Backdoor Cut: NBA Playoffs First Round Series Previews


Music to listen to: Jacob’s Ladder by Rush

Eastern Conference


(1) Indiana vs. (8) Atlanta

Season series: Tied 2-2

Best player in series: Paul George, Indiana

Matchup to watch: Paul Millsap vs. Indiana frontcourt

Thoughts: On paper, this looks like a lopsided matchup for the top seed in the East. Despite the Pacers’ struggles in the past two months which has seen their offensive efficiency regress to middling, they have the best player in the series, a significant advantage at the center position with Roy Hibbert and a deeper bench.

Atlanta does have a matchup advantage in the point guard position with Jeff Teague having a superior season in comparison to Indiana’s George Hill. Teague has increased his production for the Hawks the past two weeks and could carry the momentum into the postseason. Paul Milsap potentially has the quickness advantage over Hibbert and David West and can exploit those offensive opportunities.

A month ago, this series would’ve looked like a sweep for the Pacers but the Hawks will make this an interesting series and has a strong chance to steal one of the first two games on the road. Prediction: Pacers in six


(2) Miami vs. (7) Charlotte

Season series: Miami 4-0

Best player in the series: Lebron James, Miami

Matchups to watch: Who guards Lebron, Al Jefferson vs. Miami front court

Thoughts: Another matchup that looks lopsided on paper. If you’re reading this post, you’re a sports fan and already know about the strengths of the Heat.

First, respect to my All-NBA second team member Al Jefferson for putting together the best season of his career and leading the Bobcats into the playoffs. While the obvious question of the series is how can the Bobcats possibly stop James, the Heat will have their own issues dealing with Jefferson who’s averaged 26 points and 13 rebounds the last 10 games. Another case for the Bobcats is the emergence of Kemba Walker and the lack of point guard play from Miami. I was at the Hawks/Heat game last week and Miami’s point guard combo of Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole is one of the five worst in the NBA. Walker could go off for a 30 point game and steal a win for Bobcats.

In the end, Miami’s the much better team that will look to end this series early and move on to the next round quickly. Prediction: Heat in five


(3) Toronto vs. (6) Brooklyn

Season series: Series tied 2-2

Best player in the series: Kyle Lowry, Toronto

Matchup to watch: Toronto backcourt vs. Brooklyn backcourt

Thoughts: Now the matchups start to get interesting. Toronto has flown relatively under the Eastern Conference radar with Miami, Indiana, Chicago and even Brooklyn getting more coverage this season. The Raptors have been led by point guard Kyle Lowry, who made my All-NBA third team and DeMar DeRozan, winning the Atlantic Division. Toronto also has the best record in the East since December and are a top-ten team in offensive and defensive efficiency.

Brooklyn had one of the worst starts possible for a potential title contender. First-year head coach Jason Kidd looked overmatched, Kevin Garnett looked old and the Nets lost their All-Star center Brook Lopez for the season due to a foot injury. However, Brooklyn has turned it around by embracing a small lineup which has seen Paul Pierce at power forward and Shaun Livingston’s 6’9’’ frame inserted into the rotation.

The Nets’ backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson along with Livingston will have an entertaining matchup against Toronto. The Nets have experience but the youthful legs of the Raptors may run Brooklyn out of the gym. Prediction: Nets in seven


(4) Chicago vs. (5) Washington

Season series: Washington 2-1

Best player in the series: Joakim Noah, Chicago

Matchup to watch: Washington backcourt vs. Chicago defense

Thoughts: The Bulls looked like a lock for the lottery with Derrick Rose’s season-ending knee injury and trade of Luol Deng to Cleveland. However, Chicago has responded, getting a career-season from my top-five MVP candidate Noah, a most-likely Sixth Man of the Year season from Taj Gibson and contributions from numerous characters such as Mike Dunleavy, Carlos Boozer and D.J. Augustin. Chicago’s defense has been top-notch as well.

Washington returns to the postseason with the best young backcourt in the NBA in John Wall and Bradley Beal. The Wizards also have center Marcin Gortat whose physicality could neutralize Noah’s contributions on both ends of the floor. Washington has an underrated defense as well, ranking in the top-10 in efficiency.

Seeing the Wizards’ backcourt contend with the Bulls’ defense will get the headlines but the biggest question is whether Chicago can score enough points to win the series. The Bulls have the home-court advantage which matters in an arena like the United Center and more playoff experience. Prediction: Bulls in seven


Western Conference


(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Dallas

Season series: Spurs 4-0

Best player in series: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas

Matchup to watch: Dallas offense vs. Spurs defense

Thoughts: Anytime you get to see two future Hall of Famers like Tim Duncan and Nowitzki battle it out in a playoff series, it deserves appreciation from anyone who loves the game of basketball.

Dallas runs one of the most creative and efficient offenses in the league, particularly when the screen and roll game between Nowitzki and Monta Ellis is clicking. However, the Spurs’ defense will have way to limit the Mavs’ opportunities.

The problem also likes on the other end where the Spurs’ motion offense gets to feast on a Mavs’ defense that leaves much to be desired. San Antonio will hit AT LEAST six open three-point attempts this series, which is too many points for the Mavs to leave on the floor. Prediction: Spurs in five


(2) Oklahoma City vs. (7) Memphis

Season series: Thunder 3-1

Best player in series: Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City

Matchup to watch: Russell Westbrook vs. Mike Conley

Thoughts: Memphis has had a strong second half of the season when Marc Gasol came back from injury and actually had a better record over that same span than Oklahoma City. The Grizzlies will do their usual plan of grinding out possessions, trying to take advantage of the Zach Randolph and Gasol power inside.

Oklahoma City has everyone back healthy themselves after Westbrook missed significant time himself due to a knee injury. We all know about Durant but this may be a series where the secondary players for OKC such as Serge Ibaka, Jeremy Lamb and others can assert themselves for a potentially long playoff run. Prediction: Thunder in five


(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) Golden State

Season series: Tied 2-2

Best player in the series: Chris Paul, LA Clippers

Matchups to watch: Steph Curry vs Paul, David Lee vs. Blake Griffin

Thoughts: For pure entertainment purposes, this should be the most fun series to watch. Two high-powered offenses, highlight-producing players on both sides and even the coaching matchup has some intrigue.

If Andrew Bogut was healthy and in the series, it could have swayed the odds slightly in the Warriors’ favor. However, without an inside defender, expect Griffin and even DeAndre Jordan to have big nights offensively for the Clippers.

Golden State’s best hope is for Curry and Klay Thompson to get hot from the perimeter to grab some wins. Harrison Barnes could also use a strong playoff series for the Warriors after an inconsistent regular season.

In the end, the Warriors struggle guarding the perimeter and the best point guard in the NBA is going to have a field day every contest. Prediction: Clippers in six


(4) Houston vs. (5) Portland

Season series: Houston 3-1

Best player in the series: James Harden, Houston

Matchup to watch: Houston offense vs. Portland defense

Thoughts: Another fun series where both teams could reach triple-digits in points in every contest. Harden has averaged 30 points, seven rebounds and five assists against Portland this year. Dwight Howard has put up 25 points and 13 rebounds per contest as well. Those numbers aren’t going to change in this series because Portland’s defense is average and the Rockets run of the most efficient offenses in the league.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard will have big games for Portland but its going to be tough for them to win four games against the Rockets. Its a bad matchup for the Blazers. Prediction: Rockets in six


Backdoor Cut: 2012-13 NBA Eastern Conference Preview


Music to listen to:  Cygnus…Vismund Cygnus (live) by the Mars Volta

Time for your quick preview of the NBA Eastern Conference for this upcoming 2012-13 season

Atlantic division:

Best team: Boston Celtics.  The Brooklyn Nets have made some improvements, the New York Knicks still have a core of Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and Amare Stoudemire but the Celtics are still the class of the division.  Kevin Garnett’s move to center full-time may actually improve the team defense, along with full-time implementation of Avery Bradley when he’s healthy, Jason Terry coming off the bench and even a healthy Jeff Green will make Boston the top team in the division.

Weakest team:  Toronto Raptors.  Each team in the division made improvements in the offseason accept for the Raptors.  Toronto made a major push for Steve Nash but came up short and now have the weakest roster in the Atlantic.  Landry Fields had some moments for the Knicks and Andrea Bargnani is a good scorer, but outside of that, optimism will be at a premium for the Queen City.

Wildcard team: Brooklyn Nets.  The Nets have a new arena, new city, re-signed Deron Williams, acquired Joe Johnson from Atlanta and have hopes of not only returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2007 but making a major run in the postseason.  The guards are going to score many points but the defensive unit in the front court, particularly Brook Lopez and Kris Humpheries leaves much to be desired.  If the defensive rebounding can improve and the bench can contribute well, a fifty-win season for the Nets isn’t outside of possibility.

Best player:  Rajon Rondo, Boston.  Rondo emerged as a major offensive force in the playoffs last season, especially showing a decent jumpshot against Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals.  With the departure of Ray Allen, Rondo will be expected to score more, which means a season average of 20 points, 10 assists and six rebounds can happen.  If this takes place, Rondo is not only an All-NBA first team selection, but an MVP candidate as well.

Most important player:  Carmelo Anthony, New York.  Anthony is coming off an inconsistent campaign last season that saw injuries and the emergence of Jeremy Lin make some question his importance to the Knicks.  The reality is that Anthony has to improve his overall game, especially at the defensive end, for the Knicks to reach maximum potential and become a contender.  It won’t be enough for him to just score 25 points and hope all goes well.

Top Newcomer:  Andrew Bynum, Philadelphia.  Every team in the division has been mentioned so far accept Philadelphia and the wildcard for their entire season is the top newcomer in the division.  Bynum has an inconsistent tenure with the Los Angeles Lakers which is NBA big-man code for lacking positive attitude and injury problems.  Bynum mostly stayed healthy last season and had moments when he looked like the best center in the league.  He also had times when leg injuries and bad shot selection (just think of him taking three-pointers) which sullied his attempts.  With the 76ers, Bynum has a team where he’s expected to be the top player and has nice complementary pieces in Evan Turner, Jrue Holiday and Nick Young.  Philly took Boston to the limit in the playoffs last season and arguably have a better roster this season to go even further.  It all comes down to Bynum who is already having injury issues this preseason.

Best coach:  Doc Rivers, Boston.  Rivers was almost fired five years ago in Boston and now he’s recognized as one of the top-two coaches in the NBA alongside Gregg Popovich in San Antonio.  If anyone can handle a mix of head strong veterans alongside a younger group trying to implement itself into the rotation in Boston, it’s Rivers.

Coach on the hot seat:  Doug Collins and Mike Woodson are safe, even though if the Knicks get off to a horrendous start, the latter may be in trouble.  I’m tempted to go with Avery Johnson but the momentum of the Nets in Brooklyn would be stalled with a firing even though expectations are now at a premium.  Dwayne Casey is in his second year as head coach for the Raptors and should be safe as well because the expectations are low.  However, in comparison to his contemporaries in the division, Casey has the least margin of error by default.

Predicted finish (in order):  Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Toronto

Central Division:

Best team:  Indiana Pacers.  They have the deepest roster in the division.  The Bulls are missing Derrick Rose for at least half of the season so that decreases Chicago’s ability greatly.

Weakest team:  Milwaukee Bucks.  I like Brandon Jennings and thought he made nice strides last season at point guard for the Bucks.  However, outside of Monta Ellis, the rest of the squad is questionable.  Furthermore, the thought of Jennings and Ellis starting in the same backcourt is troublesome because not only are both players small but struggle with passing, especially Ellis.  A selfish backcourt will lead to a stagnant offense.

Wildcard team:  Chicago.  The recovery of Derrick Rose from major knee surgery is arguably the biggest wildcard in the entire NBA.  The Bulls have found ways to stay competitive in the past few seasons when Rose had to miss time, but this year will be the stiffest test.  Chicago must get more production from Richard Hamilton and Carlos Boozer to fill in the missing points from Rose.  I didn’t pick the Bulls to be the top team in the division because the best bench in the NBA last season has been weakened outside of the return of Taj Gibson.

Best Player:  Kyrie Irving, Cleveland.  When healthy, Rose is arguably the best point guard in the league.  However, I’m going to make a play for Irving to stake a claim for becoming a top-15 player in the NBA this season.  He had an outstanding rookie campaign for the Cavs and should only get better as the season goes on.  If you want to make a case for Roy Hibbert for Indiana, I’ll understand.

Most Important Player:  Rose.  The entire landscape of the division comes down to his overall health.

Top newcomer:  Andre Drummond, Detroit.  Young, mobile big men who can block shots and score on offense are hard to find and the Pistons have the chance of two of them serving as a cornerstone for the squad over the next five to six seasons.  If Drummond pans out and based on the preseason, he looks like a potential Rookie of the Year, the combination of him along with Greg Monroe gives Detroit a luxury that many teams can’t claim, making them a darkhorse for the playoffs this season.

Best coach:  Tom Thibodeau, Chicago.  Byron Scott has made appearances as a head coach in the NBA Finals but Thibodeau has been the top coach in the division since his arrival two seasons ago.

Coach on the hot seat:  Scott Skiles, Milwaukee.  He has been with Milwaukee for five seasons and has a losing record during his tenure.  If the Bucks have a slow start to the season, he may be in major trouble.

Predicted finish (in order):  Indiana, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Milwaukee

Southeast division:

Best team:  Miami Heat.  This may be the easiest division winner to pick.

Worst team:  Charlotte Bobcats.  This may be the easiest last-place division team to pick.

Wildcard team:  Atlanta Hawks.  The departure of Joe Johnson and Marvin Williams not only opened up the financial flexibility for the Hawks, it also placed greater emphasis on Josh Smith and Al Horford, two veterans who have been ready to make this step for years.  Smith is in a contract year which has the potential to produce an All-Star campaign.  Horford is coming off an injury-plagued last season and should be in strong form this year.  Furthermore, Jeff Teague is a solid point guard, Kyle Korver and and John Jenkins gives Atlanta solid outside shooting and I like Devin Harris coming off the bench.  Miami is still the class of the division but a 50-win season for the Hawks may be a possibility.

Best player:  Lebron James, Miami.  If James plays up to his highest level doesn’t win his fourth MVP, a conspiracy must be in place.  BTW, only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (6), Bill Russell (5) and Wilt Chamberlin (4) have won four or more MVPs.  James joins that list very, very soon.

Most important player:  John Wall, Washington Wizards.  My choice was Josh Smith during my initial planning but I’m switching it to Wall.  Cases can be made for Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Horford and a few others.  However, the third-year point guard has reached a crossroads of his career and the entire Washington franchise.  Wall has become a forgotten man in the overall NBA landscape and a strong season could also help the Wizards emerge from the shadow of Gil Arenas and become a viable playoff contender again.

Top newcomer:  Ray Allen, Miami.  The Heat’s weakest spot besides center is the bench.  If Allen can help alleviate the minutes that Wade plays at shooting guard that would help Miami out greatly.

Best Coach:  Eric Spoelstra, Miami.  When you win an NBA title, that puts you at the top of the list for this division.

Coach on the hotseat:  Larry Drew, Atlanta.  The Hawks have a new general manager (Danny Ferry) and a rebuilding plan that may take several years to materialize.  Ferry and the rest of upper management for Atlanta will look intensely at Drew to see if he’ll be part of these future plans.

Predicted finish (in order):  Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Orlando, Charlotte

Those are my thoughts, what are yours?


Beanball: Reviewing the AL East in August

Yesterday’s results in the American League East represents exactly what each team has been doing the entire season.

Music to listen to: Big Business/I Zimbra by Talking Heads

Get used to seeing a lot of Talking Heads and Mars Volta on this Blog, just fair warning.

First, the standings as of today with streaks in parenthesis:

New York: 69-41 — (Won 2)

Tampa: 67-44 2.5 GB (Lost 5)

Boston: 63-49 7 GB (Lost 2)

Toronto: 59-52 10.5 GB (Won 3)

Baltimore: 37-74 32.5 GB (Won 1)

New York Yankees: This has been a mundane season for the Yankees. Mark Teixeira is hitting .259 yet still second on the team in RBI’s with 84. Alex Rodriguez may have the quietest 88 RBI’s on a division leader. Their best overall hitter, Robinson Cano, is in the top-five in batting average at .332 but once again its done in a quiet way. Do you realize that Andy Pettitte’s ERA this year is 2.88? For a dude approaching 40 in that ballpark, that’s impressive. Must be on that stuff…just kidding I promised myself no PED jokes but with Rodriguez and Pettitte on the same team, its hard. The point of this is that they just took two out of three from Boston at home pending a game in progress at this moment and we’ve tuned it out.

I was going to talk about the rest of the teams in the division but want to discuss something further. Quicker rundowns for the rest of the squads.

Tampa: When you have been involved in so many potential no-hitters, I can’t trust your team in the postseason. They may win the wild card, shoot, they may even overtake the Yankees and win the division. However, those bats have to be a concern. The counter argument is that when your top-three in the rotation for the playoffs will be David Price, Matt Garza and Jeff Niemann. But their offense will be the downfall, which shouldn’t happen when you have Evan Longoria, Carl Crawford, Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena. They may win their division yet underachieve at the same time.

Boston: While they have been a M.A.S.H unit with major injuries but when your most reliable bat for the majority of the season has been Adrian Beltre with that roster, major problems. Their fans may be complaining about this being a boring season (the level of hubris in that shows the annoying side of that fan base.. Seriously, you‘re in the middle of the playoff race and this is boring) but considering the personalities that the Red Sox have had in the past, I can almost see that angle. But than as a Mets fan I see my squad loses consecutive series to Atlanta and Philadelphia without a care, so my view my be different.

Toronto: The Blue Jays are probably going to finish over .500 for another season and place fourth in their own division. If they were a college football team, I would tell them to implement a spread or option offense, maybe run a 4-4-3 defense, something to shake things up. But in that division, what can you do.

Baltimore: Buck Showalter has them playing hard, still more than 30 games back in early August.

Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays struck out 17 batters and had a one-hitter against Tampa yesterday. Now, I follow a lot of sports but this barely made my top-five of the weekend. In some order, UFC 117, Tiger Woods, NFL preseason and college football prep. 20 years go, it would have been first but I would have also been nine years old.

The point is that while that says more about the lack of care in baseball in early August, I’ve had to talk myself into watching baseball this season for the first time in a long time and its not because my favorite team is struggling. I think I’ll delve more into this tomorrow, the issue of lack of baseball interest. But for now, what are your thoughts on the AL East so far this season?