It really wasn’t that long ago when many of us felt a 2011-12 NBA season was out of the question. The owners decided they wanted more of the pie and obviously the players felt otherwise. NBA commish David Stern’s ugly mug was on my television far too many times, expressing to NBA fans that he and the owners wanted a season more than anything else. Then there was player rep and then-LA Lakers point guard Derek Fisher (who I absolutely despise) on my television not long after Stern, expressing to NBA fans that he and the players wanted a season more than anything else. Bullshitting. Posturing. Pandering. More posturing and pandering. A bit more bullshitting. Voila: Anyone who chose to watch was “rewarded” with a shortened 11-12 season of 66 games, which began with four star-studded games on Christmas Day.
The playoffs begin today and like last year, both the Eastern and Western Conference’s top seeds are occupied by the Chicago Bulls and San Antonio Spurs, respectively. In a season that wasn’t really plagued, but more marred by injuries to key players, Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau and Spurs HC Greg Popovich managed to keep their teams ahead of the pack. Lob City was mostly “meh” to anyone who has seen an alley-oop, the Magic didn’t trade their star after all, Lamar Odom threw a tempter tantrum, and Jeremy Lin and Ricky Rubio were both more placebo than medicine.
#1 Chicago Bulls (50-16) vs. #8 Philadelphia 76ers (35-31) Prediction: Bulls in five. Besides Lou Williams, the 76ers have no one who is a semblance of an offensive threat. Derrick Rose averages at least 9 assists per game and we see lots of “finga gunz”.
#4 Boston Celtics (39-27) vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks (40-26) Prediction: Hawks in six. The Hawks are good enough to win this series in five or six, but can somehow flip a crappy switch and lose in five or six.
#3 Indiana Pacers (42-24) vs. #6 Orlando Magic (37-29) Prediction: Pacers in five. With Magic center Dwight Howard out for the rest of the season with a back injury, I don’t see how they can beat anyone in a playoff series, let alone the Pacers, one of the league’s better teams this season.
#2 Miami Heat (46-20) vs. #7 New York Knicks (36-30) Prediction: Heat in four. Oh, if only Knicks PG Jeremy Lin were available for this series. Knicks small forward Carmelo Anthony will score 25+ per, but they’ll still get swept by arguably the best team in the league when healthy.
#1 San Antonio Spurs (50-16) vs. #8 Utah Jazz (36-30) Prediction: Spurs in five. Don’t anticipate a repeat of last year’s 8 over 1 “upset”. The Memphis Grizzlies were a far better team than the Jazz, and that included when they played the Spurs in the playoffs without SF Rudy Gay.
#4 Memphis Grizzlies (41-25) vs. #5 LA Clippers (40-26) Prediction: Grizzlies in six. The Clippers, even with All-Star PG Chris Paul and the guy who dunks over Kias, wouldn’t have much of an honest chance against a Grizzlies team without PF Zach Randolph. Too bad he’s back and healthy.
#3 LA Lakers (41-25) vs. #6 Denver Nuggets (38-28) Prediction: Lakers in four. I think we’re going to see some very, very, very good Kobe in the 2012 playoffs. Maybe Danilo Ganillari can steal a game for the Nuggets. Wait. Nah.
#2 Oklahoma City Thunder (47-19) vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (36-30) Prediction: Thunder in five. If Knicks center Tyson Chandler were still a Mav, I’d actually pick the Mavs to win this series in six. Essentially, NBA scoring champ SF Kevin Durant and PG Russell Westbrook averaged 25.5 points a night. Too bad the useless Brendan Haywood is Chandler’s replacement.
I don’t foresee the Bulls having any major problems with the 76ers unless the Bulls suffer a key injury. Collectively, the Bulls starting five is better than Philly’s and I trust Thibodeau’s defensive plan to shut down Philly more than I trust 76ers coach Doug Collins with effectively stopping/slowing down the Bulls offense, which was mostly impressive this season.
Ideally, Rose will realize that he doesn’t need to shoot 22-25 times a game and that assists are sexy. While 76ers PG Jrue Holiday is a long, decent defender, he can’t stop Rose one-on-one. Maybe 76ers SF Andre Iguodala could, but then Deng would hopefully terrorized whoever checked him.
The Bulls are allegedly completely healthy, and I know I want to see how well they play when all hands are on deck. SG Rip Hamilton will be under many a watchful eye, as his signing was viewed by more than a few as the move that would ultimately propel the Bulls past the Heat.
I believe the Bulls have enough to win a title. There’s no superstar, or even All-Star (sorry, Deng stans) on the roster besides Rose, but despite that and injuries galore, this team still managed to win 50 games. Some of that success has got to leak into the playoffs. Right?