Let me start with a protest. This year has two complications. First, most of the teams – especially in the Western Conference – are not very different. Secondly – and this is where my protest comes in – the quality of teams is going to be influenced by the health of several key players. For example…
- will the Lakers get Andrew Bynum back and how healthy is Kobe Bryant?
- is Kenyon Martin (and/or J.R. Smith) healthy enough to contribute for the Nuggets?
- how seriously are the injuries to Carlos Boozer and Andrei Kirilenko?
- can Brandon Roy make any contribution for the Trail Blazers?
- how much can Shaq contribute in Cleveland?
The answer to some of these questions will impact who someone should favor in each series. But as of Thursday afternoon, I’m not sure we know the answers.
Nevertheless, the picks are due today, so here it goes. The model is the same one employed last year. The outcome of each series is a function of each team’s efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency) and home court advantage.
With model in hand, here are my picks:
Cleveland over Chicago (4-0)
This one is fairly easy. Cleveland’s 6.9 efficiency differential easily trumps Chicago’s mark of -1.7. Even without a healthy Shaq, the Cavaliers should be favored.
Orlando over Charlotte (4-1)
Again, this is fairly easy. Charlotte has improved. But Orlando was the best team in the NBA this season (according to efficiency differential). And in the second half their differential was 13.1 (that’s a mark similar to what the Bulls posted in 1995-96). So Orlando should advance easily.
Atlanta over Milwaukee (4-1)
This one should have been much closer. But Andrew Bogut’s injury really hurts the Bucks. So the Hawks should advance.
Boston over Miami (4-3)
This is the hardest one to forecast in the Eastern Conference. If we go with second-half numbers, the Heat should be favored. But I am going to stick with each team’s differential for the season (even if I think that exaggerates the quality of the Celtics today). Of all my Eastern Conference picks, this one I would expect to be wrong.
LA Lakers over Oklahoma City (4-2)
Only four playoff teams posted a lower efficiency differential than the Lakers in the second half of the season. But Oklahoma City was one of those four (the other three were Boston, Charlotte, and Chicago). So the Lakers – even with Bynum out – should advance. After the first round, though, life will only get harder for the Lakers.
San Antonio over Dallas (4-3)
This is a very tough series to call. Dallas has home court. But San Antonio was the better team – in terms of differential – the entire season. I am going to give the edge to San Antonio, although my call requires that the Spurs win the last game of the series in Dallas.
Phoenix over Portland (4-1)
I don’t think Portland is going to get much from Roy. And Phoenix was the better team this year. So I think Phoenix advances. If Portland was completely healthy, though, I might be tempted to take the Blazers.
Denver over Utah (4-3)
If we look at the entire season, Utah posted a slightly higher differential than the Nuggets. But Denver has home court, so they get the nod. If we focus on the second half numbers, though, I would pick Utah. Then again, Utah has two key players who are hurt. Then again, Denver may not have a healthy Martin. Then again, Martin really isn’t that productive. Then again… oh hell, I am picking the Nuggets in seven. But this is a toss-up (then again, maybe it isn’t).
Okay, those are my picks. These are really not made with much confidence. All I can say is… really, I don’t have much space on my office wall for another banner. So if I don’t win, I am okay with that (see, I already have my excuse ready).