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Time For New Champions
by Joel Caris
There was a stretch during the end of game four of the Miami/Chicago series that was beautiful to behold. With about two and a half minutes left, Miami decided to intentionally foul Ben Wallace and put him on the line, rather than try to defend a shot attempt by Chicago. Wallace is a 40% free throw shooter, so it's akin to the old Hack-a-Shaq strategy that has worked to varying degrees for other teams in the past. So after they foul Wallace, he steps up to the line and knocks down both free throws, beautifully.
It was a great moment.
An even better moment came less than a minute later, though, when at something like 2:03 left on the clock, the Heat did it again. This time, though, they had to literally chase Wallace down as he tried to evade his man, fouling him just before another Chicago player made a lay up. Theoretically, it was good strategy, but it was a total bullshit, bitch of a move that left me disgusted. That is, until Wallace stepped to the line and once again made both shots, again beautifully.
And that was pretty much how it went for the Heat. The gods weren't on their side this year--possibly because they're a sad, old, banged up group that thought they could float through the regular season and then turn it on during the playoffs, all while being lead by a selfish, dick of a head coach who decided to take off part of the year when the Heat were playing badly, then magically show back up when things were going better, always eager for the glory but not so eager for the hard times. This same guy who just days ago said he would be coaching the team for the next three years, and then proclaimed himself uncertain as to whether he would be back as coach after the Heat finished up the first round by being swept by the younger, quicker, obviously better Chicago Bulls. Guess that's how it goes.
As you might guess, I'm not a big fan of the Heat. I'm glad to see them gone. Time for new champions!
Over on the Western side of the NBA playoffs, the Suns are sticking it hard to LA, and the dejection of the Lakers and their fan "base" tastes as sweet to me as the tears of Scott Tenorman taste to Eric Cartman. On Sunday, Steve Nash managed to dish out 23--twenty-fucking-three--assists for the Suns, reducing the Lakers to sad also-rans. It was a brilliant performance, one of the most glorious I've ever seen, and came one assist shy of tying the all-time playoffs assist record. Nash also had 17 points on 6 field goals. That means that, out of the 41 field goals made by Phoenix, Nash had a direct hand in 29 of them, or 70.7%. If that's not sheer brilliance, I don't really know what is. Steve Nash is pretty much a god.
Oh, and did I even mention that Amare Stoudamire 27 points and 21 rebounds? Yeah. Nash's performance was so good, he managed to make Stoudamire's amazing stat line an "oh, by the way" aside.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Mavericks and Warriors conducted a spectacular, all-out brawl that ended with a Dallas win. A loss would have sent Dallas out of the playoffs and would have made it the first time an eighth seed beat the first seed since the first round was switched to a seven game series. However, the Warriors have two more chances to win this series, so there's no guarantee that won't still happen.
Dallas was brilliant at the beginning of the first quarter but slowed down as the game went on. The Warriors kept the game close and were able to make a strong run in the fourth quarter, managing to go up by nine before Dallas went on a 15-0 run fueled by Nowitzki's 12 points. However, while he came through big at the end of the game, Nowitzki simply has not been impressive during this series. Baron Davis, on the other hand, has been an absolute monster, fearless and determined, ready to tear apart anyone who gets in his way. Dirk needs to get a little of that mojo going and have a huge game come Thursday night if the Mavericks are going to come back to beat the Warriors.
Okay, so now that we're getting pretty deep into the first round (and should manage to get it wrapped up in another month or so) let's take a look at how my predictions are doing.
First up, Phoenix. If you recall, I expected you all to owe me $20 by this point, but I didn't quite pull it off. I called Kobe going for 62 points in game three and the Lakers winning that game, after having lost the first two to the Suns. I also said that Phoenix would win the next two to finish off the series. You know what? While I may not be getting my $20 (and I really could use it) I still feel pretty damn good about that prediction. Kobe went for 45 in game three, which is nothing to dismiss (though certainly is far from 62) and the Lakers won the game. Not too shabby. They then went on to lose the next game and I'm guessing by the time this article is actually published and you're reading it, the Suns will have won the fifth game to take the series. If that does end up being the case, I should get some damn props for not only calling the winner, and not only calling the length, but also telling you which games would fall which way.
If the Suns don't win Wednesday, on the other hand, then damn.
Elsewhere, I called Spurs in six. They're up 3-1 and there's a good chance they'll end up winning it in five, but I wouldn't be shocked for it to be six. I'm doing good there.
While I called Chicago to win the series, I pegged it at seven games, so I blew that one. I bought into all the media spin about the Heat turning it on for the playoffs and suddenly regaining their form. Bah. At least I didn't buy it enough to actually call the series for the Heat. Fuck the Heat.
Toronto in six? Not happening. Currently, Toronto is down 2-3, and I give the Nets the edge to win the series at this point. I suspect they'll win game six to advance to the second round. Still, I could see Toronto forcing a game seven. We'll see.
I called sweeps for both Cleveland and Detroit and that's exactly what happened. Those weren't hard calls, though, so I can't take too much credit.
I said Houston in seven and I'm feeling damn good about that at the moment. The series is tied at two games apiece and while I was rooting for the Jazz the last couple of games--and wouldn't mind seeing them win the series--I still have to think Houston is going to win it in the end. Either way, though, I smell a seven game series.
Finally, Dallas and Golden State. Man, I'm not doing hot here. I called Dallas in five, which obviously isn't happening. Dallas will be damn lucky to get away in seven. Further compounding my mistake, after the Mavs lost the first game to the Warriors, I wrote that they would bounce back and that they still controlled the series.
Not so much.
Dallas looks flustered, and scared, and scattered. Granted, they seemed in better shape for game five, but they still damn near lost the game right at the end. The Warriors are crazy, talented, fearless, and they were raining threes down upon the Mavs like it was nothing. It was a crazy game. The next one may be even crazier. It's going to be in Oakland, which is not a place you want to play unless you're the Warriors, and the Mavericks are going to be playing for their lives. But then, I suspect the Warriors are going to be doing the same because if this series goes to a seventh game, the Mavericks have to be favored to win it. Golden State needs to close out Dallas on Thursday.
So what's going to happen? I'm not confident saying it, but I'm going to pick Dallas to win game six. I think Dirk is going to come through, I think the team is going to step up, and I think they're just barely going to escape Oakland. And, at that point, I have to give them game seven as well. They'll have home court, momentum, and their confidence back.
While I obviously got the "in five" wrong, I still think Dallas is going to pull out this series.
Next week, we talk second round--otherwise known as the real playoffs.
Joel needs some damn props, damn it.