It took the playoffs, but I’m back in.
I’m still struggling with no crowds, but Ernie, Kenny, Shaq and Chuck help. A lot. In fact, their NBA on TNT is frequently more entertaining than the actual games.
And the familiarity is slowly coming back, too. Kind of a muscle memory for fans. Here’s a few cases in point:
*It took me no time at all to renew my hatred for the Boston Celtics (however, I can’t help but enjoy Enes Kanter — the Knicks never should have let him go).
*I continue to root against LeBron James. Guys that try to manipulate one last ring rarely succeed. He’s not now, nor will he ever be, worthy of being included in the same class as Michael Jordan.
*Like everyone else, I’m fully onboard the Damian Lillard bandwagon (Oakland guy, and we have been on this one for awhile now, as hopefully SportsAttic Nation would attest). Coolest player in the NBA? Uh, yeah.
*The Knicks took one on the chin (again), dropping two draft slots last night. The Patrick Ewing Lottery Tax continues to be assessed. And you know at number eight we’ve got another draft bust headed our way.
*Kawhi Leonard is still a beast. Best all-around player in the league today. Hands down.
And there were surprises, too:
*Donovan Mitchell is a lot better than I thought (and I say that every time I watch him).
*Somebody pinch me, because I find myself rooting for Carmelo Anthony and appreciating the role he’s settled into for the Blazers. Didn’t see that coming.
*The Magic won their opener against the Bucks?? Quick — name two players on the Magic. Or their coach? I guess technically they are the “home” team every night, with most of the league sequestered in the Orlando Bubble, but still…
*I’m thoroughly enjoying Chris Weber doing color commentary for ESPN.
*The Mavs and Heat are both far better teams than I was giving them credit for prior to the season’s suspension.
With those quick observations serving as our backdrop, here’s SportsAttic’s picks for the remainder of the NBA Playoffs (and yes, I’m fully aware that Round 1 is already well under way, and yes, I’m totally comfortable accepting any advantages that provides my selections).
EAST Round 1
*Bucks over Magic, 4-1 — Too much of a talent differential here. Look for last night’s rout to be repeated three more times. But the wobble you saw from Milwaukee in Game 1 was real.
*Raptors over Nets, 4-0 — Yeah, not much of a stretch here. The Nets were a terrific story heading into the playoffs, but the Raptors are legit and then some, and the Nets have run out of steam.
*Celtics over 76ers, 4-1 — Game 3’s going on as I type this. The Sixers look like they may pull this one out, but even with Gordon Hayward hurt, the Celts have too much. Good bye, Brett Brown. Anyone know if Jeff Van Gundy likes cheesesteaks? Of course he does.
*Heat over Pacers, 4-2 — This is the only one I would have gone the other way on if I was picking before the Heat got out to their two-games-to-none series lead. Jimmy Butler in Eric Spoelstra’s system is one hell of a player, plus you’ve got to root for any team that has Andre Iguodala coming off the bench.
WEST Round 1
*Lakers over Blazers, 4-3 — This is the pick that really pains me. I SOOOO want to see the Blazers send the Lakers packing, and before Lillard hurt his finger last night, I was ready to ride the Portland bandwagon as far as it would take me. But the Blazers’ margin for error here is too thin to overcome a less-than-100% Dame, and AD (not LeBron) will find a way to lead the Lakers into Round 2. The wear and tear of a tough, seven-game series is exactly what LeBron didn’t need, though (and yes, that makes me very happy).
*Clippers over Mavs, 4-2 — Being a year away, plus an unlucky, first-round draw doomed Dallas this year. But man, this is a team on a steep rise if only their two European stars can remain healthy. The Clippers are loaded, though.
*Jazz over Nuggets, 4-3 — Anyone else noticing just how strong the Western Conference is? A lot of folks had Denver as their dark horse title contender. And right now the Jazz look like they will not just blow out the Nuggets, but can seriously challenge either L.A. team. What happened to this whole Donovan Mitchell-Rudy Gobert feud? And welcome back, Mike Conley — props for going home for the birth of your child.
*Rockets over Thunder, 4-1 — Chris Paul was a minus-36 in OKC’s 13-point loss last night. Minus-36! Paul was a nice story, pre-Covid, rallying the undermanned Thunder after everyone had given up on them when they sold off Russ. Not anymore. If Mike D’Antoni can get away with not having to rush back Westbrook for this series, Houston could be a sleeper in Round 2.
EAST Round 2
*Bucks over Heat, 4-2 — Pesky Miami will give Milwaukee fits, as the Bucks continue to search for the air of invincibility that marked their pre-Covid romp to the best record in the league. They’ll still be searching when this series concludes, despite advancing.
*Celtics over Raptors, 4-3 — I can’t wait for this series to happen. The Raptors are so well-coached, deep and balanced (not to mention the whole “we can do this without Kawhi” chip on the shoulder). But the Celtics have depth, too, plus the best player on the court in Jayson Tatum. Tatum will be the difference in a brawl of a series.
WEST Round 2
*Jazz over Clippers, 4-3 — Okay, let’s start by saying how much I hope I’m right, and these two squads get to meet up. Donovan Mitchell’s coming out party turns Game 7 in favor of Utah, and look for Paul George to disappear once again when his teammates need him most.
*Lakers over Rockets, 4-2 — No, Mike D’Antoni will never win a championship. The Lakers twin superstars are big men that can also do everything their smaller, opposing twin superstars do. And that will carry the day for L.A. in a wildly entertaining series over the Russ and Beard Show. D’Antoni deserves better, but joins Brett Brown on the unemployment line after this one.
*Celtics over Bucks, 4-2 — Giannis is phenomenal, but this year’s NBA playoffs are rewarding depth and smart basketball over superstars. Hayward’s return proves too much as the Celtics just keep coming, and the Bucks go home knowing the virus cost them their best shot at a title before Giannis leaves for greener pastures.
*Jazz over Lakers, 4-2 — Who ya got? The team with the two superstars, or the underdog that shares the ball and goes nine deep? I’m going with team ball over the superstars, and it will be wonderful having LBJ watch the finals from his couch for the second year in a row.
*Jazz over Celtics, 4-3 — No, not a chance. There’s absolutely zero way I’ll ever pick the Celtics to win it all. And in this crazy NBA season that will go into the books as simply 2019-20, why not roll with the team that’s never won it all, over the franchise with 17 banners hanging from the rafters?
Yeah, the NBA is back. And while I hate that the season was disrupted the way it was, the parity that has emerged here in August showcases just how many interesting and talented teams populate The Association these days.
Congrats in advance, Utah Jazz!