The NBA Finals might be weeks away, but a rematch of last year’s NBA semifinals matches familiar faces. Here are four things to ponder during the Celtics-Cavs series before — presumably — one team continues its advancement to the Finals.
Celtics vs. LeBron James
The most current concern in the city of Cleveland is if the elbow of reigning MVP LeBron James will be ready to go on Saturday night for Game 1. His elbow was tweaked as he came down on it after contesting the layup of Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Thus far, LeBron says that he will be ready to go Saturday and is for the most part 100 percent. LeBron has had great person success this season and in the past against the Celtics. In four regular-season games this year, he averaged 36.5 points, 8.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds. This may be James' year to win it all as he is not only coming off one of his better statistical regular seasons, but has the players around him to take on anything the rest of the NBA decides to bring his way.
Cleveland’s new starting lineup and depth off the bench
The 2010 Cavaliers have been completely upgraded from the 2008 team that was defeated in the Eastern Conference Championship by the Celtics. Not only does the starting lineup come with a completely new look, but the firepower that the Cavs produce off the bench is what makes this year’s team heavily favored to make a championship appearance. The starting lineup now features Moe Williams, Anthony Parker, Antwan Jamison and Shaquille O'neal. One of the most productive benches in basketball includes Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Anderson Verejao and Zydrunas Illgauskas. The Cavs are twice improved over the 2008 team that the Celtics faced, while their depth off the bench gives them the firepower to play with any team they will face along the playoffs.
Cleveland holds home-court advantage as the No. 1 seed
This time two years ago when the two teams played, the Celtics had boasted the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference along with the claim to home-court advantage. 2010 is a different year as the Cavs hold home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. I’m sure the Cavs are more than happy to begin the Series in the "Q" rather than in the Celts "TD Gardens." This is one of the series’ more significant factors as the Cavaliers hold one of the NBA's best home records in the last two years.
Lack of production from Celtics bench
For what seems like the entire year, the Celtics have received no serious production from their bench players. To make matters worse, newly acquired Michael Finley and Nate Robinson have done nothing with the few minutes they've played this season. Proven veteran Rasheed Wallace, who was acquired with a large paycheck this summer, has struggled throughout the year to find his fit with the rest of the team. The "Big 3" (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) are going to need a helping hand from their teammates if they don't plan on watching the rest of the playoffs from their couch throughout May and June.
Prediction: Cavs win 4 games to 1
Joey Votto won the NL MVP yesterday by getting 31 of the 32 first-place votes, a dominating total that left little doubt about the 27-year-old first baseman's rapidly ascendant reputation. It's no coincidence that Votto's move into the MLB elite coincided with the team's first playoff appearance in 15 years (and just their second playoff appearance since 1979), which was also the last time a Reds player, Barry Larkin, won the MVP. What wasn't expected was the gusher of praise about the Reds future from MLB Network's panel of Hot Stove analysts.
Last week I was sitting in a smokey Portland bar, chatting nonchalantly with friends about current events when I looked up at a TV screen and saw that the Dodgers were beating the Cubs for the second straight night. The Cubs led the National League in wins this year and were on the brink of falling behind two games to none in a best-of-five series.
"That ain't good," I thought to myself. "Them daggone Cubbies gonna lose already."
Then a girl my friend dates showed up and made a weird hand gesture, which prompted my friend to lay down on the dirty floor for about two seconds. I still don't know what that was about, but it only temporarily distracted me from the unfortunate reality of baseball's Divisional Series. I thought that if MLB is going to start drawing brackets and letting mediocre teams into the playoffs, then it may as well be the NCAA tournament, and the Dodgers can be Butler.
Six PBR pints later (seriously, it wasn't a good night) I had forgotten all about the Cubs or the 84-win team that was probably going to reach the NLCS. There was pool to be played and spicy hot dogs to eat and heartburn to deal with. But then I returned home a few days later and read my favorite alt-weekly sports columinst Bill Peterson, who said this about the situation: "Exactly 40 years ago, in 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers embarked on the last World Series between the regular season champions from the National and American leagues. MLB was set to divide its leagues and embark on playoffs the next year. Purists objected that excellence would be punished. The purists were right. Back then, you didn’t get to the World Series without a club that proved it through time. Now a club can go to the World Series if it’s just a little better than average."
I nodded my head to Peterson's words. "Yeah, man. The wild card is such a gimmick and I hate when they have cheerleaders on the dugouts too."
But then Peterson made a really good point about today's playoff format actually giving small market teams a chance to win the whole thing: "With expanded playoffs, it doesn't matter if the Yankees pay $200 million for players because during the week that counts the $200 million club might not be as good as the $80 million club down the street. The expanded playoffs are a lifeline for clubs like the Reds, who will never be able to afford the most expensive talent. If they can just cobble together enough victories to reach the playoffs, they're in the lottery."
So, back when the league offered a relative degree of competitive balance (before those God damn labor unions started greedy ass free agency), the regular season determined who the most deserving teams were. But now the free market has determined that the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies and Angels are the best teams, we need a new playoff format.
If this is the only way to make the league fair again, then the playoffs should be expanded even further. Let 16 teams in and spend a month playing four rounds of seven-game series. Then crappy teams like the Reds can make the playoffs once in a while and maybe even win a series. It would only be mildly more risky for the teams that actually deserve to be here, and it would be really exciting for the baseball fans that never get to see their teams in the playoffs. Even if they have to go in as a No. 10 seed, it would still be worth watching.
I flipped through the latest issue of The Sporting News during a stop at Fountain News (far and away the best source for magazines and newspapers downtown) yesterday. A few locally related mentions caught my eye:
1. Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty was named SN’s 2010 MLB Executive of the Year by a group of 24 peers. Jocketty tells SN that the biggest challenge was to instill a “culture of winning” into a franchise that hadn’t delivered a winning season in a decade.