We are just 17 days away from the commencement of the NBA Playoffs and with plenty of time for bold predictions to be proven ridiculous, Alex Magnin and I are putting our intuitions to the test and credibility on the line as we deliver some educated guesses that aren’t exactly favored by statistics. Now, we won’t both be right about everything we guess because some predictions completely disagree with each other, meaning one of us will be so, so wrong — but still. Legendary NBA psychics or complete frauds? Find out as these predictions possibly, definitely, probably, might maybe come true.
1. The Pacers Get Upset By SOMEONE In Round 2
MAGNIN: Here’s the thing about Paul George — Paul George is not a superstar player. He is an average or below-average shooter for a small forward who is great at defense. And for the last 3 years, his shooting averages dipped significantly against better defense in the playoffs. He shot out of his gourd in the Miami series last year, hitting 48% from the floor and 44% from 3. That 3 point % is 23% greater than his regular season average, and 42% better than his usual playoff rate. The field goal % is also 15% better than his lifetime playoff average. This isn’t Danny Green crazy, but it still looks to me like a player who got a hot hand in the biggest series of his life, but who is ultimately an average scoring small forward. His defense is a huge plus, as it is for the entire Pacers team, but right now these guys couldn’t score 85 points against the Florida Gators. And without an top-dog scorer to take over in intense games, they are prone to be upset.
The Raptors are just the sort of team to beat them. They play fast, they have a fierce leader in Kyle Lowry, and Derozan, while not a super-physical dude, is a good passer from what I’ve seen. They have a bunch of “replacement level” wings and a few big bodies to bang with West and Hibbert. Lowry will cause George Hill to turn the ball over 7 times a game. A few strong shooting nights and the Raptors take it.
The Pacers should also be scared of the Nets and the Bulls. The Nets have too many guys who know how to win games — there won’t be any late collapses from these guys. And Chicago wins with Noah acting like a crazy person.
Prediction: Pacers go down in Round 2. Sportscasters question whether Paul George is a “franchise player”. They look for a new point guard in the offseason.
2. Dallas Will Face Oklahoma City In The First Round And Eliminate The Thunder
HUDSPETH: I know what you’re thinking: How would Dallas take out OKC, you ninny?
I get it, it’s easy to be captivated by the heavy artillery offense of Oklahoma City that’s capable of hitting threes and finishing strong at the rim, especially when they get opportunities in transition. We see Durant casually nailing shots from long distance and Westbrook screaming like a mad man after every made basket and it’s easy to buy into that over-the-top, middle schooler on Red Bull enthusiasm as if it’ll result in winning the West, without question. Wrong. Now, the cards would have to fall in place for a Dallas v. OKC first round matchup, but it’s a very feasibly concept 17 days from now.
I ask that you look past the fact that as of March 15th, 2014, the Mavericks hadn’t defeated the Thunder since JANUARY 2, 2012. Disregard that, and the fact that Dallas had lost 7 consecutive regular season games and a playoff series in which the were swept by Oklahoma City. Let’s talk about recently. Like, last time you bought toilet paper recent. Since March 16th, 2014, the Dallas Mavericks have defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder TWICE, once at home, once on the road. Now, Westbrook did miss one of those games if you’re seeking excuses, but he was there for the second, an overtime defeat (119-128). Aside from Dirk being a champion who knows what it takes to grind and win, you’ve got a supporting cast that, if they come through, could push OKC to the limit and even pull off the unthinkable.
If Vince Carter hits his threes, Monta Ellis scores in a variety of ways as we know he can, Shawn Marion defends decently and gets his baskets in the open court or hustling for loose balls & offensive rebounds, and Samuel Dalembert makes the most of his six fouls by challenging everyone at the rim, Dallas could be in every game. Here’s the key: Jose Calderon. When he plays well, the Maverick stock rises. In the first meeting this year he didn’t have a particularly good game (9 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers). The other two? A combined 38 points (13-21), 15 Assists and most importantly, ONE TURNOVER. Dallas takes care of the ball, hits big shots and surprises the world in 7.
3. OKC Plays Miami In The Finals, Miami Helped By Referees
MAGNIN: My dear friend Hudspeth, wrong-o. Here is what will really happen: OKC goes to the finals where they will face the Miami Heat (see above, the Heat will face virtually no challenges to get there.) The untested and banged up Heat will fall behind in the series, victim of OKC’s energy and athleticism. When the Heat are focused, they lose to 3 types of teams: teams with big guys who protect the paint and rebound, teams with all-time great isolation scorers who negate their team defense (think Carmelo, Dirk, and yes, Westbrook and Durant), and teams named the San Antonio Spurs.
OKC jumps out to a 2 game lead at home. Miami wins their first one at home out of pride, and the Thunder steal the next one. The finals are 2-2-1-1-1 now, remember. And EVERYONE wants to see a 7-game series: the fans want it, the owners want it, the referees want it (they make more money each round of the playoffs they ref, not to mention the general prestige and seniority points from being in the national spotlight), Vince McMahon wants it. Remember Dwyane Wade shooting 25 free throws in Game 5, 2006 to prolong the series? This is going to be exactly like that. Just watch.
4. Memphis Misses The Playoffs, Phoenix Gets In At 8-Seed And Gives The Spurs Trouble In Round One
HUDSPETH: Obviously I think Dallas will get in at the 7-seed, but who will be 8? Memphis & Phoenix are currently 44-30, but let’s compare schedules.
Phoenix’s remaining games:
@ New Orleans
@ San Antonio
Memphis’ remaining games:
@ San Antonio
@ LA Lakers
Both teams could easily go 4-4 in their final 8 games (and Memphis owns the tiebreaker after mollywhopping Phoenix three times already this year) but I think Phoenix will steal an extra game, including the final head-to-head with Memphis, going 5-3 or better. Once in and matched up against the Spurs, the Suns will have an opportunity to shock the world. Now, I don’t think they’ll win that series, but I do believe Gerald Green will come up big and show the rest of the world (outside of Phoenix) how talented he is. Green is no longer just a high flyer blowing out candles on cupcakes & making highlight reel dunks, he can hit shots — big ones — in large quantities. Led by Green and Dragic, the Phoenix Suns showcase their talents and put everyone on notice as to just how good they could be in the next couple years.
5. The Breakout Player Of The Playoffs Will be JJ Redick or Terrence Jones
MAGNIN: Call this the Kawhi Leonard/Danny Green award, given every year for the role player who finds the right match-up, gets hot, and busts-the-eff-out to swing a couple games or a series. This year, that guy is going to be JJ Redick. The Clippers are one of the top-3 assisting teams in the league, with more than one meaty bro who draws attention down low. Yet, the team is 19th in the league in 3 point percentage. Redick, now healthy, is going to get a lot of open looks as teams try to stop everything else. Redick will shoot over 50% from 3 and swing a series.
Terrence Jones is a 22 year old, 6’9”, 250 pound man who kicks homeless people for no reason. You want to guard him? Big guys don’t usually bust out in the playoffs, but if the Rockets make a run, part of that will be because Jones gave Lamarcus Aldridge or David Lee an extremely rough go of things
6. The Miami Heat Will Not Pull Off The Three-Peat
HUDSPETH: We will crown a new NBA champion this year. Yes, that means that at some point LeBron & company will walk off of the court having lost four times to a particular team. If Indiana wins the 1-seed in the East, I like their chances of giving Miami the boot. Home court is the East this year is like being the last entrant in the WWE Royal Rumble – huge advantage.
If the Spurs come out of the West, which they should, there’s just no way they accept a second Finals defeat to Miami. You’ll watch them move the ball so gorgeous & fundamentally whilst defending as if they were 5 seconds away from a title last year and lost it and are now incredibly angry and relentless. Hey, maybe they even take the series in six, as Skip Bayless & many others (myself included, though I’m a biased, diehard Spurs fan) believe they should’ve. Spurs in 6 has actually become one of Skip’s oft used catchphrases.
Spurs in 6.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) March 30, 2014
Spurs in 6. — Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) March 29, 2014
Spurs in 6.
— Skip Bayless (@RealSkipBayless) March 7, 2014
However, the Thunder have a great chance to come out of the West because the referees are heavily influenced by their noisy home fans and if you so much as look in Kevin Durant’s vicinity and think about defending him, it’s a foul. Also, unless Westbrook’s legs fall off, there’s no way he’s not playing at a high level, so OKC is certainly a tough out, and more than capable of ending the Heat’s reign. So whether it’s Indiana, San Antonio or Oklahoma City, the King won’t get a ring in 2014.
7. The Smartest Money On The Table Is For The Clippers
MAGNIN: Here’s what you should do if gambling on sports were legal: count up your life savings, multiply it by *100 minus your age then divided by 100*, and take that amount of money to nearest, sketchiest local OTB parlor, guy at the corner pizza joint who is always sitting there and never doing anything, or friend’s lawyer’s friend with a bookie, and put it all on the Clippers. Of course, gambling on sports is not legal, so you should not, under any circumstances, attempt what I just described. But if you did, I’d say you’d have put down the smartest money in the house for the winner of the 2014 NBA Championship. The Clippers right now are paying out 11-to-1, well behind San Antonio, Miami, OKC and the Pacers. Yet they are the second-best team in the league in point differential, scoring more points per game than anyone, and their defense is only 3 points behind every contender in the league not from Indiana. The Doc Rivers/Tom Thibodeau defensive scheme is about effort — we saw recent Celtics teams coasting a bit in the season and turning up the dial in the playoffs. The Clippers might not win the championship, but at 11-1 odds, they are the smartest bet.
BONUS — Non-Playoff Edition: The Celtics Trade For Kevin Love At The Draft (Full Disclosure: I’m From Boston)
MAGNIN: I know what you’re saying: at this point, these aren’t even predictions, this is just basketball fan-fiction mixed with childish delusional fantasies. To which I say, I’m a grown man, and I’ll allow my delusions to be as fantastical as I please, thank you very much. And anyway, this one is actually going to happen. Right now, the Celtics have what should be a top-5 pick in this year’s draft (good for Jabari Parker or Dante Exum, probably) and the Nets pick of roughly #16. Know what those picks, plus Mr. Ex-Kardashian-Humphreys, plus a young guy like Kelly Olynyck is? It’s the best damn offer Minnesota is ever going to get for the Love Machine (has that nickname caught on? It should.) Rondo and Love is a match made in basketball heaven. Kevin Love’s old-school outlet passes and all-over-the-floor range combined with the best passer of his generation? This has to happen. Upgrade with a defense-first center like Omer Asik or Marcin Gortat, let Sullinger grow a bit, and Boston is the 3rd or 4th best team in the East. You heard it here first. You’re welcome.
DOUBLE BONUS — Kind Of A Playoff Prediction: The NBA Delivers Some High Quality Playoff Commercials
HUDSPETH: There have been some elite ads over the years when promoting the playoffs, just take a second to remember some of the greats:
(This one is for you Magnin, though the abundance of Ray Allen in it might sting a bit.)Can we go back to these great productions and not have NBA players awkwardly dancing with Will.I.Am or whatever? I believe so, and I think we are just weeks away from being provided with some epic, new NBA Playoff spots.