For the 14th consecutive season, the league-leading San Antonio Spurs are headed for the post-season.
Coming off a blow-out defeat four nights ago at home, the Spurs rebounded witha 111-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons.Tony Parker brought out his A-game with 23 points to lead all scorers from both tea, as well as seven assists. Manu Ginobili also had an impressive 8-of-11 from the field with 17 points, followed by Tim Duncan with 15, who was miserable against LA with only two points last Sunday, and Gary Neal also with 15.
This is only the fourth time that coach Gregg Popovich altered the usual starting line-up of the Spurs, putting role player Antonio McDyess in the starting center, while DeJuan Blair had an off-the-bench role for the night.
Richard Hamilton led the scoring binge for the Pistons, who dropped to 23-42 in their record. All starters for Detroit except Chris Wilcox were in double figures.
The Spurs closed the first half of the game with a remarkable 80% field goal shooting. The lead they built early on in the game gave them enough cushion to stifle a late rally that the Pistons waged in the last three minutes of the final quarter. San Antonio had its biggest lead at 19, and never game Detroit any chance to come closer to them than 5 points in the final stretch.
The win for San Antonio made them the first team this year to clinch a playoff berth. The Spurs have never missed the playoffs since the 1997-98 season, making them the team with the longest active streak in playoff appearances. Aside from this feat, Tim Duncan also made a career milestone as he moved up the all-time blocked shots list at number 9, past Robert Parish with 2,362 blocks. The win completed a sweep for San Antonio over the Pistons this season, the first time since 2006 that the Spurs have swept Detroit in a season. McDyess, also, shared a milestone by playing the 1,000th game of his career.
The Spurs look forward to end the regular season with home court advantage coming into the playoffs. They face the Kings, Rock, and the Heat in Miami for their next three games.
The Lakers, unanimously expected by all to be back for the Finals this year, proved their grit and will power over the Phoenix Suns with a 111-103 win. Away from their crowd, and under pressure from those of their foes, the Lakers instead turned the pressure on the Suns, and emerged as the rightful team to be on the Finals. Kobe Bryant proved he wanted this chance more than anyone, by delivering 37 crucial points, including near-impossible clutch shots that even Phoenix Suns coach Alvin Gentry had to concede and admit the Black Mamba was the undoubtedly best in the game.
And earlier this week, the Boston Celtics staved off an Orlando Magic rally to be the first team in NBA history to come back from a 0-3 deficit. They won two straight games after their dismal Game 3, but the Magic simply could not break down the green brick wall. Brilliant performances from the newly re-rostered Big Four (Pierce, Garnett, Allen and Rondo), sealed the deal for the Celtics, who are back to the Finals for the 21st time since their dynasty was built.
The rivalry has been revived.
While the Lakers were expected to still be playing in early June of this season, the opinion about the Celtics was not as conclusive, or convincing. They were never the favorites to make it even to the conference finals. And if ever there were any who thought they will reach the Finals, they were not as many as those who believed either the Cavs or the Magic would be the one facing the Lakers. It was only when the Playoffs started that the Boston Celtics suddenly became the Boston Celtics. The three teams they vanquished–the Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, and the Orlando Magic–would easily be the toughest three consecutive teams any franchise can face in the Playoffs in ANY order.
And the Celtics conquered.
Now, the Lakers and Celtics are meeting again in the NBA’s grandest stage for a shot at history. If LA wins the championship, they will be one championship shy of tying the Celtics for most number of championship wins, and a chance to vindicate their loss to Boston in the Finals two years ago. If Boston wins, they’ll win one more trophy to add to their still unbeaten record, and close out this decade with a championship for the 18th time.
We will reserve our predictions for later. For now, let’s give the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers their much needed four-day recharge. Come Thursday (Friday here in the Philippines), the greatest rivalry in NBA history will tip off and shoot it out for the title of 2010 NBA Champions.
Just in case you still have no idea what big, dramatic changes can happen once your backs are on the wall, go ahead and ask the Phoenix Suns and the Orlando Magic.
A few days ago, their respective rivals, the LA Lakers and the Boston Celtics were being hailed already as the eventual foes in the NBA Finals–a revival of their storied rivalry. Phoenix, which was down 0-2 in their series, and Orlando, aiming for the impossible with a 0-3 ditch, were already being dismissed as footnotes to what was shaping up as the second face-off between the Lakers and the Celtics in the league’s grandest stage in the 21st century.
Well, the Suns and Lakers just proved all speculations against them premature.
As of this writing, the Suns have tied their series against the Lakers at two games apiece. The Magic, on the other hand, are attempting a first in NBA history–a comeback from a 0-3 deficit. And with two straight wins already, Stan Van Gundy’s crew are robbing the Celtics their prized momentum. Phoenix, on the other hand, may have finally found their rhythm against the defending champs, and they’re expecting one win at home, steal one game on the road, and try to seal the deal for them.
But, lest we forget, big dramatic changes can also sway on LA and Boston’s side.
If it were that LA and Boston were just pushover teams in the league, then we can go ahead and underestimate them. If it were that LA and Boston did not earn their way to the playoffs convincingly, then we can just forget about their bid for a Finals appearance. If it were that LA and Boston were not vanquishing their respective foes in championship caliber fashion, then let’s give Phoenix and Orlando their tickets to their first-ever meeting in early June.
That is, if it were the case.
Boston will be playing Orlando at the TD Bankworth Garden. If that does not mean anything to you, maybe “homecourt advantage” rings a bell. LA has the same ace card as well over Phoenix. The only problem is that Boston’s homecourt advantage is just one game. If this one slips away from their hand, then they have a big problem–a game seven at Orlando’s home base. Boston would rather be staying in their hotels at home, rather than boarding the next flight to Florida. LA still has two games at home to spare, something that they will be surely defending with their lives.
Don’t expect anything to come easy for these four teams, especially at this point in the Conference Finals.
The Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and the Orlando Magic have convincingly swept their semifinals foes, and are now advancing to each of their conference finals. In the West, the Lakers reminded the Utah Jazz how undermanned they were as far as the big guys were concerned, and in no time they swept past Jerry Sloan’s crew in four games. The Suns, on the other hand, have broken their curse with the San Antonio Spurs, and proved they were a totally different team altogether than when the Spurs used to trample on them four of the five times they met in the playoffs. By sweeping past the Spurs, the Suns have finally put all their playoff nightmares against San Antonio behind them.
As for the East, Orlando has been on the roll by winning eight straight in the playoffs. They’re the only team to move on after two sweeps of their first and second round teams. They’re also on the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season.
If Boston wins over Cleveland in their match-up, then they’ll have the chance of squaring it off with Orlando. As of this time, the Celtics are up 3-2 in their series against the Cavs. If LeBron and the Cavs win game six, they can push this semifinal series to the brink. And in times past, this is one challenge that James has no intention of backing away from.
Prediction for the West: This won’t be an easy series for either of the two teams. But with another shot at the championship just a series away from them, the Lakers will bring out all the big guns, even if it takes seven games for them.
Prediction for the East: It would be premature to predict now, but a lot of critics are saying neither the Cavs nor the Celtics have an answer for the Magic, who might just get a shot at avenging themselves against the champs. We’ll wait and see on who’s getting the chance between Bosten and Cleveland at squaring it off against Orlando.
Looking back at our predictions, we got five of our eight predicted teams to win the first round advance in the second round. Four of these teams (Cleveland, Boston, Orlando, and Atlanta) are all from the East, while only one from the West (LA) made it through. Utah, Phoenix and San Antonio are the three teams, all from the West, that we did not see coming into the second round, but in convincing fashion proved that they belonged.
The new match-ups for the second round are as follows:
Spurs vs. Suns
For the fifth time the Spurs and Suns meet in the playoffs as rivals. Phoenix has never won over San Antonio in any of their four previous square-offs. The Suns are out to prove that they’re ready to break the curse, especially that they’re back into their offensive threat mode, thanks to Alvin Gentry’s leadership. But the Spurs have just recently proven that they’re no push-over seventh-seed. They just disposed a strong number two seed in the Mavs, and they did it courtesy of an upstarting player named George Hill. Which means, the Spurs big three can run the Nash-Stoudemire duo out of their building, and at the same time match evenly the Suns’ newbie players with their own set of new and role players.
prediction: Spurs in 6
Lakers vs. Jazz
The Jazz proved that they can win even when undermanned. But the team that they defeated, Denver, was suffering a transition in leadership, with George Karl tending to his health, and Adrian Dantley struggling to settle his own system of play. So the Jazz, despite not having Memet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko, had the duo of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer very handy. It’s a totally different story, however, when you put them up against the defending champs, the Lakers. They have to figure out something to stop the Spanish rampage of Pau Gasol. And for Kobe, he plays like his index finger aint broken. In fairness the Jazz have proven that they’re not simply a “walk in the park” team. But the Lakers will walk away, eventually,
prediction: Lakers in 6
Cavaliers vs. Celtics
The bitter rivalry is back. In fact this rivalry is so bitter, they’ve actually split their season meetings evenly. Both Boston and Cleveland have won two games over each other during the season. This time, winner takes all. While Boston has the depth, Cleveland has the talent. While Boston has the experience of a championship, Cleveland has the thirst for getting one. In the end, one will have to give in.
prediction: Cavs in 7
Magic vs. Atlanta
You’re looking at the only team that swept their series (Orlando), going up against the only team that went the distance with their series (Atlanta). Orlando is well rested, well prepared, and probably, well balanced. Atlanta will have to dig deep into their reserves if they want to make this more of a competition rather than a light speed bump for Dwight Howard and his crew. J-Smoove will have to prove his leadership, while Crawford will have to step up big off the bench.
prediction: Magic in 5
What has unfolded over the weekend at the NBA Playoffs has pushed me to look back at our fearless forecasts and see which of them still holds.
Lakers vs. Thunder [prediction: Lakers in 5]
This one’s not anymore true, as the Thunder has pushed it so far to a six-game duel. If LA takes the next two games, then the other half of our forecast holds.
Jazz vs. Nuggets [prediction: Nuggets in 6]
Not anymore, it ain’t six games. The undermanned Jazz is in command at 3-1. Denver will have to push for the ultimate jugular by winning the last three games. And if they don’t, our prediction’s busted for this match altogether.
Suns vs. Blazers [prediction: Portland in 7]
With the series tied at 2 games apiece, the only way this prediction fails is if Phoenix aces their next two assignments–assignments that Brandon Roy could foil. His return mixes up all factors into the playoffs, and our forecast might just come through.
Spurs vs. Mavs [prediction: Mavs in 6]
This is the only prediction that I am utterly glad and delighted to be wrong. I’m a big Spurs fan, but at first I really thought the Mavs would be tougher this time around, especially if you look at how last year’s playoff match between them ended. But things have turned out entirely different than our forecasts. Definitely, it won’t be just six games anymore, as the Spurs are ahead 3-1. Dallas will have to win the next three straight games, or their off-season summer officially starts.
Cavaliers vs. Bulls [prediction: Cavaliers in 5]
One more win by the Cavs and our prediction will fully come true. Derrick Rose better pull out his best tricks up from his sleeves, or else their journey ends on the road at Cleveland.
Celtics vs. Heat [prediction: Celtics in 6]
Since they have gone 3-0 already, even before D-Wade took over earlier in their game four atrocity and winning one for the Heat, the Boston Celtics are coming back home for a chance to go for the kill. Unless Miami robs one on the road, the series will end at five games in Boston, for Boston.
Hawks vs. Bucks [prediction: Hawks in 4]
Well, there’ll be no sweep victory for the Hawks in this first round obstacle, as the Bucks bounce back to stay alive in the series. The Hawks are still favored to win this round, but not without facing the fear of the deer.
Magic vs. Bobcats [prediction: Magic in 5]
Definitely, after going up 3-0, Magic will win this series, as no team has bounced back from a 0-3 deficit to win the series. But they will have to fight some more to prove that they did not just fluked their way to the playoffs. One game will at least give them a playoff win, and prove our prediction true.
Since our predictions are two-part (who wins, and in how many games), we’re quite sure that Orlando and Boston are going into the next round. One more set of duels and we’ll get to see how our forecasts went for the first round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs.
Ask any NBA player, whether he’s an all-star, starting player, the sixth man, or the out-of-the-rotation reserve, about the playoffs and how ruthless it can become. He will tell you outright that the treacherous climb to reaching the top 8 of their conference is nowhere near half the degree of how deadly the playoffs is.
Just ask LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They were last year’s number one team in the east, with the best NBA Record for season wins in 2009. But where did their journey end? At the conference finals, where they were vanquished by the Orlando Magic to earn the right to play the eventual champs LA Lakers. This year, they’re on top again with 61-21. LeBron is an easy shoo-in for the MVP. They’ve got Ilgauskas back. Add to that Shaq, Antawn Jamison, and a few other intangibles. There should be no more reason for the Cavs to fail to reach the Finals.
That is, if the other seven teams in the east will cooperate with them to make their bid a walk in the park.
Apparently, they won’t. They never do, year in and year out.
The Lakers, on the other hand, are jump starting their bid with several questions to answer first. Will Andrew Bynum live up to his branding as the “missing piece of the puzzle” for the second year? Will the trade between Ariza and Artest pay off in the playoffs? And will Kobe really be “just fine,” as coach Phil Jackson says, even with his broken index finger still getting the best of him? For Los Angeles, the answers might just come from a young team that, after five years as a new franchise, has made it to the playoffs. The Oklahoma City Thunder is the being seen as the darkhorse in this race. While they still lack the experience, which matters a lot during the playoffs, the Thunder, led by Kevin Durant, might just do fine. After all, they’re good for a number 8 seed, going up against the defending champs.
We’ll get to know the other teams and match-ups in the next posts. But for now, enjoy the Playoffs’ bracket for this year. A good friend of mine, who is on the tab with NBA stats and stories, will be joining me for a prediction of how the first round will end up for both conferences.