NBA Bloguin Roundtable #1: Road to the Playoffs

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 1, parts 2 & 3 are to follow…
Don (With Malice):
Ok, from my perspective in the Wild Wild West, it’s still the Lakers then others.
Yes, Denver are tough.
Sure, Dallas have a win streak going that’s pretty damn impressive.
Utah? I think LA have a mortgage on their soul. Forget about them.
But I still think that over a 7 game series LA beats all comers out West. I think at the moment they’re still searching to regain something of the swagger they had at the beginning of the season. Where they were considered “hard”. LO’s come out and said that they’re perceived as soft, and that he hates that. I’m beginning to sense a bit of anger coming out of the team, and to be honest – I like that more than chasing wins. If they focus on “getting wins”, they aren’t focused on the right thing. Focus on playing hard, and the wins will come.

Denver & Dallas are there, but I’d throw it out there that if they beat the Lakers over 7, that’d be a bigger upset than if say Orlando beat Cleveland. I’d have them as my “dark horses”… and maybe Utah – but on that I have a caveat: for Utah to get to the Finals, they’d have to avoid any contact with LA.
Surprises/disappointments could come out of the West too.
Please click “Read More” below to continue the epic Roundtable!
  • I think that if the standings stay as are, then Utah will find OKC a tough match up.
  • Could San Antonio summon up ghosts of the past and get up over Denver? To be sure. That would be an amazing series I think… Denver have the “mental frailty” issue to contend with and San Antonio are… well, they’re “San Antonio”.
  • Dallas vs Phoenix would be an AWESOME series, and whilst I have Dallas winning it, would it be THAT surprising if they didn’t?
  • And it might run against the grain for history, but I think that LA would run all over Portland.
Now… East.Clearly, Cleveland are the top of the class, but I think that there are some flaws there.And I see Orlando as the team that could most-likely exploit them.
I really think that it all comes down to this: does Shaq still rent floorspace in Dwight Howard’s head? That’s the difference between those two teams.
Orlando has a better roster, especially given that both Z and Shaq are going to be coming out of a lengthy stay on the couch.
Hell man… Shaq’s the second oldest player in the NBA, and it’s never been like he’s been a bastion of physical fitness.
LeBron will get his, but can Orlando stop the rest of the Cavs?
Boston? Fuggedabowdit. When they made the deal with the devil to get KG/Allen, I said there was a 2 year window on ‘opportunity’. And it’s coming true.
Ok… sure. They could get hot, and run the gauntlet between now and the Finals, and it’s not like their main competition is flawless either.
But getting older is not what you want to do (hello Sheed, Michael Finley). The opportunity was realised, they got a title. Time to move on ol’ guys.
Atlanta? Ummm… sorry, no. I don’t see the Hawks able to cope with Cleveland, and that’s who they’d face should they make it to the 2nd round.
I’m going to put down Milwaukee as my outside chance… tho’ to be honest I’d be AMAZED if anyone other than Cleveland/Orlando came out of the East. Unless Orlando has a meltdown
Again, if the standings remain as they are now…
  • The Cavs facing Toronto would be a bloodbath, and Cleveland will hope that it’s the Raptors and not their own personal bugbear (that they share with LA!) Charlotte. The (C)Raptors? They’re not getting past Cleveland.
  • Charlotte… would anybody be surprised if they threw a few games towards the very end to avoid a match-up with Orlando to get Cleveland? I wouldn’t. I think the ever-sinking Boston will be an interesting match-up with them tho’.
  • Best match-up of the first round would be Atlanta/Milwaukee. Whilst the Bucks don’t really have a bonafide superstar… do Atlanta? I can see Milwaukee causing an upset here – they have a dominant big man in Bogut, a dynamic guy at the point, and a swingman who can hit the open shot. Bibby’s sinking to new lows in performance could well hurt Atlanta.
  • The Magic have way too many options for the one man band that Miami’s become…
So… overall? LA/Cleveland/Orlando. Book ’em Danno!
David Pustilnik (Da Bullseye):

Excellent start by Don. Here’s what I got.
In my mind there are 3, maybe 4, real contenders in the entire league.
We got the Lakers… and I suppose the Nuggets out West, and Cavs and Magic out East. Everyone else really are nothing but pretenders. And I actually am not even that impressed with Dallas, 13 game winning streak and all. I will forever perceive the Mavericks as soft. And that’s because their lack of all-around team defense.
Sure, the addition of Brendan Haywood could mean something.

But any team led by Dirk isn’t going anywhere. This has been conveyed clearly year after year after year. He’s never proven he could be a real winner in the playoffs, and players like Kobe and Carmelo will eat him alive. Plus, I saw this Dallas team struggle to put away an absolutely horrible Bulls team that is crippled defensively due to the loss of Joakim Noah. They allowed a Bulls squad that shoots 45% on the season shoot 52.2% from the field.
Plus, they’ve played maybe 4 good teams on the winning streak…the rest have been cupcakes, including my Bullies.
As for the Nuggets…yeah…this team can play, and likely contend. Carmelo and Chauncey look determined and they’ve won 2 of the 3 meetings thus far against the Lakers. But we all know the Lakers’ M.O. They turn it on when they want to…especially Kobe.
We all know that Kobe will not allow Pau, Odom, and company to get down on themselves the way Odom is getting down on the team right now come playoff time.
It just ain’t happenin’.
Playoff time is Lake-Show time and Billups and Melo simply cannot overpower Kobe, Odom, Pau, Artest, Bynum, etc. Just too many weapons. Nothing they can do. And also, you cannot ignore the Phil-factor.
Out in the East, I will go out on a very short limb and predict the Cavs make the finals.
Yeah, yeah…the Magic are a very solid team, especially when Vince decides he wants to try.
But I truly believe that LeBron James and Antawn Jamison are a duo on par with Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom, if not better. It’s like Kobe and Odom 2.0.
Plus, if Jamison can stay healthy and Shaq can come back healthy, on top of Big Z maybe returning, the front court can give Dwight Howard a lot of problems. I hate to admit it, because I’m a Shaq-hater and believe teams have consistently given up way too much for him, but the trade for Shaq may have actually been the key for the Cavs to make it past the Magic. They need him to help neutralize Howard, and once that’s taken care of, LeBron will take care of the rest.
And there simply is no neutralizing King James.
In terms of dark horses, I really like Utah out West.
Deron Williams, simply put, is the best point guard in the NBA. Bulls fans may crucify me for saying so, but I give him the edge over Derrick because his passing is a little stronger at this point and he has a nice looking three-point jumper, whereas Derrick has none at all.
But trust me, it’s only a slight edge and that can easily change next year…and I hope it does.
Beyond Deron, Carlos Boozer is having himself a terrific season, and their frontcourt is deep with Okur and Kirilenko, and Millsap off the bench. Plus, they have that token three-point shooter in C.J. Miles, who absolutely torched the Bulls last night, which every championship team needs. I think their downfall is their defense and rebounding, but they can give one of the contenders some serious problems come playoff time. I think the Jazz definitely make it out of the 1st round, but once they play the Lakers in the second round…game over for Deron and company.
In the East, I’m going to have to agree with Don on this one.
The Bucks, much to my chagrin, are playing terrific basketball right now. Scott Skiles simply knows how to motivate players. He just knows how to coach defense. And this team is playing some serious defense right now.
To be honest, the Bulls could really use him right now.
Ironic, isn’t it? Of course, Andrew Bogut believing he’s the second coming of Lew Alcindor doesn’t hurt either. The guy has turned into a beast. Glad to see him healthy, even though this team is single-handedly destroying the Bulls’ playoff chances with this little run of theirs. I think the Bucks will hold onto the 5-seed and give either Boston or Atlanta their money’s worth, but that’s about it. But with a Scott Skiles team, you never know.
I definitely think Boston and Atlanta will disappoint.
These teams are currently tied record-wise, and one of them is destined to play the Bucks when they land in the 4-seed. If there’s any team that’s going to lose in the 1st round of the playoffs, I think it’ll be the team that plays the Bucks.
I’m not drinking the Hawks Kool-Aid at all. Not even a sip. I’ll give them credit for what they’ve accomplished this season, but they’re a young squad that I think lacks the discipline and the coaching to make a deep run in the playoffs.
As for the Celtics…they’re done people. Can you say over the hill?
I think the team that has the very best shot of being knocked out by a lower seed is this team right here.
I don’t care if they play the Bucks or the Raptors or anyone. Not only is the evidence in last year’s epic first-round playoff series where they were nearly eliminated (ugh), but now they’re a year older and running out of legs real quick. But I don’t know if you can call them being eliminated early a disappointment if it’s somewhat expected.
Other than that, I don’t expect many surprises. Don, got it right. This is a three-way race to the finish between the Magic, Lakers, and Cavs. But look out for Milwaukee in the first round…upset city.
—————- part 2 of this 3 part series will be up tomorrow —————-

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