I know it sounds weird, but I'm often inspired to write about sports by Jerry over at the Wheelhome. When he writes about sports, he does it intelligently and concisely, where I often ramble and end up feeling like I didn't fully express my point. After reading Jerry's post on the 1st round of the NBA Playoffs, I decided that I had some things to say about the Playoffs. And that I would try to get it done in less than 1,000 words. (I know, not bloody likely)
(Note: This was all written before yesterday afternoon so I didn't know Derrick Rose was going to turn in a performance for the ages in Boston, or that Houston was going beat the living shit out of the Blazers in Portland.)
5 Guys that I'll be paying special attention to
1. Chris Paul: Best little guard since Isiah, and that compliment still probably doesn't properly capture how awesome (and I do mean awesome) this guy is. Take a look at the Hornets roster. This team had no business winning 50+ games this year. As someone who still plays point guard regularly (and isn't 1/100th as gifted as Paul), I can tell you I try and steal at least one little thing from him every single time I watch him.
2. Brandon Roy: Probably my favorite player in the NBA right now. A smooth, efficient scorer with every skill you'd want in an elite wing player. He's a great teammate with a still developing taste for big crunch time moments. Every elite young perimeter player should be forced to watch tapes on Roy. His play in these Playoffs will determine just how far a young, inexperienced Blazers team can advance.
3. Rajon Rondo: I know people who don't like Rondo's game and/or don't think he's very good. These people are idiots. He has everything you could ever want in a point guard, other than a consistent jump shot (that's developing though). His defense and rebounding is better than any point since a young Jason Kidd. His continued development throughout the last year's postseason was a very underrated story in Boston championship run. With Garnett out, he's going to have to assume a greater share of the scoring, facilitation and leadership roles on this team. He's capable of taking his play to the next level (and did so yesterday). The question is: Will he do it consistently?
4. Dwyane Wade: As much as I love good guards and with the amount of television exposure to Wade that I get, you would think that I was a huge Dwyane Wade fan. I never really was though. I mean, I thought he was a terrific player but there were some holes in his game. Also, I think I was bitter over the way the 2006 Finals were officiated and downgraded Wade somewhat as a result. Whatever the reason was, consider me converted. He's been a force of nature this year. He's seemingly more athletic than ever and he's added a pretty consistent 3 point shot to his already impressive offensive arsenal. I have a feeling that he's going to average about 40 a game against the Hawks and carry a pretty average Miami team into the second round.
5. Dwight Howard: Honestly, I just put him on here so I could talk about the Magic. Ideally, Jameer Nelson would be listed here instead of Howard. As good as Rafer Alston has been for the Magic since his acquisition, this is where the Magic are going to miss Nelson most. He was the team's best, most consistent crunch-time creator and he was developing a knack for knocking down daggers before he went down with a shoulder injury. The Magic will struggle late in games without Nelson (Turkoglu is too inconsistent and has a tendency to get too out of control at times to be the main offensive initiator late in games) and that will be their downfall in the Playoffs. Dwight is great (and actually somewhat underrated nationally) but he's still too raw offensively (and too dependent upon others due to the nature of his position) to be the go-to guy for a team with Conference Final (at minimum) aspirations.
Guys who just missed my list:
Deron Williams: 2nd best PG in the game. If it wasn't for Chris Paul, the whole league would be going apeshit over for him. He's going to average about 30-12 on the Lakers in the 1st round.
J.R. Smith: The ultimate gunner. Talented, mercurial and probably completely fucking bananas. He will shoot it from damn near anywhere whenever he gets a decent look, regardless of time or score. Fun to watch and (I'm guessing) hell to coach.
Paul Millsap: He helped salvage my fantasy season when he averaged 17-9 over almost 3 months this season. He's undersized but he's a terrific athlete with a great motor. He's the best of a group of guys with similar games that includes Brandon Bass, Carl Landry, Luis Scola and a few others. He'll always get his and you never have to run a play for him. The Lakers don't really have someone to match up with him.
Rudy Fernandez: He's somewhat like a less selfish, less crazy yet equally dangerous version of JR Smith. He's constant motion without the ball in his hands and a very creative passer. I wouldn't be shocked if he and Brandon Roy are starting in the same backcourt (with Roy playing the point) in a year or two.
Derrick Rose: Added to this list based solely on yesterday's jaw droppingly unbelievable performance. I said it yesterday and I'll say it again: A bigger, stronger, bouncier version of young Tony Parker.
First Round Series that most interest me:
Nuggets-Hornets: The most exciting player in the Playoffs takes on the most exciting and unpredictable team in the Playoffs. Plus, the Birdman is back baby! Maybe he'll even break out that Greg Brady perm that he rocked when he last saw him in the Playoffs.
Hawks-Heat: I said it earlier, this just feels like a series where Wade goes buck wild and carries that Heat to a victory. The reason he'll need to average nearly 40 to advance the Heat, in my opinion, is that the Hawks are vastly underrated. Joe Johnson's one of the top 10-15 players in the league and he's got a deep, talented, athletic group of guys to play with. I really hope this goes 7. (Note: Celtics-Bulls has taken on a whole new feel after yesterday. Hell, I could probably watch Rondo and Rose play one-on-one for 6 straight hours)
Conference Finals Predictions:
Lakers-Rockets: Honestly, I have no clue who will advance to meet the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. I'm just hoping its the Rockets. Here's why: (1) The Yao vs. Gasol/Bynum matchup is as good a matchup of elite bigs as we're likely to see in the Playoffs for a number years. (2)The Kobe-Artest/Battier matchup will be unbelievably intriguing on a number of levels and,(3) I want the national media to finally admit how overrated Tracy McGrady is as a winner and a teammate. If the Rockets can get the Western Conference Finals then at least it will be major topic of discussion.
Cavaliers-Celtics: Obviously, I'm not feeling as good about this after Saturday, but consider this: The Celtics got nothing out of Ray Allen and Derrick Rose played the game of his life and, even with that, the Bulls needed OT (and Paul Pierce to miss a free throw with 2.5 seconds left in regulation) and a number great/clutch shots from Ben Gordon to win. I just have a feeling the Celtics are going to go into the "nobody believes in us" mode for the next couple rounds and somehow find a way to gut their way into the Eastern Conference Finals.