[This is a guest post by Denverite. Dammit, apparently I can’t even use my “National Chalk Association” joke this year.]
It struck me that Scott does one of these for every professional sport *except* the one that most closely matches LGM’s politics, so I thought I’d do one myself. So, with no further adieu (I used a French word that rhymes with Lemieux!), here are Denverite’s NBA playoff first round predictions:
(1) GSW v. (8) LAC: Can we talk about the Clips for a sec? They’re such a fun story. Danilo Gallinari looks like a fashion model! Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has arms that go down to his knees! Lou Williams looks like Bubbles from the Wire if he stayed sober and spent a lot of time working on his jumper! Doc Rivers is such a great coach (I’m actually being serious here, he’s great)! But more than anything, dear god did the front office fuck up. They traded their best player in an attempt to tank — and then they didn’t tank. Instead, they kept the rump roster intact — a bunch of good-but-not-great players who will win more than they lose, even in the West. The result? 48 wins and a first round match-up against the Dubs. What’s the point? If you’re going to tank, TANK. Otherwise, keep your best player. I mean, have fun competing in the West over the next few years with an already-very-good Nuggets team with several really good players just now entering their primes, really interesting young teams in Sacramento and Dallas, and a Lakers team that looks primed to get all of the free agent stars (ALL OF THEM) over the next few years. Good luck with that with a not-young roster that lacks any stars. Dubs in four.(4)
HOU v. (5) UTA: Ooooh, me likey. These are two of the best three teams in the West, and I’m not sure they’re not two of the best three teams in the NBA period right now. I’d say that I was looking forward to watching this series, except watching Houston is like popping a boil on your dick. I guess there’s some satisfaction when you’re done, but Jesus it hurts and you see stars while it’s happening. James Harden — may he get lice in his stupid beard — is a great player, and by “great” I mean he studies the rule book for several hours a day to figure out all the esoteric ways he can draw a completely bullshit foul and end up going 5 for 16 from the field and yet finishing with 34 points. Utah, on the other hand, is a really good and fun team to watch. Joe Ingles shows that just because you are a late-fortysomething unathletic white guy, it doesn’t mean you can’t play in the NBA. Rudy Gobert is the best defensive player in the NBA even if he’s French and I don’t trust anyone who is from somewhere where French is the official language or at least one of two official languages. I still think Donovan Mitchell is an overrated, high-usage chucker, but I’m coming around to the view that I might be wrong. I’m going a little with the heart over the head here, but Jazz in six.
(3) POR v. (6) OKC: If only Jusef Nurkic were healthy. Alas, the Bosnian Beast is nursing a broken leg. Portland has a stellar backcourt, with Dame Lillard probably on the fringes of the MVP conversation. Portland is also a wonderful city but a tough place to play as the road team in professional basketball, and the Blazers have home court advantage for the series. Alas, they’re missing their very good center, which is a problem because OKC can’t really shoot outside of Paul George, so they depend heavily on points at the rim, especially from Russ and Khal Drogo. A 7’1″ monster would have complicated that approach. For its part, OKC has played like dog butt since the All-Star break, with George backing off his MVP pace to just being pretty good. Russ had his worst shooting year as a pro, despite averaging a triple double (again!). On the other hand, they are absolutely built for the playoffs, with a slow, methodical style that relies on a stifling defense and points in the paint. Bottom line: I’d pick Portland if Nurkic was healthy, but he’s not, so OKC in seven.(2)
DEN v. (7) SAS: Ah, the main course. I thought this was going to be a sexy upset pick, but everyone I have seen so far has picked Denver. The Spurs’ big advantage is their coach. Pop is basically the NBA version of Bill Belichick, if Belichick was an unabashed liberal and feminist who hired the league’s first female assistant and is widely rumored to be demanding that she be named his successor when he stands down. (Hat tip to the NBA: teams — including the Nuggets, with legend Sue “DIE BITCHES” Bird — are starting to hire WNBA players and coaches for their coaching staffs and front offices, which is long overdue. I am very self-interested in this, but women can fucking hoop and they know basketball; HIRE THEM, NBA. Also, WNBA players should be paid the prorated NBA minimum, but whatevs.) Plus the Nuggets have been playing like ass the last month or so. On the other hand, the Nuggets have one of the six best basketball players on the planet (even he has been described as “he looks like he’s playing in flip-flops”) and the biggest home court advantage in all of sports (per 538), and they have more home games in this series. Funnily enough, I’d like the Nuggets better if they started in San Antonio and could have a game or two to get their feet wet, but I’ve got a feeling they’re going to drop one of the first two games, and I expect the Spurs to close it out from there. Hard-fought series, and I’m probably erring on the side of head over heart, but Spurs in six. (Don’t feel too bad, Denver has a very bright future, with a great core who is all under 25; they’ll be in the NBA Finals next year.)
EASTERN CONFERENCE(1) MIL v. (8) DET: Hat tip to Milwaukee as the only 60-win team in the NBA this year. Giannis is the best or second best player in the NBA, and most of his supporting cast took big leaps. Detroit snuck into the playoffs with a .500 record. I’m not going to bother. Hard pass. Bucks in four.
(4) BOS v. (5) IND: For a good team, the Celtics are such a disaster. They’re a bunch of good pieces, and nothing seems to fit together. Jayson Tatum (did you know he’s only 21? Huh? Ever heard about that? So young. SO YOUNG) basically had the same season as last year with slightly higher usage, which is great and all, but most really good young players make a leap in their second year. Jokic, for example, went from 6.7 win shares to 9.7 win shares. Giannis went from 1.2 to 6.1. Tatum dropped from 7.1 to 5.0, and his FG% and 3P% both dipped. Hayward never seemed to be fully healthy. Jaylen Brown regressed a little. I love me some Al Horford, but he’ll be 33 here in a couple of months. And now the heart of the team — Marcus Smart — is out. Yikes. What a mess. Indiana is no great shakes either, with their best player getting injured midseason. Their current best player is a top five guy from the former Yugoslavia (note: if Yugoslavia was still a thing, a lineup of Luka-Bogdan-Nikola M-Jokic-Boban would be sooooo good and would be reeeaaallly competitive with the US even though Bogdan would have trouble guarding Harden or Klay or whomever is at the 2). (Note #2: Sabonis is a smaller, much-less-talented version of his father. He also has a legitimate case for Sixth Man of the Year. How good would Arvidas have been if he had come over here before he was an old man? Peak Walton but not hurt all the time? Russell? WILT? Like I said above, Jokic is a top six NBA player at the age of 24 and he’s basically Sabonis Lite — court vision and intelligence, but much less athleticism. It boggles the mind.) Boston has more talent, but they are such a dumpster fire. Pacers in six.
(3) PHI v. (6) BKN: As a Nuggets fan, all I have to say, is fuck the Process. I’m not sure I’d take a single Sixers young player over his Denver equivalent. Jokic vs. Embiid? Give me the guy that is always healthy and you can run your offense through him. Simmons vs. Murray? Sorry, no non-shooters on my team, chump. Ironically, the thing that really stands the Sixers apart is their older veterans. Reddick is one of the best shooters in NBA history. Butler is a jackass, but he can play. Tobias Harris? Remember that best player the Clippers traded I talked about above? Yeah, that’s him. (Incidentally, he’ll be a free agent, and I’d LOVE if the Nuggets were in the market.) Meanwhile, I don’t know much about the Nets. D’Angelo Russell obviously is probably going to win the Most Improved Player award. Spencer Dinwiddie is maybe the second best player to come out of the University of Colorado after Chauncey Billups (though Derrick White is quietly making a case in San Antonio, plus he went to one of my kid’s rival high schools, so I have a sweet spot for him). Joe Harris is a shooter, which is always fun. But no one averages more than 8.6 rebounds, and no one averages more than 4.6 assists. To put it bluntly, there are no stars; Brooklyn is the East’s equivalent of the Clips. You can’t win like that. Sixers in five.
(2) TOR v. (7) ORL: The Raptors are an interesting team. They’ve been a top seed in the East for seemingly forever, and yet they always seemed to get snakebit by running into near-prime LeBron in the early rounds. This year is a little different, because (a) they have an elite-level two-way player in Kawhi Leonard, and (b) LeBron is sitting at home, drinking a $90 glass of wine, and throwing shit at framed pictures of Jeannie Buss and Luke Walton. Orlando has some interesting pieces, including the second best 7’0″ guy named “Nikola” in the league. Aaron Gordon can PLAY. DJ Augustin is one of the better short players in the league. Good job Orlando. Good effort! But Toronto is one of the elite teams in the NBA, and the refs have no obvious reasons to throw the game to the other team. It will be interesting to see whether Kawhi stays or goes to LA — I’d bet the former; who doesn’t like Toronto? I had curried goat at an Indian place there one time and it was delicious — but in this series, it doesn’t matter. The North in five.