I know, I promised little to no blogging for the next few days ... and that is still the case. But come on, my favorite six weeks of the year? "40 Games in 40 Nights"? I can't pass on that.
Just to set the scene ... my preseason predictions were:
Eastern Finals: Bulls over Knicks
Western Finals: Thunder over Grizzlies
NBA Finals: Bulls over Thunder.
I exercise my right to change my mind from four months ago ... and of the four teams you see there? Two will be replaced. Stay tuned.
Also to set the scene, remember -- I'm the delusional guy who picked the Mavericks to win the O'Brien Trophy in his playoff picks last year, and I'm the drunken stoner who NAILED the end of the LeBron Era in Cleveland to Boston two years ago, weeks before either happened. I may not know a damned thing when it comes to predicting the NCAA tournament ... but I know the NBA.
Here we go. Let's start in the West.
* (1) Spurs over (8) Jazz in 7. Yes, I think this one is going the distance, and I actually can see Utah winning this if they win game one or two in San Antonio. And in case you think that's crazy talk ... uum, that's exactly what happened to the Spurs in this exact spot a year ago -- upset by the 8 seeded Grizzlies. This Jazz team? Is better than last year's Memphis squad. Derrick Favors, who in the interest of full disclosure, I've had a full-on mancrush on for awhile, combined with an emerging Gordon Hayward and the reliable Al Jefferson ... I just think veteran talent (and superior coaching) finds a way to get San Antonio through.
* (5) Clippers over (4) Grizzlies in 6. I really like the Clippers draw -- they're a good matchup against Memphis, and they can overwhelm whoever wins Spurs / Jazz. This Memphis team is damned entertaining, as is this Clippers team -- seriously, if you're just a casual fan of pro hoops, watch this series, you won't regret a minute you spend with it. Memphis has been anointed "Team League Pass" for good reason -- they're entertaining as hell. And the Clippers are really entertaining. I bought full-in on Memphis pre-season. And they can absolutely win this series. I just don't think they will.
* (3) Lakers over (6) Nuggets in 5. This is a horrendous draw for Denver. Not much has changed for either team since their 2009 Western Finals showdown (that the Lakers won 4-2), except that Denver lost Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, and replaced them with some fine players, but nothing that screams "this dude can win us a series" like Chauncey or 'Melo can. I see the Lakers taking game 4 in Denver, and closing it out at Staples in game 5. Setting up an epic second round matchup against ...
* (2) Thunder over (7) Mavericks in 7. The Mavs will not go quietly into that good night. They will, in the words of Dylan Thomas, "rage against the dying of the light". I expect the home team to win every game. It's going to be an all-out brawl. I wish I could be there for game 3 or 4. The Mavs were NEVER this good when I lived in the Metroplex*.
(*: true story time! It was early March 1997, and my buddies Gregg and Jason came down for a get-away weekend to visit me in college. They arrived about mid-day on Thursday, and we decided to head over to Reunion Arena to catch the matchup of a lifetime: Mavs! Clippers! Dick Motta! Bill Fitch! We paid $10 for lower level seats about ten rows behind the north goal (forget who was going which direction). The biggest waste of $10 we've ever spent in our lives. The next night? Arguably the best $10 any of us have spent, as we caught the midnight showing of Howard Stern's movie "Private Parts" at the AMC Grand. Christ, I miss college.)
Western Conference Second Round:
* (5) Clippers over (1) Spurs in 6. No matter how this ends for San Antonio ... what a run! Even in a condensed 66 game season, do you realize the Spurs won 50 games for the THIRTEENTH consecutive season? The last time the Spurs failed to win 50 games in a season ... was when the NBA only played 50 games, the lockout season of 1999. And all the Spurs did that year, was win their first O'Brien Trophy. I think the run ends here. Chris Paul faced the Spurs once in New Orleans in the playoffs, and gave them headaches and heartburn, single-handedly forcing a seventh game when the Hornets were a seven seed. And as much as I like David West? He ain't Blake Griffin. He ain't Kenyon Martin. Love this draw for the Clips.
* (3) Lakers over (2) Thunder in 4. Yes, I'm predicting a Lakers sweep over the Thunder. Let that sink in. Other than The Sports Guy, and possibly any other irrational Boston fan you know, you'll never meet someone who hates the Lakers more than me. This matchup just screams "overwhelm the competition" to me though. Plus, let's face it -- what NBA fan DOESN'T want a "Battle for LA" for the Western Finals? OK, fine, a lot of them don't ... but this one does.
Western Conference Finals:
* (3) Lakers over (5) Clippers in 5. 2000. 2001. 2002. 2004. 2008. 2009. 2010. Seven Finals appearances in 12 years ... and the Spurs and Mavericks are the only other two Western Conference teams to reach in the other five years (Spurs in 2003, 2005, 2007; Mavs in 2006 and 2011). Oh, and the Lakers are 7-0 in the Western Finals since 2000, beginning with the epic fourth quarter comeback against the Blazers that year, peaking with the epic Kings series in 2002, the "holy f*cking sh*t!" dispersal of the Spurs in 2004 ... if I pick the Lakers to reach the Western Finals? You can bet your sweet ass I'm taking them to the Finals.
Western Conference Champions: Los Angeles Lakers.
Now for the East ...
* (1) Bulls over (8) 76ers in 5. I think Philly gets game 3 at home. Hell, if Indiana managed a win last year in this spot, and they were 6 games under .500 in the regular season, the Sixers can manage one. But not any more than that.
* (4) Celtics over (5) Hawks in 4. I know the Hawks have home-court advantage due to the quirky NBA first round rules that blow chunks. To which I reply: Atlanta? Home court advantage? How do those two things go together? I fully expect more Boston fans in the Philips Arena for games one and two than Hawks fans. And if you don't think that can happen, flash back (Christ, I'm aging myself) 13 years to the Eastern Semis in 1999, when the 8 seeded Knicks faced the 4 seeded Hawks ... and you could hear the chants of "DE-FENSE! DE-FENSE!" that only the Garden can provide ... in Atlanta. (The Knicks swept that series). Same thing happens here.
* (3) Pacers over (6) Magic in 4. I feel awful for Stan Van Gundy. Dwight Howard is a c*nt, and I should type that unedited to get the point across. Anyone still buying Dwight's "I'm a good Christian" craptacular argument, after his "baby mama" (hey, wait, I thought a "devout Christian" waited until marriage?!?!) drags him onto that horrendous VH1 show, and now he's clearly a greedy bastard angling for every cent he can get as he bolts Orlando, and oh yeah, he wants the most successful coach in franchise history fired as he walks out the door. Screw you Dwight. I hope the Pacers win every game by 20 plus, just like the Hawks did against the Magic last year.
(ok, take a deep breath ... THE upset of the postseason about to be unveiled ...)
* (7) Knicks over (2) Heat in 6. I am fully aware the Knicks have not won a playoff game since April 29, 2001. (Just like every Chiefs fan knows what January 16, 1994 means. Good God, I root for losers ...) I am fully aware the Knicks have played exactly eight playoff games since then, two 4-0 first round sweeps (2004 to New Jersey, last year to Boston). To which I respond: I. Don't. Care.
The Knicks are winning this series.
They're going to take game one tomorrow in Miami, then hold serve at home ... and sweet Jesus, what I wouldn't give to be in the Garden for game six, with the Heat's back to the wall, with LeBron in full on choke mode ... on second thought, it's probably best I'll just watch it at home, because the tears will be flowing freely throughout the fourth quarter.
Eastern Conference Second Round:
* (1) Bulls over (4) Celtics in 7. I must have hit "delete" on that prediction 15,028,385,287,638 times in the last ten minutes. Another "home team wins every game" showdown, just like their epic first round series three years ago. I think Chicago survives this ... but no matter who wins, us fans are the winners here.
* (7) Knicks over (3) Pacers in 6. As a NBA fan? If this "Final Four" in the East occurs? I'm drooling like a mental health patient! Your four potential outcomes are either:
(a) Bulls / Knicks reprising why I fell in love with this League.
(b) Bulls / Pacers reprising the epic 1998 Eastern Finals.
(c) Celtics / Knicks taking that epic rivalry to never-seen-before heights, or
(d) Celtics / Pacers -- The Basketball Jesus trying to beat "His" team.
I'm telling you, I'm not certain of many things in life ... but I think the 2012 Playoffs are going to be something we'll tell our grandkids about someday.
* (1) Bulls over (7) Knicks in 7. I stick to my preseason prediction. Even if it's going to result in me tossing so much crap around that multiple holes appear in the wall. As painful as 1993 was ... as uplifting as 1994 was ... as horrific as game four in 1996 was ... this one will sting worse. The rivalry still lives. And it gets revived in the most epic Eastern Finals since ... uum ... it's been awhile since the East staged a great Conference Finals. Since Philly / Milwaukee in 2001 (the last one to go seven)? Or Indiana / Chicago three years earlier?
Eastern Conference Champions: Chicago Bulls.
* Chicago Bulls over Los Angeles Lakers in 5. Flash back if you will to 21 years ago. I was a wise-ass 14 year old, about to enter high school, at a basketball camp as the 1991 Finals began, and our coach was asking us who we thought would win the Finals -- the upstart Bulls ... or the established Lakers. Me, being the cocky idiot I am today even back then, shouted "Lakers in 5!" When asked why, I responded "Because as great as Jordan is, he ain't Magic!"
In case you forgot how the 1991 Finals played out ... the Lakers won game one in Chicago. Then came game two, that ended the Lakers dynasty, and launched the Bulls -- singlehandedly, arguably, on Jordan's incredible reverse-hand layup to seal game two. The Bulls swept all three at the Forum, and won the first of their three straight titles. The Lakers as I knew them, were finished, and wouldn't reach the Finals again for a decade.
It was a changing of the guard.
Ditto 2012. As a young, surging, upstart Bulls squad somehow, someway, repeats what we saw 21 years ago. Picking sides in Lakers / Bulls for me, is like picking sides in a broncos / raiders game. I just root for injuries, and barring that, a helluva game and/or series. I picked Chicago to win the O'Brien back in December. I'm not bailing on them now. As painful as that is.
NBA Champions: Chicago Bulls. Provided, of course, that Derrick Rose has learned how to hit a free throw in crunch time ...