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  THERE'S NOTHING MAGIC ABOUT IT: HANDICAPPING THE NBA PLAYOFFS.  
   
   
 

Predicting the outcome of the NBA playoffs is, for the most part, folly. Like the NCAA tournament, sticking with the top seeds and going conservative is often the best way to make it an easy endeavor.

Unlike March Madness, however, the NBA playoffs descend from April madness to May madness to June depression, to realizing, one sunny July, when you're listening to Vin Scully, that, hey, the NBA playoffs have just ended. As a result, going back and keeping tabs on your favorite sportscaster's predictions requires the Carbon-14 dating method.

Unless, of course, they admit to predictions of a hilariously bad proportion, such as this writer (me, for the slow), who somehow thought that the presence of Juwan Howard, of all people, would help propel the Magic to the NBA Finals. The Magic. Mixed in with that nonsense were a few prescient thoughts -- the Hornets disappointing, Cleveland ending with around 35 wins, the Lakers not coming close to the 70-win season that everyone had penciled them in for -- but I remain on the hook for picking the Magic, who turned out to be the worst team in the NBA this year.

We seem to have gotten off track. The first round matchups for the NBA playoffs look like this. Snide comments interspersed, as always.

 

The Eastern Conference Playoffs

Here's a good illustration of the Eastern Conference's pathetic nature: The Seattle Supersonics, the third-worst team in the West this year, would have made the playoffs in the East. Meanwhile, the fourth-best team in the East, the Miami Heat, would not have made the playoffs in the West. That's just ugly…which is kind of like saying nobody in the East has a true shot at winning the title, so going through these matchups is kind of pointless. Nonetheless, for the sake of historical accuracy, and because we're getting paid by the word around here…

 

Indiana Pacers v. Boston Celtics

 

 
    This has the makings of a great tussle of opposing forces -- the storied Celtics, Larry Bird's home for years, vs. Indiana, where Bird works now. This only makes a whit of sense if the Celtics weren't fielding one of the more pathetic playoff teams in years, next to the perennial doormats that used to rejoice at getting seeded 8th, only to get crushed by the Chicago Jordans. When a playoff squad actually misses Vin Baker, that's scary.

Oh, and in case you didn't remember, even the freaking first round matches are going seven games this year. You could spot the Celtics three games and a 57-33 first-half lead in the fourth, and they'd still find a way to lose the series.

Indiana in Four.

   
 

 

 

New Jersey Nets v. New York Knicks

 

 
    Clearly, this one is going to be the chic upset pick. But we're talking about the team that lusted after Vin Baker, for Lord's sake. More than one Knick fan, including myself, has lamented the trade of Keith Van Horn to the higher-seeded Bucks. The Nets aren't at the top of their game; with the exception of that 14-game win streak, they've looked fat and satisfied all year. "Hell, you ain't been hungry, since you won that belt!"

But we're still talking about the Knicks, "coached" by ossifying legend Lenny Wilkins. Even if the Knickerbockers pulled a Running Man-esque fast one and put the Nets out at the Garden -- without the basketball floor and with the New York Rangers coming at 'em in full hockey regalia -- the Nets would still find a way to take this match.

Nets in Five.

   
 

 

 

Detroit Pistons v. Milwaukee Bucks

 

 
   

The Bucks, the second-most surprising team in the league this year, will try to keep up, but ultimately the Pistons have the "firepower." It would be nice to see what Larry Brown could do with a squad like the Bucks ... and we might be able to find that out within a few weeks, since we know how fickle he is about what team he's coaching. For now, he'll lead the Pistons over the Bucks.

Pistons in Six.

   
 

 

Miami Heat v. New Orleans Hornets

 

 
   

First off, for all of you who took a flier on Lamar Odom in the ninth round of your fantasy basketball drafts, good call. Odd to think that Pat Riley's legacy in basketball -- despite "Showtime" -- is a plodding, defense-oriented game that rises barely one level above a rugby scrum. Oh, and a couple of zhlubs named Van Gundy. The older one, Stan finally getting his shot in the playoffs, should be able to continue the team's juggernaut. You've got to like a hot team going into the playoffs, and with their recent surge, even a barely .500 team like this one has to be thinking that with the right bounce here and there, it could end up in the Finals -- especially in this woeful conference.

One of the better preseason predictions I made: The Hornets, despite their talent, would be less-than-impressive, thanks to underwhelming coaching from Tim Floyd. Which pretty much turned out.

Heat in Six.

   
 

 

 

The Western Conference Playoffs

This is what we're all talking about, yo. This is the meat of the NBA, where warriors come to the frozen tundra, or the parquet floor, or whatever, to slug it out in frost-bitten, swirling winds (or gleaming celebrities paying $500 to watch), just to see who gets to spit out the Eastern Conference survivor in a best-of-seven (or 17, if that's what they're doing now).

The only real hope for the East is for the team on this side to get beaten so badly that they're dragging their wounded stumps up and down the floor, as the sleek-footed guards in the East whistle their way to lay-ups and dunks. Yeah, right. We're not talking about football here. Basketball. It's all about the West. I said that already, right?

 

Minnesota Timberwolves v. Denver Nuggets

 

 
    The Nuggets are probably going to celebrate simply having achieved something so monumental. No, not making the playoffs -- Marcus Camby staying healthy for a full season. Indeed, the Camby-man played more than 70 games for the first time ever in his NBA career. Seriously.

The Nuggets are interesting, and fun; they've got Carmelo, Andre Miller and a few other good players, but the Wolves look hungry. The Wolves are Clubber Lang this year, and the Nuggets are some pasty-faced Eastern European getting slammed to the carpet in the middle of a montage scored by Survivor.

Wolves in Five.

 


 
 

 

 

Los Angeles Lakers v. Houston Rockets

 

 
   

Hello, Shaq? It's your wake-up call, fellas. It's playoff-o-clock, time to get up. Coast too long, and eventually you fall asleep.

The Lakers fell desperately short of the 70-win season that was predicted as automatic, but really, that's not all that surprising. Their fortunes this year -- in yet another one of those "get a title for the old man" stories that was played out last year when David Robinson successfully grabbed a ring in San Antonio -- are actually tied to that old man Karl Malone. The more he plays, and the better he plays, the better off they are. Kobe can't do it alone, and Shaq has lost a step, especially inside, where he doesn't mix it up the way he used to.

But that said, the Rockets have problems. The Steve Francis-Jeff Van Gundy feud continues into this round, and that's going to distract the Rockets from measuring their opponent. Who they, incidentally, have no chance with in the first place.

Lakers in Six.

   
 

 

 

San Antonio Spurs v. Memphis Grizzlies

 

 
    Hubie Brown was right this time about "tremendous upside." Years from now, when Jason Williams is watching some no-talent ass-clown brick 17 out of 20 shots from 3-point range while he pulls a Dennis Rodman on their coach, he will be thrilled to have played for an appropriately grizzled disciplinarian like Hubie Brown. Of course, with Pau Gasol gimpy, that's not going to do so much good for the Grizzlies now.

It's been a fun run, watching a well-schooled, precise team methodically rack up wins, surprise a lot of people and roll to a pretty good record. Too bad Tim Duncan, the epitome of methodical precision, stands in the way.

Spurs in Six.

   
 

 

 

Sacramento Kings v. Dallas Mavericks

 

 
   

One of my other few good projections was the Kings not being able to live up to the hype, thanks to the Chris Webber "situation." That situation being, you know, that he plays for them. He misses 60 games, and they're world-beaters. He comes back, and they're ordinary. Which leads one to believe that perhaps Webber should be benched, or at least, when it gets to an important round in the playoffs.

Against the Mavericks, a soft team if there ever was one, this won't be a problem. Oh, the Mavs will scare them -- having that many shooters can do that to anyone -- but the Kings will win this. But look out; the Kings are hardly any kind of lock

Kings in Seven.

   
 

 

 

Le Basketball Denoument...

 

 
 

Eastern Conference Semifinals
Indiana over Miami in 6
Detroit over NJ in 6

Western Conference Semifinals
Minnesota over Kings in 7
Spurs over Lakers in 7

Eastern Conference Finals
Indiana over Detroit in 7

Western Conference Finals
Minnesota over Spurs in 7

NBA Championship
Minnesota over the Pacers in 6