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Apr 16 2011

Spring Madness 2011: NBA Playoffs Bandwagon Report

With all apologies to the Texas A&M women’s basketball champions (no comment on UConn) and the 14 NBA lottery teams (Rockets, Suns, Jazz, Warriors, Clippers, Kings, Timberwolves, Bucks, Bobcats, Pistons, Nets, Wizards, Raptors, Cavaliers), this article is all about the 2011 NBA Playoffs.  If you need comments on all 30 NBA teams, go and check out this article; not much has changed, especially for those lottery teams.

Now, when the NBA season began, I had this article out to preview the season.  In the West, I missed on having the Jazz (coach Jerry Sloan leaves, Deron Williams traded) and Rockets (Yao Ming injured) in the playoffs; the Grizzlies and Hornets made it in.  In the East, I missed on having the Bucks (worst offense in the NBA) and Wizards (overestimated John Wall’s impact as a rookie) in the playoffs; the Pacers and 76ers made it in.

Real bracketology.

Now, it’s obvious that there are natural fans of a given set of teams.  But if you are that typical bandwagon fan who needs to ride a team to the playoffs, then this is specifically tailored for you!

Slightly modernized.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#1 – San Antonio Spurs (14-2, 14-2, 12-4, 12-4, 9-7, +0): This Spurs team has folks jumping off of their bandwagon despite holding the best record in the West all season.  Their big three (Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan) have all suffered second half injuries, and I’d stay off this bandwagon because this is more of an offensive team now, and they’ve never won a championship without a top-5 defense (this Spurs team finished 14th).

#8 – Memphis Grizzlies (7-9, 7-9, 10-6, 11-5, 11-5, +0): The Grizzlies became the unlikely beneficiaries of the Jazz downfall (unlikely because they’re the Grizzlies AND because of Rudy Gay’s injury).  The team actually played better after Gay went down and the team added Shane Battier to their bench.  PF Zach Randolph is a 20 point scorer and adds 12 rebounds a game, and the Grizzlies have defensive playmakers all over the rotation (starting guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen had over 100 steals, C Marc Gasol had over 100 blocked shots).  There’s plenty of room on this bandwagon … if you like teams that don’t shoot threes.

#4 – Oklahoma City Thunder (11-5, 10-6, 10-6, 10-6, 13-3 +1): This bandwagon is just about full.  Here’s the thing about the Thunder: SF Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league and his PG, Russell Westbrook, also happens to be explosive.  They didn’t slip all season, they have plenty of big bodies (PF Serge Ibaka, C Kendrick Perkins, and Nick Collison off the bench), and SG James Harden has been a great fit off their bench.  As great as Durant is, it’s Westbrook who will determine how far this team goes.  He needs to limit bad shots (which he can do) and bad decisions (he averaged almost a turnover a quarter this season).

#5 – Denver Nuggets (10-6, 9-7, 9-7, 9-7, 12-4, +1):  It’s almost a shame that the Nuggets have to open at Oklahoma City, the only Western Conference team that had a hotter finish than Denver.  That said, I’d gladly take the Nuggets bandwagon.  These Nuggets are incredibly dynamic, and played their best basketball of the season after trading their two leading scorers in Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups.  They now go two deep at PG (Ty Lawson and Raymond Felton) and two deep at SF (former Knicks Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler).  If the Nuggets are healthy and if they can find a way to not get killed by Durant, watch this bandwagon overflow.

#2 – Los Angeles Lakers (13-3, 9-7, 11-5, 12-4, 10-6, +2): The two-time defending NBA champions (and my pick to win the championship), the Lakers take up a lot of permanent residential space on any playoff bandwagon.  The myth is that they’re a team on a downswing on the way to the playoffs.  If that’s the case, then I would tell you to get back on this bandwagon where you belong.  Kobe Bryant is still Kobe Bryant, and since C Andrew Bynum isn’t seriously injured, the Lakers (with PF Pau Gasol and likely sixth man of the year Lamar Odom) possess the most imposing frontline in the league.  As liable as PG Derek Fisher, SF Ron Artest, and the rest of the Lakers bench may seem, they are still a top 10 offense and defense.  The Lakers won’t be caught sleeping or helpless as they go for the three-peat.

#7 – New Orleans Hornets (12-4, 6-10, 13-3, 5-11, 10-6, +0): Is there anyone on this bandwagon?  Before you start feeling sorry for the Hornets for losing PF David West to a torn ACL (and then drawing the Lakers after the Grizzlies positioned themselves to stay in the 8th seed), keep in mind that PG Chris Paul (miraculously) stayed healthy and with SF Trevor Ariza (120 steals) and C Emeka Okafor (127 blocks), helped lead the Hornets to the fifth-best defense in the league.  Now, before you jump on the bandwagon, jump back off.  The Hornets didn’t beat the Lakers all season (with or without West), and as well as PF Carl Landry has been offensively, he doesn’t make things easier on the Hornets’ defense.  Chris Paul will have to be a man possessed, as the Hornets had one of the worst offenses in the league before they lost their leading scorer in West.

#3 – Dallas Mavericks (12-4, 12-4, 9-7, 13-3, 9-7, +2): After spending the 90s out of the playoffs, the Mavericks and PF Dirk Nowitzki are in for the 11th straight season.  The Mavs had a top ten defense this season, but they had the sixth best defense in the league just three years ago when the Hornets eliminated them in five games, resulting in then-coach Avery Johnson’s dismissal.  Nuggets coach George Karl actually said he’d want his team to face the Mavericks.  Bulls-eye.  There are not many on the Mavericks bandwagon, and they are now turning to SG DeShawn Stevenson to give them a boost (a good decision only when considering SG Rodrique Beaubois’ lost season).  If these old horses (Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion, Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Brendan Haywood – five of the Mavs’ eight rotation guys are over 30) pick up their play, the Mavericks might stick around longer than they should.  I don’t think they will.  What you see is usually what you get with this team.

#6 – Portland Trail Blazers (8-8, 8-8, 10-6, 11-5, 10-6, +1): There are many getting on the Blazers’ bandwagon.  I would advise caution.  While they have a top-10 defense and added SF Gerald Wallace to an already wing-heavy rotation, I am looking to see if PF LaMarcus Aldridge can keep up his outstanding play considering the fact that the Blazers don’t have much size at all besides Aldridge and C Marcus Camby (who pretty much decided to only play defense this season).  Wallace, Wes Matthews, and Nicolas Batum have to protect defensively, while the Blazers need Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez to be difference makers this postseason.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#1 – Chicago Bulls (9-7, 13-3, 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, +2):  A hot bandwagon, and a good one to be on… at least throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.  Sure, they put a lot on their MVP PG Derrick Rose.  But keep in mind that the Bulls started the season without PF Carlos Boozer and C Joakim Noah for significant stretches, and despite all of that, Rose and new likely-Coach of the Year Tom Thibodeau got the Bulls home-court advantage throughout the playoffs (they went 36-5 at home) and are armed with the second-best defense in the league.  I’m not sure if they’ll win a championship because their offense can get too Rose-centric, especially down the stretch.  But you don’t care about that.  You need a bandwagon to jump on.

#8 – Indiana Pacers (9-7, 5-11, 7-9, 6-10, 10-6, +0): Now that the Pacers are in the playoffs, I’ll say this bandwagon shouldn’t be empty.  Coach Frank Vogel had a winning record with this team, and only the Bulls, Heat, and Magic had stronger finishes to the season in the Eastern conference.  SF Danny Granger is a poor man’s Kevin Durant and the team has enough size and more than enough wings to shoot and run.  They beat the Bulls in overtime last month, so there isn’t a lot of fear.  Just fatal inexperience.

#4 – Orlando Magic (12-4, 8-8, 11-5, 9-7, 10-6, +2): There are many getting off of the Magic bandwagon.  The Magic were good this season, but they did nothing to suggest they are going to make noise in the postseason.  As good as C Dwight Howard was (23 points, 14 rebounds, 1.4 steals, and 2.4 blocks a game), he still has too many flaws (suspended for excessive technical fouls, awful free throw shooter at 60%, awful ballhandler – 1.4 assists vs. 3.6 turnovers a game).  And while the Magic have plenty of shooters, none of them can take over a game, and none of them are capable of consistently creating offense except for maybe PG Jameer Nelson and SF Hedo Turkoglu – sometimes.

#5 – Atlanta Hawks (9-7, 10-6, 11-5, 7-9, 7-9, +0): The Hawks played uninspired basketball to end the season, not that anyone in Atlanta noticed or cared.  There isn’t much of a bandwagon for them, but luckily for them, they drew a fairly uninspiring team in the Magic, a divisional rival they played well this season.  They are one of the worst offensive teams in the league, but one of the top ten defenses as well, and I like the fact that C Jason Collins is being enlisted as the “Superman stopper” for Dwight Howard – Collins gives you nothing offensively, but defensive identity is key for Atlanta (SF Marvin Williams can give their bench some punch offensively along with Jamal Crawford).  They need SG Joe Johnson and SF Josh Smith to stop shooting dumb shots, and someone needs to step up and lead this team through adversity.

#2 – Miami Heat (9-7, 14-2, 11-5, 9-7, 13-3, +2): This is not a haters’ bandwagon – that one is already filled with Heat haters.  More understated this year are those who are actually pulling for a Heat championship (not exactly the same as a “Wade championship”, a “LeBron championship”, or a “Bosh championship” – not that anyone has been tracking how long it takes Chris Bosh to win a championship).  Even more understated?  The defense of the Heat.  Miami doesn’t force many turnovers, but they are still a top-ten defense.  If their big three is scoring, and players like Mike Bibby, James Jones, and Mike Miller are shooting well, the Heat will be a tough out in a playoff series.

#7 – Philadelphia 76ers (3-13, 10-6, 9-7, 11-5, 8-8, +0): Not many on the 76ers bandwagon, and unfortunately for them, they didn’t earn the 6th seed after losing a crucial game late in the season to the Knicks.  No team started the season worse than the 76ers, but they are a testament to what good coaching (Doug Collins), good chemistry (no major transactions all season), and good health (SF Andre Iguodala missed 15 games this season, no other rotation player missed more than 8 ) can do for a team.  That being said, Iguodala, PF Elton Brand, and Louis Williams are not going to be 100% healthy this postseason.  The 76ers are a great team to want to win (especially now that they’re playing their alter ego Miami Heat), and they had the fewest turnovers of any team, but the absence of a go-to guy will doom this team.

#3 – Boston Celtics (12-4, 13-3, 12-4, 10-6, 8-8, +1): The Celtics bandwagon is at a standstill.  There are plenty of fans still on it based on the fear of last year’s playoff run (running through Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, and Dwight Howard, while coming a game from overcoming Kobe).  But I’m off this thing.  The Celtics have the best defense in the league, but who is going to relieve SF Paul Pierce?  If PG Rajon Rondo and SG Ray Allen come through this postseason, they should be dangerous.  There will be a bulls-eye on former Thunder C Nenad Krstic and SF Jeff Green.  If those players elevate their games offensively, the Celtics will be fine.  But if they are invisible, they will further anger a fanbase (and team) that had to watch C Kendrick Perkins get traded and Cs Jermaine O’Neal and Shaquille O’Neal take another leap past their primes.

#6 – New York Knicks  (8-8, 10-6, 7-9, 9-7, 8-8): The Knicks have one of the worst defenses in the NBA.  But that’s obviously not coach Mike D’Antoni’s (bka “Mike O’Antoni”) focus.  His best defense is a better offense, and the Knicks were second in the league to the Denver Nuggets.  The Knicks even got the Nuggets’ superstar, SF Carmelo Anthony, but the team hasn’t been much better with Anthony.  I’d get on the bandwagon because I think the Knicks have more than enough offense to win a series or two.  Ultimately, they don’t have enough quality size to overcome their defensive shortcomings.

Well that is that… Pick your team, you bandwagon fans, and argue their case in the comment box below!

-1SKILLZ

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  1. Sam

    Hey man.

    I just want to drop in to say, it is a sad year without Phoenix in the playoffs.

    Hope all is well in LA.

    P.S

    I better see you this summer.

    -Water

    1. Law Murray

      WATER!!!!

      Yo hit me up my dude, you know I’m trying to stay west for a bit. Phoenix got too old and soft. But they don’t lack depth. A good offseason is necessary.

  2. MaRs

    Snaps, very insightful Law. I dig it. However, I’d take the Heat over whoever comes out of the west this year. Just don’t see them losing it.

    1. Law Murray

      The Heat are going to be interesting, especially if they get Udonis Haslem back in May.

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