Tondar's Daily Rant

Prepare yourself for the writings of Tondar the Destroyer, Baron of Atlanta, Rightful Heir to the Throne of Spain, from whom all babies come. As his will be blogged, so let it be done.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

2008 NBA PLAYOFF PREVIEW

This is the year of redemption; redemption for the NBA, redemption for the playoffs, redemption for the officials, redemption from the flopping foreigners, and redemption for the fans. We have not seen a great Finals for years. In 2005 the Pistons and Spurs traded blowouts. In 2006 the officials single handedly gave it to Dwyane Wade. In 2007…wait...was there a 2007 Finals? Did anybody care? I really don’t remember this even happening.

This has been one of the craziest years in the NBA. As I have said in years past, the regular season often functions as a lead-up to the coronation of a clear favorite. However, this year the Western Conference has been OOC (out of control). Poor Golden State won 48 games and it still wasn't enough to make the playoffs. On top of that, every team in the West has serious potential to go all the way. Of course the real benefactor of this season has been the fans. We have been delighted all year long with crazy trades involving Shaq and Jason Kidd as well as the crazy-awesome play of the 4 MVP candidates Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Kobe, and LeBron.

Last year's Finals sucked dick as nobody wanted to see San Antonio and Cleveland grind it out. Though I chose not to watch any basketball after the Pistons were sent home after, I can just imagine the horror of those futbol playing foreigners flopping around and trying to draw the yellow-card from piss-poor officials. Of course, the biggest problem with the officials was the Tim Donaghy scandal, where it was revealed that an official was throwing games for the gambling community. In particular look at this abomination from last year's Spurs/Suns series.

Now that the playoffs are here (yes, they have even come back to the Dirty for the first time since 1999), it is time for redemption. The fans have been brought back by this unbelievable season. Will the evil Spurs be vanquished? Will the officiating not suck? Will we get the matchups that allow amazing to unfold as we see a return to a fan-friendly NBA full high-flying slamma jamma in yo face American action?

Well, Tondar says yes!

And with this year being such a crap-shoot with so many teams having so many similar records, the 5 playoff factors become more important than ever for determining who will advance...



1. DEFENSE
- Of course we find all the usual suspects in Detroit and San Antonio, but this year thanks to the trades that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston, we see the Celtics among the top defensive teams giving up on 90.3 ppg. And though Jeff Van Gundy has left Houston, his spirit lives on as the Rockets used their defense to not only win without their all-star center, Yao Ming, but they even went on a 22 game winning steak. Tradition tells us we will probably find our champion among these teams. Of course, this could mean trouble for teams like the Lakers, Suns, or Nuggets that rely on the Paul Westhead theory of simply outscoring your opponents without playing defense.

2. SOME OFFENSE
- San Antonio, Houston, Cleveland and Philadelphia have struggled to score points at times this year. In particular, Cleveland has had issues as they average 96.4 ppg while giving up 96.7 ppg. Then again, with players like LeBron, Tony Parker, or Flopu Ginobili, the Spurs and Cavs should not be ignored. In the end, look for a lack of scoring to haunt Houston, Dallas, and possibly Detroit. Detroit's tendency to go cold has been their achilles heel this decade. Things are great when Rip is knocking down those open jumpers coming off repeated screens. Chauncey is as deadly as LeBron or Kobe when it comes to putting daggers through the hearts of opponents. But too often this team will seem to lack an organized approach to offense and a go-to sure fire play. It has been this style of play that has led to nail biting playoff slumps such as against Cleveland and Miami in 2006, Chicago and Cleveland in 2007. However, Detroit is not alone. It could very easily happen to defensively sound opponents like Philadelphia and Boston.

3. EXPERIENCE - Looking at the teams with the best chance of winning it all we have to round up the usual suspects. Last year Cleveland and Utah gained valuable experience as they both made deep runs into the playoffs. On the other hand, look for youth to burn teams with young leaders like New Orleans, Toronto, and Atlanta.

4. IMPLOSION
- Last year the Dallas Mavericks earned a place in the Meltdown Pantheon as they were upset by the shenanigans style lights-out shooting of Baron Davis and the Golden State Warriors. This year there are several teams that have the starpower (Cavs, Nuggets) or the lights out shooting (Orlando, Toronto, Washington) to have a puncher's chance at causing an upsetting meltdown. But this year more than any in recent memory, watch for the implosions and don't be surprised as they are bound to happen.

5. EUROPEAN FADE - So the NBA is becoming an international league. On the one hand hand they bring in more and more soft foreign players to shoot lights-out style and to take advantage of the zone defenses and the hand-checking rule changes. On the other hand they turn it into Futbol funtime as the greencarders are falling down on purpose and making a mockery of a great American institution of sportsmanship. Come playoff time, when these players are not pulling their best Tumbling Ted impression, they are getting pushed all over the place by tougher American players. Knowing that playoff time is going to be like this, teams like Dallas, the Lakers, Phoenix, and New Orleans, should be weary as they rely heavily on international players.

FIRST ROUND: THE EAST

BOSTON OVER ATLANTA IN 5

This is how it all begins. Of course the Hawks were foolish not to re-sign Josh Smith for 5 years $50 million when they had the chance. Part of that is due to the fact that he doesn't get along with Hawks coach, Mike Woodson. But the way I see it is that this team is about to make the leap so it's time to bring in a real coach. Coincidentally, Larry Brown has resigned from his job with the 76ers, so maybe he will be given both Billy Knight's and Mike Woodson's job to complete the rise to glory for the lowly Hawks. Now that they have picked up a solid point guard in Mike Bibby, this team is only a few pieces away from greatness. However, don’t expect this to be their year or series. They win the "Just Happy to be Here Award." My biggest question is, will Atlanta Rise Up to support their Hawks in the playoffs? Well, regardless, here’s hoping they get one victory out of the whole thing.

UPDATE - With Boston already up in the series, there is very little of note going on as we shift to the Dirty. However, I have been quite impressed with the way Tondar's Rookie of the Year Al Horford has answered the call and has fed off what Mike Bibby calls the Boston fair-weather fans. I'm not sure why, but Bibby has also kept things interesting by waging a war of words with Beantown. As things now stand, this series is a great reminder to Tondar of why I hate the Celtics so much.

CLEVELAND OVER WASHINGTON 7

For 3 years in a row these teams have met in the first round with Cleveland having won both previous meetings. Don’t expect the defending Eastern Conference champs to roll. Washington has found a way to win most of the season without their top scorer, Gilbert Arenas. Now that Agent Zero has returned the Wizards have him coming off the bench for instant offense. On the other side the Cavaliers made a bold trade to bring in former Piston, Benedict Wallace. It has not made much of a difference as the team has continued to struggle. But in the end look for LeBron to eat his finger nails and to scrap and bite his way into the second round in what should be the most exciting first round series of the East.

ORLANDO OVER TORONTO IN 5

Bombs away! This should be an exciting matchup. On paper, both of these teams are very similar. They both have first class bigmen to score down low. If he gets doubleteamed, there are plenty of bombers on the perimeter to drain the 3 and make you pay. The only problem is that Toronto has become the team that everybody wants to play as they have collapsed down the stretch. Part of it is injuries, but part of it is that I think the crazy has finally caught up to last years Coach of the Year, Sam Mitchell. Look for Orlando to roll over them except for a shenanigans game where everything the Raptors touch goes in and they score 120 points.

DETROIT OVER PHILADELPHIA IN 6

It’s a shame that the Pistons are rewarded for having the second best record in the NBA with getting to face the hottest team. Sure they may have only won 40 games. However, since February they have played at a pace to have won almost 55 games. Look for this to play out like the 2003 Pistons/76ers series as Detroit wins the first 2 at home, drops the next 2 sending the media into a panic before they go to work and put the 76ers away.

UPDATE - The order has turned out a little different with Philadelphia currently up 2 games to 1. But the one thing that has struck me about this series is the way the Pistons will just go lifeless for long stretches. As I said the other day, it's important for Detroit to get their bench involved putting bodies and fouls on Andre Igoudala. Given the last 3 years, it has blown my mind the way the Pistons will play down to their opponents. Instead of being the 76ers series from 2003, they may need the Magic series from that same year to save their butts on this one.

FIRST ROUND: THE WEST

LA LAKERS OVER DENVER IN 6


The Lakers have the best record in their conference for the first time since Shaq was there. Kobe Bryant has had an MVP worthy year in Tondar's opinion. And to top it all off they were able to bring in Pau Gasol from the Grizzlies. On the other side the Denver Nuggets seem to be like their 1980s counterparts that were able to score at will but always found a way to lose because they never played any defense. From top to bottom all the series in the West should be fascinating. Plus even the lowly Nuggets have a shot at the title if Allen Iverson and Carmello Anthony get hot while Marcus Camby can handle the Gasols and Duncans of the West. However, as for this series, look for Denver to make it close and win a couple of games, but don't expect them to carry on the upset tradition of the Golden State Warriors. Kobe will be too much to handle as the rest of the Phil Jackson Lakers will play adequate defense.

UTAH OVER HOUSTON IN 6


Houston went on an amazing run at one point rolling off 22 straight wins. Riding the euphoria of that event, I thought they would ride excellent team play and MVP Tracy McGrady right through the West. But since then, they have fallen back down to earth as they have been a little banged up with a season ending injury to Yao Ming and another injury stone-cold shooter, Rafer Alston. However, the truth is the Jazz are going to be too much for just about anybody to handle. They have an excellent inside-outside game and Deron Williams has really come into his own becoming a legitimate MVP candidate. Look for the Jazz to protect their home court and put the Rockets away in 6. Sorry T-Mac, this year you won't make it out of the first round either.

PHOENIX OVER SAN ANTONIO IN 6


Phoenix seems to have gotten their game in gear now that they have are use to the play of mid-season addition, Shaquile O'Neal. This will be a difficult series, but if the NBA is truly serious about redemption before the fans, it will send the hated Spurs home early in the ultimate redemption series. If Manu Ginobili flops, don't make the call. When Bruce Bowen gets dirty, hit him with the flagrant 2. Of course Phoenix will need its foreigners in Diaw and Barbosa to step up. Also, look for an intense battle between Shaq and Duncan while Tony Parker and Steve Nash go at it as well. This should be an amazing series. And the quicker the Spurs go down, the quicker we will know that the NBA chooses not to follow the NHL down the road to ruin.

UPDATE: Well this one seems about over with San Antonio taking a 3-0 lead. After all, no team has ever yada yada... But in defense of this pick, San Antonio has had shenanigan games for that historical barn-burner in game 1, and Tony Parker's career night in game 3. Most infuriating Ginobili, the Frank of the NBA, has been disgustingly flopping like a bass all series. Any ideas for a nickname for him? I was thinking Bassmaster or South American Fainting Carp?

DALLAS OVER NEW ORLEANS IN 7

This should be a great series. We have the youth and regular season greatness of Chris Paul and his New Orleans Hornets against the experienced and debacle proned Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki Dallas Mavericks. Even though the Hornets are the number 2 seed, they only won 5 more games than the Mavericks who suffered through injuries and an adjustment period upon the arrival of Kidd. Look for this to be a back and forth struggle with Dallas winning a nail-biter in New Orleans. Defensively, both teams are about the same and can both score adequately. However, the Hornets lack playoff experience as a unit. Furthermore, they have a very short rotation. 4 of their starters average over 35 minutes a game. Furthermore, they lack significant depth behind Allstars Paul and David West. As this series drags on, look for the Mavericks to continue their improvement and adjustment to Kidd while the legs of the Hornets begin to give out with them being "upset" by the veteran team.

SECOND ROUND: THE EAST

BOSTON OVER CLEVELAND IN 6

“Bron-Bron, mmmm you so nastay!” Actually he’s fine, it will be the rest of the Cavs that turn this into a brutal series. Remember the Pistons/Pacers series in 2004? Look for that type of 60 point action as the media bemoans the end of Western civilization at the hands of The Fro. This one will get ugly as the Cavs grind the pace of the game. Ben Wallace will be abusing Garnett with his 6 fouls while Anderson Varajao will be flopping all over the place. Most importantly though, this series will soften the short rotation of the Celtics preventing them from fulfilling their 66 win destiny.

DETROIT OVER ORLANDO IN 5


The Pistons should have an easier time with the Magic than the 76ers. Detroit has the personnel and the fouls to keep Howard in check so he’s not going to be able to go crazy like he did against Toronto. Plus following, the lengthy series against the 76ers, the Pistons will welcome a quick series where they can rest their starters and steady their focus for the next round.

SECOND ROUND: THE WEST

UTAH OVER LAKERS IN 6


The Lakers frontcourt has been injured most of the year. During this time there would be stories about the recovery of Lakers center Andrew Bynum. The stories spoke of his return being imminent. But it was around March that I realized that he wasn't coming back this year and that Phil Jackson has been messing with our heads. Sure they have added another rebounder and post scorer in Gasol. But other than him and Lamar Odom, I don't see them having the kind of front court that could bang with Carlos Boozer, Okur, and Kirilenko. Further, I don't see Vlad Radmanovic and Ronny Turiaf being able to come add as much as Ronnie Brewer, Paul Millsap, and Jerron Collins. In the end I think Kirilenko will adequately contain Kobe and allow Deron Williams and Boozer to play John Stockton and Karl Malone right back to the Western Conference Finals.

DALLAS OVER PHOENIX IN 6

This will be another exciting series as we see Dirk Nowitzki's former teammate and nemesis from the 2006 Finals try to derail his new alliance with Jason Kidd. Plus, I hate to sound like the media types, but the Jason Kidd vs. Steve Nash matchup should delight all fans of the game. In this series, I would expect the games to be close where teams are putting up over 100 points. In the end, hack-a-Shaq will come to burn the Suns and they will go down in flames. When Phoenix goes down, it will be interesting to hear the stories that it's time for them to rebuild. Of course if they hadn't had such a cheapskate owner, they could have drafted sufficient role players to give Nash and Stoudamire adequate assistance. But in the end, time is starting to run out on Nash, and getting older and slower with Shaq could come to burn them in the long run. I don't think they would need to begin rebuilding immediately, but they will need to mix it up a bit with a solid defensive minded bigman that will be able to stop both Nowitzki and Tim Duncan if they are to remain competitive.

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
DETROIT OVER BOSTON IN 6


This is the matchup the media has been dying to see. However, this is where the pace catches up with the Celtics. Like the 2006 Pistons they have been going full tilt since the beginning of the season. Their Big 3 have averaged minutes per game. On the other hand, this is the kind of moment where the Pistons thrive. The Celtics have the homecourt advantage and the better record, this feeds right into the Pistons mentality of underdog in whom nobody shall believe. Look for Chauncey to have a big series. Plus look for Rip, Tay, and ‘Sheed to shut down Allen, Pierce, and Garnett, respectively. Beyond the heavyweight match ups look for strong contributions as the Pistons reserves outplay the Boston reserves and send the Pistons back to the Finals for the first time since 2005.

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
UTAH OVER DALLAS IN 6


If San Antonio gets knocked out early, these two teams will have the most playoff experience of the remaining Western Conference contenders. These teams match up quite well so it will come down to individual matchups. With that being the case, look for Okur to run circles around Erick Dampier (since it is not a contract year). Plus, I like the chances of a younger Deron Williams against a mature Jason Kidd. Either way, things go in the West, the winner will be well tested and possibly quite worn down.

NBA FINALS UTAH OVER DETROIT IN 6

For 3 years in a row now I have picked Detroit and Dallas to make the Finals. That always seems like a great pick since both teams have been the class of their conference in the regular season. Of course every year the black creature of river city rises out of the west while the Pistons find a way to crap the bed, roll around in it until they puke, eat that combination, and then throw it all up again. With Detroit, they have hand problems with the Jazz lately. On the other hand, the Jazz have been fabulous at home. Though if its not the Jazz, look for the western team to be tuckered out and struggle against either the Pistons or Celtics.

Of course, this is assuming that the league and officials have learned a lesson from the NHL in wanting to keep their fans which means they will find redemption by keepiong the Spurs out of the later rounds by any means necessary. The fans both of slamma jamma in yo face action and those in the major cities demand it.

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