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The Detroit Anticlimactics

 

The Pistons are too good

 

By Adam Hoff

 

Iíll admit that the second round of the NBA playoffs has been pretty brutal up to this point.  One sloppy game that went down to the wire (Spurs-Mavs, Game 1), one exciting game (Suns-Clippers, Game 1), and six blowouts (everything else).  After an unbelievable first round that featured the epic Suns-Lakers series, the bizarre Kobe subplots, LeBronís ascension to glory, and the improbable resurgence of Bonzi Wells, it is only natural that we would experience a brief lull.  Hopefully it is just a calm before a storm of great games. 

 

Either way, there is no denying that the NBA is ďsurging!Ē (use your best Bill Walton voice) right now.  There is the infusion of young superstars like LeBron, Wade, ĎMelo (even though he was horrific in round one), and Arenas.  There are the budding Lakers-Suns, Lakers-Clippers, and Cavs-Wizards rivalries to pair with the existing Kobe-Shaq, Wade-LeBron, Heat-Pistons, and Spurs-Mavs showdowns.  Chris Paul Ė the most important point guard to come into the league since Magic Ė is looming.  The Blazers are still the most unintentionally hilarious franchise in all of sports.  Throw in the eerie coincidence that the Pistons are once again serving as the playoff crucible for a young legend (first Jordan, now LeBron) and there is a lot to be excited about.

 

There is only one problem: as of right now, an eight-team playoff field seems to feature only one legitimate contender for the crown.  Who exactly is going to beat the Pistons?  Detroit toyed with the Bucks in round one and now they are slaughtering James and the Cavs in round two.  The Pistons are playing so well that they are casting an air of inevitability over the playoffs.  Sure, the Spurs could survive in the West and force a rematch of last yearís NBA Finals, but could they really beat this Detroit team?  Last year, San Antonio was healthy and Ginobili was having a career run through the playoffs, while the Pistons were saddled with a cantankerous old coach that was sucking the life out of his team.  Letís face it, unless Detroit goes into an unexpected tailspin or suffers a serious injury, they are going to win it all.  Kind of takes the fun out of it, right?

 

Iím not saying this to rail against the Pistons.  Itís not their fault they are so good.  Not only that, but I actually like Detroit.  Rarely do I pull for favorites or front runners, but this is a good group of guys that plays hard and plays well together.  It is hard to dislike them.  Nevertheless, even when a likable team is dominating, it still saps some of the energy from the playoffs.  It feels like we are staring down a two-month coronation process.

 

That is why I have decided to ignore all logic and analysis and choose to believe that the field is wide open.  The crazy thing about the NBA right now is that there is one team (Detroit) that seems to be invincible and then there is everyone else.  San Antonio is a tough out because of their experience, coaching, and balance (not to mention the fact that they get so many calls), but they donít loom over the playoffs the way the Pistons do.  The Mavericks are very good but have yet to reach the Finals, so how scared can people be?  The Nets and Heat just took turns looking great and then looking horrendous.  The simple fact is that the race for second is wide open.  And if that hypothetical Detroit slump or injury occurs, you can imagine almost any remaining team finding a way to sneak through and win the championship.

 

In the West, there isnít a single team left that absolutely canít win the conference.  The Spurs clearly can.  Same with the Mavs.  The Suns would have a really rough time beating San Antonio (not to mention the Clippers), but they could conceivably outrun Dallas to the Finals.  The Clippers look fantastic right now and will give anyone in the West all they can handle.  Literally anybody can win the Western Conference. 

 

In the East, you can rule out the Cavs since they are A) playing the Pistons, and B) simply not ready to win more than one series.  After that though, both the Heat and Nets are the kind of teams that could beat any of the other non-Pistons challengers in a seven game series.  Iím telling you, this is the weirdest final eight in recent memory.  If you put the Pistons up against any of the other seven teams, Detroit stands out as the obvious choice.  However, ANY other matchup becomes cloudy.  Clippers-Heat?  I donít know.  Mavs-Nets?  Probably Dallas, but it is hard to say for sure. 

 

Here is how I would rate ďThe OthersĒ (to borrow the name from ďLostĒ) as title contenders, based on what I think their odds are of winning various series:

 

1. San Antonio

 

Opponents

Mavs

Clippers

Suns

Heat

Nets

Odds of Winning

50%

65%

80%

60%

75%

 

The Spurs are the only team that I have with a 65% of better chance of beating at least four teams.  The biggest non-Detroit problem for the Spurs is that they are tussling with the Mavericks in round two.  This continues to be a horrible mistake by the NBA, as neither of these teams should have been subjected to this situation.  It really hurts the Spurs though, because the Mavs were the more likely of the two to be upset on their way to the conference finals.  Now, even if Detroit goes down, the Spurs might not get the chance to compete against all these favorable matchups.  However, if they can defeat Dallas, they would have a terrific chance to beat any remaining team. 

 

2. Dallas Mavericks

 

Opponents

Spurs

Clippers

Suns

Heat

Nets

Odds of Winning

50%

60%

50%

55%

75%

 

The breakdown for the Mavs looks pretty similar to the Spurs.  They are 50/50 against San Antonio, which is obviously critical.  I think Dallas is just as likely as the Spurs to beat the Nets and almost as likely to handle the Clippers and the Heat.  The major difference is that I really think Phoenix could beat Dallas, whereas the Suns have no shot against the Spurs.  The Mavsí running game is carrying them right now and that wonít fly against Phoenix.  Not only that, but Dampier and Diop are no Kaman and Brand on the offensive glass. 

 

3. Los Angeles Clippers

 

Opponents

Suns

Mavs

Spurs

Heat

Nets

Odds of Winning

70%

40%

35%

45%

80%

 

The Clippers get the three spot on this list because I think they are by far the most likely to win their current series.  If you canít advance to the next round, what is the point of looking forward?  The Suns did a great job salvaging that Lakers series, but can they really come up with an answer to the Clippers?  L.A. just crushed them in game two on the road.  I also think the Clips matchup better than anyone against New Jersey and they have a reasonable Ė if not likely Ė shot of beating the other three teams thanks to their depth, balance, size, and versatility.

 

4. Miami Heat

 

Opponents

Nets

Clippers

Suns

Mavs

Spurs

Odds of Winning

55%

55%

45%

45%

40%

 

I guess in some ways, if we are staying true to the hypothetical that the Pistons are out of the mix, then both the Heat and Nets should get bonus points for being more likely to reach the Finals.  However, we are just looking at how these six as they relate to each other, so Miami goes down here.  Miami easily has the most consistent numbers, and that probably speaks to their inconsistency, if you can believe that.  With Shaq and Wade, Miami can conceivable beat anyone, but they are so erratic as a team that you canít feel comfortable projecting them to beat any team in a seven game series.  I think they will get it done against the Nets, but as you can see, Iím not real sure of that.  I also think they would probably beat the Clippers because if that matchup were to occur, it would be the Finals, and I just canít imagine the Clips, of all teams, denying Shaq a ring.  However, after that, the Heat seem capable of beating the other three teams, but not likely to do so.  (By the way, I have to ask this for the 8,432nd time: why oh why did Riley make all those ridiculous changes in the offseason?)

 

5. Phoenix Suns

 

Opponents

Clippers

Mavs

Spurs

Heat

Nets

Odds of Winning

30%

50%

20%

55%

45%

 

The Suns are a dangerous team for the Mavs and I think they would have a real good shot at beating the Heat, but after that, it gets dicey.  New Jersey could give them problems and the Spurs and Clippers are both nightmare matchups (as we saw last year and last night).  They would need to somehow win this series, draw the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals, and then race past the Heat in the Finals.  Possible, I guess, but certainly not probable.

 

6. New Jersey Nets

 

Opponents

Heat

Clippers

Suns

Mavs

Spurs

Odds of Winning

45%

20%

55%

25%

25%

 

ESPN titled a recent magazine, ďWhy No One Wants to Play the Nets,Ē but in reality, the Nets are a pretty good option for most of these teams.  The Heat obviously have their hands full and the Suns would struggle to beat New Jersey, but I canít imagine the Nets reaching the Finals and giving the Spurs, Mavs, or Clippers too much trouble.

 

As you can see, if the Pistons were out of the picture, we would be looking at a wild and crazy playoff picture with the title favorite being ďthe winner of the Spurs-Mavs matchup.Ē 

 

Instead, all of this is just a race for second place.  Thanks to the Detroit Anticlimactics. 

 

Adam Hoff is a columnist for the Webby-winning WhatifSports.com.  He can be reached at wis.insider@gmail.com.  You can also check out his Insider Blog.

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