I think it has become pretty safe to say we will have a new NBA Champion this year. The Lakers melted down in the fourth quarter for the third straight game as the Dallas Mavericks stormed to a devastating 3-0 lead. No team in NBA history has overcome a 3-0 deficit to win the series; a fact Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and the Lakers seem all too aware of. So, barring an improbable miracle someone new will be raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season.
With the Spurs, and now likely the Lakers, bowing out so early; not only will we be crowning a new champion, the NBA Finals will have an odd new look to them. With the exception of the Mavericks disappointing Finals collapse four years ago, the entire decade featured either the Spurs or Lakers.
While one dynasty is winding down in Los Angeles, another looks to begin tonight in Miami. When LeBron signed with the Heat this offseason, he declared his goal was to win five or six rings. That still might be a bit lofty, but he can take an enormous step to ring #1 with a win tonight in the Boston Garden.
Today’s Free NBA Picks:
Miami Heat @ Boston Celtics -3 (Total: 183)
Are we witnessing an East Coast equivalent of the Western’s changing of the guard? The Heat have thoroughly dominated the Celtics through the first two games of the series, but things have been known to change dramatically along with the change of scenery.
The Celtics have struggled late in games, and it is quite possibly due to the absence of Paul Pierce; Game 1 he was ejected and in Game 2, he was hobbled by an injured Achillies. Both he, and Celtics team officials, say Pierce is healthy and ready to go for tonight’s massive game.
I think the three days’ rest will play to the C’s favor. They were a walking MASH unit in Miami, with nearly every key player suffering from some degree of injury, including Rajon Rondo (who has been far from the dominant point guard he was in the Celtics three regular season wins over Miami), and Shaq, who has scarcely set foot on the court this series.
The Celtics are a proud, resilient and tough ballclub. I can’t see them dropping a must-win game at home coming off a nice respite to nurse some of the nagging injuries. I look for Boston to come out strong, set an assertive, physical tempo, and to walk away tonight with a huge win to get this series back closer to even.
Oklahoma City Thunder @ Memphis Grizlies -3
A month ago, especially after Rudy Gay’s season-ending injury, no one would have believed you if you said the Grizzlies would be favored in a pivotal Game 3 that could put them in prime position to advance to the Conference Finals, where they would meet neither San Antonio nor the Lakers for a series to play for a World Championship… It still feel weird to type, but that is exactly the scenario Memphis finds themselves in today.
The key to the game is the Grizzlies Zach Randolph. For a series and one game, he was arguably the MVP of the entire NBA Playoffs. In Game 2, his shooting touch finally took a game off, as he shot just 2 of 13 from the floor, finishing with 15 points (earned most of them at the foul line).
So, was it just an ‘off-game’ or have the Thunder figured out how to best employ their fantastic post defenders to limit Z-Bo’s effectiveness? My guess is that it is a little bit of both. Scotty Brooks finally decided to send Perkins and Ibaka a little help, choosing to finally double on Randolph and shake him out of his incredible rhythm. It worked, and my guess is, while Randolph will still score some points, he will not be able to dominate this entire series the way he did against San Antonio.
I like the Thunder to win the West. That all starts with a huge road win this afternoon, and I think Durant and Co. get it done.