So I was one for two in my predictions but I still feel very about both analyses. Before we get to the Finals preview, a few thoughts about some goings on in the NBA.

1- The officials really screwed the Spurs in the Western Conference. That no-call on Derek Fisher in Game 4 doomed the Spurs to lose Game 5. I believe the Spurs go on to win that game if Barry goes to the line and the Spurs, with the series tied at two, go into LA feeling pretty good and probably taking Game 5. That game alone gave the conspiracy theorists more than enough amunition to last them the year.

2- The draft is coming up and my man J-Fense just wrote an interesting article about what the Bulls should do with the first pick. However, I could not disagree more with him. Hinrich has shown that he can be all-star caliber point guard and Tyrus Thomas and Joakim Noah have shown to be nothing more than athletic, defense orientied power fowards. I believe the Bulls must draft Beasley. He instantly upgrades their presence in the post which helps a jump-shooting team more than a point guard. If the Bulls think it through, a player who commands a double team in the post to open up outside shots for Gordon, Hinrich, Noicioni, and Hughes is more valuable than a point guard who passes to players on the wing who can not create their own shot. John Paxson, please take Michael Beasley.

3- While the firing of Flip Saunders was not much of a surprise, it disappoints me that he is the one held accountable for the actions of Rasheed Wallace. Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com wrote an article claiming that Saunders did not have the respect of his players and only McDyess played hard consistently. Well I say that is a bunch of crap and the coach should not be to blame if his players are unprofessional cry-babies. And Rasheed Wallace is the ringleader and the one to blame. Wallace has a tendency to be a malcontent and let his emotions get the better of him. I actually think Saunders did a good job of coaching in the series, it was just his most important player (sorry Chauncey and Rip) played like he didn’t care.

Now, onto the preview…

GUARDS: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

The point guard matchup here is the most important one in the series and the most intriguing. You have young Rajon Rondo who has become more important to his team than Ray Allen and the wily veteran Derek FIsher. If Rondo can play solid defense on Fisher (something he was not able to do in the Pistons series [did anybody see the way Billups abused him in Game 6?]), then I feel like the Celtics can call it a day because there is no way they are stopping Kobe. Rondo needs to keep grabbing boards, leading the break, dishing the rock, and making smart decisions (seems easy right?).

In all reality though, it doesn’t really matter what the other Lakers do because it all revolves around Kobe Bryant. He averaged just under 30 points a game in the Spurs series and that was considered a masterful job by Bruce “Dirty Mo-Fo” Bowen. Are you kidding me? There is nobody on the Celtics who can matchup with Kobe like Bowen could and the only one who gets a look off the bench who could handle him is James Posey. Is Doc Rivers going to sacrifice offense for defense and sit Ray Allen like he did in the fourth quarter of Game 6? I don’t think so, he’s not that good of a coach. And that mini-resurgence we saw from Ray-Ray was just a mirage. I can’t see him really being a factor in this series with Kobe matching up against him (very different from Rip Hamilton).

FORWARDS: ADVANTAGE CELTICS

This is where the Celtics have a huge advantage. Paul Pierce vs. the useless European that is Vladimir Radmonovic. Phil Jackson, in an effort to limit Kobe’s minutes vs. Pierce, has decided the likes of Radmonovic, Luke Walton (who should be starting and another reason why Phil Jackson is one of the most overrated coaches in the history of basketball, but that is for another time), and Lamar Odom. Only one of those three has a chance at holding Pierce up and that man belongs on KG (can you guess who?). Maybe Coach Jackson is trying to coach down to Doc Rivers’ level, I just don’t know. But expect Pierce to have a monster series offensively and to struggle defensively on Kobe (at least I hope Doc doesn’t put Ray-Ray on him).

Power Forward is another position where the Celtics have a huge advantage. KG is the heart and soul of this team and plays with enough intensity to light up the entire city of Los Angeles for 2 weeks straight. Meanwhile, Lamar Odom plays with the intensity of a wet noodle, has a penchant for missing key free-throws down the stretch, and disappears from games for quarters at a time. I also believe he is going to struggle on KG or Perkins because one is too skilled and the other is just way too big for him to handle (and by big I mean fat).

CENTER: ADVANTAGE LAKERS

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Pau Gasol is the most important Laker. This team revolves around Kobe but he is the moon to Kobe’s sun. He is perfect for this offense because he passes, shoots, and is foreign ( I don’t really know if that is important or not, I just wanted to say that). Kendrick Perkins on the other hand has the ability to be dominant for a half and then disappear for the next game and a half. He also has a tendency to let his emotions get the better of him and is susceptible to technical fouls. However, I’m higher on Perkins than most for the simple reason is that he does what he is asked of: rebound, defend, and clean up the garbage around the rim. He fits into the flow of his team and doesn’t mind being the fifth option. His humility is refreshing for a player drafted out of high school while his English skills are sort of scary (I don’t think he can handle words with more than three syllables, but who cares because neither can I).

COACHING: ADVANTAGE JACKSON

While I hate Phil Jackson and believed he has lucked into two of the greatest situations ever (MJ and Kobe + Shaq), Doc Rivers is still the worst coach in the NBA not named Isiah Thomas (can we still make fun of him? I think I still can because he is a moron and morons deserved to be ridiculed). The triangle offense is effective, even if nobody exactly knows what it is and he sticks to his rotation, which can’t be said for Mr. Rivers (does he run an offense?)

BENCH: ADVANTAGE EVEN

I truly believe the Celtics have a better bench, but you never know what Doc Rivers is going to do with his talent other than misuse them. The problem is the Celtics have too much talent on the bench, which could be confusing for a mere mortal. However, the rotation should consist of Eddie House, James Posey, Leon Powe, and PJ Brown. Sam Cassel can not handle being a backup and a bad one at that and Glen “Big Baby” Davis needs another year of seasoning to understand the nuances of playoff basketball. Each of those four adds energy and understands their roles on the team. PJ Brown also adds experience while Eddie House, at least from what I’ve seen, is just excited to be there.

Phil Jackson has the lesser talent, but gets more out of his players by sticking to a consistent rotation. Jordan Farmar has played inconsistently but is still getting minutes because he is a winner and Jackson does not want to mess with his confidence. Sasha Vujacic adds European toughness, as does Ronny Turiaf (is that possible?) while Luke Walton is the perfect player for this offense and should be playing 30 minutes a game but I’ll settle for him getting 20 and giving the Lakers a huge weapon off the bench.

X-FACTOR: RAJON RONDO PG, CELTICS

This one was tough to pick, but if Rondo can supplant Ray Allen as the third most important Celtic for all the right reasons, then this series is the Celtics for the taking. However, if he is the third most important Celtic for the wrong reasons (poor shooting, bad defense, and turnovers), then consider the Celtics French Toast.

KEY MATCH-UP: KOBE VS. PAUL PIERCE

While they may not play many minutes against each other, the two best scorers in this series will go a long way towards determining which team wins. If Kobe can outscore Paul by ten or more points, Kobe will add another MVP trophy to his hardware.

PREDICTION: CELTICS IN SEVEN

While most experts are proclaiming the Lakers to be the best in all the land, I think the Celtics have way too much talent to lose. Throw in home court advantage with the 2-2-1-1-1 schedule that punishes the lower seed, I’d look for the Celtics to win and Paul Pierce to take home the MVP Finals with a spectacular performance that will remind people why he is the only remaining Celtic left from the last decent Celtic team.

BEARD

Head Coach Mike D’Antoni Should Begin to Worry

By: Sean Speirs

     Mathematical probabilities are something our society depends on.  Luck is something our society hopes for.  As for Knicks Head Coach Mike D’Antoni, he is going to need some luck this off-season; the same luck that the Chicago Bulls, against all mathematical odds, had last night during the 2008 NBA Draft Lottery. 

 

     According to the math, the Bulls had an initial 1.7% chance of being top ranked, but according to luck, they came out with the overall No.1 draft pick.  The Knicks (on the other hand without luck), with a 7.6% chance of the top three spots, came out with the No.6 draft pick. 

 

     For Mike D’Antoni, seeing the Chicago Bulls receive that first pick is equal to seeing the “popular girl” in high-school losing the Homecoming Queen competition to the “class nerd”.

 

     This leads to the classic “What If” case scenario that must be running through D’Antoni’s mind.

 

     Less than a month ago, Mike D’Antoni, former Coach of the Year, left the Phoenix Suns to look for a new coaching job.  After picking up Center Shaquille O’Neal (in what some consider an unnecessary trade) and falling to the sixth seed in the Western Conference during the regular season, the Suns were eliminated from the NBA Playoffs this post-season by defending champions San Antonio Spurs.

 D\'Antoni

     Just days after the devastating blow, Suns General Manager Steve Kerr openly stated that the organization will search for a new Head Coach, even after D’Antoni had a 253-136 record in more than four seasons with the Suns.  In response, D’Antoni began to interview with teams who had open coaching positions. 

 

     In such a confusing situation in Phoenix, one would give respect to D’Antoni for leaving the Suns organization.  After all, why would one of the most talented offensive-based coaches in the league continue to stay with a team that does not want him anymore?

 

     After leaving Phoenix and going to a few coaching job interviews, D’Antoni’s future sat on the shoulders of the Chicago Bulls (33-49) or the New York Knicks (23-59).

 

     Now with such a decision to make, one would analyze the following:

 

-D’Antoni: D’Antoni’s style of play includes a quick offense that takes up an average of 7 seconds (about a 1/3) of the 24 second clock (or at least what D’Antoni aims for); due to quick fast breaks, pick and rolls, or speedy inside/outside jumpers. Although not given much respect, D’Antoni’s style of defense can also be praised, as long as his “Big Men” (Center and Forwards) grab defensive rebounds and immediately outlet pass to the One or Two Guard (Point or Shooting) to create the fast break.

 

The Chicago Bulls: The Chicago Bulls are a young team with players such as Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Loul Deng.  However, the Bulls were plagued by a season of low percentage shots taken/made both inside and outside the 3-pt. arc.  This style of play was mainly what the Bulls went for, the three-pointers and/or jumpers.  However, due to their youth, under the lead of D’Antoni’s style of play, the fast-break and quick offensive game-plan would have quickly been adapted to these players in Chicago, and much more affective.

 

The New York Knicks: The New York Knicks have been going through a rough patch the past couple years, with problems such as unsuccessful winning records, multiple player injuries, and of course, the Isaiah Thomas era.  The Knicks are also a reasonably older team, with sluggish players such as Eddy Curry, Zack Randolph, and Stephon Marbury (who has had a bad run with D’Antoni in the past when they were both in Phoenix).  It is unknown to predict how D’Anotni’s quick offense will pan out in New York, and whether or not these sluggish/older players will be able to keep up with such game-play.

 D\'Anotni pretending not to be shocked

     After seeing D’Antoni’s possible outcomes, it is unfortunate to see the successful coach agree to President of the Knicks Donnie Walsh’s offer to coach New York’s team (even when a brighter future would have been with Chicago, especially since they clinched the first pick of the NBA Lottery).

 

     At this point, D’Antoni must be worried.  After signing with a losing team in hopes of getting a high draft pick, and instead devastatingly receiving No.6, the only other hope D’Antoni has is either a blockbuster trade this offseason or waiting two more years in hopes for landing Lebron James after he becomes a free agent.

 

     All that D’Antoni needed to do was to give his decision time, pan out his options, and wait until after the draft.  That would have been the smartest decision since D’Antoni would be in the back-seat seeing where his “vehicle” was going.  Instead, D’Antoni rushed into the driver’s seat without taking into consideration the only factor that takes place during the NBA Draft Lottery…luck.

 

     By waiting until after the draft, D’Antoni would have probably gotten and accepted a better offer from Chicago, and would have been going to a team that was once considered in the beginning of this season to be one of the top contenders in the Eastern Conference.

 

     With his final decision, this New York Knicks team is now D’Antoni’s biggest challenge he will have to overcome in his career.

 

     Hopefully, D’Antoni can conquer the odds, make some smart decisions this off-season with what he has to work with, and give the New York Knicks a clean slate.

 

     Besides, waiting two more years for King James is not that bad…right?

Sean Speirs

 

 

Images Courtesy of AP Bill Kostroun and YAHOOSPORTS.COM