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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

[NBA Basketball]: Playoff Saliva

Kia ora tātou, Hadyn here.

Below is Dave Miller's first blog (at least for the prestigious Grabthar's Hammer). I asked him for Basketball commentary and here it is.

I want to thank Jose for his Half Life Theatre and also to thank him for trying to re-enter society. I think we can all see that it is not going entirely to plan but he should be fine with a bit more re-hab.

Later on today I will “wow” you with a recap of our exploits in the Big Smoke but for now sit back, put that work to one side (as I have done), and enjoy Dave Miller’s “In the Paint”…

In the Paint is such a great name for a basketball column that it must surely exist already. In fact, I probably subconsciously stole that name from somewhere, and if I should trail off halfway through this report, you’ll know that they (intellectual property lawyers) have found me. So if anyone asks, say, “No, of course it isn’t called that, it has a much more cleverer and original name.” Then look around furtively and scuttle away.

So... does anyone watch the NBA regular season? Hell, yes! Mainly because the NBA is the greatest showcase for the greatest game in the world. But perhaps I’m a little biased. At any rate, the regular season is drawing to a close, and everyone’s mind is now on the playoffs. While there is still a considerable amount of jostling for playoff positions, there are several teams who will definitely make it through, and will definitely be worth watching through the arduous sporting bliss that is the NBA playoffs. So to crank the excitement and salivation up a notch, here’s my rundown on the top four teams from each conference, and how far I think they’ll go. Think of this as like the trailer to Episode III, but nowhere near as cool…


1 Phoenix Suns
The Suns have a high-powered, typical West Conference style offense that it is easy to get excited by. Point guard Steve Nash is the starting point for this high scoring team, and one of the best at his position in the league. The team is small and explosive: natural power forward Amare Stoudamire plays out of his position at centre, and likewise Shawn Marion has made the move from small forward to power forward. Marion is a fantastic all-rounder, though, and has used his new role to become a premier rebounder. But when the flashiness stops, do the Suns have the complete package? I’m going to go out on a limb with this one, and say that they will not be the conference champs. Even if they were, Detroit and Miami would each have the ability to slow the Suns’ offense in the Finals.

2 San Antonio Spurs
The Spurs are a winning team, which is a factor that cannot be underestimated. It’s harder to win if you haven’t been there before (I’m looking at you, Phoenix). Tim Duncan’s recent minor ankle injury has been a blessing in disguise, as the team has found that it can succeed even without him. With both Tony Parker (France) and Manu Ginobili (Argentina) contributing big points, the Spurs recently brought down key conference rivals Seattle. They could prove difficult to stop when superstar Duncan returns for the playoffs. A big question around San Antonio is: can the bench step up and take this team all the way to the championship? Sean Marks (New Zealand) is, if nothing else, well rested having spent most of the season sitting on the bench. Marks’ Olympic performance showed he is a true champion, and with a bit of court time he could influence things in the playoffs. Also, San Antonio have perennial rabbits’ foot Robert Horry. The Rockets had him, they won two titles. The Lakers had him, they won multiple titles. I’m going to pick San Antonio for NBA champions based solely on his being there. I’m also thinking about examining bird entrails and doing a bit of tarot, and will let you know how that goes (it’s faster and cheaper than actually watching the regular season).

3 Seattle Sonics
While the endless debate rages over whether to say Sonics or Supersonics, there is little debate over where the strength of this team is [ED: we all know it’s SUPERsonics Dave]. Seattle can be summed up in two words. The first word is Ray. The second word is Allen. Acquiring the services of Allen has been great to help keep this team in a winning position, and the franchise had to endure only a very minor low after the departures of Kemp, Payton, and its most glorious hours. But stop Ray Allen and you stop the Sonics, as some of the better teams have proven. Teams that are this reliant on one player generally don’t fare very well. The Bulls wouldn’t have won a single championship with only Jordan and no Pippen. Look for Seattle to make a fairly early exit, and come back with a vengeance next season.

4 Dallas Mavericks
From our “Only in Texas” archive comes the story of an NBA team whose two best players are… how do I put this… white! Keith van Horn has cemented his place among top players in the league with his new team. Meanwhile, teammate Dirk Nowitzki has had a standout season, and is currently ranked 3rd in the NBA in total points and points per game. Nowitzki is also 2nd in something called “efficiency rating”, and yes he’s German. So while the other inefficient basketball units are wasting time missing shots and not getting defensive rebounds, this marvellous 7 foot, 245 lb specimen has been turning up on time every day to kick their asses. Coach Avery Johnson had a good few years as point guard for the Spurs, and always managed to find a way to lead his team to victory, by being smart instead of tall or athletic. The Mavs have other big names like Michael Finley, Jerry Stackhouse and Shawn Bradley on their roster, and the bench has also shown it can get the job done. This team may have the best chance against the eastern conference champion, and is a strong contender to be hoisting the trophy in June.


1 Miami Heat
If you want to know about the Miami Heat, just go and check their website out. No, really, I mean it. They have pictures of their HHHOTT Miami cheerleaders! Okay, okay, if you really need another reason to support the Heat, they are not hard to find. There is absolutely no sign of Shaq letting up his stranglehold on the NBA. Place Shaq on any team and it will be a good team. Place Shaq on a team with a couple of other good players and it will be a strong contender. Place Shaq on a team with Dwayne Wade, Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, Eddie Jones, Brian Grant and Steve Smith? For some reason there is no law against this, and Miami look set to dominate the post-season the same way they have dominated the league all year. If you are looking for a serious investment opportunity, break open your piggy bank, sell any household appliance that you don’t feel is absolutely necessary (your days are numbered, vacuum cleaner!) and bet all your money on the Miami Heat being the eastern conference champs. These guys are the safest bet to walk out with the silverware, for what that’s worth. Hmm? Other reasons? Oh, sure… the ability to win close games, Shaq-Wade best combination in the league, and the resurgence of Eddie Jones, one of my favourite players, and best described as Kobe-skills but without the big head.

2 Detroit Pistons
There are two things about Detroit’s style of play that make them a global favorite and an inspiration for a lot of people. First of all they play a tough, unrelenting style of basketball: hard defense, fundamentals, rebounds and no nonsense. Secondly, they are possibly the only franchise that plays like a team, and that is why they won the title last year over the Lakers. Even their superstar, Rip Hamilton, always seems to be competing more for his team than himself. This is a very good team with a strong chance of getting back-to-back titles. Ultimately, however, they are inferior to Miami, particularly in the scoring department. Rip has the uncanny ability to get open somewhere, anywhere, and put the ball in the peach basket. But if he is not firing on all cylinders *ahem* then the team can have real problems outscoring their opponents. A lot depends on whether Rasheed Wallace can put his game face on night after night.

3 Boston Celtics
Boston has two outstanding young, talented players in Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker. Like the Sonics, this is a franchise attempting to revive old glory days, and climb back up to the top of the heap. Boston is still a bit short of the top, however. The eastern conference is a two horse race.

4 Washington Wizards
In case you missed it the first time, the eastern conference is a two… horse… race! Washington ain’t gonna change that in a hurry. Good team, but has not put together all the pieces necessary for a championship run, and is very young and inexperienced. Besides, what is a team with a 40-30 record doing as high as 4th place in the conference anyway?

So there you have it: some insights on the top 8 teams as at 31 March 2005. Some picks for the conference finals, the winners and the overall champion. Some advice on investment, which website to check out, and a bad gag about the Pistons firing on all cylinders. Not bad for a work night. Be sure to check back and tell me how wrong my predictions were once the playoffs begin. And be sure to watch out for future updates on the NBA and NFL. Hello... hello… is there anybody in there?

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