Wednesday, March 01, 2006

NBA - 25 games to go

This site will remain predominantly an NCAA site, but there's no reason not to mention some NBA every once in a while. Just a little prediction for the final seeding for the playoffs. Please leave feedback and correct me on teams where you think I'm completely wrong on. A half-week summary of this week's NCAA games will be up tonight or tomorrow morning:

1. Detroit - This is the easiest pick there is. Obviously the heavy favorite to win the East.

2. Miami - They've already wrapped up the division, so the only question is whether they can hang on to homefield advantage for the second round. They have the easiest post-All Star Break schedule of any team in the NBA, and that should be enough to hang on to the two seed over New Jersey.

3. New Jersey - They seem pretty safe in their division. They only have a 3 game lead, but are clearly the best team. I can't see them blowing it. If they can run off another double-digit win streak they'll have a decent shot at grabbing the two seed as well. That will be very important for the anticipated second round matchup against the Heat.

4. Indiana - How Rick Carlisle hasn't won a coach of the year award yet is baffling. He can win in just about any situation. They're already on a roll since they ditched Artest, and have won 7 of 10. Plus, I expect Cleveland to tank, and someone needs to fill this spot.

5. Cleveland - For the past two years, Cleveland has tanked after the break, and they've already started again, having lost four in a row. I don't see them dropping too much, though, because there really aren't any other East teams that I can see finishing strong.

6. Washington - If anyone else can catch the Cavs, it will be the Wizards. They have a good nucleus of players that has gotten this far before. Of course, it has to be a worry that 15 of their final 27 games are on the road, where they're an atrocious 9-17.

7. Philadelphia - All you can say about this team is "bleh." Iverson can carry them to the playoffs, but beyond that I don't think anyone can see them actually beating anyone. They have proven all year that they squeak out wins over the bad teams, but really can't hang with any of the elite teams. I see this team finishing right around .500, like they have the past few years.

8. Milwaukee - As Marc Stein noted, this team's record was artificially inflated due to a ton of very close victories. They remind me of the Washington Nationals, who inflated their record in the first half of 2005 with a ton of 1-run victories. Statistically, this should all even out at the end. And the Bucks still have a long way to go - they are still 11-5 in games decided by three points or less or in overtime. Their expected W-L record due to points scored is 25-32, instead of their real record of 29-28. Expect them to drop under .500 before long.

First team out: Orlando - This team has a great young core, especially with Dwight Howard. That kid is going to be something special - I see him as a future Hall-of-Famer. In the meanwhile, the Francis trade and the impending cap space means that this team has hope. The difference between playing for a lottery pick and playing to build momentum is huge for a team's psyche. Unfortunately, they've got a huge hole, and are still 8 games out of the playoffs with only 26 left to play. I can see them finishing up as well as 15-11 or so, putting them at 35-47, which will probably be good enough for 9th place in the conference. I can't see Milwaukee falling that far, though. On the other hand, I can see this team as a darkhorse to take out the Heat in that division next year if they're smart in the offseason.

1. Dallas - This team clearly is running on all cylinders to try to grab that 1-seed. That's why I put them ahead of San Antonio, a team which clearly is more focused on just getting healthy for the playoffs than Dallas. Despite this ranking, however, I still think San Antonio is the favorite to actually win the Western Conference playoffs.

2. Phoenix - If Amare Stoudemire comes back... watch out. Can you image a lineup with Nash, Bell, Diaw, Marion and Stoudemire. With Kurt Thomas coming off the bench? Scary thought.

3. Denver - Because someone has to win that lousy division. It's really a travesty that this team will get a 3-seed and San Antonio and Dallas will have to play in the second round. They need to change the rules so division winners are only guaranteed a spot in the top-4 in the seedings, not in the Top-3. I am against, however, a rule that reseeds after every round. That will just cause confusion and hurt viewership of the playoffs.

4. San Antonio - See my comments on Dallas. I pick San Antonio to beat Phoenix, if Stoudemire can't come back at full strength. If he's at near-full strength, we'll have to see just how good that team is before making a decision.

5. Hornets - This is a team on the rise, with good young talent and a solid coach. But, again, it's sad that it would be in their best interest to tank the last few games to avoid San Antonio in the first round. Any rule that encourages a team to lose is a bad rule.

6. Memphis - A solid team, but one where I can't find a reason for it to jump to another level in the second half of the year (unlike the Hornets). Working in their favor, however, is their 5-7 record in games won by 3 points or less or in overtime, and their expected W-L record of 34-23 (as opposed to their real record of 31-26).

7. Lakers - See below.

8. Clippers - I think the Clippers overperformed early this year. They are also a mere 18-16 after a stellar 14-7 start. They also still have some more to drop, with an expected W-L record of 32-23, compared to a 32-25 for the Lakers. So, the Lakers have already played as well, and are only getting better while the Clips fall. Plus, the Lakers-Clippers rivalry is possibly the most one-sided rivalry in sports. Can anyone really see the Clips beating the Lakers in two straight years? I can't.

First team out: Houston - This is a team that would have a far better record than they have. Injuries have just been brutal. They finally have the team healthy, and are 10-3 in their last 13 games. I could see this team possibly getting up to .500, but even that would require a stellar 16-9 finish. And even that probably won't be enough to grab the 8th spot in the west.

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