We've made a lot of noise around these parts concerning the impending playoff odyssey... in fact, we probably started making noise about it sometime in December. Still, nothing could have prepared us for what we have in front of us: Celtics with home court throughout. A Western Conference first round that may well be the greatest sustained two-week stretch of pro basketball we'll ever see. And, of course, the Atlanta Hawks, who are just so pleased to be here. Anyways, with things beginning in earnest tomorrow (although the Celtics don't play till Sunday, and if you didn't already know that chances are you misspelled a URL or something), I figured I'd offer up a quick take on things around the Sweet Sixteen, if only for posterity's sake.
Boston vs. Atlanta: Seeing as this is a Celtics blog I should probably have more to say about this than any other series, but Christ, what can I say that hasn't been said already. I'm not sure which NBA prognosticator first coined the phrase "Celtics in four" to describe this series, but a wise man was he. I'm sorry, but I just can't see the Hawks making this remotely interesting; it's just an outrageous mismatch. Celtics in four.
Detroit vs. Philadelphia: The Sixers are a great story, Mo Cheeks deserves Coach of the Year consideration, and they've done more with less talent than any team still standing. That said, the Pistons are having none of these guys. It's just not happening. Pistons in four.
Orlando vs. Toronto: I dunno, for me this is kind of the ultimate who-gives-a-shit series. The Dwight Howard-Chris Bosh storyline will be kind of fun but it'd be a lot more fun if they didn't play for the Magic and Raptors. The main point is that either of these teams will probably get completely demolished in the second round. For now I'll respect Orlando's regular season proficiency and give it to the Magic in six.
Cleveland vs. Washington: Ding-ding-ding!!! The one first round Eastern Conference series worth its salt. This one will good, and the shit-talking is already in mid-series form. The Wizards are good (just ask the Celtics) but after last year, can you bring yourself to pick against LeBron in the first round? Don't even answer. Cavs in seven.
Before I begin, I'd like to take issue with Tim's assessment of the Western Conference as only possessing four (or perhaps even only two) legit Finals contenders. The only teams in the West that I think have categorically no shot of making the Finals are Denver and Houston. Nothing else would shock me at this point. That said, on to the picks:
Los Angeles vs. Denver: LA lucks out and gets the one West team that everyone else wants to play. Well, I guess it's not really "lucking out," since that's kind of how it's supposed to be when you get the top seed. Anyways, Denver plays enjoyably irresponsible basketball but not nearly as enjoyably irresponsible as last years Warriors (RIP; it should have been you here, fellas). Lakers in five.
New Orleans vs. Dallas: Holy hell what a series this is. Upstart meets the Establishment, New Money meets Old, one superstar who's even better than everyone thinks he is (Chris Paul) meets another who never seems to be as good as everyone thinks he is (Dirk). I realize the Mavs have experience, etc., but they had experience last year, so... fuck that. NOLA's for real, Hornets in six.
San Antonio vs. Phoenix: I'm going to say something that may well seem remarkably stupid two weeks from now, but I'm still going to say it. I don't think the Spurs are that good this year. I think they have 2002 Yankees written all over them. Everyone keeps saying they've taken it easy during the regular season like the Pistons always do, which would be all well and good if a) the Pistons actually won playoff series, and b) there was convincing evidence to suggest that was the case. It was only about a month ago that they lost six of seven. Granted, all those losses were to good teams, but guess what kind of teams you play in the playoffs. Furthermore, Phoenix took 3 out of 4 and beat them by 17 a week and a half ago. I dunno, they'll probably prove me wrong. Suns in six.
Houston vs. Utah: You could call this Orlando/Toronto, Western Conference-style and you probably wouldn't be mistaken. That said, I'm starting to believe the handful of knowledgeable people that tell me the Jazz are much, much better than most of us think they are. I see the Jazz winning this series, as do a lot of folks, apparently, which is honestly too bad because it means Tracy McGrady will be forced to live with the "can't make it out of the first round" tag for another year in spite of a season in which he took a questionable roster to downright historic levels. I'm sorry, T-Mac... I really am. Jazz in six.