Thursday, April 16, 2009

In Which I Buck Your Wisdom

Other writers will preview the 2009 NBA Playoffs with greater care, but I wish to note the great burden that many of this year’s postseason teams surely feel: “Oh no, not this again.” Carmelo Anthony and his Nuggets have appeared in the playoffs in each of the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 seasons — and lost in the first round each year. The same goes for Yao Ming’s Rockets, although they missed the 2006 playoffs due to myriad injuries. Dallas lost in the first round in three of those years (2004, ’07, ’08). Chicago lost in the first round in ’05 and ’06, before winning one series in ’07 and crashing into the lottery in ’08.

These vernal weeks are filled with teams that surely wish to prove they belong with serious squads and did not merely “fake” their way to 50 wins. Some teams finally find the right mix for a deep playoff run after several years of futility, as the Minnesota Timberwolves finally did in ’04. But, like the Raptors of 2000-2001-2002 or the Grizzlies of 2004-2005-2006, some teams realize that their core stars are just not championship-caliber, and they feel compelled to churn their roster and start over.

Of Denver, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago, I believe that the Mavericks have the greatest chance of making the conference finals or the NBA Finals. Needless to say, Chicago will probably lose in the first round against Boston, even if Kevin Garnett cannot play. Houston and its hard-working center, sadly, will probably lose again, playing Portland on the road and without a top-level point guard. Even if Houston got past the Blazers, the Lakers would likely eat them up; Houston lacks the size to defend Gasol, Bynum, and Odom. Meanwhile, I don’t have a lot of confidence in Denver. They did secure the second seed in the Western Conference, but they actually had as many wins as the third and fourth seed, and only six more than the eighth seed. Their putative leader, Carmelo Anthony, has never shown the defensive leadership or offensive explosiveness required for playoff laurels. And do you really trust Chris Andersen, Kenyon Martin, and JR Smith to keep their heads cool for six weeks of piercing intensity? That leaves Dallas, which fields a former MVP, a former MVP runner-up, and seven guys with NBA Finals experience (eight if you count their coach). The Mavs won nine of their last thirteen games, capped by a rollicking come-from-behind victory against Houston on the season’s denoument. I like the Dallas Mavericks to defeat the Spurs in the first round and the Denver-New Orleans winner in the second round. Of course, I still think the Lakers will beat Cleveland in the Finals, like every other pundit.

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