Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!

 

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NFL: Week 14 Predictions

Week 14 is here, and as the temperature drops, the match-ups are heating up.

Last week I went 11-5, including 3-3 on Thanksgiving.

Thursday Night Football

  • Houston @ Jacksonville: This inst the best game to kick off the action, with two teams with a combined record of 5-18, but it’s nice to see the Jaguars on prime-time.  Early on you thought this would be an easy win for the Texans, but this once highly thought of Superbowl contender enters on a 10-game losing streak, while the Jags are playing much better in the 2nd half of the season.  I have picked Houston to win far too often this season, and I am going to do it again.  HOUSTON WINS

1PM Sunday Games

  • Minnesota @ Baltimore: The Vikings have looked a bit better of late, while the Ravens have played themselves back into the playoff picture.  Adrian Peterson is really the only weapon Minnesota has, while Baltimore has relied on their defense and superb kicker to keep them in games.  Give me Joe Flacco to keep his team in the hunt to defend their title. BALTIMORE WINS
  • Indianapolis @ Cincinnati: It’s a match-up of division leaders that boast very solid defenses.  The Colts have struggled in the 2nd half of the season, while the Bengals have looked good all year.  If the Colts can keep this one close, they have a chance, but if they give Andy Dalton and company a sizable early lead, I think the Bengals will clamp down and move closer to wrapping up the North. Indy is closer to a division crown in the South. CINCY WINS
  • Atlanta @ Green Bay: The Falcons finally snapped their losing streak, while the Packers haven’t won many games since losing Aaron Rodgers a few weeks back.  Green Bay could have their starting QB back, but they won’t know until later in the week.  Even if he doesn’t make it back under center, I think the Packers defense gets re-energized at home and get back on track and fight their way back to the top of the NFC North. GREEN BAY WINS
  • Cleveland @ New England: The Browns have gotten a lot out of receiver Josh Gordon of late, but they haven’t been able to turn it into wins.  The Patriots have had a couple weeks in a row of big comeback performances.  And I think their offense continues to come up big at home this week.  NEW ENGLAND WINS
  • Oakland @ New York Jets: Two teams that aren’t very good right now. Oakland has more wins than last season, while the Jets have dropped out of a playoff spot with their 3-game losing streak.  Both teams have run games that can be potent, but the Jets defense has been pretty good despite the losing.  I think New York finds a way at home this week.  They have to in order to have a shot at the wild card.  NEW YORK WINS
  • Detroit @ Philadelphia: Two teams that lead their divisions (the eagles own a share) square off in Philly.  Both teams have been clicking on all cylinders to climb the division ladder.  Nick Foles has done nothing but win since taking over for Michael Vick.  But I think the Lions are a more complete team, and despite being on the road, I think they snap the Eagles 4 game win streak. DETROIT WINS
  • Miami @ Pittsburgh:  Two teams that have had up and down years, that still have an outside shot at a playoff berth.  The Dolphins are playing better following the bully scandal, and the Steelers have played better since their 0-4 start.  The Steelers have had more consistency on the ground, and I think Ben Roethlisberger is going to outplay Ryan Tannehill in this one to get the Steelers their 6th win. PITT WINS
  • Buffalo @ Tampa Bay: Two teams that just want to finish strong and hope to not finish last in their divisions.  The Bucs are winners of 3 of their last 4 and the Bills, are not.  The Bills promising start to the season ended when EJ Manuel went down early in the season.  The Bucs started out the season 0-8, and have rebounded to play better in the 2nd half.  That being said, I think the Bills go into Tampa and get a win on the strength of their run game. So give me the road game. BUFFALO WINS
  • Kansas City @ Washington: The Chiefs are on a downslide following a 9-0 start.  The defense suffered a lot of injuries in week 11 against Denver and it’s shown in their 3-game losing streak.  The Redskins continue to falter after a good 2012.  The Chiefs offense has played very well of late, after the defense carried them in the 1st half, and I think both sides come to get to stop the slide in the nation’s capital this week. Give me the 9-3 Chiefs to get back on track. KANSAS CITY WINS

4/4:25PM Sunday Games

  • Tennessee @ Denver: The Titans are playing for a wildcard spot, the Broncos are looking to move one step closer to a bye and the AFC West title.  The Titans defense has been pretty good this season, but their offense is just not enough to match Peyton Manning and all his weapons. DENVER WINS
  • St. Louis @ Arizona: These two NFC West foes boast very good defenses. And both have improved greatly from a year ago.  But I think the Cardials offense is much more consistent, and with a better chance at a playoff spot, I think the veteran Carson Palmer gets his team a home win. ARIZONA WINS
  • New York Giants @ San Diego: A couple of 5-7 teams square off in California this weekend.  The Giants have shaken off a horibble start to the season to win 5 of their last 6.  The Chargers have been up and down all season, something we’ve grown accustom with Philip Rivers led teams.  This game not only keeps the winner in the hunt for a playoff spot, it also means something more, dating back to the 2004 draft when Eli Manning was drafted number 1 by San Diego and didn’t want to play there. So who wins? Give me the Giants to continue their comeback from 0-6. NEW YORK WINS
  • Seattle @ San Francisco:  If the 49ers want any chance of winning the division, they have to win this game.  Both teams are coming off big wins at home.  The Niners made easy work of the Rams, while the Seahawks made a statement to the whole league that they are true Superbowl contenders.  And for that reason, give me the Hawks to continue to move closer to wrapping up the number 1 seed in the NFC. SEATTLE WINS

Sunday Night Football

  • Carolina @ New Orleans: One of the better games you will see all regular season.  It’s a battle for the NFC South.  A top flight defense and a team on an 8 game win streak in one corner.  A playoff perennial who was embarrassed in prime-time last week, that looks to rebound in their own home-field advantage in the other.  Who prevails?  The Panthers have had a number of close calls during the 8-game win-streak, and the Saints don’t lose at home often.  So I see New Orleans taking this one, with a very different result possible when the two face off in Carolina. NEW ORLEANS WINS

Monday Night Football

  • Dallas @ Chicago: This is an interesting ending to week 14.  The Cowboys are on the upswing, the Bears, on the down.  But neither team has a shut down defense, and both have run games that can go off at any moment.  The Boys don’t have a playoff spot locked down, and the Bears are still in the hunt for one.  Tony Romo has never been very good in December, but I think he leads his team to a road win in this one. DALLAS WINS

That’s it.  Enjoy all the fun in week 14.