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2009 NBA Playoff Predictions: Second Round May 3, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, NBA.
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Shortly after Round 1 of the 2009 NBA playoffs ended with the Atlanta Hawk’s game 7 thrashing of the Miami Heat (thereby ending the possibility of a dream matchup between Lebron James and Dwayne Wade), Round 2 began with game 1 between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.

So I better get my picks for the Conference Semi-Finals in before that game finishes!

Eastern Conference

Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?

Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?

1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs 4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35)

The Cavs finished the first round in style, blowing out a weary Detroit Pistons squad in 4 straight games.  The Hawks, on the other hand, came out on top after a grueling, seesawing 7-game series against the Miami Heat.  Seeing that the Cavs have home-court advantage and won the season series 3-1, it’ll be outrageous to bet against them in this series.  Plus I don’t see anyone on the Hawk’s squad (or in the NBA, for that matter) that can stop Lebron the way he’s playing right now.  The question really should be whether the Hawks can win a game or two against them.  My guess is that they can, but just one.  Cleveland in 5.

2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs 3 Orlando Magic (59-23)

The Celtics just came off possibly the greatest first round series of all time by finally disposing of the resilient Chicago Bulls in 7 amazing games.  The Magic toppled the Philadelphia 76ers in an uneven, inconsistent 6-game series.

This will be a tough one to call.  Without Kevin Garnett, stopping Dwight Howard will be that much tougher than it already is, but on the other hand, the Celtics do have the championship experience.  Further, they have the big-time players in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, plus Rajon Rondo demonstrated just how good he can be.  Rafer Alston will no doubt have his hands full.  In my opinion, this series will come down to whether Howard’s supporting cast can step up and hit the shots when called upon.

If I was calling this series at the beginning of the playoffs, I would have said the Magic in 6 against a KG-less Celtics.  But after seeing how the Magic played against the 76ers in the first round, my gut instinct is to go with the defending champs.  Boston in 7.

Western Conference

Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers

Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers

1 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs 5 Houston Rockets (53-29)

Yao Ming finally got out of the first round – but he’s going to find out just how hard it is to get past the second.  After overcoming the inexperienced Portland Trailblazers in 6, the Houston Rockets will face last year’s Western Conference Champions, the LA Lakers, who defeated the Utah Jazz in 5.

The season series wasn’t even close, with LA sweeping it 4-0.  However, with Andrew Bynum at less than 100%, Yao Ming will have opportunities to dominate.  For the Rockets to have a chance, Yao really needs to be more than just a 20-10 guy this series.  If he doesn’t assert himself and start having big games (and I mean 30+ points a night), it could be a short series.

On the other hand, no one can stop Kobe Bryant, but Ron Artest and Shane Battier are just about the best anyone could hope for.  They also need to make Kobe work hard on the defensive end.  If Artest can rough up Kobe a little bit then things could get interesting.   The real question is whether the Rockets can stop the likes of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol or have the firepower to stay with the Lakers’ high octane offense.

In the end, I think Houston will give LA a tougher test than most Lakers fans are willing to imagine, but they won’t be able to beat them.  Los Angeles in 6.

2 Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs 6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Denver was so much more impressive than I thought they would be against the New Orleans Hornets, whom they eliminated in 5 games.  Dallas also did well to knock off perennial contender San Antonio in 6 games, though the Spurs were clearly operating at less than full capacity.

Another difficult series to pick.  Jason Kidd is lucky that they are facing the Nuggets instead of the Hornets, because he would have been burnt even worse by Chris Paul than he did by Tony Parker.  Chauncey Billups is great, but as he’s not the speedy type, it’s a good matchup for Kidd.  Dirk will no doubt have a big series, but I see the X-factor for the Mavs being newly crowned 6th Man of the Year Jason Terry.  He’s the type of player that can catch fire and turn a game around in a hurry.  For the Nuggets, JR Smith and Nene are their keys to victory.  Smith is also a guy that can light it up real quick, and Nene can make a difference in the middle with his defensive presence.

The two teams appear to be pretty evenly matched on paper.  However, I think home-court advantage will play a factor here, so I will say Denver in 7.

PS: How my Round 1 predictions stacked up

I am an admittedly bad predictor when it comes to sports, but I don’t think I did too bad in the first round (full analysis here).  The only series I got wrong was Atlanta vs Miami, where I declared that the Heat would prevail in 6 games (I was probably blinded by my desire to see Lebron vs D-Wade).

In terms of guessing the number of games per series, I correctly guessed that the Rockets would beat the Trailblazers and the Magic would beat the 76ers, both in 6 games, but that was it.  I gave too much credit to Detroit, New Orleans and San Antonio, but not enough to Chicago and Utah.

2009 NBA Playoff Predictions: First Round April 17, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, NBA.
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Here are my predictions for the first round of the 2009 NBA Playoff (set to kick off on Saturday18 April 2009).  This is one of the most intriguing first rounds in years, where almost every lower seed at least has a chance of pulling off the upset (in my opinion anyway).  Each series is first to 4 wins (max of 7 games).

Eastern Conference

1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs 8 Detroit Pistons (39-43)

Prediction: Cavs in 5

With the likely MVP Lebron James leading Cleveland to the best record in the NBA, it’s hard to pick against them.  Their confidence is sky high and they’ve played with a swagger (s0me say arrogance) all year.  Detroit, on the other hand, has been in complete disarray since the Allen Iversion trade, looking nothing like the perrenial 50-win team they had been for the last 6 or 7 years.  I was close to calling this series a sweep, but I think the Pistons have too much pride for that to happen, and perhaps might be able to catch the Cavs off-guard in one of the games, but no more than that.

2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs 7 Chicago Bulls (41-41)

Prediction: Celtics in 6

This is a hard one to call.  Boston hasn’t looked so vulnerable all season, with emotional leader Kevin Garnett possibly out for the entire playoffs.  Conversely, the Bulls have streaked to the 7th seed and with exciting rookie Derrick Rose leading the way, they must be feeling good about their chances.  However, it’s difficult to deny the 21 game gap between the two teams and the fact that the Celtics are the defending champs.  There’s no doubt they’ll be playing their hearts out until KG gets back (if he does), and in any event, their record without KG has still been pretty impressive.

3 Orlando Magic (59-23) vs 6 Philadephia 76ers (41-41)

Prediction: Magic in 6

I was tempted to say Orlando in 4 or 5 because I think they are that much better than the 76ers,  but their play to close out the season hasn’t been particularly inspiring.  However, Philly hasn’t been playing particularly strong lately themselves, so the outcome is a bit up in the air.  On top of that, Orlando has been nursing some injuries, so I don’t think it will be as easy as some think.

4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35) vs 5 Miami Heat (43-39)

Prediction: Heat in 6

Going with gut instinct on this one.  The two teams have similar records though Atlanta has home court advantage – but Miami has Dwayne Wade.  I’m expecting a spectacular series from him and I don’t think anyone on the Hawks can stop him.

Western Conference

1 LA Lakers (65-17) vs 8 Utah Jazz (48-34)

Prediction: Lakers in 4

I want to believe that Utah can pull out a game or two, but I think the Lakers are just too strong and too confident.  Carlos Boozer hasn’t seemed right all season and the Jazz haven’t played well to end the season.  The Lakers will be looking to come out and make a statement in the first round so they can intimidate the other teams they’ll meet later.

2 Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs 7 New Orleans (49-33)

Prediction: Nuggets in 7

There’s only 5 games separating the 2nd and 7th seeds, so I think home court advantage will play a big factor.  I’m think Chris Paul will be sensational but Denver will prevail in the end.

3 San Antonio (54-28) vs 6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Prediction: Mavericks in 6

I feel a little sorry for the Spurs, because they’ll have their hands full without Manu Ginobili and with Duncan only at half-strength.  No doubt Tony Parker will absolutely burn Jason Kidd this series but I don’t think he win this series alone.

4 Portland Trailblazers (54-28) vs Houston Rockets (53-29)

Prediction: Rockets in 6

Even though these Rockets don’t have much playoff experience beyond the first round, they at least have more experience than the Blazers, and I think ultimately that will be a factor.  If Yao has a big series I can’t see Houston losing.  Portland doesn’t have anyone that can stop him, and they have rugged defenders such as Ron Artest and Shane Battier to throw at Brandon Roy.

Recapping the Pacers’ “Make or Break” Run February 26, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, Indiana Pacers, NBA.
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Will Coach O'Brien be blamed for another year where the Pacers miss the playoffs?

Will Coach O'Brien be blamed for another year where the Pacers miss the playoffs?

A while back, after the Indiana Pacers defeated the Houston Rockets on January 23, their record was an unimpressive 16-27, good for second last in the Eastern Conference.

However, I noted that the team was about to embark on a “make or break” stretch of the season, where 13 out of their next 17 games were against sub-0.500 teams (at least at the time) and 10 of those games were at home.  If the Pacers were going to have any chance of making the playoffs, this was the time for them to make a run for the top 8.

The Aftermath

So how have they done?  Well, it was, as the Pacers have been all season, mediocre.  For the softest patch of the season schedule, the Pacers went 9-8, boosting their record to 25-35, 12th in the East and 3 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the final playoff spot.

I said back then that, given the Pacers’ record at the time, 10-7 would be considered a moderate success.  Not unexpectedly, they fell just short. 

However, if you look at the actual games during the stretch, you may be surprised by where the wins and losses came from.  They managed to get 3 wins against Miami, Orlando and Cleveland, the teams they were supposed to lose to, and lost completely winnable games against New York (twice), Minnesota, Washington, Milwaukee (without Redd and Bogut) and Charlotte.  They also went 8-2 at home and 1-6 on the road.

During this stretch, All-Star Weekend flew by, the trade deadline passed and went without any deals (ie Tinsley), Danny Granger hurt his foot (out 3 weeks), and Mike Dunleavy declared his season over with the same injury that’s sidelined him for most of the season.

What now?

With just 22 games left, it’s not looking good for the Pacers.  According to Hollinger’s Playoff Odds, Indiana still has a 14.9% chance of making the playoffs, down from 23.4% before the start of the dream 17-game stretch.  But to do so, they need to go something like 14-8, which would be miraculous if they managed to even come close.  This would be the case even if they had Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy and no injuries to anyone else.

So, to summarise the “make of break” stretch of the season: They didn’t make much progress in the standings.  Their two top scorers Danny Granger and Mike Dunleavy are out with injuries, the latter indefinitely.  They are about to enter a tough stretch where the next 10 games include teams such as Boston, Denver, Portland (x2), Utah, Atlanta and Dallas.  To top things off, they still have Jamaal Tinsley.  Another forgettable year for the Indiana Pacers.  Time to look forward to next season.  The only problem now is that they are winning some games, which won’t get them in the playoffs but will, once again, put them in a position to miss out on the top picks in next season’s draft.  Oh, and they still have to get rid of Jamaal Tinsley.

An Update: On Writing and Other Things in Life February 19, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, Book Reviews, Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Novel, On Writing, Uncategorized.
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It’s scary how time flies.  My posts have been somewhat sporadic as of late, and are mostly concerned with basketball and movies – but there are good reasons for this.  I’ve still been writing, but I feel like I’m not writing the way I know I can and at the pace I should – is this what writer’s block feels like?

Anyway, here’s a quick update of sorts on what has been happening.

Study

I got a bit of a shock the other day when someone reminded me that I was already halfway through my 9-month masters course, which means the exams are practically just around the corner.  I’ve been studying hard, but the astronomical amount of work means I’m perpetually behind.  Keeping up has been near impossible, let alone catching up.  But I’m confident things will work themselves out.  We have another long break coming up in less than a month and most of the final term is for revision.  So fingers crossed.

It’s just that I have to devote even more time to study, which obviously means the closer it gets to exam time, the less time for other things, such as writing and posting!

Movies/Oscars

Some may recall one of the goals I set ages ago was to watch all the big nominated films for the Golden Globes (back when they were on) and the Oscars (before they happen on the 22nd) and post short reviews for all of them.  Well, I’m pretty close to accomplishing that goal.  Part III of my film reviews should be out in the next few days, as soon as I finish watching Rachel Getting Married.

I also made some Oscar predictions a while back, but given the passage of time and the fact that I’ve seen a lot of the nominated now, I also want to do another post on who should win and who will.  That’ll have to be done before Oscar night.

Reading

After an influx of emails attaching articles about it from a friend, I decided to buy John Grisham’s new novel “The Associate”.  It’s about a young associate in a big law firm and all the perks and horrors that come with it – something I can relate to.  I can’t believe I haven’t done any book reviews yet since I started this blog, but it’s probably because I haven’t finished any books!  Well, I’m more than halfway through this book and I will be posting a review of it as soon as I finish.

Posts

As I said, my posts have been a bit all over the place, and the frequency has dropped from my early fanatical pace.  Part of it is because I’m getting more steady traffic and I don’t feel as though I need to pad up the content anymore.  But the main reason is because of all the other things I’ve mentioned in this post!

Just looking at my past posts, most of them have been about basketball!  Well, you can hardly blame me, considering it was All-Star Weekend.  Now that’s over, I’m going to shift the focus back onto my writings and the upcoming Oscars and readings.  Okay, maybe except any big news regarding the Pacers (especially with the trade deadline being today).

Indiana Pacers

Well, I’m sure All-Star Weekend was a blast for first timer Danny Granger.  But it’s back to business now for the Pacers.  There was all this talk and hype again about them finally making a run for the playoffs, winning six or even games straight (when they haven’t been able to win more than 2 in a row all season).  Well, they just lost to the Charlotte Bobcats after beating the Philadelphia 76ers, so the same old story continues.  Except that apart from Mike Dunleavy Jr’s continued absence, Danny Granger sprained his foot last game – which means even that tiny glimmer of playoff hope could be gone too (have to wait for the MRI).

The main concern is still getting rid of Jamaal Tinsley.  I believe today is the trade deadline.  No one seems to be knocking on the Pacers’ door asking about him.  Again, no one to blame but themselves.  At this rate, actually playing him might be a better idea – but after banning him all season, it’s too late to do that now.

Writing

Last, but not least, the writing.  It’s been a tough week for my fantasy novel.  I’m still writing (almost) everyday, but because of the aforementioned things, I feel as though I’m not getting anywhere.  I’m getting about 400-1,500 words a day these days, but I plan on pushing that up if possible.  Bear in mind this has been busy week – Valentines Day on Saturday, and we went down to London on Sunday (going again tomorrow) – it’s hard to get anything done on these types of days.  Plus it also means I need to spend the remaining free time focusing on studies, leading to even less time for writing.  The constant reading and note-taking are bogging my mind down so much that when I finally sit down to write, I feel nothing good comes out.

Not doing an updated wordcount yet until I feel better about how I’m progressing….grrrr…..

In any case, I’m really starting to develop a deep respect for writers, especially those who manage to pump out novels even when working in full-time jobs.  It involves so much dedication and commitment that it blows my mind just thinking about it.  Here I am, merely studying, and I’m struggling to get the first draft done.  There are so many temptations, so many other activities calling out to you – the excuses to tear yourself away writing are endless.  I can’t imagine doing anything apart from rest when I get home from work after a long day.  And yet, these incredible writers persevere in pursuit of their dreams.  I need to be more like them.  Even those writers that are huge successes continue to dedicate themselves to their craft and write more amazing novels, despite not having to worry financially anymore.

Okay.  Stop being so pessimistic.  Get back to work.

Thoughts on the NBA All-Star Game February 16, 2009

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Shaq and Kobe try and forget the old times

Shaq and Kobe try and forget the old times

The 58th NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix on Sunday turned out to be an okay affair.  The Western All-Stars creamed the Eastern All-Stars, 146-119, and Kobe Bryant (game-high 27 points) and Shaquille O’Neal (17 points)  made up after years of public bickering by winning co-MVP (I feel all warm and fuzzy now).

The usual stuff

The game itself was what the fans expected.  Highlight dunks, flashy passes, plenty of silly stuff and minimal defense for most of the night.  The Western Conference thoroughly dominated the East with size and speed, though no one seemed to be taking things too seriously.  Shaq provided the entertainment with his dancing and stunts, including one of the highlights – a give ‘n go jam after going through Dwight Howard’s legs.

East played bad

Lebron led the East with 20 points (but on only 8-19 shooting), and provided plenty of eye-popping lay ups.  He may have been trying a little too hard.  There were actually quite a few poor performances on the East team though: Joe Johnson going scoreless in 22 minutes, Allen Iverson scoring 2 points in 16 minutes as a starter; and Devin Harris going -31 on the plus/minus charts in only 17 minutes!

Granger’s first Al-Star appearance!

Danny Granger (perhaps still bummed by the knee) played the least number of minutes (11) on the East squad but was tied for leading FG% with Kevin Garnett (both shot 100%, though Granger only took one shot whereas KG took 5 – but that’s beside the point…)!!  His first All-Star Weekend could have been better – injured knee, first around elimination at the 3P contest, playing the least minutes in a losing effort in the All-Star Game.  Don’t worry Danny, you’ll get more chances in the coming years (hopefully).

Gripes

My main gripe has to be Shaq winning co-MVP in playing only 11 minutes and scoring 17 points with 5 boards.  I know he was the star of the show and the hometown hero, but come on.  It must have left a sour taste in Amare Stoudemire’s mouth – he had more points and rebounds (19 and 6) than Shaq, plus he’s supposed to be the biggest star in Phoenix (I recall Shaq saying it was Amare’s team when he arrived in Phoenix), and yet Shaq’s the one getting all the attention and MVP trophy whereas he’s at the centre of all the trade rumours.  What about Chris Paul?  If anyone should have gotten co-MVP it was the sensational Chris Paul who powered the West’s engine all night.  14 points, 14 assists, 7 rebounds – including an alley-oop dunk where he was the receiver!  There were a lot of quiet achievers on the West squad – Brandon Roy, Pau Gasol and Tony Parker in particular.  As a team they shot over 61%, whereas the East only shot 47% against no defense!

Also cringeworthy was the fake love Shaq and Kobe showed for each other.  At least Kobe was a little more honest with himself when he said: “We are not going to go back to the room and watch ‘Steel Magnolias’ or something like that, you know what I’m saying, crying, all that stuff.  We had a good time. That’s all.”

I’ll leave it at that because I might start vomiting.

Finally…well, I got another 3 predictions wrong – the East didn’t beat the West, the final score wasn’t close, and Dwayne Wade didn’t win MVP.  I think out of all the events, I only got one thing right: Kevin Durant to win the Rookie Challenge MVP – but anyone could have seen that one.  Oh well, better luck next year.

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