2009 NBA Playoff Predictions: Second Round

May 3, 2009 in Basketball, NBA by pacejmiller

Shortly after Round 1 of the 2009 NBA playoffs ended with the Atlanta Hawk’s game 7 thrashing of the Miami Heat (thereby ending the possibility of a dream matchup between Lebron James and Dwayne Wade), Round 2 began with game 1 between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.

So I better get my picks for the Conference Semi-Finals in before that game finishes!

Eastern Conference

Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?

Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?

1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs 4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35)

The Cavs finished the first round in style, blowing out a weary Detroit Pistons squad in 4 straight games.  The Hawks, on the other hand, came out on top after a grueling, seesawing 7-game series against the Miami Heat.  Seeing that the Cavs have home-court advantage and won the season series 3-1, it’ll be outrageous to bet against them in this series.  Plus I don’t see anyone on the Hawk’s squad (or in the NBA, for that matter) that can stop Lebron the way he’s playing right now.  The question really should be whether the Hawks can win a game or two against them.  My guess is that they can, but just one.  Cleveland in 5.

2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs 3 Orlando Magic (59-23)

The Celtics just came off possibly the greatest first round series of all time by finally disposing of the resilient Chicago Bulls in 7 amazing games.  The Magic toppled the Philadelphia 76ers in an uneven, inconsistent 6-game series.

This will be a tough one to call.  Without Kevin Garnett, stopping Dwight Howard will be that much tougher than it already is, but on the other hand, the Celtics do have the championship experience.  Further, they have the big-time players in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, plus Rajon Rondo demonstrated just how good he can be.  Rafer Alston will no doubt have his hands full.  In my opinion, this series will come down to whether Howard’s supporting cast can step up and hit the shots when called upon.

If I was calling this series at the beginning of the playoffs, I would have said the Magic in 6 against a KG-less Celtics.  But after seeing how the Magic played against the 76ers in the first round, my gut instinct is to go with the defending champs.  Boston in 7.

Western Conference

Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers

Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers

1 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs 5 Houston Rockets (53-29)

Yao Ming finally got out of the first round – but he’s going to find out just how hard it is to get past the second.  After overcoming the inexperienced Portland Trailblazers in 6, the Houston Rockets will face last year’s Western Conference Champions, the LA Lakers, who defeated the Utah Jazz in 5.

The season series wasn’t even close, with LA sweeping it 4-0.  However, with Andrew Bynum at less than 100%, Yao Ming will have opportunities to dominate.  For the Rockets to have a chance, Yao really needs to be more than just a 20-10 guy this series.  If he doesn’t assert himself and start having big games (and I mean 30+ points a night), it could be a short series.

On the other hand, no one can stop Kobe Bryant, but Ron Artest and Shane Battier are just about the best anyone could hope for.  They also need to make Kobe work hard on the defensive end.  If Artest can rough up Kobe a little bit then things could get interesting.   The real question is whether the Rockets can stop the likes of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol or have the firepower to stay with the Lakers’ high octane offense.

In the end, I think Houston will give LA a tougher test than most Lakers fans are willing to imagine, but they won’t be able to beat them.  Los Angeles in 6.

2 Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs 6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Denver was so much more impressive than I thought they would be against the New Orleans Hornets, whom they eliminated in 5 games.  Dallas also did well to knock off perennial contender San Antonio in 6 games, though the Spurs were clearly operating at less than full capacity.

Another difficult series to pick.  Jason Kidd is lucky that they are facing the Nuggets instead of the Hornets, because he would have been burnt even worse by Chris Paul than he did by Tony Parker.  Chauncey Billups is great, but as he’s not the speedy type, it’s a good matchup for Kidd.  Dirk will no doubt have a big series, but I see the X-factor for the Mavs being newly crowned 6th Man of the Year Jason Terry.  He’s the type of player that can catch fire and turn a game around in a hurry.  For the Nuggets, JR Smith and Nene are their keys to victory.  Smith is also a guy that can light it up real quick, and Nene can make a difference in the middle with his defensive presence.

The two teams appear to be pretty evenly matched on paper.  However, I think home-court advantage will play a factor here, so I will say Denver in 7.

PS: How my Round 1 predictions stacked up

I am an admittedly bad predictor when it comes to sports, but I don’t think I did too bad in the first round (full analysis here).  The only series I got wrong was Atlanta vs Miami, where I declared that the Heat would prevail in 6 games (I was probably blinded by my desire to see Lebron vs D-Wade).

In terms of guessing the number of games per series, I correctly guessed that the Rockets would beat the Trailblazers and the Magic would beat the 76ers, both in 6 games, but that was it.  I gave too much credit to Detroit, New Orleans and San Antonio, but not enough to Chicago and Utah.

Mayweather Sr tells Ricky Hatton to retire!

May 3, 2009 in Boxing by pacejmiller

Just hours after Ricky Hatton’s devastating defeat at the hands of Manny Pacquiao, Hatton’s trainer Floyd Mayweather Sr has advised his boxer to retire for good.

Floyd Mayweather Sr says Hatton should retire

Floyd Mayweather Sr says Hatton should retire

According to the Associated Press, Mayweather Sr said: “I would suggest he retire.  At the end of the day, it’s his decision.  He tried twice.  He failed twice.  He lost to my son and to lose to someone below that, it’s time to leave the ring.  He made a good profit.  Sometimes you have to go when your prime is still there.” (emphasis added)

Mmm…great way to rub salt into your boxer’s wounds right after he just took the beating of a lifetime, Floyd Sr.  Notice how he also managed to slip in some praise to his own son, Floyd Jr, while simultaneously suggesting that Pacquiao is inferior.  In saying all of this, Mayweather Sr has somehow managed to avoid taking any responsibility for the brutal loss.  Despite claiming to have transformed the fighter, Hatton appeared to be no more than target practice for Pacquiao.  There was very little blocking with the gloves and virtually none of the head movement that was talked about.  How much blame should Mayweather Sr cop for Hatton’s sluggish performance?

Of course, keeping a low profile after the fight might be in Mayweather Sr’s best interests.  He was, after all, the cockiest out of everyone before the fight, churning out the ridiculous raps and poems that were at least good for a laugh, ridiculing Pacquiao’s speed advantage and belittling (Pacquiao’s trainer) Freddie Roach’s credentials as a trainer.  There were also rumors floating around before the fight that Hatton was “miserable” with Mayweather Sr and dissatisfied with his perpetual tardiness to training.  But instead of shouldering some of the responsibility and giving credit where it was due, Floyd Mayweather Sr simply said , “That’s boxing,” before adding, “I really thought Ricky would get him. I don’t want to say any more than that.”

It was good to see Freddie Roach showing a bit more class in deciding against gloating to Floyd Sr, instead allowing the victory to speak for itself.

In the end, whether Ricky Hatton fights on or not will be no one’s decision but his own.  As his father Ray Hatton said, his family will support whatever decision Ricky makes: “Obviously, we will support him in whatever he does and we’ll leave that with him.  At this moment in time, he’s probably got a few mixed feelings about it.  He’ll make that decision whichever way he wants to and the family will support him.”

However, if Hatton does decide to continue his boxing career, I think it is a safe bet we won’t see Floyd Mayweather Sr in his corner again.

[Update:

I found some more interesting pieces of information about Floyd Mayweather Sr today.

Apparently, Mayweather Sr was less than happy with Hatton and blasted him for his performance (I guess for making him ‘look bad’).  He had the following to say:

“He should have kept his head down. That was the match. Defense. It’s what I was preaching and preaching and preaching about. The defense I was telling him to do. Throw punches and keep your head back.

“Pacman just put him down. My instructions were to use the fade. Sometimes the fade can lure you into something. He didn’t use the fade. Straight forward. He just went back to his old days.

“Now he has got to accept what happened.”

According to Steven Kim from Maxboxing, Mayweather Sr’s behaviour after the fight was inexcusable.  “What I found very interesting – and disturbing to be honest with you,” wrote Kim, “was that after the fight as I moved my way along press row to the aisle where the fighters make their way back to the dressing rooms, while Hatton groggily walked to the bowels of the arena, he was not accompanied by Mayweather Sr.

“In fact, Mayweather Sr wouldn’t make his way for another 10 minutes or so.  And as he did, he was taking pictures, signing autographs and smiling the whole way as if he didn’t have a care in the world.  Is this the way someone should conduct themselves after their fighter was savagely knocked out?  And no matter what he says, he was in that corner and was in fact was introduced by Michael Buffer, in a first.  You have have had disagreements with Hatton and his team in the lead-up to that fight, but doesn’t he deserve more respect than that?

“If he was so willing to accept all the plaudits for his fighter’s victory and then call out Freddie ‘the Joke Coach’ Roach (as he calls him), then shouldn’t he be willing to accept at least some accountability for what took place Saturday night?  I happen to get along with Floyd Sr, but in this instance he was completely out of line.  As they say, when you point fingers, three of them come right back at you.”

Kim also found it “unsettling” how Mayweather Sr had no problems in being tardy for his training sessions with Hatton, and this was while the cameras were rolling for HBO’s 24/7 series.  One can only imagine what things were like when the cameras were off.

Perhaps most telling about the entire Mayweather Sr saga are reports that Oscar De La Hoya was furious with the results of the fight and “had some harsh words for Mayweather Sr afterwards in the dressing room.”]

Celtics dispose Bulls but check out Derrick Rose’s block!

May 3, 2009 in Basketball, NBA by pacejmiller

I was so excited by Manny Pacquiao’s 2 round demolition of Ricky Hatton that I almost forgot about game 7 between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls, which I gushed about being possibly one of the best NBA playoff series of all time (and certainly the best first round series).

The Celtics and Bulls congratulate each other on a great series

The Celtics and Bulls congratulate each other on a great series

Celtics win!

Anyway, after 7 overtime periods in 6 games, in the end conventional wisdom prevailed and the Celtics knocked out the Bulls in Boston, 109-99. It was only the second game in the series where the final margin was more than 3 points (the other being game 3).

After all that drama in the first 6 games, everyone hoped for (but not really expected) an equally explosive finish, but it wasn’t to be.  The significant playoff experience the Celtics gained from last season’s championship run proved to be decisive, as Boston dominated the second quarter 29-11 (including a 22-2 run), taking a 13-point lead into the half and holding on the rest of the way for victory.

Game Analysis

There were several keys to game 7.  The Celtics obviously had the big-game experience from last year and the home court advantage, so the Bulls needed something special to pull out the upset.

I as said in my earlier post, the Bulls needed big games from Derrick Rose, Ben Gordon and John Salmons (or at least 2 out of the 3), and Brad Miller was the X-factor.  Looking at each of their performances in game 7, it’s easy to see why the Bulls lost.

Rose was solid, but not exceptional, scoring 18 points on 9-18 shooting and added 4 rebounds and 3 assists, with only 3 turnovers (low for him this series).  Notably, he didn’t get to the free-throw line even once.  However, Rose’s ‘average’ game was offset by Rajon Rondo’s struggles.  The player who dominated all series only scored 7 points on 2-8 shooting (plus 3-6 from the line) and had 4 turnovers, but he did have 11 assists and 5 rebounds.

Ben Gordon led the way with 33 points, but was an atrocious 7-23 from the field.  He did make up for it (a little) by hitting all 15 of his free throws.  Salmons was also disappointing, adding only 12 points on 3-12 shooting after playing hero in game 6 with 35 points.  As for the X-factor Brad Miller, only 9 points and 7 rebounds in 28 minutes.

The key for the Celtics, on the other hand, was bench play, which had been poor all series.  Luckily, they got that in game 7, with Eddie House breaking out with 16 points in 22 minutes without missing a shot (5-5 FGs including 4-4 from 3P and 2-2 FTs).  Big Brian Scalabrine also chipped in with 8 points including 2 three-pointers, but was the victim of another spectacular block by Derrick Rose.  See it again and again below!

By the way, Ray Allen top scored for the Celtics with 23 points (to follow up his 51 point effort in game 6) and Paul Pierce added 20 points and 9 rebounds.

What’s next

The Bulls can go home for the summer knowing that they gave last season’s defending champs all they could handle (despite them not having Kevin Garnett).  That will certainly give them a lot of confidence next season, as it did for the Atlanta Hawks when they took the Celtics to 7 games last season as the 8th seed and then finished this season as the 4th seed.

As for the Celtics, they move on to face the Orlando Magic in the second round.  The Magic came away with a shaky 6-game win in their first round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, and I think it will be a very interesting matchup.  Have the Celtics spent all of their energy on the Bulls or can they pull out another tough series?  Can anyone on the Celtics stop Dwight Howard?  I’ll have to think about these questions before I put down my picks for the second round.  Oh, and I forgot there’s still one series left – the Atlanta Hawks vs the Miami Heat.  I’m hoping for a Heat victory so we can see Lebron take on D-Wade!

Pacquiao demolishes Hatton in 2 Rounds, eyes Mayweather Jr!

May 3, 2009 in Boxing by pacejmiller

Pacquiao flattens Hatton in just 2 rounds

Pacquiao flattens Hatton in just 2 rounds

I still can’t believe it.

Just hours after I posted a prediction that Manny Pacquiao would beat Ricky Hatton by an unanimous decision, the Filipino national hero proved once again why he’s the number 1 pound-four-pound fighter in the world by absolutely annihilating Ricky Hatton in 2 rounds in Las Vegas.  As at the time of this post, an almost-full video of the fight could be found on YouTube, but rest assured it will be taken down, though I’m sure there will be other resources available online if you know where to look.

The easy victory sets up a salivating bout with Floyd Mayweather Jr (son of Hatton’s trainer), who unsurprisingly announced his return to boxing on the same day (after prematurely retiring following his 10th round KO of Hatton in December 2007) to “reclaim what’s mine”.  Mayweather Jr will fight lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez, the man who gave Pacquiao all he could handle, on 18 July 2009, with a view to squaring off with Pacquiao before the end of the year.

Fight action

The Pacquiao/Hatton fight is well worth seeing because it was brutal and spectacular, though probably not worth buying through PPV because it only lasted 2 rounds (and the undercards were apparently crap).

The bout started off with Hatton trying his usual rough tactics, trying to force Pacquiao into the ropes and clinching whenever he got a chance.  He was actually quite successful in the first minute or so of the fight in that regard, but it didn’t have any material effect on Pacquiao, who was sticking to his game plan, throwing lightning quick combos and getting out of the way whenever he sensed danger.  The most effective punch in the first 90 seconds of the round was Pacquiao’s right hook, which had landed flush several times already.

In the second half of the first round, Pacquiao started unloading some big hooks on Hatton and had him on the ropes.  And then, with just under a minute left in the round, Pacquiao lands a big right hook just as Hatton was about to swing, and Hatton drops to his knees.  Hatton manages to get up at the count of 8, but then continues to get thumped by lightning quick combinations for the rest of the round until with less than 10 seconds to go, when Pacquiao landed a stunning straight left that drops Hatton again, flat on his back in the corner.  He manages to get up and survive the round, but the stunned expression on Hatton’s face said it all.

Pacquiao landed against Hatton almost at will

Pacquiao landed against Hatton almost at will

Hatton begins the second round trying to be aggressive, throwing big punches that mostly missed the mark, then tying up Pacquiao and throwing punches during the clinch.  On the other hand, Pacquiao remained calm, throwing quick, precise punches and spinning and turning out of the way whenever Hatton tried to unload.  Then about 30 seconds in, Pacquiao starts to throw some big punches of his own, and actually gets caught by a left hook from Hatton, who continues to clinch and punch.  With about 40 seconds to go in the round, Pacquiao starts throwing some wild punches to try and KO Hatton but without success.  However, he eventually goes back to the precision-style boxing that had worked so well for him, and with 8 seconds left in Round 2, Pacquiao unleashes a devastating left counter hook that lands square on Hatton’s jaw.  Hatton drops like a puppet with its strings cut, and one quick look from the referee was all it took for him to wave off the fight without a count.

Hatton is carried out on a stretcher while Pacquiao celebrates.

Analysis

I’m usually pretty terrible when it comes to predictions (of any kind) so I’m not surprised that I got it wrong.  At least I got the winner right!  Most people who predicted a Pacquiao victory thought it would happen in the later rounds, not in Round 2.  I don’t think anyone predicted it to be this easy for Pacquiao.  Even ESPN’s Fight Night Round 4 simulation had Pacquiao climbing off the canvas to win by KO in round 11.  As it turns out, Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach was probably closest when he predicted a KO victory in the third round (but he later admitted he was just trying to get under Floyd Mayweather Sr’s skin).

For those that thought Pacquiao was devastating against Oscar De La Hoya, they need to see this fight.  Against Hatton, Pacquiao had a slightly different game plan, but it was equally effective.  He maintained his precision boxing with rapid hand speed and footwork, but also mixed in some power hooks.  Hatton had no idea what was coming.  Many people thought perhaps Manny would underestimate Ricky, but it turned out to be the other way around.  Hatton simply had no answer for Pacquiao’s speed and precision.  There was also little of that head movement and improved defence that Floyd Mayweather Sr was talking about before the fight.  Or maybe it was because Pacquiao was just too fast for him.  Further, even though Hatton was perhaps physically stronger, Pacquiao’s punches seemed to be much heavier.

“I’m surprised the fight was so easy,” Pacquiao said after the fight. “He was wide open for the right hook. I knew he would be looking for my left.”

Freddie Roach, on the other hand, made it seem like he knew the outcome from the start.  “The fight was no surprise to me.  We know he always pumps his hands before he throws a punch. He’s a sucker for the right hook.”

For the bout, Pacquiao landed 73 of 127 punches (57.4%), whereas Hatton only managed to connect on 18 of 78 punches (23.1%).

Aftermath

Fortunately, Hatton was not badly hurt.  He was taken to the hospital as a precaution but didn’t appear to suffer any serious injuries. “It was a hard loss but I’m okay,” he said. “I really didn’t see the punch coming but it was a great shot. I know I’ll be okay.”  He should be, after earning $8 million for the fight.

So it seems Hatton, as humiliating as the loss was, will not be seeking retirement.  On the other hand, what does the future hold for his new trainer, Floyd Mayweather Sr?  They had one decent showing together in Hatton’s fight against Malignaggi, but this performance against Pacquiao demonstrated very little, if any, noticeable improvement.  If the rumors of a rift between the two before the fight had any truth to them, chances are you won’t see Mayweather Sr in Hatton’s corner again.

Floyd Jr's back, but will he reget it when he faces Pacquiao?

Floyd Jr's back, but will he reget it when he faces Pacquiao?

As for Manny Pacquiao, who earned $12 million for the bout, the sky is the limit.  The only logical fight for him now is Floyd Mayweather Jr, and if it comes to fruition, will be the biggest fight in boxing in years.  The current pound-for-pound champion against the undefeated guy who handed him that mythical title by retiring prematurely.  However, one must not overlook Mayweather Jr’s July 18 bout against Juan Manuel Marquez, who is about as dangerous of an opponent as you can get for a return/tune-up fight.  If Mayweather Jr shows any rust or loses the form he once had, there is a chance JMM might shock him back into retirement.

Then again, this is Floyd Mayweather Jr we’re talking about (and JMM is moving up in 2 weight classes), so in all likelihood we’ll get to see the Pacquiao/Mayweather fight in December 2009.  I hope so.  At this point in time, it’s hard to predict a winner.  Do you go with the in-form, two-fisted fighting machine that is Manny Pacquiao, or the undefeated technican and defensive genius in Floyd Mayweather Jr?  It’s a difficult fight to pick, but at least with Manny Pacquiao you can be sure that it’ll be an exciting fight.

And make no mistake, the crowd will be on Pacquiao’s side when they get into the ring.  In the press conference announcing his return, the Pretty Boy showed the same cockiness and arrogance that I’m sure will make many boxing fans root for the humble Pacquiao. “I guess I just missed boxing,” Mayweather said. “Somebody’s got to keep the sport up and running. Why not me?”  Mmm, it seemed to me that Manny Pacquiao had been keeping the sport up and running pretty well without him.  Mayweather also proclaimed: “I’m still the biggest draw in boxing.  Everybody wants to fight me because they know I’m the cash cow.”  Does Mayweather honestly believe that he, and not Pacquiao, is the biggest draw in boxing right now?

If there is a God, please let this fight happen!