The Lakers and Clippers both bowed out as expected, so things should be a bit easier to manage around the Staples Center now. A quick update on the NBA and NHL playoffs:
They haven’t locked it up yet, but the Kings have a 3-1 lead on the Coyotes (following a 3-0 lead). These comebacks happen in hockey, but still rarely, so we can more or less put the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals. They will be the first 8 seed to make the Finals since the 2006 Oilers. The Devils have tied things up with the Rangers at 2-2, so it’ll be a bit longer before we know the opponent.
Not surprisingly, the Spurs took out the Clippers. They were simply the better team. Also not surprisingly, the Thunder took out the Lakers. They were simply the better team. But things diverge for the Clippers and Lakers from there. The Clippers are presumably a team on the rise, as Chris Paul gets more experience with his teammates and young players like Bledsoe, Griffin, and Jordan improve. The Lakers are a team on the way down, with an old core of players. Bynum is about the only guy they can expect to improve and play at a high level; Gasol and Kobe are presumably only going to get worse from here.
At this point, I will reveal/extend my anti-Kobe bias; I think he’s the guy you have to move if the Lakers decide to take the team apart. Gasol has played about 28,500 minutes plus another 4,000 in the playoffs. His game is more shooting and finesse-based; he isn’t getting beat up in the post all that much for a big guy, and that can continue to be the case with Bynum on the team. And quality big men are harder to come by then smaller guys who shoot a lot. Granted, Kobe is pretty good for a guy who shoots a lot, but his minute counter is at 42,250 and 8,500. In addition to the extra 500 36-minute games that Kobe has played, he’s older than Gasol and has been fighting a lot of injuries (again, granted that he’s stayed on the court despite them). If I were running the team, and decided it was time to blow things up, I would see what I could get for Kobe. Alternatively, they could try to get some massive upgrades for the bench/Sessions/World Peace and hope that Kobe and Gasol still have another year or two of good basketball in them.
The Spurs and Thunder should be a good series to watch. They were 6th and 7th in pace, so the games should be fast. They were 1st and 2nd in offensive efficiency and 10th and 11th in defensive efficiency, so they’re pretty evenly matched and good (which is better than being evenly matched and bad). As such, you might predict a pretty even series. But, the Spurs have a bit of the advantage overall and have home court. So my prediction is… Spurs win 68% of the time, and the Thunder win two games.
On the other side of the bracket, the Celtics took a 3-2 lead over Philly. That puts a strong hurting on my Smackdown chances. If the Celtics win one of two, I’m 100% dead (as opposed to the probably 90% dead I am now). That’s what happens when you miss on three coin flips. The Heat and Pacers are tied at 2 in a series that is closer than I think most people guessed it would be, but that doesn’t mean the Heat couldn’t just rattle off two wins and end it. We’ll see how it goes!