April 16, 2009
After 1230 regular season games and whole lot of Gatorade, the 2009 NBA Playoffs are finally upon us. Sweet! Now, you've already heard my crackpot predictions, and KD throws in his two cents below, but we also asked a few team bloggin' experts to help us set the first round table. Up next: Ben Q. Rock from Third Quarter Collapse and "Jsams" from Liberty Ballers breakdown the Orlando-Philly series.
Third Quarter Collapse: The Orlando Magic will enter the playoffs at a low-water mark for them this season. Before shutting down their stars, the Magic lost to the Knicks and Nets on back-to-back nights; a few days before that, they needed a Hedo Turkoglu-driven rally late in the game to beat the Grizzlies. At home. Additionally, Turk suffered a sprained ankle against the Nets, while Rashard Lewis' nagging knee tendinitis forced Stan Van Gundy to rest him during the season's last meaningless games. By the time the playoffs start, Lew won't have played in over a week. Finally, Dwight Howard has experienced the roughest stretch of his season.
But none of that means the Philadelphia 76ers can pull off an upset in this playoff series.
Orlando swept the three-game season-series due in large part to its defense. The 76ers, on the season, average a mediocre 107.7 points per 100 possessions; against Orlando, that number dropped to 102.1. The Sixers struggle to shoot from the outside, meaning their offense is simply not equipped to overcome big deficits against elite defenses. I'll concede that Andre Miller's considerable size advantage over Rafer Alston may ease Philadelphia’s burden; I'll also concede that Thaddeus Young is the sort of young, spry guy who can give Rashard Lewis fits. But ultimately, Philly's offense can't counter Orlando's defense. If Andre Iguodala doesn't have a hand in his face every time he shoots, I'll be surprised.
However, the series won't be a sweep. Orlando is due to have at least one bad game. Dwight Howard always toasts Samuel Dalembert, but that might benefit the Sixers in a way, because they will have to play Theo Ratliff. As a Detroit Piston in last year's playoffs, Ratliff defended Howard admirably, and also talked some trash with Lewis. He has what it takes to curb Howard's production for stretches of the game. However, Lewis and Turkoglu can pick up Howard's slack. And don't sleep on Alston, either. He's much smaller than Miller, but is also much quicker with a wicked handle to boot. Miller's been on the losing end of a few YouTube-worthy crossovers this year. Alston's got next, guys.
The 76ers are a solid team, I'll give them that much. Unfortunately for them, their inept offense will not be able to outgun Orlando's.
Magic in 5.
Liberty Ballers: Last season the Sixers started 9-14. They turned it around in the second half, but eventually finished with a whimper, losing seven of their final 10 games. They were supposed to be thankful just to be in the playoffs, and given little chance to win a single game against the Pistons. Surprisingly, they took Detroit to six games and were 24 minutes away from a 3-1 series lead. Sound familiar?
The Sixers followed a similar pattern this season, losing six of their final seven. They've played what I like to call "anti-playoff basketball" down the stretch. But if I've learned one thing about this team over the past two seasons, you cannot count them out. Ever.
Despite a slow start, a coaching change and two major injuries, the Sixers still find themselves in a position where they can make a name for themselves. What better way for a young team to gain national exposure than by knocking off Superman and the Magic?
If the Sixers are going to have a chance against the Magic, they must defend against the three. The Magic have shot 33-88 (38%) from beyond the arch against the Sixers this season. Sure, the Sixers cannot shoot the three (ranked 30th in the NBA), but there is no excuse for not defending it. If Orlando continues to rain in threes against Philly a sweep is eminent.
M16 is the second coming of Amare Stoudemire and responds well to pressure. His freakish athleticism might give the Magic problems — Rashard Lewis cannot defend him.
Lou Williams has a similar game to the former Sixer, Allen Iverson. Obviously he's not as good as Iverson, but he has been ballin' of late. He will provide instant offense off the bench.
Donny-Ice is the Sixers zone-buster. He's shooting 45 percent from downtown, and if he's on, he's on — think NBA Jam "He's on fire!" on. Coach Tony D usually uses him as a last resort, but every time he's on the floor he makes something happen.
Bonus X-Factor: The power of the playoff beard.
Prediction: My head says Magic 5; my heart says Sixers in 7.
Kelly Dwyer: Orlando may have lost its starting point man last February, Rashard Lewis is a little gimpy, Hedo Turkoglu recently turned his ankle, and those three-point looks are always in danger of drying up. But Rafer Alston is around, Lewis can still hit flat-footed threes, Hedo will be fine, teams don't suddenly start shooting unrepresentative percentages from long range over a seven-game sample size, and they're playing the 76ers.
The Sixers, who lost six in row to end the season before beating Cleveland's reserve unit on Wednesday. By one. In overtime.
BDL's 2009 NBA Playoff Previews: Cleveland-Detroit