Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Hollywood vs. The Magic Kingdom

Folks, welcome to the first annual celebration that will be now known as "The WAD picked the C's in 6 and Paul Pierce to win the MVP in '08 Day." That's right, in case you forgot, and as often as I've reminded you I'm not sure how you could, I nailed last year's Finals. Unfortunately, no matter what Shane Falco says, glory does not last forever. You are only as good as your last prediction. And, considering that I loudly proclaimed the Magic had no chance of beating the Cavs, I'm not very good right now. In my defense, I made that prediction before two things happened: 1) Stan Van Gundy morphed from the "Master of Panic" into a steady and solid leader of men, much like Doc Rivers before him; and 2) we learned that Big Z, Ben Wallace, and Joe Smith died at some point this season, and Moe Williams is a graduate of the Karl Malone School of Clutch. At any rate, its time for the '09 Finals, and as the great Roger Dorn said, "let's cut through the crap". (Yes, I just managed to make a "The Replacements" and "Major League" reference in less than 200 words. I'm beyond excited about this). Here's a 7 prong preview of the Finals:

7) The much anticipated Pau Gasol v. Dwight Howard match up is secretly a terrible mis-match. Before I go any further, let me just say that I am a HUGE Dwight Howard fan, and I am very excited about watching him play for the next 10-12 know it's coming....are you ready?....BUT, this is a terrible match up for him. Here's the deal: We are going to see a lot of Andrew Bynum in this series, and he, not Pau, will be matched up on Dwight. The reason? Well, it's two fold: 1) I think we learned in the Cavs series that you simply cannot afford to double Dwight and leave the perimeter shooters; and 2) If you are going to single the guy and concede 30 -40 points a game, you might as well just put Bynum on him and let him accumulate the fouls. Not to mention, you might even see Odom and Ariza take limited shots at Dwight just to mix things up. Again, the goal is not to stop Dwight from scoring, it's to cover the perimeter and keep Lewis, Alston, Pietrus, the Turkish Jordan, etc... from killing you the way they killed the Cavs. Oh, one more thing: Pau is a dreadful defender, so you gain nothing from having him guard Dwight.

Now, on the flip side, if you are the Magic, Dwight has to guard Pau, you have no other options. Well, we know that, as bad a defender as Pau is, he far more than makes up for it on the offensive end. He's active, aggressive, and creative on the block. He can even step out, give you the head fake, and go to the rim. In other words, he is a nightmare to defend. And, we also know that Dwight is more than a little foul prone. Bottom line is that Dwight might put up big numbers, but he is going to be constantly battling foul trouble, and he is going to be spending key fourth quarter minutes on the bench while Pau is going to be spending those minutes battling the likes of Marcin Gortat. If you are one of the 18 Magic fans out there, you just threw up a little.

6) What do we make of this Jameer Nelson situation? Honestly, I have no idea, and I can't imagine the Magic do either. As a matter of full disclosure, Jameer has been one of my favorite players since his days at St. Joe's. He's one of the top 5 college point guards I've ever seen in person. I'm not going to debate that here, but I'm more than happy to do so any time you want to buy me beers. That being said, this is a terrible injury he is trying to rush back from, and I would be shocked if was able to contribute offensively. He, however, could possibly be able to bring short stints of defensive pressure on the Lakers line of atrocious point guards, if nothing else. That, however, might even be wishful thinking. At the end of the day, we just have to wait and see. In all likelihood, however, as much as I wish it wasn't so, this story is probably much adieu about nothing. I just don't see Jameer making much of an impact on this series.

5) Pop quiz: of all the players in the NBA Finals, which player has the best +/- rating? If you guessed Kobe, Dwight, Hedu, Pau, or Rashard Lewis, you would be wrong. If, however, you chose Lamar Odom, you would be right. That's right, arguably the most maligned and criticized player in these finals, at least statistically, has the biggest positive impact for his team when he's on the floor. I'm not sure this has anything to do with who will win or lose the Finals, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I've got your back, L.O.!

4) As for the coaching match-up, the easy analysis tells you that the Lakers have the clear edge. This is, in part, because Phil Jackson has 9 rings and is the most decorated and celebrated coach of our lifetime. And, of course, part of it is that it has become cool and hip to degrade Van Gundy, whether it be for allegedly panicking or because he looks like a porn star. But, frankly, that is way too simplistic, and it is unfair to Van Gundy.

In these playoffs, Van Gundy made some phenomenal adjustments in the Celtics series and led his team back from down 3-2 to win a game 7 on the road in the Garden. Then, against the Cavs, he kept his team together when they fell behind by 20+ in both games 1 and 2, and then kept them together after Lebron's legendary game winner in game 2. In other words, regardless of his appearance, and regardless of the fact that he's made some dubious decisions along the way, he has done an amazing job coaching this team into the NBA Finals.

On the other hand, we have Phil Jackson, who, frankly, looks like he is about as interested in these playoffs as I am in watching "Leverage" on TNT (just a dreadful show, trust me on this one). Seriously, I'm not sure if it's boredom or anger, but he has not once looked like a man that is excited about being where he is. Personally, I think his second book about Kobe is going to be phenomenal. And, I think there is at least a 20% chance he punches Kobe or LO in this series. In other words, this is clearly a man that doesn't like his players, isn't happy doing what he is doing, and is arrogant enough to think that he is going to win because he's Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy is, well, the Hedgehog. All this could ultimately add up to the unthinkable: SVG could very easily out coach Phil Jackson in this series. I'm not even kidding.

3) Prediction #1: Jeff Van Gundy's head is going to explode as he tries to announce this series with objectivity. Pay close attention as Mark Jackson takes little jabs at him and SVG. These guys are the best basketball announcing crew in the world (only because CBS stupidly won't put Gus and Raf together for the NCAA Tournament), and it is going to be tremendous listening to them throughout this series. While we are here, Mike Breen and Ernie Johnson, Jr. both deserve induction into the basketball hall of fame. No point guard in the history of the game has ever held a team together with the precision these guys show night in and night out. If we ever have another Middle East Peace Conference, we should definitely put these guys in the middle to moderate. I know, I'm not making much sense right now. Moving on....

2) Prediction #2: The officials will make a call that will absolutely swing this series in one direction. It's been brewing all post season, and there is no way to avoid it. Given the refs treatment of the Mamba, I have a bad feeling for the Magic fans.

1) Ultimate Prediction: My hands are literally shaking as I'm writing this, but the Mamba is going to get his fourth ring. Despite the fact that he was atrocious in the '04 and '08 Finals, and despite the fact that he quit on his team in the '06 Playoffs, this is a different Mamba (Yes, I felt obligated to remind you of his greatest failures, deal with it!). He is playing like a man possessed, and frankly, he is playing with the desperation of a man that knows this is his last best chance at solidifying his legacy. He's not quite at the Billy Chapel level, but he's not far off. Plus, let's not forget that he has a lot of help. Pau Gasol is the best offensive center in the league, and Ariza and Odom are much better than people like to admit. I believe that every game will be close, but I think Kobe will too tough in the clutch. When it's all said and done, the Lakers win in 5 (after a horrible call in Game 4 prevents the Magic from tying the series), and the Mamba wins the Finals MVP, and finally, after 13 controversial and turbulent seasons, vaults into the top 10 greatest players of all time. Even I can't deny him that, even if the guy did give himself a nickname.

Before I go, I have two quick random thoughts:

- What is Nike going to do about the puppets now that Lebron is out? I'm sure they have something in store for us, but I'm just not certain what it will be. Is it possible, and I'm just talking out loud, that there is an MJ puppet in our future? Actually, I can't believe I just wrote that. If MJ allows himself, even in puppet form, to be associated with Kobe in any way, it will be proof of two things: 1) Divorce really kills you financially, and you can't afford to say no to money, no matter how degrading the circumstances; and 2) Life as I've known it is over.

- I've already received two dozen emails tonight asking for my thoughts on the Braves releasing Tom Glavine. All I will say about this is that this is a very difficult time, and I would ask that you respect my privacy as I cope with the end of the Braves franchise as I've known and loved it. Seriously, from a current personnel perspective, the move really isn't a huge deal, but it's just symbolic of the continued demise of the franchise as it drifts further and further from what used to be. I'm certain I will address this, as well as many other Braves issues in the near future, but for now, suffice it to say that I'm not thrilled with anything going on down at Turner Field. In fact, I'm very close to losing all hope. And, despite what Andy told Red, I'm afraid that hope can die, especially when it's buried under a boring and mediocre baseball team.