Monday, April 16, 2007
Spring is Upon Us.
Good morning. Isn't it great, the way the NBA playoffs rush to fill the void in sports following March Madness? Post-Madness (PMS?) is the worst part of the year for sports fans like myself; baseball opening is exciting for one day, but carries with it the burdens of the 162 game season and the freezing April night-game; the Masters is also solid, but to be honest, I'm not much of a golf guy; and I might watch hockey but I don't get OLN. There just isn't a whole lot of action.
It's like that until mid-April when basketball fans like myself realize, "jesus, after this agonizingly long season of watching my team self-destruct and caring only about meaningless fantasy basketball statistics, there's actually a good reason to give a damn about the NBA again!"
It's true. Teams are playing for all the marbles, and despite the unfortunate decision of the NBA to extend the first-round playoff series from five to seven games (trying to recover ratings they lost when they moved half of the playoffs to cable, perhaps), this is a great time of the year to be a basketball fan. (It would be accurate to say that I, a Knicks fan, feel like that Cubs fan in a tree in the commercials that aired during last year's baseball playoffs, where a suited shrink-type man reminds me that I'm not just a cubbies fan, I'm a baseball fan...)
It behooves me, of course, to do a little playoff preview edition of Don't Ever Give Up. Since the West could be up in the air for a couple days more, I'll start out with a review of the Eastern Conference matchups, which are just about set in stone. First, we have:
#1 Detroit Pistons v. #8 Orlando Magic: I really, really like this matchup. Detroit essentially ruined the Magic franchise for the last half-decade, and I'm sure that there are some hard feelings there. Also, I really like the way players match up.
Because of the Magic's dismal 38-42 record (as of now), I think a lot of fans and writers are just going to write them off. However, a close look at the actual matchups between players reveals that Detroit has some potential weak spots. To wit:
Chauncey Billups and Jameer Nelson are not at the same level, and Jameer's probably going to eat some leather on this one. However, he possesses talent for getting to the hole, and against Detroit he's been able to rack up about 15 points a game. Chauncey's defense is key for the Pistons, especially now that the Ben Wallace era is over, and even if Jameer gets outscored and outplayed, if he can get to the hole, he can have a positive impact.
Orlando runs an interesting no-shooting-guard-two-small-forward set, and I'm not sure who's going to guard who. I think it should play out like this: Grant Hill will play Richard Hamilton, and Hedo Turkoglu will guard Tayshaun Prince. This is a very tough matchup for Orlando because neither of their players is well-suited to defend their adversaries. However, it is also beneficial on offense because it will pull Prince, an excellent inside shot-blocker, to the perimeter, and because it will force Richard Hamilton to defend a playmaker rather than a catch-and shoot guy. Tayshaun Prince is really the only skilled interior defender left on the Pistons and it will be a boon to get him away from the hole. Likewise, Hamilton's defensive strength is his endurance when he follows his man; however, I have less confidence that he will be able to handle a man with as versatile a game as the Mr. Grant Hill. (He's also not as nice of a guy.)
Whether it's Webber or Rasheed who gets the call against Dwight Howard, they are going to have their hands full. He'll kill Webber in the post and he'll annoy Sheed by following him on the perimeter. Also, I don't think either Piston will be able to contain Howard on the offensive glass. I don't know why but I just get the feeling he's waiting to do something special...he's probably still pissed off about the slam-dunk contest, too.
The thing about the above paragraph is, even if I'm completely right, it means that whomever Dwight Howard doesn't guard will match up against...Tony Battie. I know Tony Battie from his days in Boston, and let me tell you something: He's not very good at basketball. But that's where this series gets interesting...
Orlando does have the option of playing Darko Milicic to complete its frontcourt. This would give it a sizeable athletic advantage over Detroit if Darko can play with restraint and skill. It would also give them a post player with range that would further weaken Detroit's ability to offset Dwight Howard.
Orlando lost all four of its games to Detroit this season, and it's easy to view that in a bad light. However, I don't think they're going to get swept in their series. (They also have a pretty good bench with Carlos Arroyo, Trevor Ariza, Keyon Dooling, and Keith Bogans.) Orlando has always had a good home-court and they have a fairly veteran, athletic lineup that plays very good team defense. The problem is, they're coached like garbage and can't seem to play good, coordinated offense, so I can't see them winning a seven-game series. I do, however, think they'll put in a good effort (especially Howard), take two games, and make the matchup a little more interesting than the ESPN pundits predict it will be. Besides, you never know who might get suspended for lying to a grand jury or who might pick up a game-changing technical for a time out they don't have...
As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted by Jimmy at 10:56 AM