Category Archives: Matt

“I May Be Wrong, But…”: NBA Playoffs First Round Prognostications

Having wrapped up its “sprint to the finish” regular season, the Association now turns its eyes towards what promises to be an extremely entertaining playoffs. There are a multitude of teams who could come away with the crown this year, and I think I speak for most fans when I say that this could be the most unpredictable playoffs in recent memory. I certainly can’t remember a playoffs with this many first round series that could go either way, and it would not surprise me to see a lot of upsets here, particularly because some of the much-hyped teams (i.e. Thunder,

Heat, Bulls) have struggled down the stretch (the Thunder with general team cohesiveness, the Heat with injuries, and the Bulls with the re-introduction of Derrick Rose). All that being said, here are my thoughts on the first round playoff matchups, along with predicted winners for each series (*gulp*).

Western Conference

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Utah Jazz

Could the Spurs possibly go out as the number 1 seed two years in a row? I’m inclined to say no. Although the Jazz possess a loaded frontcourt (Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors, and the “Underkanter”), something which gave the Spurs fits last year against Memphis, I believe the experience and depth of the Spurs can overcome the Jazz. Captain Hardass (Gregg Popovich) has somehow turned Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard into serviceable starters; and Stephen Jackson and the “Round Mound of Crème Brûlée” (Boris Diaw) – both great pickups – provide the Spurs with firepower off the bench.

These guys, along with the still-going-strong Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili have allowed the Spurs to function as the most efficient offense in the league this season (something which hasn’t previously been their M.O.).

The Jazz are a young team, and they seem to have a bright future, but I think that Popovich might literally kill his entire roster if they get embarrassed again; for this reason, I’m going with San Antonio in 5 games.

(Look on the bright side Jazz, you did hose Jersey in that Deron Williams trade last year…and they might (read: probably will) lose him in free agency this year!)

(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks

James Harden: Apparently lost control of his tongue following the elbow from Ron Artest.

I’m really looking forward to this one. To be honest, I don’t really enjoy watching OKC: sure they have Westbrook and Durant, but too often their games devolve into free-throw competitions (we call it “Miami Heat 2006 Finals Syndrome”). On the other hand, I love watching the way Dallas plays (Rick Carlisle is a criminally underrated coach, even after winning a title). Keep in mind, last year Dallas knocked out the Thunder in 5 (I can hear the protests now: “but Matt, the Thunder are a year older and ayear better!”), and Dirk Nowitzki basically dropped a deuce all over Serge Ibaka (this boxscore is ridiculous!).

Dallas lost some key pieces from last year’s title run, but I feel that their falling to 7th place has more to do with a lack of fitness and some internal pressures (see: Kardashian, Lamar) than any deterioration or lack of talent. On the OKC side, whether or not they win depends on two things: 1) Can they pop the dent out of James Harden’s head? and 2) Can Russell Westbrook manage the team? With the constant scrutiny surrounding Westbrook’s liberal shot selection (to put it mildly), I could see OKC imploding if they lose 2 of the first 3 games, which is a distinct possibility. A lot of fanboys are going to hate on me for this one, but I just have a huge suspicion that Dallas is going to come ready to play: Mavs in 6.

(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Denver Nuggets

Doing his best KG.

I don’t see any way the Lakers lose this series, even without Metta “the People’s Elbow” World Peace (who, to be honest, isn’t really that important of a cog in the Laker machine anyway). Denver’s a nice story, and they have an interesting assortment of players – Kenneth Faried’s tenacity and Arron Afflalo’s defensive ability have particularly impressed me – but the Lakers are BIG and Denver has nobody who can guard Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum in the post. The Lakers should be able to steamroll their way into the second round, and given that I don’t think he’ll have to do much, this should be the perfect opportunity for Kobe to work his way back into game shape. Lala-land in 5 games.

Note: this is Javale McGee’s first playoff action, so it should be exciting to see what tomfoolery he manages to get up to

(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Los Angeles Clippers

Everyone's turning on Blake.

Full disclosure: I don’t like the Clippers. I started out on the Lob City bandwagon, but as the season drew on I became more and more tired of the constant flopping and whining of Chris Paul and the “Golden Boy” Blake Griffin. The way Griffin flops – throwing his head back and contorting his body at the slightest contact – you would think he had been hit by one of those shitty Kia Optimas he endorses, and the only thing that’s flopped harder than Chris Paul this year is John Carter (for God’s sake, Reggie Evans had the worst flop of all-time just last week: apparently this stuff is contagious). While Paul is a great player (I don’t think I’ve ever seen him miss a midrange jumper late in the game) and controls the tempo of a game like no other, the other members of the Clippers are just too limited at this point (not to mention horrendous free throw shooters) for me to predict a deep run in these playoffs. On the other hand, the Grizz are my darkhorse pick to make the finals. Marc Gasol has really come into his own the past couple years, and along with Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph forms a formidable frontcourt. Tony Allen might be the best perimeter defender in the league (he completely shut down LeBron James while playing for the Celtics in 2010); between Allen and Mike Conley, Paul will have a great defender guarding him at all times, which should slow him down. The Grizz have all the pieces to take down the Clips; in the battle between style and substance, I’m going with substance. Grizz in 6.

Eastern Conference

(1) Chicago Bulls vs. (8) Philadelphia 76er’s

Philadelphia really fell off for the middle portion of the season, and I can’t help but feel that Doug Collins (also a hardass) has at least somewhat lost the room. The 76er’s suffer the same malady as the Denver Nuggets out west: they have a lot of interesting complimentary pieces, but no true star (Andre Iguodala should not be your star player). The Bulls haven’t looked great coming into the postseason either, and Derrick Rose has looked particularly bad coming back from his numerous injuries. That being said, the Bulls are just too good to lose to Philly, and if the games are close at the end I trust Derrick Rose a hell of a lot more than anyone on the Sixers to make a big play. Bulls in 5.

(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) New York Knicks

Healthy Bosh and Wade will most likely be the difference.

Oh Baby: the star power in this series has Super Mario shitting his pants. The Knicks have been a rollercoaster all season: the uninspired play to start the season, followed by Linsanity, followed by the post-Linsanity “Carmelo ruins the chemistry” saga, followed by the “Carmelo takes over“ period, and finally the “Can Amare and Carmelo co-exist?” drama; what a ride! The Heat’s season has been tame in comparison, particularly when juxtaposed with the excitement which was last season. The Knicks are the deeper team (JR Smith, Baron Davis, and Steve Novak are all solid contributors) but LeBron, Wade and Bosh (who I tend to favour over Stoudemire at this point) will be very difficult to overcome. A lot will hinge on whether Amare and Carmelo can co-exist (they’re too similar on the offensive end). If both of them can get going simultaneously – which hasn’t really happened since they teamed up – it could cause headaches for the Heat. Tyson Chandler (who has quietly been brilliant for the Knickerbockers) could also have a huge impact if he can deter Wade and James from taking the ball inside; tactically, it would not surprise me in the least if the Knicks threw in some zone defense to dare the Heat to take jumpers. While LeBron has been his typical MVP self all season (he will win that award, by the way), Wade and Bosh have recently been hampered by injuries. The Heat could lose this series if either of those guys misses games (more so Bosh since the Heat has nobody else inside). I think this one will be close, and I fully expect the Knicks to get a huge boost from their home town crowd, but ultimately I think the Heat can pull this one out. Heat in 6 (Spike Lee loses his mind as Wade eliminates the Knicks at MSG).

(As an aside, how awesome is it going to be watching LeBron and Carmelo guard each other for an entire series?!)

(3) Indiana Pacers vs. (6) Orlando Magic

My personal feelings toward Dwight Howard aside, he is a fantastic player and a huge difference maker. Without him the Magic have no chance in this series, particularly against a sneaky good Indiana Pacers squad (who is flying really far under the radar, just the way they want it I’m sure). Free agent signing David West has been rounding into form for the Pacers, so I will be extremely interested to see if he can maintain his level of play heading into a likely second round matchup with Miami. The Pacers are definitely better than the Magic sans Howard; this series will not be close. Pacers in 5.

The Artifice of Intensity

(4) Boston Celtics vs. (5) Atlanta Hawks

Due to a better record, the Hawks will actually have home court in this matchup of perennial playoff teams. The Hawks always give me the vibe that they don’t really enjoy basketball, or give a crap in general (see their home blowout loss to the Raptors). And to be honest, home court advantage means nothing to the Hawks since their crowd seems to give less of a crap than the Hawks themselves. The Celtics on the other hand are always motivated: Kevin Garnett will surely be beating his chest and hitting his head against shit prior to game one (“He’s so intense!”). The Celtics have received surprise contributions from rookie Greg Stiemsma and second year guard Avery Bradley (let me say, you have to watch this guy play defense at the point guard position, it’s something else). Bradley’s surprise play has even led to the relegation of Ray Allen to the bench, adding to the Celtics depth. Josh Smith has had a fantastic season for the Hawks and Joe Johnson has been Joe Johnson (which is to say that he has been the most boring repeat all-star ever), but for the Hawks to win it is going to take a Herculean effort by these two. Frankly I don’t think they have it in them: the Celtics are built for the playoffs, and their depth and experience hold them in good stead. Celtics in 6.

So there you have it: my take on the first round of the NBA playoffs. Be sure to come back in two weeks and make fun of my incorrect picks! Until then, enjoy what promises to be a thoroughly entertaining first act.

Written by Matthew Davie

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Reap What You Sow: Dwight Howard Could Lose More Than Just the Rest of His Season

Dwight Howard: All Star centre, and man-child.

Dwight Howard is a man-child and a diva.  His actions this past season have proven this, and have left a sour taste in the mouth of most NBA observers, myself included.  His indecision and lack of professionalism have brought the Orlando Magic franchise to its knees, and despite his decision to opt-in to the final year of his contract I doubt he will remain with the Magic past next season (if they do not decide to trade him first).

When it was discovered last week that Howard had a herniated disk in his back and was going to miss some games, the timing seemed extremely beneficial to Dwight. His coach, Stan Van Gundy, had just revealed (in hilarious fashion) that, despite showing questionable allegiance to the Magic all year, Howard had repeatedly gone to management and asked for Van Gundy to be fired.  Dwight had been denying this for weeks, and in fact had been pretending to be best buddies with Van Gundy in media sessions (Van Gundy reluctantly having to go along with it).  When the media revealed to Dwight that it had been Van Gundy himself who had confirmed the rumours, the look of confusion on Howard’s face was absolutely priceless.  Dwight’s ill-gotten reputation as the “good guy” face of the Magic has been destroyed, and the whole world now knows that, in truth, he’s backstabbing and conniving. So it was interesting, if not a little bit too convenient (in my opinion), that it was subsequently discovered that Howard would need time away from the team to deal with a mysterious back ailment.

(here’s the described presser/most awkward media scrum ever)

I doubt that Howard initially understood the severity of his injury; there had been talk of him possibly returning to the Magic for the playoffs.  But, rather than trying his best to rehab and make it back to help his team (and entertain the fans who pay his exorbitant salary), Howard took his injury as just another chance to hold the franchise hostage.

Sources say that Howard called Magic ownership (in the middle of a game!) and told them that he would return to the team only if Van Gundy was fired: it appeared that Dwight, ever a baby, couldn’t handle the public evisceration Van Gundy had leveled him with.

To be honest, I do not really understand the naiveté of Howard here: Van Gundy seems to me to be a very good coach, and although he can be a bit abrasive, I doubt the Magic can do much better than him.  Does Howard really think a different coach will fare better?  No, much more realistically this is just Howard building up more and more excuses for when he eventually leaves the franchise (I can already picture the ESPN special: “I would have stayed if they’d gotten a better coach”).

All this being said, you’ll have to forgive me if I feel some schadenfreude now that it turns out Howard will miss six months recovering from back surgery (note: I do not wish harm on Dwight, I am only stating the irony and karmic nature of his condition).  Earlier in the Magic circus (err, season) Dwight had refused to sign a long-term contract with the Magic; it was presumed that he wanted to opt-out of the final year of his contract (next season) and sign in a marquee destination in the off-season.  In doing so, he forfeited his right to a guaranteed boatload of money, and took the risk that a severe injury could de-rail his chances of attaining the largest contract possible next off-season.

Well, that injury has happened…maybe.  While the six month recovery period for this type of surgery is by no means concerning for Howard (he will be ready for the start of next season, wherever he is playing), the history of other players’ recovery from this surgery is.  David Robinson, former San Antonio Spurs star and one of the greatest players ever, was never the same after undergoing surgery for a herniated disk in his back.  The same goes for Larry Johnson, formerly of the Charlotte Hornets.  Most importantly for Howard, both of those guys were built like tanks, just like him.  If this surgery and the subsequent recovery have any impact on Dwight’s athletic ability (like they did to Robinson and Johnson) then his game will never be the same since he has shown very little ability to develop any sort of reliable post game.  If this happens, Dwight can kiss at least a portion of his millions goodbye.

Dwight Howard has been an unmitigated asshole for some time now.  His arrogance and childishness have been something to behold, and the circus that he has allowed to unfold in Orlando all season has been shameful.  I don’t usually subscribe to any sort of karmic belief system, but I can’t help but smirk at the fact that Dwight’s diva behaviour could lead to his losing millions of dollars (not to mention the loss of respect that has already occurred).  If it is true that you reap what you sow, then Dwight’s future harvest might be less bountiful than he’d hoped.

Written by Matthew Davie

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Eastern Conference 1st Round Preview: And So It Begins…

With the playoffs starting today, it’s time to take a look at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference. To be honest, discussion of this half of the bracket basically starts and ends with the Philly-Pittsburgh series, which by all accounts could (read: will) be a bloodbath and is in my opinion destined to be a classic. That being said, the Boston-Washington series possesses some intrigue (how long until Tim “Boston Tea Party” Thomas goes on a racist diatribe and rips into the left wing media?), and the New York-Ottawa series does feature a Canadian team (albeit the one that nobody really cares about). I tried to think of something positive to say about the Florida-Jersey series but I couldn’t; that series is going to blow. There’s really no two ways around that one (I’d apologize to the combined five Panthers and Devils fans but I doubt they’re going to read this anyway- kidding!).

So, without any further ado, onto the in-depth analysis.

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators

For the Rangers, it’s all about Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedish netminder has been fantastic this season, leading the Rangers to the third best goals against mark in the league. To be honest, this is going to be a steeply uphill battle for the Senators as it is, and if Lundqvist brings his A-game I doubt Ottawa has much of a chance. I can’t completely write them off though: the Senators have a high powered offence (4th in the league) which gives them a puncher’s chance. Again though, the goaltending of Lundqvist and the Rangers’ fifth-ranked penalty kill should nullify any advantages the Sens may have. Sens’ fans shouldn’t hang their heads though: nobody thought they would be here anyway, and they still have the rest of Erik Karlsson’s career to look forward to (which, as of now, seems like it’s going to be pretty awesome)

Prediction: Rangers grind out the victory in 6 games

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals

I’m hoping this one goes the distance, if only to see the progression of Tim Thomas’ rage as he is peppered with questions regarding his snubbing of Obama for a steady two weeks (note: if the Caps don’t offer the Prez first row seats behind Thomas’ net for at least one of their home games, they’ve missed their chance for comedic gold. Gold, I tell you!). All kidding aside, this is a pretty interesting series. The chronically playoff-hapless Capitals have disappointed all season and come into this series as the massive underdog; but I have a feeling that this psychological role-reversal could actually play in their favour, as they will have nothing to lose. Despite critics ragging on him all season, Alex Ovechkin still notched 38 goals on the year and seemed to be picking it up to finish things off. With Nicklas Backstrom back in the fold, and the ever-present possibility that Mike Green might get his act together, the Capitals might have the skill level to pull off the upset here (particularly if the aforementioned Tim Thomas starts getting a little wild in his net). The Bruins won’t make it easy though – these guys are just built for the playoffs (see: last year). Their tough, balanced attack up front, along with the Herculean Zdeno Chara on defence promise to make life difficult for Ovi & Crew. Somehow I doubt that Mr. Ovechkin will rise to the occasion.

Prediction: Bruins in 6, and the CBC’s Satellite Hotstove segment discusses Tim Thomas’ political leanings EVERY GAME

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

Perhaps I was slightly disingenuous in describing this series earlier: just because it appears to be a snooze-fest doesn’t mean that one of these teams can’t make serious noise in the playoffs (hint: it’s not Florida). New Jersey seems like a pretty legit squad to me. The emergence of David Clarkson and Adam Henrique as big-time point producers to go along with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise gives the Devils a lot of depth up front. And one can’t forget about the venerable Martin Brodeur, who is still a solid (albeit unspectacular) option between the pipes.

Conversely, if you lined up all 16 playoff teams in a row, and asked “which one of these is not like the others?” Florida would clearly be the answer. Due to the wacky seeding associated with division champions, the Panthers limp into the playoffs as the 3rd seed (and let’s face it, they only got that because Washington has been comatose much of the year). Florida boasts the only negative goal differential of the playoff teams (for shame!), and as nice a story as it is for them to have finally made the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, the carousel ride ends here. Their 10% chance (I made up those odds) of taking this series is completely reliant on the Versteeg-Weiss-Fleischmann line returning to the electric form they exhibited to start the season, and I doubt that will happen. The smart money’s on Jersey here.

Prediction: Devils in 5

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

Ah, the pièce de résitance! After last week’s ridiculous brawl, the result of a massive hit on Danny Briere, we were all reminded of one fact: while there might be love amongst brothers in Philadelphia, there is none amongst compatriots. All hyperbole aside (and believe me, there is a LOT of hyperbole being thrown around), this promises to be an exciting series between two teams who share a mutual disliking for one another. The Pens have been flying high (how ironic) since getting Sid the Kid back off the IR, and boast a seemingly unfair dearth of talent (how are Malkin, Crosby, Staal, James Neal, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury on the same team?).

Philly are no slouches, however. Breakout star Claude Giroux, along with the ever pesky Scott Hartnell, power forward Wayne Simmonds, and the Jaromir Jagr Reclamation Project provide Philly with a scoring punch matched by few around the league.

With Pittsburgh’s potent offense, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of prized free agent acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov. While Bryz has largely been a disappointment in Philly (I’m being fairly nice here), a series win over the despised Penguins would erase any memory of previous failures. His play will probably determine the series, as most of the rest of the participants are known entities. While this is going to be a close series, I feel that the Pens’ possession of home ice advantage will be just enough to get them past the Flyers (barring an injury to one of their main guys, which is a distinct possibility).

Prediction: Penguins in 7, and there will be blood

So that concludes my primer for the first round of the NHL’s Eastern Conference playoffs. The action kicks off Wednesday night at 7:30 with Game 1 of the Philly-Pittsburgh series, which promises to exhilarate anybody with a pulse (and maybe some without). Here’s hoping for an exciting, well-played first round of hockey and I’ll see you back here for the second round!

Article by Matthew Davie.

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