I changed the name of my blog from The Perfect Game to Worried Note. Get it? It's clever. Anyway here are my picks for the NBA Playoffs.
THE FIRST ROUND
SPURS (1) vs. Grizzlies (8)
Would not be surprised to see the Grizzlies pick up a few games against the Spurs (especially if Manu is not healthy, but even still Memphis shouldn't be a problem for the Spurs. Spurs in 5.
LAKERS (2) vs. Hornets (7)
Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. Hornets will be a challenge in the same way that things that are not challenges are challenges. Lakers in 4.
Mavericks (3) vs TRAILBLAZERS (6)
Upset alert. I don't like the Mavs. I thought they could win the Finals when the crushed the Jazz during their best stretch of the season in the early part of the season. Then Caron Butler went down. While the Mavs have done nice job staying in the top half of the challenging West, I can't take any team that has a wing rotation of Peja, DeShawn Stevenson, Shawn Marion, ? , etc. very seriously. Meanwhile the Blazers pulled a nearly Pau Gasol level heist by swiping Gerald Wallace from the Bobcats and Michael Jordan. He is the perfect defender against Dirk. Think Stephen Jackson. The Mavs also don't have the personnel to expose LaMarcus Aldridge on defense. Blazers in 6.
THUNDER (4) vs Nuggets (5)
Best first round series by far. I was hoping that the Nuggets would get matched up against any other team than the Thunder. I though they would beat the Spurs or Mavericks, and definitely wear the Lakers out. Instead they got the Thunder, who I think is going to make some noise this year. Thunder in 7.
BULLS (1) vs. Pacers (8)
Nothing to see here. Bulls in 4.
HEAT (2) vs. Sixers (7)The Sixers are a fun team. I love Thadeus Young. I wish he played for the Jazz. Still, the Heat have LeBron and Dwayne Wade. Heat in 5.
CELTICS (3) vs. Knicks (6)
Second best 1st Round series. I found it very odd that the Celtics wanted to play the Knicks over the Sixers in the 1st Round. On paper it seems like the Knicks are the type of team that could get hot and beat anybody in the field in a given game or even series, but then I remembered that the Celtics like to play/defend teams that have a ball dominant player who shoots with high volume in isolation. Hellllloooo Carmelo Anthony. Celtics in 6.
MAGIC (4) vs. Hawks (5)
One of the worst series thus far. Two boring teams. The Magic have Dwight Howard. The End. Magic in 5.
THE SECOND ROUND
Spurs (1) vs. THUNDER (4)
The Spurs I think are the perfect matchup for the Thunder. They have a quick, good defender in Westbrook to shadow Parker. Lots of length to bother Duncan. Solid team defense. The only wild card is Ginobili who may or may not be healthy. Thunder in 6.
LAKERS (2) vs. Trailblazers (6)
On paper another good matchup for the Blazers. Still I think that the Gasol/Bynum/Odom front court bothers Aldridge. Artest is the perfect type of defender for both Gerald Wallace and Brandon Roy. Here is a dirty secret too, Kobe Bryant doesn't mind being defended by Wesley Matthews. Kobe lit the Jazz up last year. He seemed to take pleasure particularly against Matthews who has a good defensive reputation. Lakers in 6.
BULLS(1) vs. Magic (4)
This is a kind of interesting series. Dwight Howard causes problems for everybody, but it seems like the Bulls in particular. The Magic have no one to defend Derrick Rose on the perimeter, but he is going to be meeting Dwight Howard at the rim. Similarily, the Bulls only frontcourt scorer, Carlos Boozer, always always always struggles with length at the rim. Korver and the JJ/Arenas combo cancel each other out. I think the thing that tips the balance is Luol Deng. I think he has a big series against Hedo to lead the Bulls. Bulls in 7.
HEAT (2) vs. Celtics
Oh boy. Why do I have the feeling that this series is going to be a classic. I'm speechless. I can't wait. I think LeBron has a little unfinished business from last year. Wade always seems to step up against the Celtics. Home court helps tip the balance. Heat in 7.
THE CONFERENCE FINALS
Lakers (2) vs. THUNDER (4)
Another classic in the making. So good. This year's playoffs could only be better if the Jazz were there to get beat by the Lakers again. Kobe vs. Durant. Westbrook is going to cause a lot of problems for the Lakers. They have no answer. He is much better than he was last year. To me he is the MIP for this season. Thunder this year have enough length and toughness up front to battle Gasol and Bynum this year. Thunder will be more hungry I think. Thunder in 6.
Bulls (1) vs. HEAT(2)
Another good matchup. Kind of a weird series. The best players in the series don't matchup with each other except for Boozer and Bosh. Boozer has classically killed Bosh. I expect that to happen again. I think that the Wade/LeBron combo is too much for the Bulls though. Good series. Heat in 6.
HEAT (2) vs. Thunder (4)
A series I would pay to see. The LeBron head to head matchup against Durant is going to be wild. The Heat will be more worried about Westbrook. OKC is going to be rocking. Again though I am having a really hard time seeing any team being able to contain Wade and LeBron for 7 games. Heat in 7.
There you have it. The Villains win ... like always.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
It has been a hard NBA season for me.
Watching the Jazz this season was probably like watching that movie Swordfish. It was mostly terrible, but there was that one scene with Halle Berry (the early season Eastern Conference road trip that included the Heat game, and a few fun Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors performances near the end). The only other team that I was at least excited to see play (the Miami Heat) were unexciting, nay boring to watch. The funnest team in the league to watch was the post-Melo Denver Nuggets who are right up there with the Lakers, Rockets, and Blazers as my most hated teams. Finally, Derrick Rose is going to be the MVP of the NBA.
This is particularly hard for me to swallow for two reasons. The first reason is that he is the legitimate MVP. I can't argue against it. He is the MVP. Why does this make it difficult for me to handle? Because it makes me wrong. I work with a couple of Bulls fans. This is a direct quote from me when the Bulls selected Derrick Rose number 1 overall in 2008. "Derrick Rose is going to be a bust." I know that I was in the minority with that sentiment, but I believed it to be true.
I didn't like Derrick Rose. I watched the 2008 National Championship game and though I realize he was the reason that Memphis was in the Championship game in the first place and was in a position to win said Championship Game, I thought that the loss fell on his shoulders. Though he was far and away the best player on the floor, blessed with unbelievable athleticism, Rose settled for jumpers (which he couldn't hit) instead of getting to the rim and pushing the ball. He missed a critical FT in the clutch, and gave up Mario Chalmers' 3 which sent the game into OT. I saw Rose as a talented, but lazy player who was incapable of being a clutch go to player due to lack of shooting touch.
I hated the fact that Rose allowed someone else to take his SAT for him which made him eligible to play college basketball. It said to me that he saw himself as above the rules, more important than others, entitled. He was a cheater. It also said to me that either lacked the intelligence or work ethic to get a score on an SAT test that would make him eligible to play in college.
His first season in the league (in which he won Rookie of the Year), I saw the same player that I did when he played for Memphis. He was a talented player with athleticism and explosiveness that I have not seen in any other point guard ever. He also relied exclusively on his athleticism, couldn't shoot the ball which made him ineffective at the end of games, and most of all did not make his teammates better. He wasn't Chris Paul, Deron Williams, or Steve Nash. To me he was a bigger Tony Parker.
Then everything changed. To me, Derrick Rose's elevation to the league's MVP began in the 2009 Playoffs. The Rose led Bulls matched up with the defending champion Boston Celtics in Round 1. It is no secret that Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo are not (to borrow a word from Kobe) fond of each other. It probably started during the course of the season during their matchups. Rondo is famously irritating to opposing players and probably did a poor job of endearing himself to Rose. The dislike continued during Team USA events were the two players were in direct competition with each other for roster spots or in some cases minutes. His dislike for Rondo seemed to unlock something in Rose during that playoff matchup. Rose showed a competitiveness that I had never seen from him. At Memphis, when the game got close and the competition was at its highest point, he shrank. He became a lesser player. The matchup with the Celtics was the first time that the opposite was true.
The next step was again in the first round of the playoffs the next year. The Bulls had regressed slightly falling from the 7th seed in 2009 to 8 in 2010. Matched up against the 1 seed Cavaliers, Rose came face to face with back-to-back MVP LeBron James. LeBron and Rose are similar in the sense that they are the two best athletes perhaps ever to play in the NBA. Their athletic ability is unmatched by any other player that has ever played. Unlike Rose though, LeBron's all-around game was and is nearly flawless. Against the Bulls LeBron unleashed what was probably his 2nd best playoff series ever (Pistons in 2007 being 1st). He averaged nearly a triple double including 31 pts a game. There Rose saw what being an elite player was. It took more than being fast with the ball. You had to have an all-around game. You had to be able to take a game over in the final moments. A lot has been made in the media all season about the work that Rose put in during this summer to get better. I think this series mixed with the rejection of the Bulls by both Wade and LeBron that pushed Rose to undertake that work.
The third thing that helped lift Rose to his rightful spot as league MVP was the hiring of Tom Thibodeau. I think he's a genius. He put Rose in the best position possible to succeed which is what good coaches do. How do I know he is a genius. How can a team be one of the best defensive teams in the league and start Carlos Boozer? Impossible.
Which brings me to the other reason why Derrick Rose being the MVP is so hard. He is better than Deron Williams. I knew that this Bulls season would be an interesting experiment. They are basically the Jazz from 05-10. They switched out Memo for Joakim Noah (offense for defense) , Andrei Kirilenko for Luol Deng (defense for offense),Wesley Matthews/CJ Miles/Derek Fisher for Keith Bogans (nothing for nothing) and Deron Williams for Derrick Rose. I thought for sure that this season would validate Deron's greatness. The Bulls would underachieve and Boozer/Brewer/Korver would be exposed to the nation for what they were: poor defensive players (except Brewer) who were made better by a great system and an elite point guard. Likewise Deron would overachieve with new pieces and have his usual great season.
Instead Derrick Rose carried the Chicago Jazz to what could be the leagues best record. It showed once and for all that the Jazz of the past decade underachieved. They were not coached as well as they could have been, and Deron lacked something to was needed to carry them to the next level. That thing that the great players have where at the end of the game they make something happens ... no matter what. The Deron led Jazz never had that. They won their share of close games, but never the biggest games. They consistenly fell to the leagues elite teams. This was never more clear than in the Jerry Sloan assassination game. The Jazz seemed to be in control for the majority of the game. Then suddenly as the game was nearing its end, Derrick Rose took over. He took Deron off the dribble time and time again. If he didn't have some spectacular layup or dunk, he found a teammate for an open 3.
Then I saw something that I had never seen before. The Jazz got a critical turnover in the final minute Deron took off down the court for a fast break. Suddenly Derrick Rose looked like he got one of those powerups in NBA Jam that makes your guy super fast. Though he was moving as fast as is possible for a human, it was like slow motion. I wanted to call out to Deron. "Watch out behind you Deron!" Rose stole the ball out from his hands. Ball game over. It was one of the single most remarkable plays I have ever seen. Everything I knew was a lie. Deron Williams was not Derrick Rose. Jerry Sloan no longer was able to coach a team to it's full potential.
Sorry Dwight Howard, your offense has gone (on a scale of 1 to 10) from a 2 to a 6, but Orlando is still mediocre.
Sorry LeBron, another brilliant statistical season, but you play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and you didn't even win 60 games. How does that happen?
Sorry Dirk, Kobe, and whoever else.
Derrick Rose is the MVP. And his facial hair is weird.