Sports

Cohan ’17: Predictions – guide to the second round of the NBA playoffs

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Sports Columnist

I don’t have a TV. This means I have the fortune of streaming live games on the Internet.

But while the Internet  is amazing, when it comes to broadcasting live events, it’s not quite there yet. The picture lags, and the image quality resembles what I assume the picture on the first color televisions looked like. Add in the fact that nationally televised games — and therefore all playoff games — are blacked out on League Pass, and now I’m forced to use very sketchy websites.

I could live with the pop-ups, the grainy picture and the many viruses to which my computer is exposed. I could live with all of that. What I cannot live with is a stream that works for an entire game suddenly going black right before Vince Carter hits a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer. And what I really cannot live with is the exact same thing happening all over again right before Damian Lillard’s game-winning trey at the buzzer to win the Rockets-Blazers series.

I mean, are you kidding me? Two times can’t be an accident, right? Someone has to be messing with me. Each time I panicked, opened up a new link and waited anxiously for the advertisements to clear, only to hear the announcer losing his mind over a game-winner that I missed. Fantastic.

So let this be a reminder to everyone who’s going through tough times. Things could be much worse. And despite everything, I’m still going to rally and preview the second round.

 

Pacers-Wizards

You know what’s great about sports media? It’s totally acceptable for the “experts” to be wrong. Not once or twice. No, it’s fine for the experts to be wrong over and over and over again. They still get to be called experts. We’ll still devour what they’re saying and take their opinions somewhat seriously, even if deep down we know their five-year-old children could predict the results almost as accurately.

Sometimes though, it becomes hard to ignore just how questionable their insight is. Before the Bulls-Wizards series, ESPN’s team of 18 experts gave their predictions. You’d think in a four-five  seed matchup the distribution of picks would be around 50-50. Nope. Seventeen out of 18 of the experts picked the Bulls to win. Seventeen out of 18: That translates to 94 percent.

So of course, the Wizards dismantled the Bulls in five games. Experts.

There was one person though, other than Michael Wallace, who didn’t pick the Bulls. That person was me. That’s right. Me. And it had nothing to do with the fact that I’m a Wizards fan. I didn’t secretly think we were outmatched and went, “Screw it, I’m picking us anyway.” Nope, I’m just smarter and know more about basketball than the people who cover it for a living. I guess you could say I’m an expert.

WIZARDS!

Sorry, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. In my lifetime watching sports, no D.C. team has made it past the second round. Not one. There are only 12 cities in the United States with teams in all four major sports. DC is one of them. And not a single team has made it past the second round. All of a sudden, the Wizards are on the brink of changing that.

Remember, this is a team that on the last day of the regular season needed a win to avoid dropping into the seven seed and serving as an appetizer for Miami in the first round. This is a team that took until February to go above .500 for the first time. And not the first time this season — the first time in four years. This is a team that hadn’t played a playoff game in six years and hadn’t won a playoff series in nine years. And despite all of that mediocrity, the Wizards are suddenly the hot pick to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

That’s insane, and it’s the result of luck so good it almost doesn’t seem fair. If Washington were on the West Coast, the Wizards would have finished five games out of a playoff spot. Instead, they played a Bulls team in the first round that, despite scaring the hell out of everybody with its defense, was not particularly talented. Now the Wizards are facing a Pacers team that needed seven games to knock off the least talented playoff team in recent memory.

So things have worked out nicely. Still, I have to admit that a few days ago I was feeling a little better about the Wizards’ chances. The Pacers were on the brink of elimination down 3-2, and it looked like the Wizards would get either an imploding Pacers team limping into thesecond round, or a 38-win Hawks team.

Things didn’t exactly play out that way. The Pacers took care of business down the stretch in Game 6 against the Hawks and looked like the pre-All-Star-Break-Pacers at times in Game 7. That makes me nervous.

I think we’ll find out in Game 1 which Pacers team is going to show up. If the Wizards can send Roy Hibbert back into the slumber he started to wake up from in Game 7, they can control this series. If not, well, let’s not go there.

Wizards in six

 

Heat-Nets

I’m sure this will be billed as a continuation of the LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett rivalry. There might be some truth to that. Those guys still hate each other. That type of thing doesn’t change overnight.

There are some things, though, that do change seemingly overnight. Garnett went from being an All-Star in 2013 to averaging 6.5 points per game and losing minutes to Miles Plumlee and Andre Blatche in 2014. Ouch. Pierce hasn’t suffered as dramatically, but he’s “Old Man Pierce” now, not “Superstar Pierce.” So this isn’t really Part V of the LeBron vs. Pierce/Garnett Playoff Saga. It’s Part I of the LeBron vs. Joe Johnson/Deron Williams Playoff Saga. Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Which is why you should spend your time watching the Wizards-Pacers instead. WIZARDS!

Sorry. We were talking about Heat-Nets. Right.

Best-case scenario for the Nets: They pull a 2012 Pacers performance and go up 2-1 on the Heat while everyone freaks out about whether the Heat will break up after losing in the semifinals. Then the Heat win the next three games. That’s their best-case scenario. I just don’t see this series going to seven games, much less ending in a Brooklyn upset.

If Al Jefferson had taken it to the Heat — beaten them up, forced them to play a ton of minutes — this might be a different story. But Jefferson’s injury gave the Heat a mini-vacation. A well-rested Heat team is too much for Brooklyn.

Heat in five

 

Blazers-Spurs

I’m not a big believer in the “clutch/not clutch” narrative that’s so prevalent in every sport — especially in the NBA. I think most of that stuff is overblown.

Just look at Kevin Durant. After a mediocre performance in Game 5, a headline in the Oklahoman  ripped him as “Mr. Unreliable.” Then Durant dropped 36 points in Game 6, and the headline became “Kevin Up.” Because he changed radically in just three days.

When it comes to Damian Lillard though, I’m a believer. Was his game-winning three-pointer ending the Houston-Portland series the least surprising game-winner in NBA history? Before that shot, I thought to myself, ‘there’s no way Lillard doesn’t hit a three here.’ Lillard always hits a three here.

Sure enough, when I found a working link, the announcer was screaming that the Blazers had won the series. And when they showed the replay, who else was it but Lillard, calmly knocking down a three.

So is it time to start taking the Blazers seriously? It seems like at every stage people have dismissed this team as being a fake contender. I remember somebody claiming in his first round playoff preview that the Blazers were “still years away.” After a 54-win season and an impressive six-game-series win over the Rockets, there’s no reason the Blazers should be looking to next year.

Unfortunately for them, they’re playing the Spurs. The Spurs looked vulnerable at times against the Mavericks, but eventually they found their footing and blew the Mavs out. That’s the thing about the Spurs — even if you find a weakness, they adjust and suddenly it’s gone. I just can’t envision a scenario in which the Blazers outduel the Spurs over the course of a seven-game series.

Spurs in six

 

Thunder-Clippers

I know I’m supposed to be excited for this series. Kevin Durant! Russell Westbrook! Chris Paul! Blake Griffin! No offense to any of those players, but I’m a little fatigued. I’m used to these teams.

That’s how you know we live in a culture with an incredibly short attention span: A series with four of the 10 best players in the NBA just doesn’t seem that exciting.

Look at the other three series. The Nets have a new look with Pierce and Garnett. The Wizards haven’t been here in nine years. The Blazers haven’t been here in 15 years. This is the only series that feels like it could be 2012 or 2013.

That’s not totally true, though. While the Clippers have had more or less the same cast since Chris Paul came to town, this team feels different. For the past couple of years they’ve been lumped in with the Nuggets and Grizzlies as good Western Conference teams that would eventually be left in the Spurs’ and Thunder’s wake in the playoffs. Doc Rivers’  arrival has changed that. People rushed to declare the Clippers a title contender. Their preseason Vegas wins total was the highest of any Western Conference team. Yes, higher than that of the Spurs. Shocker that didn’t happen.

In other ways though, the Clippers have lived up to the hype. Griffin fulfilled his immense potential and became an MVP candidate. DeAndre Jordan turned from Javale McGee doppelganger to Defensive Player of the Year Candidate. With Chris Paul still Chris Paul, the Clippers’ Big Three is now in the middle of the conversation for best Big Three in the NBA.

It’s tempting to pick the team that feels newer and shinier, but continuity is a plus, not a minus. The Thunder looks the same as always, which is a good thing. They were tested by the Grizzlies, but that defense would test anybody. The Thunder got it together over the last two games, and if they keep it together, the rest of the league should watch out.

Thunder in seven

Last Round’s Predictions: 6-2

 

James Cohan ’17 really needs a TV to watch the second round. Send him one at james_cohan@brown.edu.

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