I felt pretty damn good entering last year's playoffs, having predicted a Cleveland-San Antonio final before the season began. No, seriously, ask around. That will not happen this season. Nor will last October's revelation that appeared in a haze of magical, purple smoke immediately after my steely gaze into the crystal ball of futurama -- not that I mind because that means the Bulls have imploded. Ha, I say to you, Flying Nunly, ha. Oh sure, the aging Spurs could wake up and win the brutal Western conference, but us? Pshaw. If the meandering Cavs end up stealing a game or two from Boston in the conference semis, eat, drink and be merry, because that'll be the limit of our rapturous joy until The Rapture. Well, unless Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce all end up on the no-fly list and simultaneously get picked up at Logan International for some European gulag-style vacation. Sweet Beelzebub, is the West loaded. The picks, don't use 'em to bet (especially after my Devils laid a colossal, prehistoric egg), yadda yadda yadda:
Boston vs. Atlanta: Well, denizens of Georgia no doubt already sweating in the humid shadows of blossoming peach trees, you got your wish fulfilled through the Mike Bibby trade: you made the playoffs. Enjoy it, because you'll be gone right quick. The unquestioned best defensive team in the league versus a bunch of brash upstarts? This one is going to be ug-lee. Celtics in four.
Detroit vs. Philadelphia: In between stretches of Rasheed and Co. whining about being disrespected and/or complaining about how the better team did not win because of the refs being aliens or a David Stern conspiracy -- and since we're on the subject of The Most Powerful Commish in Sports, can we at least recognize his complicity in this evil? Yeah, I've got a problem with tradition getting it in the ass from corporates while we subsidize their luxury suited stadia and arenas for legions of empty suits who don't even follow the fucking sport. Dave, go fuck yourself and get a job with the Bush administration while you're at it -- the Pistons are actually the deepest they've been in awhile. The hard-nosed play of the 76ers notwithstanding, Motor City shouldn't have much of a problem here. Pistons in five.
Orlando vs. Toronto: What the hell happened to the Raptors? They were within striking distacne of a three seed for awhle. And what the hell happened to Hedo Turkoglu? After Dwight Howard, he's been, by far, their best player. Didn't he used to be mediocre? I can't see the Magic becoming much more than this era's 1980s Atlanta Hawks. Talented, but not talented enough to break through. Dominique, Kevin Willis, Doc Rivers, that was a fun team. Oh yeah, this series. Magic in six, because the Raptors have to wake up at least a little, don't they?
Cleveland vs. Washington: Period of adjustment. The new guys will get with the program. They just need a killer instinct. Blah blah blah diddy blah.
Because we've got home court and the best player in the league -- sorry, Kobe fans, your guy's probable win of a Lifetime Achievement Award, a.k.a. the MVP, doesn't earn that rep in this corner. Shouldn't Memphis be the real winner? -- we'll move on, but barely. Certainly doesn't help that the Wizards big three are healthy, unlike last April. Did I mention ugh? And while we're at it, thanks for putting game one on at 12h30 EST. While I'm at work. Fuckers. Cavs in seven.
L.A. Lakers vs. Denver: O, Los Angeles, how do I hate thee, let me count the ways. On second thought, no, since I'd be here awhile. I don't want to say "if Andrew Bynum was healthy, they'd be the prohibitive favorite" because you can't just plug someone in and assume things will go smoothly, but Pau Gasol was a nice consolation prize. Add in the improvement of players such as Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton and the free-wheeling Nuggets will have their hands full. Plus, isn't Marcus Camby waaaaay overdue to get injured? Lakers in six.
New Orleans vs. Dallas: This pairing isn't all that odd until one realizes that the vagabond Hornets are the #2 seed. But they are indeed very real. Hey, Atlanta, still think you did right by passing on Chris Paul, the savior of basketball in the Big Easy? Peja Stojakovic's wonky back seems to be in remission, so there's a definite outside threat to match the criminally underrated David West inside, but I imagine the Mavericks would love nothing more than to put last year's spectacularly awful flameout six feet under. With old man Kidd on board, I think they will, at least for one round. Mavericks in seven.
San Antonio vs. Phoenix: The Big Fundamental vs. Shaq Fu and plenty of mouthing and series-changing plays; it's just like the Spurs-Lakers from earlier this decade. Except the former is still All-NBA calibre whereas the Big Aristotle or the Big Decrepit or whatever he's calling himself these days isn't. But hey, if he takes up enough space, grabs double-digit boards and stays off the foulshot buffet, then sure, the Suns can advance. But Manu has returned and I can't back off my prediction of the Spurs busting their unexplainable alternating title tradition. They'll hold off the slow creep of age for one more campaign, and the Suns might end up missing Shawn Marion's defense more than they realized. This is going to be a fun series. There might even be some blood. Spurs in seven.
Utah vs. Houston: Poor Houston. They finally have, on paper at least, the team to challenge for the title and Yao Ming ends up having his season cut short extra early. Oh, and while he's out, the Rockets win a bunch more games, wrapping up at twenty-two straight, the second longest streak in NBA history. So what do they do? Get matched up with the one team that can equal their toughness. And for all the talk about how Utah is a monster at home and a puppy on the road, remember, they won game seven in Houston last year. It won't go that far, and Tracy McGrady will get blamed again when know-nothings should be blaming Yao's foot, which obviously has some extra shadowy curse laid upon it. Point guard Rafer Alton missing at least two games is just icing on the angry sports talk show cake. Jazz in six.