Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cavs-Wizards Game 1 running diary

We’re coming to you LIVE from the chowder-stained couch inside an apartment that desperately needs to be cleaned to bring you a running diary of Cavaliers-Wizards Game 1, live from The Q in Cleveland.

12:32: TNT opens its coverage with its second-to-none studio show. Magic says the Wizards have no chance. Barkley truthfully says the Wizards have a coaching edge but that’s it. Kenny predicts a Cavaliers sweep.

12:36: The triple-D crew of Matt Devlin and John Thompson are on hand in Cleveland. I think Devlin may have attended Ball State. Heck, he may be this guy.

12:37: Z shoots an airball on the opening possession, followed by a Jamison 15-footer to give Washington the lead, 2-0.

12:39: Gooden with his fourth point to tie it at 4. We were also just informed that renowned sideline reporter Marty Snider is in the building. Wasn’t she the lead singer from KISS?

12:40: A LeBron backdoor cut for a layup followed by a Pavlovic three. Throw in a reverse layup for Bron-Bron and it’s 11-4 Cleveland.

12:41: Timeout, Wizards. Eddie Jordan will try to determine whether his mustache can extend any further over his mouth during the break.

12:43: Coming back from commercial, TNT opts for a shot of cars driving down a random street in Cleveland. Guess they’re saving the obligatory shot of the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame for the next break.

12:44: Jarvis Hayes hits a 3-pointer plus a ridiculous foul on LeBron. Clearly, the Messiah still needs to work on his defense.

12:46: Jamison drives inside and LeBron takes a Varejao-inspired offensive foul. Cavaliers broadcaster Fred McLeod is certainly happy as he looks to his “unofficial” offensive foul stats to realize that’s the first one LeBron has ever taken.

12:47: Larry Hughes hits a deep two as the shot-clock expires. Good sign. 17-10 Cavaliers.

12:48: DeShawn Stevenson takes a terrible turn-around jumper and Hughes, of course, fouls him. Good to see Mike Brown reminded the Cavs to never foul the jump shooter before today’s tilt.

12:49: Our first shot of an injured Gilbert Arenas in his suit on the sideline. Hibachi!

12:50: Ilgauskas clangs another open look off the rim. Good to see the ’05-’06 playoff version of Z decided to show up.

12:51: Pavlovic with another lay-in, following his own miss. 19-13 Cavs. Devlin sends it to the third member of our broadcast team, who, to my surprise, is a man. He chimes in with something about Pavlovic being from Serbia. I think.

12:52: Long pass to LeBron on the sideline and a no-look touch pass under the hoop to Varejao for a layup. 21-14 Cavs.

12:53: Soft rims as Gooden throws in a hook that hit every part of the hoop. 23-16. Another commercial as TNT tries to determine the sex of Marty Snider.

A quick Google search of big Marty reveals he’s the NASCAR pit reporter for TNT and NBC. So he obviously knows what’s he’s talking about. At no point in his bio do I see the word “basketball.” “NASCAR” appears four times.

12:55: Today’s injury report brought to you by Tyler Perry’s new comedy, House of Payne. Let me clean up the coffee that just came spewing out of my nose. Remember that TNT’s motto is “We Know Drama,” not “We Know Comedy.”

12:57: LeBron gets an and-1 thanks to the NBA rule that if you foul a guy and he completes a triple axle, double toe-loop, the basket still counts. Even makes the free throw to boot.

12:58: Jamison with a deep jumper. 26-20 Cleveland. Eric Snow is in the game. Hide the women and children.

12:59: NASCAR Marty tells us Caron Butler is scheduled to have his cast removed Tuesday morning and would like to play in Game 3. Really? I thought he was out for the entire series, but clearly, the Pit Boss knows best.

1:00: Eric Snow unloads his two-handed set shot after Varjeao takes five steps before a pass. It misses. Badly.

1:01: Varjeao misses two free throws. Wizards miss at the other end, followed by Snow unleashing a half-court shot at the buzzer. It comes closer than his previous jumper from 15 feet. 27-20 Cavaliers after one. Thompson tells us he wouldn’t feel too bad if he’s the Wizards. Fortunately, for the sanctity of the league, he isn’t the Wizards.

1:04: Mike Brown cleans his glasses on the sideline. At least they match his suit.

1:05: Snow tries a Jason Kidd-like bounce pass through three people on the move. J Kidd, he’s not.

1:06: Thompson criticizes the Cavs’ lack of oomph. Snow narrowly makes a layup. Cleveland-killer Darius Songalia knock down a jumper. 29-22.

1:07: Pit Boy tells us Eddie Jordan wants to see three passes before a shot. They just made one pass to Jamison and scored regardless. Challenge to authority?

1:08: Hughes continues to build a house for charity with his fourth brick of the night. Then, after reading that last sentence, gets an and-1 following a Wizards’ miss. Even makes the free throw!

1:09: Jamison answers with an and-1 of his own. He has nine points. Apparently Mike Brown’s gameplan to contain the rarely used Andray Blatche was misguided. 34-27.

1:10: LeBron jacks up his first jumper with a man right in his face. Not a good shot. Jamison knocks one down to cut the lead to five.

1:11: Horrible pass to Varejao winds up in Z’s hands for an uncontested layup. Jamison rims out a three to finally cool off.

1:12: Ira Newble’s wide open three has the arc of a poorly designed trick billiards shot. Needless to say, it doesn’t go in.

1:13: There’s a new T-Mobile spot with Dwyane Wade and Barkley. This is the second time I’ve seen it. Let’s just say it’s not nearly as amusing as the original one.

1:14: Our first live shot of Captain NASCAR. May want to pay the electric bill, Marty. Picking out ties in the dark isn’t good for anyone.

1:15: Blatche makes an appearance! Mike Brown rejoices. He hoists up a baseline 20-footer that barely draws iron, followed by Thompson denouncing it as a bad shot.

1:16: Varejao grabs his seventh rebound and bounces in the first free throw. 37-29 Cleveland. TNT’s graphic tells us his role is “Team Energizer Bunny.” TNT - We Know Drama.

1:18: LeBron grazes the rim on a three. Donyell Marshall reminds Mike Brown of the naked pictures of the coach he has in his locker and is immediately inserted in the game.

1:20: Back from commercial with, what else, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame! Coming up next, the story of how the Cuyahoga River battled through adversity and made a name for itself even after catching on fire.

1:21: Jamison knocks down two free throws to bring the Wizards within six. Jamison has 63 points.

1:22: Uninspired pass by Hughes goes off Pavlovic out of bound. Michael Ruffin outhustles three Cavaliers to a loose ball.

1:23: Beautiful swing pass by LeBron finds Marshall, who knocks down an open three. Good to see Donyell channeling 2003 early on here.

1:24: LeBron misses a horrific fadeaway as the shot clock expires, followed by Devlin screaming “and a shot-clock violation, by the WASHINGTON WIZARDS!” We’ll see if Devlin makes it out of the locker room for the second half.

1:25: Stevenson hits a three. Down to four, 40-36.

1:26: Cavs let Daniels pass go, collect $200, and make a layup without as much as looking at him. 42-38. Timeout on the floor.

A closer look at the box score reveals Jamison is only 6-for-15 from the floor. Not sure what game those nine misses were from, but OK.

1:28: Back to the original T-Mobile Wade/Barkley commercial. “I’m sorry, is this your DAD?!?” That one never gets old. The look on Barkley’s face is worth a million words. Speaking of Sir Charles, we’re two-and-a half basketball minutes away from hearing him rip into the Cavs. As usual, he’ll be right.

1:30: Noted pick-pocket Pavlovic with a steal, followed by Larry Hughes sending a cross between a chest pass an an ally-oop to no one in particular. Turnover Cavs.

1:31: Sideline Marty tells us the Cavs’ bench looks lethargic while the Wizards bench is constantly talking to each other. A shot of both benches reveal seven players on each who look like they’d rather be sleeping.

1:32: Hughes nails a prayer at the end of the shot clock, followed by a hideous-looking runner from Jamison. 45-40. Crowd growing restless.

1:33: Pavlovic with a god-awful shot that allows the Wizards to get the last shot. Jamison at his season average of 19. LeBron scoreless in the quarter. 45-41.

1:34: Thompson tells us that LeBron needs to recognize this is the “dog-gone” playoffs. Bobby Bowden says “dad gummite,” he’s right.

1:35: Washington misses, followed by a rushed three from Hughes at the end of the half that hits nothing but the net. The first hint of emotion from the Cavs as they walk off the floor. 48-41 Cavaliers.

1:37: A clearly overwhelmed Marty Snider stumbles over himself as he interviews LeBron before kicking it to no one in particular in the studio. Barkley tells him “you’re fired, Marty!” High comedy.

1:38: Magic openly questions the Cavs’ strategy. Why not double Jamison, he says. Umm, because Andray Blatche is out there? Duh, Magic.

1:39: Take the roof off the TNT studio and Kenny’s suit would be visible from space.

1:40: Barkley says he’s “very disappointed” in the Cavs’ first half. He also mentions how New Jersey must be drooling after watching the Cavs’ play right now. Did I miss where the Raptors-Nets series was a single elimination game?

The TNT crew really can’t be topped. Magic is the Randy Jackson of the trio in size and in voice. He’ll start off with a mild criticism, followed by Kenny babbling like Paula Abdul until he gets cut off by Barkley, who pulls no punches. He attacks the subject like Simon Cowell, then EJ, acting as a straight Ryan Seacrest, throws it to commercial. Gotta love the playoffs.

1:56: Back for the second half. Pit boy tells us Eddie Jordan was concerned about Cleveland’s offensive rebounding while Mike Brown told the Cavs to keep it to X’s and O’s. I have no idea what that means, but since Brown is easily the worst coach in the league from and X’s and O’s standpoint, I don’t think that bodes well.

1:57: Thompson becomes the 1,352nd member of the TNT crew today to bemoan the Cavaliers’ lack of a point guard. TNT – We Know Obvious.

1:58: Pavlovic called for a carry. Apparently the refs missed the 29 Dwyane Wade carries that weren’t whistled yesterday.

1:59: Hughes knocks down another jumper to give him 14 points. 52-43 Cavs. Hayes answers with a hook shot to cut it back to seven.

2:00: Thompson critiques the lack of a “fluid flow” to the Cavs’ offense. Uh-huh.

2:01: Hayes hits a three, 52-48. A terrible Cavs’ possession leads to a foul on Pavlovic at the other end. Hayes hits two at the line to cut the lead to two.

2:02: Paging LeBron James. Please come to the white courtesy phone. James picks up and gets fouled before knocking down two free throws. Jamison hits a jumper at the other end to give him 23. Don’t want to double team that guy. Gooden can guard him by himself.

2:03: LeBron makes a runner. LeBron on the ground in pain. Appears to have come down on Etan Thomas’ ankle after the shot and turned it pretty badly. Might as well just end this series now and give the Nets-Raptors winner a free pass to the conference finals.

2:06: James still in the game. Bricks the free throw. I still don’t know how Thomas got called for a foul for LeBron landing on his foot, but whatever.

2:07: Gooden with a turnaround jumper to give the Cavs a 58-52 lead.

2:08: Hayes with a runner. 58-54. No one saw the Cavs sleepwalking through this series. NO ONE.

2:10: The Cavs get a steal that leads to, GASP!, a fast-break basket and a foul. Hughes nails the free throw. Good to see him playing well offensively for once. 63-54 Cavs.

2:12: Gooden knocks down an 18-footer and the lead is double digits. Starting tonight, this game will be on the shelves at Target next to “soothing sounds of the jungle” as tools to help the sleep-deprived.

2:15: Four straight Wizards points out of the timeout. Must be nice to have a coach who talks strategy during timeouts.

2:17: Hughes hits another shot followed by a LeBron steal, foul around the free-throw line, and the ensuing continuation that results in a layup. Nails the free throw.

2:18: Someone named Roger Mason Jr. comes in the game and immediately hits a three. Hughes bounces back with a front-rim jumper that bounces in. 72-61.

2:19: Questionable officiating leads to Songalia at the line. Pavlovic, who wasn’t in the same area code as Songalia, is called for his fourth. 72-63.

2:20: Gooden throws a 93 MPH pass to Hughes, who is flashing into the paint two feet away from him. The patch of hair on the back of his head is finally weighing Gooden down.

2:21: Marshall reappears after hanging out on a milk carton since the early second quarter. Andray Blatche also enters the game. Mike Brown immediately goes to a triangle-and-two defense. The triangle will cover Blatche.

2:22: Jamison misses two free throws. Cavs with a chance to open up some serious distance in the last minute-and-a-half of the quarter.

2:23: Hughes called for a carry. Devlin mentions how that call has been a “point of emphasis” over the last few years in the league. A point of emphasis to completely ignore it?

2:24: James lets a free throw leave his hand, followed by yelling “aww, you asshole” at the ball as soon as he realizes it’s off line. Nails the second. 74-63.

2:25: Etan Thomas and Brendan Haywood are separated by three seats on the Wizards’ bench. Probably should be five seats and a restraining order. If the Wizards could somehow acquire Stephen Jackson, Ron Artest and Ron Artest’s dogs in the offseason, BET’s next reality show would be in the works.

2:26: Marshall sends up yet another contested three, giving the Wizards the last possession of the quarter. Daniels hits a deep two to cut the lead to seven. Varejao throws a 65-footer off the shot clock. End of three with your score: the Globetrotters 74 and the Washington Generals 67.

2:30: The fourth starts with Thompson saying the Wizards are in a position Eddie Jordan wants to be in. JT will be starring in “Being Eddie Jordan” next fall on TNT. TNT – We Know Reality TV.

2:31: Hughes hits another shot, giving him 23 points. 76-67. I think this guy was supposed to be the second option the Cavs are paying $60 million to.

2:33: James gets a steal, throws a pass to Hughes at midcourt that had no chance of getting to him, and Roger Mason Jr. takes the ball to the hoop for a bucket and a foul from Z. Z bricks a jumper at the other end and has been nonexistent to say the least in this one. 76-70.

2:34: Varejao gets called for an offensive foul. It’s called a taste of your own medicine, Andy.

2:35: The Cavs have a four-on-two that ends with Hughes airballing a 13-foot jumper, Z getting the rebound and getting fouled. THAT’S the guard that Cavs are paying $60 million to. Z’s free throws give the Cavs a 78-70 lead.

2:36: Hughes with two free throws to put the Cavs up 10. The Cavs double Jamison (GASP!) and he throws up a horrendous shot off the glass. No one makes quicker adjustments than Mike Brown. Let the record show that throwing two men at the Wizards’ best player took slightly over 39 minutes of game action. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006-07 NBA Coach of the Year.

2:41: The Wizards throw an inbounds pass to halfcourt to a streaking Larry Hughes. Hughes is everywhere. Two at the line give him 27 for the afternoon.

2:42: Z with some good D on Etan Thomas, forcing Thomas to throw the ball off his own leg out of bounds.

2:43: LeBron streaks into the lane with a kick pass to a (believe it or not) wide-open Eric Snow! Snow clangs the jumper but Z gets the rebound. Songalia picks up his 11th foul, sending Z to the line.

2:44: The officials wipe off the basketball as we see our first shot of David Wesley in a suit. The underside of the backboard is safe, at least for today.

2:45: Jamison nails a three to cut the lead to 83-73. 28 for ‘Twan.

2:46: Ilgauskas with a confidence-inspiring 18-footer. Cavs back up 12. Songalia sends up an air-ball fadeaway three as the clock expires. Matt Devlin tries to remember which team the violation is on.

2:47: Hughes gets caught up in the air and turns the ball over, leading to a runout. Daniels takes one step from halfcourt to the basket, but gets to the free throw line regardless. 85-74.

2:48: LeBron gets the Eric Snow treatment. Wide open for a three on the right wing that isn’t even close. A Jamison miss leads to a Z post-up in the paint (what an idea!) and he easily hooks one in for a 13-point lead. As usual, since it work once, the Cavs won’t go back to it. A tried and true Mike Brown strategy – if it’s effective once, they might eventually catch on, so NEVER try it twice.

2:50: TNT returns from a commercial with a shot of the giant LeBron “We are all witnesses” billboard on the side of a downtown building. Sadly, probably the second most-recognizable landmark in the city. TNT – We Know Billboards.

2:51: Hayes hoists up a brutal fadeaway, and the Cavs get the ball back into Z in the post!!! Since he’s six inches taller than the man guarding him, he gets fouled. Songalia picks up his 15th, and the league decides that’s enough. Interesting – getting the ball to your best post scorer against a team that has no inside presence may help you take control of the game. Someone tell Mike Brown to never employ that again.

2:53: Eric Snow makes a layup after gathering a pass that nearly bounces off his head. 91-76 Cleveland. Stevenson hits a three to cut it back to 12.

2:55: Another sideline report from Pit Road where the mood of the benches is discussed. Now the Cleveland bench is the one that’s full of chatter. Shots of both benches show, once again, no one speaking on either end.

2:57: LeBron with a falling-out-of-bounds, 26-foot three attempt. Would have been a good pass to Z had the shot clock not expired.

2:58: LeBron straight to the hole for an easy layup. 95-80 Cleveland. Washington looks tired.

3:01: The local “Scratch & Dent World” commercial runs for the 6,327th time today, featuring a girl showing off washers and dryers wearing a hideous late-70s era plaid skirt and a giant knee brace. Nothing sells washers and dryers like an unattractive woman in a knee brace.

3:02: Z throws one in with one second left on the shot clock to give the Cavs a 97-80 lead. He’s been big since the middle of the third when Brown realized he was still a part of the team.

3:03: Does the Chalupa guarantee run through the playoffs? Crowd seems a bit antsy, so perhaps it does. John Thompson feels the Wizards have a lot of positives to take from this game. He’ll let you know what one of those is as soon as he makes it up.

3:05: Our first plug for “The Closer,” returning in June, around the time the NBA playoffs will be winding down the second round. TNT – We Know Drama!

3:06: Daniel Gibson (finally) gets in the game and launches a jumper off the front of the rim. Eric Snow beams with pride on the bench.

3:07: Andray Blatche with a big bucket to cut the lead to 97-82. Gibson dribbles out the clock and the Cleveland crowd is awakened from its slumber and told to go home. No chalupas tonight.

3:08: Marty Snider asks Larry Hughes about the blown tire he suffered on the turn on Lap 79. Hughes credits his pit crew for keeping him in the race.

3:11: Hoping for some analysis from the TNT studio crew, we’re instead sent to “World’s Worst Drivers 2: Caught on Tape,” joined in progress. I hate to think what we might have missed during those first 11 minutes. TNT – We Know Voyeurism!

Upsets? UPSETS?!?!

It’s NBA playoff time again, and the eight opening matchups look better on paper than the usual first-round fodder. Perhaps it’s the fact that the upset-mad world of March Madness is fresh in everyone’s mind, but it seems all those around the NBA periphery want to discuss is who the “Cinderella” of the playoffs will be. News flash folks: this ain’t college hoops. VCU would’ve gone 0-82 against an NBA schedule.

Even if the playoffs were a one-and-done deal like the NCAA Tournament, major upsets would be rare. With the best-of-five in the first round (which existed from 1984 until 2002), they were slightly more common, but with the current best-of-seven sets, they’re damn near impossible to come by.

Since the league expanded to that format in the first round, four teams who have had worse regular season records that their opponent have won series in the conference quarterfinals. Three of those teams finished one, one and two games, respectively, behind the opponent they bested in the first round (the ’03 Lakers over the Timberwolves, the ’05 Pacers over the Celtics and the ’05 Wizards over the Bulls). While the Pacers, in that aforementioned matchup with Boston, were actually one game worse during the regular season, two other six seeds won first-round matchups over that period, but they both had better regular season records, and thus, home-court advantage, over the three seeds they faced in round one.

As evidenced by this, due to the NBA’s ass-backwards playoff seeding and its refusal to re-seed teams after the first round, true upsets aren’t given much of a chance to happen, and thanks to a best-of-seven that virtually guarantees the better team will win, they almost never exist. The only series that could have been classified as a mild upset in the past four years existed when the 44-38 Boston Celtics topped the 48-34 Indiana Pacers in the first round. Boston then was swept by Detroit in the conference semifinals.

Is there any chance of a first-round upset this year? Let’s examine.

Eastern Conference

1) Detroit vs. 8) Orlando
Win differential: 13

Detroit swept the season series, 4-0. Detroit has been to at least the conference finals for four straight years. If Chauncey Billups isn’t scoring, Rip Hamilton will. If Hamilton isn’t, Rasheed Wallace will. A team’s leading perimeter scorer will have to deal with Tayshaun Prince. Except, in this case, the Magic have no one who would be mistaken with an effective slasher/perimeter scorer, so Prince can likely rest up for Dwyane Wade or Luol Deng in Round Two.

Odds of upset: Worse than odds of Pauly Shore returning to Hollywood with a box-office smash. Detroit in four.

2) Cleveland vs. 7) Washington
Win differential: 9

The Cavaliers won the season series, 2-1. This one takes on a whole different dynamic due to the likely season-ending injuries to the Wizards’ two best players, Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. The two teams met in the first-round last year in a tightly contested series that went six games and featured three one-point finishes. Antawn Jamison can give Cleveland fits, but no one else on the Wizards is capable of scoring consistently. The Cavaliers often lack mental focus (along with a competent coach), so that will likely cost them one game.

Odds of upset: On par with the odds of “Saturday Night Live” being funny again in the near future. Cleveland in five.

3) Toronto vs. 6) New Jersey
Win differential: 6

Easily the best chance for an “upset” since the expansion to the best-of-seven in the first round. A veteran New Jersey team that has playoff experience but faced major injuries during the season. An untested Toronto team that came out of nowhere to win a truly terrible division, but did so in convincing fashion. The Raptors are a better team but New Jersey has better individual scorers, despite its lack of a post presence. Chris Bosh has to show he can carry a team in the playoffs because the backcourt edge is decidedly in favor of New Jersey.

Odds of upset: Up there with the odds of Drew Barrymore finding herself as the lead in a romantic comedy in the next six months. This one’s a toss up, but Toronto will win in seven.

4) Miami vs. 5) Chicago
Win differential: 5 (in favor of Chicago)

So the Bulls won five more games than the Heat, yet they’re placed as the five seed even though they do have home-court advantage. Yep, the NBA cares all right. This, more than anything, tells you how significant seeding is in the NBA playoffs. Chicago’s loss to New Jersey on the last day of the regular season ensured these two teams would face each other, costing the Bulls a matchup with injury-riddled Washington and locking Miami into a series against a team they can’t seem to beat. Chicago relies almost entirely on its outside shooting, while Miami still has the Big Diesel patrolling the paint. The Bulls have Miami’s number, but Miami has Wade, who, even at 75 percent is better than what Chicago has to offer.

Odds of upset: Is this series an upset either way? Wade is hurt, the Bulls have home-court and a better record, so it’s not an upset for Chicago. And on the other side, the Heat are the defending champions and played well while Wade was down. Shaq appears primed for a playoff run, so it’s not an upset for Miami. Generally if a team has the two most dominant players in a series, I’m taking that team. Miami in six.

Western Conference

1) Dallas vs. 8) Golden State
Win differential: An alarming 25

No match, right? Well, despite the Grand Canyon-like gap between these team’s regular season records, the Warriors swept the season series, 3-0. That said, one of those wins was during the last week of the season with Dallas resting its starters. Golden State has been on fire since the All-Star break, but Dallas has been on a tear since the second week in November. Don Nelson knows Dallas’ personnel, but most marginal major league pitchers know the Yankees’ lineup, too. After last season’s Finals’ collapse against Miami, the regular season was just a training ground for the Mavericks. They will be focused.

Odds of upset: Around the same as Mark Cuban looking good with a goatee. Dallas in five.

2) Phoenix vs. 7) Los Angeles Lakers
Win differential: 19

Well, the Lakers have given Phoenix fits in recent years and should have knocked them out of the playoffs a year ago when the seeding was the same. That, however, was a better Lakers team and a clearly inferior Suns team minus Amare Stoudemire. Kobe could average 55 and the Lakers could get swept. With that said, if Colonel Jackson can find a way to slow the pace of this series, it could be interesting. If Mike D’Antoni gets into the track meet tempo he’d like to see, it’ll be over quick.

Odds of upset: Something close to Keanu Reeves and Best Actor appearing in the same sentence. Phoenix in six.

3) San Antonio vs. 6) Denver
Win differential: 13

Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony. A pairing that made no sense in December and still doesn’t. But they have won 10 of their last 11 and they two are finally looking like they might be able to co-exist in that Rocky Mountain air. But Denver’s defense has more holes than a Michael Bay plot and our two aforementioned offensive studs lead the charge in showing no interest on that end of the floor. San Antonio runs about as disciplined an offense as you’ll find in the league, and the Spurs are as experienced a group as you’ll find in crunch-time situations.

Odds of upset: Same as Joey Crawford and Tim Duncan sharing a milkshake with two straws. San Antonio in five.

4) Houston vs. 5) Utah
Win differential: 1

These two were battling it out for home-court advantage until the last few days of the regular season. Houston is truly the darkhorse of these playoffs. They have the one-two punch to give Dallas and Phoenix fits or they could just as easily succumb to Utah in the first round. This won’t be the prettiest series to watch. It will be physical and the pace will be nearly entirely a half-court game rather than the up-and-down tempo you’ll likely find in the other Western Conference matchups. Tracy McGrady has never won a first-round series, but he’s ready to be held accountable this time. He will take over if needed. And Yao has been busy developing a bit of a nasty streak. Don’t want to piss the 7’6” man off. Much like the other 4-5 matchup, I’ll take the team with the two best players 10 times out of 10.

Odds of upset: Again, is this much of an upset either way? Utah lacks the playoff experience, but Houston (and McGrady in particular) has some postseason demons to exorcise. The Rockets are better, but not by much. Houston in seven.

Bottom line: New Jersey has a good shot at Toronto and the 4-5 series could go either way. But the only real upsets will be if either of the top two in the East or any of the top three in the West go down in the first round. Given the nature of the bottom two seeds in the East and the strength of the top three out West, these would truly be monumental upsets, something the NBA playoffs haven’t seen since Clinton was in office.