Thursday, April 28, 2011

Some NBA Teams are More Equal Than Others

As many of you know, I'm not really a NBA fan. I never thought that the league exhibited what makes the NFL and NHL so likeable, which is parity. Nothing really shocking ever happens in the playoffs, where in the NHL it seems to happen nearly every time we watch a playoff game. And in the NFL, the Arizona Cardinals, one of the markers of futility, made a superbowl. Will the Minnesota Timberwolves ever make an NBA Finals? At the rate this NBA is going, probably not. But with the successes of the Memphis Grizzlies, it got me thinking: Is the NBA finally getting to be more equal? And is it too late?

The Grizzlies have never won a playoff game, and it has been a relatively uneventful existence, from Vancouver to Memphis. But they are on the verge of eliminating the Spurs: a team that has been one of the league's best since the late 1990's. And the Indiana Pacers, lead by a coach that came in midway through the season, gave the Chicago Bulls hell for 4 games. The New Orleans Hornets are owned by the NBA, but that hasn't stopped them from putting the Lakers through the ringer. Normally, 8 and 7 seeds are rolled over, and as Lebron James said, it's like "Just finishing our breakfast". But this year, breakfast has become a large dinner for some higher seeds... and they have had their hands full. Outside of the Warriors ousting the Mavs in 2007, this is the most trouble 1 seeds have had in the first round since it was expanded to a 7 game series. That's a good thing for a guy like me who likes parity. But, is it enough? The answer is: No.

In history, only three 1 seeds have been knocked out in the first round by an 8 seed since the playoffs expanded in 1983-84. The NHL has had that many in the last 5 years. Would we ever see an 8 seed play a 7 in the Conference Finals in the NBA? Doubtful, but we saw it last year in the NHL. The point is, the NBA has as many small market teams as the NHL, but they are not as likely to succeed. Things like the Big 3 don't happen in hockey, and even though the two sports are very different, parity should still be exhibited. College Basketball can do it, why not the NBA?

To put this in perspective, just think of this: If you are a fan of a bad team in the NHL, the likelihood is you won't have success, but there is a glimmer of hope that you will. If the same applies in the NBA, your team is pretty much doomed to another year in the basement and the future is put in the hands of a ping pong ball. The same goes in the playoffs in both leagues.

The NBA is destined for a lockout that could wipe out the 2011-2012 season. The NHL's popularity is booming, and is only going to get bigger. Lebron James talked about contraction in the NBA because of the discrepancy between the very good and the very bad. The NHL is not contracting the Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, or Florida Panthers-- though they may want to-- anytime soon. The NHL has recovered from its disaster in 2004-05. The NBA may take longer to recover, and it will look different after that. Even though the NBA is driven by star power, other teams should have the chance to succeed, and in that, the issues with teams like Sacramento wouldn't exist.

It may be too late for the NBA to start exhibiting parity, but the signs are a good thing. The lockout could change that. It's not fun watching the same 6 teams compete for the title every year; let's have another hat thrown in the ring.

 It's been too long, and those teams desrve justice.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

My 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals Preview

1 Vancouver Canucks vs. 8 Chicago Blackhawks

This series has a whiff of familiarity to it, right? Yes, the Blackhawks have eliminated the Canucks the last 2 years in the West Semis, but this year, it's the Canucks who are the favorites. The President's Trophy winners just hummed along all year, breaking many team records along the way and dominating most of the league. The Hawks needed helped from the Minnesota Wild on the last day of the regular season to get into the playoffs. Not that Chicago is bad or anything, but the Canucks are the clear favorite to win it all that I just can't see the Hawks taking 4 out of 7. This may be the most entertaining series of them all in the first round, and the Canucks will finally overcome the Chicago Blackhawks.

Prediction: Canucks in 6

2 San Jose Sharks vs. 7 Los Angeles Kings

This is the first time 2 teams from California have met in the postseason, and it should be a fun series. The Sharks ran into some troubles throughout the season, but they quietly won the Pacific division with a little bit more ease than expected. The Kings were expected to potentially overthrow the Sharks as division champs this season, but injuries got in the way of that. The injury to Anze Kopitar may be the one thing the Kings cannot overcome in this series. The Sharks have a Stanley Cup winning goaltender in net, and a great set of offensive talent in front. The Kings are young, and now have some playoff experience in their belts, but the Sharks are just a better team right now than the Kings are. Maybe next year the Kings will win the division.

Prediction: Sharks in 5

3 Detroit Red Wings vs. 6 Phoenix Coyotes

The last time the Red Wings missed the playoffs, George Bush Senior was president. The last time the Coyotes won a playoff series, they were in Winnipeg. The two teams met last year in a brutally entertaining series that went the distance, but the Wings outlasted the 'Yotes. The teams are relatively identical to last seasons bunches, and that may say, "The Wings will win", right? I think this is the year that the Coyotes will get over the hump. Henrik Zetterberg will mas game 1, and maybe more due to injuries, and the Coyotes are getting healthy at the right time. The Wings have hit bumpy patches during February and March, and I think the Coyotes can exploit that. 25 years in the waiting, the Coyotes will win a playoff series.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7

4 Anaheim Ducks vs. 5 Nashville Predators

The Ducks are a pleasant surprise in the postseason due to their March surge up the Western Conference standings. Lead by Rocket Richard winner Corey Perry, the Ducks have some amazing offensive firepower, and a good defense corps also. But the Preds live and die with their D and goaltending. Ryan Suter and Shea Weber are 2 amazing defenders, and Pekka Rinne should get Vezina consideration. Goaltending is the key in the playoffs, and while Dan Ellis has played well in relief of Jonas Hiller, the Preds goaltending is much better. If Rinne gets hot, it will be awfully tough to beat the Preds. Nashville has never won a playoff series, but I think they will here because of their D and goaltending.

Prediction: Predators in 5

My 2011 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Preview

Not terribly in depth, but I'll use my limited knowledge to my advantage:

Eastern Conference:

1 Washington Capitals vs. 8 New York Rangers

The Rangers nearly had the same fate as 2010, but when the Canes went and laid an egg, all was saved. The Caps had really flown under the radar for most of the season after HBO's 24/7, and had a late season charge to win the top seed in the East.. The Caps are still the same old Caps, they can score and skate, but goaltending lacks. They have some slight injury issues, but I don't see that becoming too big of an issue. The Rangers lost Ryan Callahan to Zdeno Chara's renegade puck to the ankle, and that will pose major problems. The Rangers have been streaky, and they're on the wrong side of one of those right now. The Caps are coming in expecting wins, and I think they'll have a relatively easy time with the Rangers. I know the Caps have had their playoff struggles, but they'll win this series.

Prediction: Caps in 5

2 Philadelphia Flyers vs. 7 Buffalo Sabres

The Flyers had another March malaise and nearly slipped all the way to fourth in the East after that. They secured the 2 seed with some trouble, but they are still a very talented and very deep team. The problems lie with injuires, and goaltending. Gee, that sounds familiar doesn't it? For Buffalo, they lost Derek Roy in December, but they've kept on ticking. They aren't a glamor team, they just work hard to score and they have one of the best goalies around in Ryan Miller. The Sabres have beaten the Flyers in many different ways this season, so a string of wins in this series shouldn't be a surprise. The Flyers need Sergei Bobrovsky or whoever's in net to step up big to prevent an early exit. Even without Chris Pronger, the Flyers are too good to lose in the 1st round, although this will be a grinding series.

Prediction: Flyers in 7

3 Boston Bruins vs. 6 Montreal Canadiens

33 times these 2 have met in the playoffs, and every time has been so much fun to watch. This year should be no different. With the bad blood between these 2 teams stemming from the Zdeno Chara incident, this should be a feisty series. The Habs have been backstopped by Carey Price all season, and they will need him plenty in this series. The Bruins are potentially the most complete team in the East right now, and they can score, check, and defend very well. The Habs seem to always play the B's better than any other team in the league, and they'll need to get after Tim Thomas early and often in order to steal games in Boston. Even though the Habs are a great team, the B's are just too good to lose in the 1st round with the team they've assembled.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. 5 Tampa Bay Lightning

Even without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Pens managed to be a point away from the 2 seed in the East. They have needed guys like Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz, and others to step up big in the absence of the stars, and they have. The Lightning enjoyed a resurgent year, lead by one of the premier scorers in hockey Steven Stamkos, and they still have Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to help out with that. The Lightning of the last few years have been focused on scoring, and the defense has been lacking. This isn't the case anymore, with wily veteran Dwayne Roloson between the pipes, and the presence of Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman has helped. The Lightning are a team on the rise, and they are so explosive that the Pens will be overwhelmed quickly.

Predicition: Lightning in 6

My 2011 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

I wanted to do a fancy bracket, but that idea failed.

ECQF:    1) WSH over 8) NYR in 5
                2) PHI over 7) BUF in 7
               3) BOS over 6) MTL in 6
                5) TB over 4) PIT in 6

ECSF:    5) TB over 1) WSH in 6
              3) BOS over 2) PHI in 6

ECF:    3) BOS over 5) TB in 6

WCQF:     1) VAN over 8) CHI in 6
                  2) SJ over 7) LA in 5
                  6) PHX over 3) DET in 7
                  5) NSH over 4) ANA in 5

WCSF:   1) VAN over 6) PHX in 5
               5) NSH over 2) SJ in 6

WCF:   1) VAN over 5) NSH in 5

2011 Stanley Cup Finals:   1) VAN over 3) BOS in 6