Ball Don't Lie - NBA


After a needlessly overwrought season that seemed to start all the way back in July with LeBron James'(notes) "Decision," the playoffs are finally here. After months of waiting, we're at a point where we don't have to qualify every on- or off-court decision with the caveat that reminds us that we're not yet at playoff time. No, we're at playoff time. It's the freakin' playoffs, cats and kittens, and I can hear your goosebumps popping from here. Gross.

So come heed my middling mutterings, alongside the staggering genius of Dan Devine and Eric Freeman, as we discuss the opening round.

In this episode, we feature the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.

Shockingly, we've seen this dance before.

Last year's Celtics were everyone's upset special, caught limping into the playoffs for reasons that nobody was quite sure of even after digesting the idea of Kevin Garnett(notes) as a hobbled superstar. Their opponent from Miami had roared into the playoffs with a white-hot March and April, though an easy schedule had as much of an impact as anything. People knew where Miami stood, and nobody had any idea what to expect from the Celtics.

A year later, we're in the same place.

Though the Knicks are the team that should be reeling, overcoming a deal that traded away half their rotation while still adding an all-world clutch scorer and stable point man, Boston is everyone's question mark as it heads into spring. The team looked championship-worthy after taking the Lakers to seven games in the NBA Finals last year and dominating the Eastern Conference to start this season, but a 10-11 finish has us wondering where all the offense has gone.

(The Knicks stole it!)

No, New York didn't get Boston's nose, but they have looked great in April, taking care of business against lesser lights in a way that you just didn't see following the team's trade for Carmelo Anthony(notes). Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) will be at full strength for the playoffs and Chauncey Billups(notes) could do wonders if Rajon Rondo(notes) continues to give a lick and a promise to defense.

Then again, we've seen this dance before.

My pick? Boston in six.

***

Dan Devine presents

Welcome back to "PLAAAAAAAAAAYOFFS!" It's that time of year again, sports fans! This postseason, who will survive and thrive? Who will spit the bit? And who's going to come up with a third thing that rhymes?

Here to give you their made-up takes on the key X-factors, O-multiples and Zeeman effects of C's/Knicks are 7-foot-4 Utah Jazz center-turned-celebrity motivational speaker Mark Eaton and 310-year veteran/olde-tyme crustbucket Ol' Man Howard!

OI' Man Howard: Begin discussing New York and Boston.

Mark Eaton: Man, Howie ...

OMH: Call me that again and face a horsewhipping.

ME: ... there's just so much to like about this series. The traditions! The Gardens! Nenad Krstic(notes)!

OMH: Krstic? Sallow, sweaty, salesman-looking fella? Don't much care for him.

ME: Oh, he's a chair-heaving delight. This matchup really calls to mind the words of one of my emotional mentors, the clergyman and author William Buell Sprague, who implored us not to wait to strike until the iron is hot, but rather to make the iron hot by striking.

OMH: So you like whichever team is able to create chances for themselves, rather than waiting for the game to come to them.

ME: No, I'm picking whichever team is most frequently able to brand their opponents with searing hot irons.

OMH: Boy, I'll not soon forget the first time I was branded on the floor. Amos Alonzo Stagg really was a defensive innovator.

ME: It really is an incredibly effective defensive tactic, especially in the low post. One of Frank Layden's favorite teaching tools. Well, on me, at least. He used to get one good and hot, then have Thurl Bailey push me into it.

OMH: Teaches you balance. And discipline.

ME: And not to smile at practice.

OMH: Garnett's a wizard with the iron. Celtics in six.

ME: It's still really hard to smile sometimes. Celtics in five.

(Editor's note: Dan likes the C's in six games.)

***

Eric Freeman's Reputation Index

The regular season counts, but the postseason is where reputations are made. Tracy McGrady(notes) never won a playoff series and will always be seen as a disappointment. Derek Fisher(notes) lacks several fundamental basketball skills but will always be seen as a champion because he makes big shots when it counts. Chauncey Billups owes his entire nickname to the 2004 playoffs. The point being that playoff performance skews national perception of NBA players beyond all reason. In that vein, behold the BDL Reputations Index, your guide to what's at stake for the top names in the first round.

KNICKS

Carmelo Anthony: 'Melo is a flawed player, but his strengths as a crunch-time scorer theoretically make the playoffs a time when he can shine. The Knicks probably aren't going to win this series, but if Anthony can take over late in at least one close game, the New York fans may be convinced that he can be part of a future championship team. If he doesn't, then expect more complaining from the five boroughs.

Mike D'Antoni: No one denies that D'Antoni is a uniquely talented offensive coach, but there remain serious questions as to whether he can ever lead a team to a championship. Again, the Knicks aren't going to win the title this year, so those concerns will still exist next season. But, if the Knicks can dispatch the Celtics, or at least make it a competitive series, people may believe that D'Antoni is the man to lead Amar'e, Melo and another star to greater glory. Not surprisingly, that outcome may depend largely on Melo's performance. For better or worse, their respective reputations are tied together for the entirety of the Knicks postseason.

CELTICS

Rajon Rondo: One year ago, Rondo was the Celtics' best player in the postseason. Over the past few months, he's struggled mightily, seeing his assist numbers drop and contracting a basketball version of "the yips" in his shocking troubles with open lay-ups. Once considered a top PG in the NBA and a franchise cornerstone moving forward, Rondo is now a potential weak link. If he can't perform at an All-Star level for a Boston team in desperate need of a boost, Rondo may put himself out of "budding star" territory for the foreseeable future.

Paul Pierce(notes): Long-term, Pierce's legacy is set -- he will retire as a legendary, possibly even career-long Celtic who helped bring the city a championship after a relatively long drought for one of the league's marquee franchises. In the present, though, Pierce is largely seen as a secondary figure to Kevin Garnett on these Celtics, with his role standing as "important scorer" rather than "franchise linchpin." A stellar performance in these playoffs, starting with good production against the porous Knicks defense, would serve notice that Pierce is not just a good player on a good team, but that he remains a star even at 33.

My pick? Celtics in seven games.

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