance of NBA fans talking individual awards, most often about who will win the MVP. Priorities man, priorities! There is only one award that really matters at this point in the year, and that’s the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy!
Here are the Doc J-Water series by series predictions for Round 1 match-ups. I love this game!
LA Lakers (1) vs. Denver Nuggets (8)
For years a first seed playing an 8th seed in the NBA Playoffs meant a sweep or blowout. As we saw last year with the Golden State Warriors knocking out the 67-win Dallas Mavericks, you can no longer take anything for granted in the Western Conference. This series will be no exception for the LA Lakers. Although they clearly have the upper hand in that they play both ends of the floor, where the Nuggets are essentially non-existent defensively, the Nuggets do have enough firepower and scoring talent to just flat out dominate you offensively on any given night. The question for the Nuggets will be, can they do it at least 4 times in the 7 game series? My feeling is probably not.
The key to the Nuggets beating the Lakers would have to be their depth off the bench. J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza could spark their offense, if Iverson and Anthony have any off nights shooting. The Nuggets will also have to take care of business on their home court, where the altitude is probably one of their biggest assets. And the key for the Lakers will be to continue to have Pau Gasol punish the notoriously weak defensive Nugget team on the interior, for over committing on rotations to the lethal three point threats of Kobe Bryant, Fisher, Vujacic, and Radmanovic on the perimeter.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Lakers in 6
New Orleans Hornets (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
Will Mark Cuban get rewarded handsomely for taking the ultimate risk in trading away developing talent for an aging veteran superstar (Kidd) with a hefty contract? My guess is no. Since the departure of Steve Nash and Don Nelson, the Mavericks have significantly changed their style of play to a more balanced offensive/defensive team that plays “the right way” as Larry Brown used to say. This style of play can be effective for certain player personnel, but it isn’t a great fit for the free wheeling Jason Kidd. He is still putting up great numbers, but unless Avery Johnson completely lets go of the reigns and has gives Jason Kidd the full green light to operate in his style, the Mavericks will sputter through this series against the young Hornets.
With that being said, the Mavericks have a lot of veteran leadership on this team, with a lot of playoff experience. The type of experience the Mav’s players have will pay huge dividends down the stretch of games they can somehow keep close. Although Chris Paul has played unbelievable this season, along with David West and Tyson Chandler, I would predict that most games decided by 10 points or less would be in favor of the Mavericks. Look for Peja Stojakovic to come up huge in this series, while all eyes defensively are on Chris Paul and David West.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Hornets in 7
San Antonio Spurs (3) vs. Phoenix Suns (6)
Could someone please tell me how on God’s green earth did these two teams end up meeting in the first round of the playoffs?? Let’s face it, whoever wins this series has probably the most legitimate shot at winning the Western Conference. I really feel bad for whoever loses this series (well not as much the Spurs since they have a title as recent as 2007).
This is probably the most difficult series to predict an outcome, it’s really a coin flip. Although they have polar opposite styles of play, both teams play their style to perfection. Look for this series to go the distance with neither veteran team wanting to give an inch.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Suns in 7
Utah Jazz (4) vs. Houston Rockets (5)
Houston’s 22 game win streak will most likely be the highlight of the Rocket’s season for 2008. Although I love their team work, hustle, and blue-collar work ethic, without Yao Ming anchoring the team in the middle, the Rockets really don’t have a chance to beat anyone in the Western Conference playoffs this year.
The Jazz were almost unbeatable this year at home in Utah, and the Rockets haven’t been that strong since their legendary win streak. Couple this with the fact that Carlos Boozer is having probably his best season on both ends of the floor, and will have an inexperienced Luis Scola attempting to contain him on defense, and it spells sweep for the Jazz.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Jazz in 4
Boston Celtics (1) vs. Atlanta Hawks (8)
Sorry Hawks fans, but there will be no Cinderella story here. This one is all over, the Fat lady is singing! The addition of Mike Bibby did help the Atlanta Hawks offense start to show some of their untapped potential with all of the young talent on this team; however it is far from a finished product. Not to mention the fact that there is no team currently a bigger favorite to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy than the Hawks opponents, the Boston Celtics.
Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce will be itching to send a message to the rest of the league that their regular season showing was no fluke. This team is for real, they play both ends of the court with style, and their ‘team-first’ attitude for a team loaded with veteran super-stars pretty much gives the Celtics a lock for an Eastern Conference finals appearance. Celtics fans are already sayin’ “NEXT!”
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Celtics in 4
Detroit Pistons (2) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (7)
I know I’m writing this article after Game 1 is already in the books, but I seriously wasn’t all that surprised that the Sixer’s got the win. Philly has been working hard and playin’ tough down the stretch of the regular season to earn a playoff spot. That has kept them sharp and ready to roll. The Pistons on the other hand have had the #2 seed in the East locked up for what seems like forever. I always cringe when I see Coaches change their game and practice routines to close out the season after they lock in their seeds. Flip Saunders has been rotating through his stars giving them games and practices off to rest for the playoffs for the last few weeks. Basketball is a game of rhythm both physically and mentally, and I always felt that time off was much more dangerous for a players game, then taking the risk of suffering an injury by playing in a game that didn’t matter to the standings.
I have a strong suspicion though that Game 1 was the wake up call the Pistons needed to get serious and put on a display of true “Deeee-troit Basketball.” Enough of Wallace laughing and joking with his buddies. There is plenty of time for that in the off-season. For now it’s time for the nasty, aggressive, lock down defense style of Pistons play. Although Wallace’s cavalier attitude may not have affected his play, there is no doubt it affects that of his team mates who have always fed off his vibe.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Pistons in 6
Orlando Magic (3) vs. Toronto Raptors (6)
The Toronto Raptors had a high degree of success against the Orlando Magic in the regular season. Most of this success was due to Chris Bosh’s defense on Dwight Howard. Everyone looks at Bosh as the offensive leader of the Raps, but if they want to have even the slightest of chances at winning this series they will have to lean hard on Bosh and Nesterovic to slow down the Dunk Champion.
The Orlando Magic were on fire from long range in game one, so much so, I half jokingly expected to even get a J.J. Redick sighting off the bench. Jameer Nelson played very solid at the point, clearly outplaying the much talked about point guard combo of Ford/Calderon. My gut tells me that if the Raptors want to avoid a sweep they better switch Calderon and Ford’s roles and have Ford be the scoring spark off the bench with the second-line crew. Calderon seems much more comfortable in the starter’s role facilitating for his team mates, and getting the perimeter players off on the right foot to begin the game. When TJ starts the ball game he looks to score himself, or drive and dish to Bosh, which completely takes away from the perimeter players ‘pass-first’ style so common with a Colangelo team.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Magic in 5
Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Washington Wizards (5)
It’s become so commonplace for the last few years, that the NBA Playoffs just wouldn’t be the same without a Cavaliers and Wizards battle. Game 1 as expected was a grind on every possession with King James once again coming out on top. We all know what Lebron can do in the post-season so the real key to this series is finding him a secondary scorer to knock down shots on a consistent basis. In Game 1 that was the Big Z. I expect Delonte West to step up and play big for the Cavs for the remainder of this series.
The Wizards looked pretty good in the last half of the regular season, but unfortunately even the return of Gilbert Arenas won’t be enough to dethrone the defending Eastern Conference Champs this early in the post-season. The L-Train is chugging, full-steam ahead.
Dr. J-Water Prediction: Cavaliers in 6
Send in your comments and predictions, we want to hear about them! Regardless of who’s predictions come true though, this years playoffs are sure to be classic.