Grantland is brimming with NBA playoff excitement. You may have already noticed. Since we couldn't wait for the games to get going, we asked our staff to make three predictions — one realistic, one reach, one pipe dream.
Realistic: Whoever ends up playing Dallas (Ed. note: It's Oklahoma City.) loses (or very nearly loses) in seven games. I realize they've had a bad season. But they have a guy who can score with his back to the basket from 10 feet away, and that's the single-most important aspect of any playoff series.
Reach: The Clippers lose to Memphis at the free throw line. This will be a tight, six-game affair. Los Angeles will lose two games by missing free throws in the final two minutes.
Pipe Dream: Chris Bosh is named MVP of the NBA Finals. I imagine a Heat-Lakers final. Wade gets hurt. LeBron and Kobe cancel each other out. It comes down to Bosh vs. Gasol and Bynum. Somehow, Bosh goes 10-of-14 in Game 6 and has 24 and 13 in Game 7. No one is happy, including his teammates.
Realistic: Dwyane Wade will react to something LeBron James does with a facial expression people talk about.
1. Scowl: 52 percent
2. Sneer: 27 percent
3. Smirk: 11 percent
4. Coy simper that says, "No, that wasn't your fault, but the idea that you freeze in pressure situations has taken hold to the point that it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy, and there's no way I'm getting blamed for this": 6 percent
5. Condescending pregame parking-garage chuckle to the effect that that was a nice try with the lilac gingham OCBD under the avocado cashmere vest but that shit is anemic next to this burnt-orange Wes Anderson–worn three-piece corduroy suit with silver Prince of Wales pocket watch: 3.9 percent
6. Look of happy awe at the realization that LeBron is actually an unprecedented basketball talent and we should all just enjoy his gift: 0.1 percent
Reach: The Hawks will beat the Celtics in Round 1. The Celtics have been pwning some fools lately (a reference that was still current the last time they looked this dangerous), completely belying the idea that the compressed lockout schedule would hurt older teams. But, I mean … it's totally going to, right? The Hawks have played the C's tough in all three games they've had against them this season (Atlanta's 97-92 win last week was admittedly against a Boston team that didn't have Pierce, Garnett, Allen, Rondo, or Pietrus, but I'm taking the data point). The Hawks are mostly in their 20s, whereas Ray Allen is guest-starring on this week's Mad Men … as himself. A couple of sore knees, gamy ankles, bad trips to the early-bird special at Luby's, or denture malfunctions against a team that already provides the Celtics with a couple of matchup problems (Smith/Johnson/Allen/Garnett) could extend the series and conceivably plunk Boston into a technically-not-even-terribly-early grave.
Wait, what am I saying? The Hawks suck. This prediction is way less likely than …
Pipe dream: Russell Westbrook will be named the MVP of the Finals. Because sometimes America needs to shut up. Give this one a chance. He's talented enough, he's working on four years of repressed rage and frustration, and he obviously craves the big moment like a noir protagonist craves the femme fatale whose beauty will eventually destroy him. Do we really have any idea how he'd react in a Finals Game 7–type situation? And yes, most people would say that he'd force it, make a bunch of comically terrible decisions, and ice the game with an air ball, like Kobe during his freshman year with the Lakers. But I don't know. I think Westbrook plays with a constant kind of low electrical hum in his head, which gets louder the bigger the moment gets. We've seen that he's not always spectacular when the hum hits six or seven (or two or three, on a bad night). What about when it hits 10, though? Maybe he just explodes.
We still don't know how clutch Durant is, or how he'd deal with carrying OKC deep against the Heat or the Bulls. Say Durant shies away from the moment, or the Heat/Bulls quintuple-team him or whatever. Couldn't Westbrook, who seems to have constructed his entire adult self around the prospect of seizing a moment with his teeth, seize the moment with his teeth? And OK, sure, it's crazy to suggest that Westbrook could dominate against a Finals-class Eastern Conference defense. Crazy stuff happens!
Shut up, America.
Realistic: The Lakers will win the Western Conference. The game slows down in the playoffs and the Lakers have a guy who can get his shot wherever he wants on the perimeter (Kobe), a guy who can get his shot wherever he wants in the post (Bynum), and a guy who can get his shot wherever he wants after dunking (World Peace).
Reach: The Knicks will beat the Heat in the first round. Follow me now: Carmelo gets hot and the Knicks steal one of the first two games in Miami, they split the first two games in the Garden, and then the morning of the pivotal Game 5 in Miami, MediaTakeOut.com reports that Jeremy Lin actually tore his meniscus coitusing LeBron’s mom. LeBron devastated. Series over.
Pipe Dream: Rajon Rondo reveals his true identity … as the Geico Lizard. This one is self-explanatory.
Realistic: LeBron James wins Finals MVP. The worm has to turn, the other shoe has to drop, the light bulb has to go on. More than ever ("ever" being two seasons) this is starting to feel like LeBron's team. When people talk about LeBron's insane, lock-MVP year, they do so with a sigh since he's just going to throw it away in the playoffs. Not this year. There's something — maybe the sustained runs of games without Wade and his performance in said games — that makes me feel like this is finally LeBron's team (finally … after two seasons). I may very much regret how sure I feel about this call when he is, in the words of Billy Hoyle, building a shelter for the homeless with all the bricks he's putting up in the Finals or conference finals. But for now I believe. Let's witness it. Finally.
Reach: Vinny Del Negro gets called out publicly by his players. I can feel it coming in the air tonight. Chris Paul playing a drum solo on VDN's I've-got-this-piece-of-paper-hence-I'm-a-boss management style. The scenario feels so right when I type it: Clippers on the verge of elimination in the first round against a Memphis team that won't back down from Blake's stares or Kenyon's finger-pointing. What they need is a game plan, a system, a map. What they have is the Blind Magellan. Why wait till the offseason to throw him under the bus? Why not say what we all already know? Where this team goes, Paul takes them. It's time to move Chauncey over a seat or two on the bench.
Pipe Dream: Utah beats San Antonio in a seven-game first-round series. Oh, did I drop something? My Gordon Hayward–Devin Harris Fan Club card? My bad. The other day I saw Tiago Splitter make an errant behind-the-back pass while driving through the lane. Gregg Popovich, not wearing a tie, barely batted an eye. This is definitely not going to happen, but there's something to be said about the same kind of overhype and overconfidence that killed the Packers in the NFL playoffs. They play a different sport, you say? YOU'RE PLAYING A DIFFERENT SPORT. This is my pipe dream.
Realistic: The Clippers will beat Memphis in the first round. I don't care that Memphis has home-court, or that everyone I work with is riding the Grizzlies' ursine jocks. The Clippers have guys who can score for three quarters, and then they have Chris Paul.
Reach: The Orlando Magic will win their first-round series. The Ewing Theory gods will smile on the bedraggled survivors of L'Affaire Howard.
Pipe Dream: Hedo Turkoglu will win his first NBA Finals MVP. Which means Mr. Pizza will carry the Magic to the franchise's first NBA title and light the fuse for the strangest offseason ever, in which the Orlando front office tries to engineer a regime change for their NBA-championship-winning, Diet Pepsi–sipping head coach so that they can appease the wanton demands of Dwight Howard.
Charles P. Pierce
Realistic: Miami loses short of the conference finals. Right now this team is not entirely healthy, and it looks like it's possessed of the same amount of fellowship and good feeling that existed at Antietam Creek. If we're all really lucky, a general hooley will break out during a TV timeout.
Reach: Indiana makes the NBA Finals. (Cue the Laurence Olivier Marathon Man voice.) You all laughed at Roy Hibbert, didn't you? DIDN'T YOU? You're not laughing now, are you? ARE YOU? Is it safe?
Pipe Dream: Upon his return, Metta World Peace is not treated as a symptom of something more important than basketball. He threw a 'bow. He got caught. He got punished. End of story. Except I guarantee that, within minutes of his returning to action, someone somewhere is going to start talking about rap music.
Realistic: The Spurs will win the NBA Finals. I can't tell if this is 'realistic' or a 'reach' based on coastal bias. The Spurs will have trouble with teams with bigger interiors, but their offensive efficiency from the pick-n-roll will prevail, since Tim Duncan will no longer be ineffective in the post. If the Spurs win, they will be relying on the 3-pointer and Tony Parker's solo fast break offense, plus they do have the defensive personnel to hound any star in the league. On top of all that, much of the Spurs' success comes at the peril of the Suns. If the Spurs win these Finals, it will make the Suns lament their decisions that led them to try to look like the rest of the NBA, instead of pioneering a new style of small ball.
Reach: The Orlando Magic will defeat the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs. Even though the Pacers are closing out the season on a hot streak, I'd like to think that the Magic are motivated to make some noise without Dwight Howard. Ultimately, I am rooting for this so that it's more difficult for Howard to bail on them. They 'have enough talent to win without him' and a coach who can win a playoff series that they aren't expected to. What else could he be looking for?
Pipe Dream: Matt Bonner will hold the record for most 3s made in a playoff game. As of now, Rex Chapman, Vince Carter, Ray Allen, and Jason Terry are tied for the record with nine each. Upon all of Bonner's attempts, fans will watch in horror as he releases every shot from his 'unorthodox' aka ugly form. By the end of the night, every boy in America will be in their driveway, adjusting their shot to look like his. After his definitive 3-point performance, Bonner will finally be invited to the 3-point contest during All-Star Weekend next year, and we'll get to find out if the ultimate set-shooter can even make it thru all five racks of balls.
Jay Caspian Kang
Realistic: The Lakers will win the NBA championship. A lot of this hinges on Kobe's health, but I keep having flashbacks to their series against Phoenix back in 2010. I just don't see how Oklahoma City beats them four times, unless Gasol disappears in the playoffs for the second year in a row. (READ: VERY POSSIBLE.) If they end up meeting the Heat in the Finals, does anyone really think that Bosh and Joel Anthony can handle the Laker frontcourt?
Reach: Kevin Durant will have a disappointing playoffs, the Thunder will lose in Round 2, and all the questions about Russell and Kevin will flare up going into the offseason. Westbrook just seems to have that panic gene in his head, where if the game gets tight, he's going to be running at full speed and jacking up pull-up jumpers from the free throw line. He did it in high school. He did it in college. He has done it as a pro. Where's the evidence he's just wired this way? And where's the evidence that Scotty Brooks knows how to make his point guard stop doing what he's doing?
Pipe Dream: Ty Lawson averages 30 points a game and takes the Lakers to Game 7.
Realistic: Metta World Peace’s playoffs are over before they start — and rightly so for the vicious elbow to James Harden's head. I don’t care if the Lakers make it into the second round and his suspension is over. I can’t imagine him being mentally strong enough to keep playing as well as he has these last few weeks. It's possible (likely, even) that Lakers will meet the Thunder in Round 2, but Artest won't find the atmosphere he needs to effectively guard Durant. He'll be a non-factor, the Lakers will struggle without him effectively guarding Kevin Durant, and they will bow out in the second round again this year.
Reach: Memphis wins it all and Tony Allen is Finals MVP. This leaves us with a summer of deciphering his cryptic tweets.
Pipe Dream: The Magic escape the first round and Dwight Howard somehow returns from back surgery for the conference semifinals against the Miami Heat. Howard gets frustrated over his lack of touches and asks — yet again — for Stan Van Gundy to be fired. Van Gundy is fired after the first game and the Magic anoint Howard player-coach. Van Gundy joins ESPN/ABC’s team and announces the game with his brother, Jeff, and Mike Breen. Meanwhile, things continue to spiral for the Magic when Howard demands a phone booth near the court so he can change from his jersey to a suit befitting a coach during timeouts.
Realistic: The Celtics lose to the Hawks in six. Next question.
Reach: The combined Game 1 TV ratings of Spurs-Jazz and Pacers-Magic will be less than Episode 3 of Girls.
Pipe Dream: If the Knicks beat the Heat, they win the title. Yes. I went there.