A lot is going on in that void at the end of the first round where everyone remembers that seven games is a little much. However, we have some early exits, and I think it's appropriate to evaluate my picks of a few days ago and see how I'm doing.
Lakers - Nuggets: I said LakeShow in five, they won in four. I'll take it.
Jazz - Rockets: I said Jazz in four, they're up 3-2. I think I got a little too sexed up on Jerry Sloan, I guess, but that's nothing to apologize about.
Suns - Spurs: I said Suns in seven, they lost in five. Deep down in the hearts of most of the prognosticators who picked the Suns, I bet they felt the same way I did: "I just don't want to pick the Spurs and be right." Well, I was wrong. The BoringBall era continues....
Hornets - Mavs: I said New Orleans in six, they won in five. I couldn't be more tickled. This Spurs series is going to be amazing. I believe the expression Tony Parker will use is "je suis confus!"
Celtics - Hawks: I said Celtics in four, they're up 3-2. It's safe to say no one saw this coming. Lang Whitaker from Slamonline (a huge Hawks fan) said something to the effect of "I watched 70 Hawks game this year and even I didn't give them a chance." (See? I'm not really wrong wrong.)
Cavs - Wizards: I said Cavs in six, they're up 3-2. This would be the first pick I actually get right if they win. I suck.
Magic - Raptors: I said the Raptors would win in seven which provoked an outcry from 100% of my readership (I should have known...). They lost and looked bad and I was wrong. I don't know why everyone is blaming TJ Ford, though - he played two bad games initially but really picked it up as the series progressed. How about the little issue that no one on the Raptors can rebound? (Possible solution: Oakley comeback #2?)
Pistons - Sixers: I said the Pistons would win in five, and they're up 3-2. When I imagined their game tonight, this was what I thought: "I can't believe the Sixers will win tonight, but if they do, for some reason that doesn't seem surprising." Does that make any sense?
My success rate is poor but in terms of overall outcome I am still shooting bogies. I can live with that (and, as anyone who has seen me on a golf course can attest, bogies are definitely a plus).
I'd like to turn now to the only series that is set, the forthcoming contest between New Orleans and San Antonio. Boy, what a doozy.
Full disclosure: I dislike the Spurs and cannot write objectively about them. This is as biased a blog as you might read in that respect that does not show pictures of Tony Parker posing half-naked for a French photoshoot. (But the link is here. And by half naked, I mean full naked.)
Glad I got that out of the way. Obviously, the marquee matchup here is between the point guards, and based entirely on reputation, Chris Paul should destroy Tony Parker.
I love Chris Paul and I think he's amazing. I don't like Tony Parker and he's caused me misery in the past. However, I don't think Paul's dominance of Parker is as cut and dry as it may seem.
Tony Parker is definitely not the player Chris Paul is, but that's not the issue when you evaluate playoff matchups. If it was, Steve Nash would have beaten Parker senseless.
Tony has an advantage over Paul by virtue of the team he has behind him. The Spurs will play defense, pick up their assignments and rotations, and probably rough Chris Paul up.
New Orleans is not a shoddy defensive team by any measure and they made Jason Kidd look foolish. However, Tony Parker is almost the exact opposite of Kidd - he may be the quickest guard in the NBA, he doesn't take a lot of long jump shots, and he causes headache after headache for teams that need to adjust to his near-constant penetration.
When New Orleans was working against Kidd, they had the advantage of Kidd's former coach and the veteran guard's advancing age. With Parker there will be no such luck. I still think Chris Paul will outplay Tony Parker, and at times, it will be ridiculous. But I also think the pendulum will swing the other way more often than it should, and this could be the difference in the series.
New Orleans's greatest strength may be Tyson Chandler. He is arguably the best defender in the league and has younger legs and a longer reach than Tim Duncan. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he may be able to slow Duncan. Unfortunately, Chandler has no record of doing this successfully - Tim Duncan averaged close to 20 and 10 against New Orleans this season. The important thing to consider is not Chandler's ability to halt Tim Duncan's progress, though - what is important is that Chandler may be able to handle him in single coverage, which will allow the perimeter defense to space itself properly and avoid those dagger threes the Spurs are so adept at.
The Parker/Paul and Duncan/Chandler matchups will be the most fun to watch. But based on the season series (split 2-2), Parker and Duncan (and Ginobili, even) are not the key.
I believe that the Hornets' ability to win the series will be contingent on their stopping everyone else, whoever that may be. In the Hornets' two wins against the Spurs this year, they gave up about 20 to Duncan, 20 to Parker, and 10 to Ginobili. Each win was by 25 points - a thorough blowout - and the Spurs scored in the 70s each time around.
I think that this is evidence that Byron Scott realizes that he has better players on both sides of the ball than the Spurs, even if they are not as good as a whole. The key to exploiting a situation like this is executing on the offensive end and relying on single coverage man-to-man defense when the ball comes back.
New Orleans has two skilled players in the frontcourt, one of the best perimeter shooters in the league, the best point guard, and a very, very robust bench. Tyson Chandler (or David West) may surrender 25 points to Duncan, Chris Paul may give up 20 to Parker, and and Peterson/Pargo may give up 15 to Ginobili. But Paul is going to score 25 right back on Parker, West will put 20 right back on Duncan (or Oberto), and Peterson/Pargo will be good for 15. That finds both teams almost even, and New Orleans still has a great offensive rebounder who will be getting points in the paint, a superior bench, and a point guard with a ceiling that could mean another ten to twenty points on any given night.
Generally, we'll have: Chandler vs. Oberto (yikes), Peja vs. Finley or Bowen (yikes), and the Hornets bench (Julian Wright, Rasual Butler [Pargo named above]) vs. the Spurs bench (Brent Barry, Ime Udoka, Matt Bonner). I see this as a wash.
I think this one is going to go seven, I think Tim Duncan is going to drop a couple of stinkers, I think West will start slow, and I think the Hornets will win it.
Hornets in Seven.
As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org