Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
The second round of the NBA playoffs is going on as I post this, since the second round began before the first was fully completed. Because of that, I have no clever intro for this post. Recaps and new predictions after the jumper.
Grading the First Round – The Western Conference
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Utah Jazz
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Actual Result: Spurs in 4
The Jazz never had a chance, especially since San Antone is firing on all cylinders, getting contributions from the entirety of the starting five, as well as a record number of bench points in the deciding game. Tony Parker continued his MVP-level play and Tim Duncan remains a model of consistency, even as his knees do not. With this defeat, it becomes more and more obvious that Utah should change its team name from the Jazz, due to Salt Lake City being perhaps the least jazzy city in America. Maybe they can do something with that whole Beehive state thing, and give the Jazz name back to New Orleans, where it belongs.
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
Prediction: Thunder in 7
Actual Result: Thunder in 4
The Thunder swept the defending champs in exciting fashion, on both last-minute shots and defensive plays and, in the final game, a dominating performance that left the Mavs no hope of extending the series. Durant and Westbrook played well, as did Serge Ibaka absurdly protecting the rim, but the real revelation this series was likely Sixth Man of the Year and dude-whose-head-looks-like-a-Trojan-War-helmet James Harden, who seemingly beat the James Garner westerns singlehandedly taking the rock to the rack in the decisive fourth game. The Thunder are a team everyone in the country (except for Seattle) can root for.
(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
Prediction: Lakers in 5
Actual Result: Lakers in 7
The Nuggets gave the Lakers a run for the money, taking them to seven games mainly because the Los Angeles bigs (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum) cannot be counted on to play consistently well. When they both play well, the Lakers are just about unstoppable—as much as Kobe would like it to be all about him, it’s not, not anymore. Gasol and Bynum stepped up in game seven, Kobe hit a timely three, and that was all she wrote. It would be really cool if at some point George Karl could win a title, since he’s coached for 20 consecutive winning seasons, and the Nuggets may be getting there soon.
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7
Actual Result: Clippers in 7
It was pretty…pretty ugly! Hardeharhar. The series that most resembled some of the terrible playoff hockey we’re being subjected to this year was this one between the Clips and the Griz, and in the end it was the Clippers that outlasted the Grizzlies, even with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin not at their best. The reason they persevered? Their bench found its toughness, with Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans not just looking like extras from OZ (the prison show, not the one with Dorothy and Toto) but letting the fight out too.
Western Conference Average Grade: B
Grading the First Round – The Eastern Conference
(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
Prediction: Bulls in 6
Actual Result: 76ers in 6
I’m not going to grade myself too harshly for getting this one wrong, since the Bulls lost their best player (and last year’s MVP) Derrick Rose to a torn ACL at the end of the first game, and were without their second best player, defensive stalwart, and heart of the team (as well as awesome finger-guns celebrator) Joakim Noah for the back half of the series. The 76ers played well enough to win, and showed a lot of toughness, but this win (and my grade) comes with an asterisk.
(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) New York Knicks
Prediction: Heat in 4
Actual Result: Heat in 5
The Knicks managed to pull one out, but this may as well have been a sweep, because it took a miraculous forty-plus point night from Carmelo to squeak out a victory that was in doubt in the final seconds of the fourth game. Of course, Dwyane Wade failed to close, launching a thousand more thinkpieces about the Heat’s inability to finish games, but that tends not to matter when they do win, because they win by double digits.
(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Orlando Magic
Prediction: Pacers in 5
Actual Result: Pacers in 5
Good job, me! There’s not much to say about this series, other than that the Magic sans Dwight Howard are basically a D-League team with above-average (for the D-League, not the NBA) shooting. The Pacers came to play, and play the sort of team game that will make them a tough out in the next round, but their lack of star power will come to haunt them when they actually play a team with stars.
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks
Prediction: Celtics in 5
Actual Result: Celtics in 6
The Celtics had more trouble with the Hawks than they perhaps should have, but easily could have won this one at the end of the fifth game, even though Al Horford returned and played well in another series loss for Atlanta. The Big Howevermanywe’recountingasbigfortheCelticsanymore got it done, though, and should continue to do the same.
Eastern Conference Average Grade: A-
Overall Average Grade: B+
Round 2 Predictions – Western Conference
(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers
The old pros and the youngbloods meet up in this matchup, with the Spurs having easily dropped the Jazz in a sweep and the Clippers probably still reeling from their slobberknocker of a series with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Clippers are more athletic and the Spurs are a smarter, more complete team, but the real difference here is going to come at the top: Vinny Del Negro is no Greg Popovich. Tony Parker is one of the few point guards in the league who can match up with Chris Paul in every way, and Blake Griffin will have some trouble with Tim Duncan. This isn’t the Clippers’ year; not yet.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (3) Los Angeles Lakers
A couple of years ago, Kevin Durant had his playoff coming out party when the Thunder played the Lakers tough as a young bunch before the Lakers eliminated them on the way to the fifth title for Kobe. This year, the Thunder are the better team, and many expect them to go all the way, so Kobe is in the position of being the underdog. I think Kobe will have a hell of a series, but Bynum and Gasol are too mercurial to be counted on at this point, and defensive stalwarts like Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka are the kind of players who get them off their game. The guard changes here.
Prediction: Thunder in 7
Round 2 Predictions – Eastern Conference
(2) Miami Heat vs. (3) Indiana Pacers
The Heat and Pacers both made short work of inferior opponents, the nogoodKnicks and the Dwight Howard-less Magic respectively. The way this matchup has lined up has potential to cause many sportswriters to fart on their hands and then sniff their hands as they talk about the wrong way (stars teaming up, the Heat) vs. the right way (team ball, hard work, no GLORY BOYZ, the Pacers). If the Pacers would happen to win, it would be a victory for “teams doing things the right way,” and no one needs that, especially in the NBA. We have scrappy white hitters running out infield hits in baseball for that. Give me high-flying transition offense, ridiculous athleticism, and the Heat in a series that will seem closer than it actually was.
Prediction: Heat in 5
(4) Boston Celtics vs. (8) Philadelphia 76ers
The Celtics really have an opportunity here, having lucked into playing the eight-seed 76ers instead of the conference-leading Bulls in the second round. Both teams play tough defense, and the 76ers are younger, but the Celtics are more experienced, more talented, and if they’re hungrier, like they should be in what could be the final run for this group of stars in green, they’ll have no problem advancing. Rondo will get it together, Paul Pierce will hit a dagger, Kevin Garnett will look scary while yelling, and the Celts will make the Conference Finals.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
As Charles Barkley might say, these NBA playoffs are not trrble. See you before the next round.