Monday, April 22, 2013

Welcome to the NBA Playoffs

By Robert Campbell

Welcome to the NBA playoffs. The tedious 82-game schedule has culminated into a 16-team race, a two-month battle to determine a champion. Okay, maybe it's a 15-team race (better luck next year, Milwaukee). Every play is game-changing and every call is put under a microscope. The intensity is raised, the crowds are louder, and quite frankly, teams play harder. Some players prove to love the moment, while others fade under the pressure. Regardless, the Playoff season is one of the most exciting times of the year, and one which will surely answer all of our burning questions. What are these burning questions, you ask? Well...

(Note to reader: When analyzing these upcoming inquiries, rarely will I use statistics as a form of judgment. I may throw out a few numbers to prove a point or offer a suggestion, but I am attempting to create a picture of what to expect in the playoffs, an image that endless statistics just can't convey.)

Will the Blake Show continue?

No, I'm not talking about Blake Griffin. In the two games since Bryant's injury, Steve Blake has been Kobe Bryant-esque. Scoring 23 and 24 against the Spurs and Rockets respectively, Blake, among others, helped the Lakers clinch the seventh spot in the West.

Let's remember, without Blake, we would probably still be watching Jazz games. We are all thankful.

Steve Nash's anticipated return will cut his minutes, but Blake could still be an integral part of a potential Lakers' playoff run. Tony Parker is more injured than he is letting on and was unquestionably outplayed by Blake last week. If the Lakers are able to take advantage with a one-two punch of Steve Nash and Blake, this will be a closer series than you may expect.

Kobe is a monumental loss, but now Dwight Howard can become the go-to-guy. He's been hurt, as well, but the Lakers' mediocre supporting cast is still stronger than Howard's when he led the Orlando Magic to the Finals. With Dwight as the vocal point and the emergence of a guy like Blake as another scorer, the Spurs better watch out.

That being said, I'll still take the Spurs in seven.

What will be the most overused phrases of the playoffs?

"The series doesn't start until a team wins a road game."

So ... have I been dreaming this whole time?

"We just have to take it one game at a time."

The "it wasn't you, it's me" of post-game interviews.

"Tim Duncan off the glass for two."

The best power forward of all-time is still going strong.

What three players will make a statement?

Jeff Green – Right now, he is the most talented Celtic. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are Hall of Famers who are still the leaders of the team and the ones who will be taking the shots in crunch time, but Green's talent is incomparable. He's had a superb second half of the season and is geared for an even bigger playoffs. Green plays hard and he does it on both ends of the court, as he will probably be guarding Carmello Anthony throughout most of the series. This is a guy who had heart surgery just over a year ago. The Celtics may not get out of the first round, but Green will prove his worth this playoffs.

Andre Igoudala – Igoudala got run out of Philly because they wanted him to be a superstar. But that's not what Igoudala is. He's a leader, a great defender, and an athletic specimen who's tough to stop in the open court. Igoudala is still an inconsistent scorer, but has proven he is a clutch performer, especially in the playoffs. Last year, he sealed Game 6 and the series against the Chicago Bulls with two pressure-filled foul shots. He led the Sixers to Game 7 against the Celtics, and if a few plays went the other way, Philadelphia could have been playing the Heat in the Conference Finals. Look what Philly did this year without Igoudala. He has a more comfortable role with the Nuggets and I think he is primed for a big playoff run this year. Besides, doesn't everyone play well against the Warriors?

Deron Williams – All I've heard this year is how Deron Williams has lost it. He's not quick anymore. He's fat. Let's all relax a little bit. Williams played this year like the Celtics the past few years. They may be a little slow in the regular season. Maybe a little injured. A little tired. But, they know they still got what it takes to earn a playoff spot and when the moment calls, they usually perform. Williams has admittedly not had a great year, but has had a major resurgence the past few months and is playing his best ball entering the playoffs. Deron Williams will be ready, and I think Brooklyn has a better shot than either Indiana or New York to give the Heat a run for their money.

What is the best tattoo of the playoffs? The boldest prediction?

This is a tough one. While I admire Birdman's multi-colored neck, the ambiguity of the actual number of individual tattoos on his neck disqualifies him from the competition.

I have to give it to Kenyon Martin's crown on his neck. The crown was formerly a pair of lips in dedication of his girlfriend, but after their breakup Martin got the tattoo re-inked.

Honorable mention: DeShawn Stevenson's five-dollar bill neck tattoo. Shout out to Honest Abe.

As for the boldest prediction, this is a no-brainer. Brandon Jennings' "Bucks in six" forecast takes the cake. Really, Brandon? You are giving the defending champions and best team in the league two wins against your under .500 team that would have placed 11th in the West? A little generous, if you ask me.

Who is most likely to get in a verbal /physical altercation?

Joakim Noah vs. Reggie Evans

Reggie Evans is probably the only person Joakim Noah should be allowed to call ugly.

Kevin Garnett vs. entire Knicks' roster
It was too hard to just pick one person.

Chris Paul vs. Zach Randolph
This is a wild card pick for me. Chris Paul hates to lose. Randolph loves to talk.

Is this Carmelo's year?
As a current Syracuse University student, I may be somehow contractually obligated to say yes for this question. I just still can't see it. Carmelo Anthony has had the overall best season of his career and had led the Knicks to the two-seed in the East. He won the scoring title for his first time, yet still displayed a style of unselfishness that we hadn't seen before. If it wasn't for LeBron James, Anthony would have been right at the center of the MVP conversation.

That's just it, though. Despite the Knicks' success against the Heat in the regular season, I can't see them getting past Miami in the Conference Finals. New York will have to beat Indiana first, which I think they will, but then they will be forced to stop the defending champs. I think it will be an entertaining series, but Miami is too tough.

Will anyone watch the Hawks/Pacers series?

This series has NBA TV written all over it. Seriously, though, this is a matchup of two pretty good teams, but just has no appeal. People liked the Pacers earlier in the season as a potential upset candidate over the Heat, but their compiled injuries along with their sub-par play over the past few months have obliterated most of those courageous predictions.

The winner of this series will lose to either the Knicks or Celtics in the next round. So for the Hawks/Pacers, I think I'll catch the highlights on SportsCenter.

What will be the exact series results and who will be crowned champion?

Miami over Milwaukee in 4
Brooklyn over Chicago in 6
Indiana over Atlanta in 5
New York over Boston in 7

Oklahoma City over Houston in 5
Los Angeles over Memphis in 7
Denver over Golden State in 6
San Antonio over Los Angeles in 7

Miami over Brooklyn in 6
New York over Indiana in 6

Oklahoma City over Los Angeles in 6
Denver over San Antonio in 7

Miami over New York in 6
Oklahoma City over Denver in 5

Miami over Oklahoma City in 6

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