Bloguin Roundtable #1: Road to the Playoffs (pt. 3)

There are some amazing NBA blogs within this network. Don’t believe me? Visit a few of them via the Bloguin Roll button. A few of us decided to draw on that talent, and have a round-table discussion… of course – not everyone participated, a lot of people are too busy, or not buzzed by the topic. But participating in the first round of discussion was the wise Dave Kelsey (T-Wolves Blog), the fantastic David Pustilnik (Da Bullseye), the esteemed Gene Zarnick (Favre Dollar Footlongs), the inestimable Mookie (A Stern Warning), the wonderful Jeff Fox (The Hoops Manifesto) and Don (With Malice).
The discussion was conducted via email, and was VERY informal. Worth noting that it was started about a week ago and took more than several days, thus some of the information in it is a little dated (yes, the NBA does change that quickly!)

The Topic

With a little more than a month remaining of the NBA schedule, who do you see as the main contenders? Who’s a dark horse? What teams do you think will surprise, and who will disappoint?
Or you can view it as:

1. Who do you see as the main contenders?
2. Who’s a dark horse?
3. What teams do you think will surprise;
4. and who will disappoint?

This is part 3, part 2 was yesterday, and part 1 was 2 days ago…
Dave Kelsey (T-Wolves Blog):
1. Who do you see as the main contenders?

– Clearly the two best teams are LA and Cleveland.
HOWEVER, among the “good teams” this season is more wide open than ever. Dallas is playing out of their minds, and I don’t think you can just dismiss Denver. I also really like athletic, versatile teams like Orlando and Atlanta.
Really, I think if one team gets a lucky break and steals a crucial game, that could propel them to a huge run. Say someone like Portland steals the first round homecourt by winning in LA (for example), who knows what could happen from there.

2. Who’s a dark horse?
– Not the TWolves. Just kidding. Oklahoma City or Portland.

3. What teams do you think will surprise?

– Dallas in the West and maybe Atlanta or Charlotte in the East. Dallas, because of the Washington trade and the fact that they are usually written off due to past post-season failures. They are just a great team right now.
And I think they can match up well against any team in the league.
Atlanta, because I love their versatility. I could see them possibly making it to the Eastern Conference Finals with a few lucky breaks. Charlotte is on this list because their defense is superb.
However, I don’t see Charlotte advancing past the second round in any scenario.

4. Who will disappoint?

– Definitely Boston. Stick a fork in them. God, they look older than my dead grandma.
They are a shell of the title winning team from two years ago.
Does anyone even see them getting out of the first round? I’m also not impressed with Miami, Toronto, or San Antonio. Utah is just “blah” to me. They are solid all around, and might do alright, but I don’t see them with any true title aspirations. The same goes for Phoenix.
Please click “Read More” to continue on with the Roundtable…
(CW Continued)
@With Malice: I don’t think the West is as cut and dry as you make it sound. The Lakers aren’t exactly tearing up the league right now themselves. On top of that, Kobe looks like he’s reverting back to his “me-first” ways by trying to carry the team every game. He’s not involving or relying on his teammates enough lately. That’s not a good recipe for their success. If they play like they did last post-season, then yes, they would certainly be the favored team. I do like Dallas though, and I think they can matchup well against LA.

I don’t think you are giving enough credit to Atlanta, but I see your points. It will most likely be Cleveland/Orlando, but Atlanta could maybe sneak past Orlando? Or, maybe Atlanta gets lucky (somehow) with the seedings, and Orlando/Cavs play each other in the second round? Either way, and unfortunately for them, the Cavs own the Hawks.

I love KG and Boston, but I agree with you. They look like a lost cause. And how much does it suck to have KG under contract for 2 more years and $40 million? Ouch. Good luck with that Danny Ainge and friends.
@Da Bulls’ Eye: Man, everyone hates Dallas! I just think they have some nice synergy going on right now. Jason Kidd has some secret Ponce De Leon elixer hidden in his locker, or something. And the longer the season goes on, the more time the Washington guys will have to gel and get to know their teammates. Maybe its just me, but this Dallas team seems more solid than in years past. And Dirk is playing like a Top 5 MVP player this season.
Also, neither Derrick Rose nor Deron Williams is the best point guard in the NBA. Well, D-
Will might be close, but he’s not the best. Utah looks “sexy”, but that’s because they have historically been good at beating up on bad teams. They are a second round team this year at best.
I like what the Bucks are doing, but I just can’t pick them in a playoff situation. Yeah, they could make it to the second round, but so could pretty much any team in the field this year, depending on luck and the match-up.
Given thus far we’re looking at LA/Cleveland/Orlando, what does each need to do to get over the hump?

– I think it will come down to health, and as I said previously, a few lucky breaks along the way. Hell, it could be one end of game possession that determines an entire series, and changes the fate for a team (well, technically both those teams.) Whichever team can hold serve on their home-court will be sitting pretty when all is said and done.
Even without a healthy Shaq/Z/whomever, I still really like Cleveland’s chances. They are just that good.
If LA turns things around and can manage to figure out what’s mindf**king them right now, they are probably the overall favorite. I’m not high on them as everyone else seems to be, but with that said, they are a lock for the Western Conference Finals at minimum.
Orlando, that’s tough. They are playing great right now. They just need to play their game and not try to do too much, like last season when they beat Cleveland to advance to the Finals.
Not much else to elaborate about for the Magic.
Don (With Malice):
A very interesting piece by Andy Kamenetzky on the similarities of relationships, and championships.

Anyway… you can start a Dallas love-fest, I’m cool with you doing that… but simply put: are their any teams in the top, say… 6 that you could see them beating over a 7 game series?
They won’t catch LA for 1st (well… highly unlikely). Looking at the standings, it looks do-able.
But that’s a pretty big differential.
LA would have to go 11-6, Dallas 14-2. That’s… VERY tough given the run they’ve had. Like individual games, a season’s a thing of runs. Dallas are on one, but to quote Yabbie Jeans:
“Every win is just one game closer to a loss.”
That’s never truer than when a team is on a run of wins like Dallas are (editor: remember, this was written 10 days ago! And has since been proven true… Dallas no longer hold 2nd spot, and Denver won’t catch LA).
Cleveland/Orlando/Atlanta/Boston – the East’s top 4 are a lock now. That’s not changing. Nor will the seedings help Atlanta at all. They WILL be a second round match-up with Either Orlando or Cleveland. That’s a given now.
The only thing that might change is Boston/Atlanta’s order.
Cleveland? “They are just that good”? Ummm… you mean “LeBron’s just that good”. Did you see the games without him? Barely managed to beat up on an old, haggard San Antonio… and lost to Milwaukee. Make no mistake: the Cavs are who they are because of LeBron, barely another guy on that team is a starter at another elite unit.
LA. LA need to get angry. And if they do from this point forward, I’m sending Matt Barnes a fruit basket.
Gene Zarnick (Favre Dollar Footlongs):
1. Who do you see as the main contenders?

The clear contenders are the Cavs, Magic, Lakers, and Mavs. I really don’t see anyone else having that much of a legitimate shot at the title.
The Cavs are clearly the best team in the NBA. The depth, the chemistry, and most importantly, Lebron James, are the reasons that they should be feared the most. March 22nd Big Z will be returning, which will just make this powerhouse more of a problem. Of course the Cavs will have to face their own demons of past failures, but this year looks to be somewhat different.
The other contender in the East are the Orlando Magic.
I would’ve said only Cleveland a month ago, but the loss of Shaq hurts the Cavs and helps the Magic. Cleveland will have many of the same problems they had last year with facing the Magic and using the size differential is what could take Orlando back to the finals. The Magic are 8-2 in their lost 10 games and are finally coming around and playing together.
If Vinsanity can continue to shine then this team is lethal throughout the playoffs.
Now to the West. #1 is of course the Lakers.
They’ll look to return to the finals for their third straight appearance and unless injuries are sustained, I don’t see any reason why it won’t happen. Kobe will be Kobe and as long as Pau Gasol and Bynum play well they should have no problem making a run.
What the Lakers always have in the playoffs is an unexpected clutch play or two from a player you wouldn’t suspect.
Usually it’s Derek Fish, this year I think Shannon Brown will be that guy. He’s coming into his own and he’s very tough to stop during his spurts.
The only other contender I see are the Dallas Mavericks.
Their trade deadline moves improved their team immensely and they are playing great together. The added depth combined with probably the most underrated superstar in the league, Dirk Nowitzki, give them a legitimate shot to beat the Lakers and make the finals.
Does anyone remember that they were in the finals not too long ago and should’ve won? They have the talent and it’s increased even more. Jason Kidd is the perfect experienced guard that they need to make the correct plays down the stretch of close games.
2. Who’s a dark horse?
The darkhorse in the East has to be the Milwaukee Bucks.
They have somehow jumped up to the 5th seed in the East, without their best player, Michael Redd. They are 9-1 in their last 10 and they have the talent to really cause troubles for other times. Their biggest problem is playing on the road, but if they can hold on to the 5 seed I see them as having a good shot to beat Boston if Boston remains at the 4.
In the West I see Phoenix as the dark horse.
The East I went with Milwaukee for their inexperience and playing the old guys.
In the West, I’m going with the Suns who have plenty of experience. San Antonio isn’t going to get it done, Portland always fails, and I don’t see Oklahoma City doing anything as teams will double team Durant and force everyone else to beat them.
They won’t.

3. What teams do you think will surprise?
The biggest surprise will be that the San Antonio Spurs will win a 1st round series versus the Denver Nuggets.
Everything thinks they’re done with Tony Parker going down, but they’ll still have enough in the tank to get it done for the first series. This is always a formidable match up and I just think this is the surprise that no one is expecting, but it definitely could happen.

4. Who will disappoint?

The Denver Nuggets.
No surprise there with my surprise pick.
The Denver Nuggets always seem like the team that can do it all. They have the most athleticism, great shooters, a superstar Carmelo, and Mr. Big Shot.
They will fall flat this year though.
Too many expectations and they will look ahead to the Mavs or Lakers too soon and will be stunned in the first round. I just don’t think they are a team with much composure and when they falter early in the 1st round series they will lose their cool and blow it down the stretch in a game
Don (With Malice):
The question’s been asked (well… “implied”) “why does everyone hate on Dallas?” – going to get to the reverse on that: what have people seen that makes you feel like they’re going to be a threat against… well, anyone – in a seven game series?
And why do people think that Z/Shaq will seamlessly fit back into Cleveland?
Dave Kelsey (T-Wolves Blog):
@Gene: I love you man, but there’s no way I can agree with your Spurs/Nuggets predictions. I mean, wow, the Spurs… they are toast. On top of their age and general sucktitude, who knows if they’ll have Parker in Round 1. I just don’t see how they can take down the Nuggets, with Denver having homecourt. Whomever plays the Spurs in round 1 will have one of the easiest paths to advancing, at least in my opinion.

What have people seen that makes you feel like Dallas is going to be a threat against… well, anyone – in a seven game series?

– Why NOT, is the question I’m asking. What teams are playing better than the Mavs right now? I don’t think any teams are. On top of that, look at the trade of Haywood and Butler. Look how it has invigorated their squad. It adds depth, defense, and toughness… three things that are essential for success in the Western Conference playoffs. The longer the season goes on, the better those “new guys” will fit in with the squad.
I think they should advance through the first round pretty easily, and depending on their second round matchup I really like their chances.
And why do people think that Z/Shaq will seamlessly fit back into Cleveland?
– Who says they will fit seamlessly?
I saw major red flags regarding Z, and to some extent Shaq, when they traded for Jamison without giving up Hickson. I mean, they literally have TOO MANY big men. There are hardly enough minutes for them all now, let alone trying to integrate Shaq and/or Z back into the picture. Personally, I’d bring Shaq back slowly so that he’s ready for the second round, and wouldn’t even bother with resigning Z.
Don (With Malice):
Dallas: why not? Because they’re a jumpshooting team. Sure, they’ve added nice pieces. But I think that in a seven game series, they’re going to struggle. Their key bigman is at best an average defender, and they’re relying on a 37 year old point guard to perform magic.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster… or at least disappointment – across a 7 game series to me.
And the Spurs: come playoffs, it would be unwise for any team to take them lightly.
Z: damn, if Cleveland didn’t actually re-sign him, he’d have a right to be pissed. Obviously, they’re going to. And I agree: it actually could be to their chagrin.
On behalf of all participants, thanks for joining us for the discussion.
It was lengthy, ambling, and I’m not sure if anyone’s mind was changed.. but it was interesting to see where everyone’s at.
I’m sure there’ll be another soon.

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