2010 NBA Conference Finals Outlook

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Originally Posted on 5/14/10 on NBA Discussion Board:
Pre-series Picks were: Boston Celtics in 7 over Orlando Magic and Los Angeles Lakers in 6 over Phoenix Suns: ACTUAL RESULTS: Celtics and Lakers both won in 6!! Thus I not only picked both series winners (including the Boston Celtics who were a +2.50 or more underdog), but was off in my exact series results by JUST ONE GAME!!

In three of the four conference final series form held up very quickly--in sweeps. And as written several times, the 'wild card' of an injury (to the elbow of Lebron--Zucchini Ears--James) was the main reason that form did NOT hold up in the other series..though it is most doubtful that a sweep would have taken place in that series in any event.

I much doubt that a sweep will take place in either of the conference final series--much less in over half of them!! One key fact in these two series is that three of the four teams in them--the Celtics being the notable exception--will be taking major steps 'up in class' in them in terms of the competition they face.

Power Ratings of the Conference Finals
116 Magic
115 Celtics, Lakers
113 Suns

In the upcoming round, the power rating difference (113-116) between the best and worst teams is FAR less than what we saw in the first two rounds of the playoffs at the beginning of it.The biggest difference between the teams in a given series is just two points (Phoenix Suns at 113 versus Los Angeles Lakers at 115). In the first round we had a huge 12 point difference from top (Cleveland Cavaliers at 117) to bottom (Milwaukee Bucks at 105). In round 2 the difference between best (Cleveland Cavs and Olrando Magic at 116) and worst (Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz at 110) was halved though this did not prevent three sweeps in this round. In given series in round one we had one series--Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers--with a seven point power rating difference--and a second--Orlando Magic and Charlotte Bobcats--with a six point difference. In the second round we had a series--Atlanta Hawks and Orlando Magic--with a six point difference. Each of the above three series were either sweeps (Magic twice) or went five games (Cavs over the Bulls). Thus, again, it seems as if the Conference Finals have far greater parity than we have yet seen in the playoffs to this point.

Phoenix Suns-Los Angeles Lakers
This series from an NBA handicapping point of view seems like a classic match-up with the speed of the Phoenix Suns against the brawn (especially up front) of the Los AngelesLakers. What also makes this match-up interesting is that both teams have made improvements in the first two rounds, especially the Suns. Against the San Antonio Spurs and especially against the Portland Blazers the Suns showed a much improved defense. The Suns play up front has also greatly improved with Amare (AKA Cherry Nose) Stoudemire being a big force who now figures to get some help with the certain return of Robin Lopez.

However, during the second half of the Utah Jazz series, the Los Angeles Lakers began to show their first 3/4 of the season form (when they went 46-15). Kobe (AKA Bent Pretzel Ear) Bryant regained his high scoring form as his health improved and the Los Angeles Lakers finally became focused in finishing off a determined Utah Jazz team in about the toughest road location in the NBA in Salt Lake City.

Though the Phoenix Suns have been very impressive in the playoffs (and made me look kind of dumb in the first round of them), I feel that a Los Angeles Laker win in this series seems very likely (though DO feel that the series price is somewhat OVER-PRICED) for the following four reasons:

1) The Lakers seem to have the match-up edges in four of the five starting positions: the Nash (AKA Spider Hair)-Fisher (AKA The Aggressive Waterbug) Sun edge being the notable exception. But even in this match-up The Aggressive Waterbug has shown that he can hit the key late-game outside shots (did so especially in the two road wins over the Jazz).

2) From an NBA handicapping point of view NBA playoff games also inevitably become half-court affairs. With Bent Pretzel Ear now seeming healthy, the Lakers have the outside shooting 'closer' and the Suns much figure to have major problems dealing with especially the length of Pau (AKA Hairy Apple Head) Gasol up front. Of note is that in his longest playing stint in the four regular season games against the Lakers Robin Lopez garnered zero rebounds.

3) In terms of the significance of the four regular season Sun-Laker match-ups, the first two in LA mean little in this series (in both games the Suns were run off the court early in the season in back-to-back fatigue spots). The Suns now are far better than the fatigue-handicapped Suns of those games. However, in the first of these Laker easy wins, Hairy Apple Head did NOT play.The two later games (played on 12/28/09 and 3/12/10) were split in Phoenix. In the Sun 118-103 win in the first of these games Laker defensive specialist Ron (AKA Giant Meatball Head) Artest did NOT play. Of major note in the second of these games (the closest of the four games, as the Lakers won 102-96) were that the Lakers got the one road win of the season series and it was played during the poor Los Angeles Laker 11-10 regular season finish and also during the hot 28-7 (12-3 at home) close to the Phoenix Sun season.

4) In his NBA coaching career, Laker head coach Phil (AKA Donut Mushtache) is an almost perfect 46-1 in series in which his team has the home court edge (one loss came in the 2004 Finals loss to the Detroit Pistons).

I realize that the Suns might still be even better than I thought. They DO have the bench edge. They ARE being belittled and underrated by most of the media in terms of their chances of winning this series. (This HAS to help their chances and also hurt the Laker chances in this series.) It might be that the Lakers again 'fall asleep.' Thus while a Sun win might be somewhat of an upset, it would not be a total shock. Still for the record, I am selecting the Lakers though I much suspect that during this series that I will probably be placing more bets on the Phoenix Suns (game sides, quarter, half-time or in-game ones) than on the Los Angeles Lakers. In Game One (line mostly Los Angeles Lakers -6) I would have the slightest of point-spread and handicapping leans to the Phoenix Suns.
Prediction: Lakers in 6

Boston Celtics-Orlando Magic
Last year in this (second round instead of conference final) NBA series, the Orlando Magic become the first (and still only) Celtic opponent ever to overcome a Celtic 3-2 game lead and come back to defeat them. Of note in this series: 1) The Orlando Magic overcame a ten point third quarter deficit in the sixth game (at home) to force a seventh game in which they blew the home Boston Celtics off the court (101-82). 2) Two key participants in this year's series, Kevin (AKA Leaky Pipe Neck) Garnett of the Celtics and Jameer Nelson of the Magic (who returned in the Finals two series later) were sidelined in last year's series. 3) My then podiatrist (Giant Bunion Head)--since 'pared away' from my foot care as he was shown to be a far worse podiatrist than a sports handicapper made one of this rather few correct predictions in picking the Magic in this series (while I sided with and lost series bets on the Boston Celtics). (Later on in the playoffs, Giant Bunion Head returned 'to his usual form' in picking the Cleveland Cavaliers in five over the Orlando Magic and then the Orlando Magic in five over the Los Angeles Lakers.)

Unlike their series last year (when the Orlando Magic finished strong in it after struggling somewhat early and the Celtics missed Leaky Pipe Neck throughout this series) both teams are now playing in their peak form of the 2009-2010 season. Both have all key players in good health at its start.

Here is why I feel that the Boston Celtics can and WILL pull off the upset:

1) The Boston Celtics got a far better 'tune-up' for this round than any of the other three teams in it, especially the Orlando Magic. Though the Celtics had the major lucky break of being able to face a mostly physically sub-par Cav team in the last round (probably about a 114 team with Zucchini Ears being mostly physically sub-par) this was still a far superior team than the two teams (the 109 Charlotte Bobcats and 110 Atlanta Hawks) that the Magic blew out in sweeps. The Magic had this exact sort of edge last year in being able to face a Cav team coming of two sweeps in their prior series (against a Detroit Piston team ready to go home and against an injured Atlanta Hawk team that was really 'just happy to be there' in the second round) while they had to battle to the end in beating the Celtics (and had an unexpected challenge in a first round six game series against a 40 win Philadelphia 76er team--who actually led that series 2-1). While Magic coach Stan (AKA Apple Mustache) Van Gundy has endlessly been pointing out this fact to his players, the fact is that his constant screaming at the Magic players has caused many of them to 'tune him out.'

1A) From a psychological point of view, the Boston Celtics had things even rougher than mentioned above as compared to the Magic in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Miami Heat and its superstar, Dwayne (AKA The Giant Lab Rat) Wade badly wanted to advance beyond the first round this year. (They lost in seven last year in it to the Hawks.) The rather dumb pre-series analysis of the media made the Heat (many media pundits called the Miami Heat the 'upset special' of the first round--which made many of these pundits who actually are willing to back their opinions with money make their life-time sports betting red bottom line even redder) made the Heat actually believe that they WOULD win this series. And they ended up most disappointed they did not. In the second round, the Boston Celtics not only were facing a Cleveland Cavalier team that not only was an elite one (even--as mentioned above--having a mostly sub-par Zucchini Ears), but one for whom anything less than an NBA title would make the season a total failure plus one that wanted revenge for a close seven game loss to the Celtics in the 2008 playoffs.

Meanwhile the Olrando Magic defeated a Charlotte Bobcat team in its first ever playoff appearance (and thus truly 'happy to be there') and then a very overrated Atlanta Hawk team that did not belong on the same court with them (and one that often said in their three double digit regular season losses to the Magic said how 'this was a horrible match-up' for them'). I much suspect that if the Hawk players were given a lie detector test BEFORE this series began and said how 'they would win it' that the needle on the lie detector machine would have jumped through the roof (this, of course assumes that no Hawk players are pathological liars--one or two of which I have met in my life, including a one time most 'significant other' named The Dog in the Toyota Commercial). Thus, again this series is a FAR bigger step up in class for the Orlando Magic than it is for the Boston Celtics.

2) Speaking of Apple Mustache and his ceaseless screaming, if this series is close Apple Mustache's increasing hysteria could have a very negative effect. It nearly cost the Magic the Celtic series last year (and later was a key reason for two seemingly won games in the Finals to be lost). Thus Apple Mustache might be a sort of 'rotten' influence in this series!!

3) The major reason that the Magic have been so efficient on offense is the basic setup of it. Dwight (AKA The Monster Man) Howard sets up inside. Virtually no team (certainly neither of the Magic sweep victims) had anyone who could cope by himself with The Monster Man. When single teamed he scored almost at will (though was badly hampered by foul trouble in the Bobcat series, which made those games closer than they normally would have been). And when he inevitably got double teamed, the Monster Man passed out and eventually an open (often a three point) shooter was found who hit a high percentage. However as was shown in last year's playoffs and in just about all during the four regular season match-ups, the Celtics have someone in Kendrick Perkins who not only can match-up in physical strength with The Monster Man, but can also frustrate him into committing fouls. Thus in this series, The Monster Man's stats won't be as good and even more important the Magic suddenly will see their outside shooting percentage go down since all of a sudden their usual open shots will often no longer exist. Of note is that in their four regular season match-ups the Magic never scored over 96 points and averaged just 88 points in them or over 14 1/2 points less than they averaged overall. (In the Hawk series blowout, the Magic--who averaged almost 107 points against them in the three games they cared about--averaged just about the same amount (a shade over 107 points per game) in their playoff win.)

4) Rajon Rondo will provide Magic point guard Jameer Nelson with his toughest matchup in the playoffs thus far. He will certainly be a major step-up over Hawk starting over-the-hill point guard Mike (AKA Coffee Hairline) Bibby. Rondo will not only make Nelson's setting up the Magic offense tougher with his tough defense but will tire out Nelson somewhat on defense with his super speed. Which will also negatively effect his outside shooting.

5) As I have often said, revenge for a playoff loss from the previous year tends to take place when competitve teams are matched up (as we saw already in the Spur win over the Mavs). This happens even more often when the loss the prior year went the full seven games as happened in last year's Magic series win. The Celtics well remember the Magic celebrating their 101-82 series clinching win on their court. This memory is foremost in their minds, we can be sure. The Celtics will thus be inspired to avoid losing this series. This is a major handicapping edge in the Celtics favor.

6) The seemingly most potential Finals matchup is a Los AngelesLaker-Orlando Magic one. As do the Celtics in the 2009 Magic series win over them, the Magic well remember the Los Angeles Lakers celebrating their championship win on the Magic home court last year. Thus while Apple Mustache will be screaming at the Magic players not to let down in this series, it might well be that they will tune him out and be thinking of the revenge they want in their NEXT series (especially if the Lakers jump out to a series lead over the Suns). Thus, in NBA handicapping terms, the Magic might even be somewhat 'looking past' this series.

6A) Teams that reach and lose in The Finals figure to be motivated to get back to them and then win. But fact is that teams that lose in The Finals have a recent poor record in returning to them. Since 1990, the 20 prior year losers in The Finals have gotten back to them just three of 20 times (and winning just once in their return--done by the Lakers of last year, who were aided by nine time Finals winning coach, Phil--AKA Donut Mustache--Jackson). Since the 1990 NBA playoffs, the team that lost in The Finals got knocked out of next year's playoffs an incredible NINE times the next year by a team that they defeated in their title round run the previous year. And on two of these nine occaisions, it was to a team that they had beaten in seven games the prior year (1995 with the New York Knicks to the Indiana Pacers and 2006 with the Detroit Pistons to the Miami Heat). And as is the potential case this season, the team getting the revenge did DID NOT have the home court edge in the re-match.

Being a strong defensive team with players with decent playoff experience (seven Celtic players--all of them firmly in the rotation for this series--played on the 2008 Celtic title winning team and two others, Rasheed--AKA Pirate Teeth--Wallace and lesser used Michael--AKA Cow Ears--Finley have played on title teams.) also helps to make the Celtics a most live underdog in this series. This combination, the revenge factor, and the far better preparation for this series should make the difference as the Celtics advance in seven games.

The Celtics should also be good point-spread bets in most games of this series.

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