So the Raps win over Detroit. Do we breathe a collective sigh of relief or pray the Chicago Bulls throw one of their two final games of the regular season? Either way, the Toronto Raptors have a playoff pulse and to avoid been flat lined, a loss by the Bulls to Boston or Charlotte and a win for the Raps over the Knicks this week is an absolute must. Realistically, even if the Raptors squeak into the playoffs, does it really matter? Are they going to go anywhere? No. That's tough to say since Bargnani and Amir Johnson have been kicking it up a notch, same with Jarret Jack and Sonny Weems as of late. And oh yeah, that guy ..what's-his-name...Chris Bosh being off - take a deep breath and say it out loud with me, "The Raptors are done for this year". And don't you are bad person or not a true fan for saying it either. You need to think with your head and not your heart sometimes in pro sports and this time is one of the them. Today's chat will be all about thinking with your noggin when drawing an NBA playoff picture and diving into your postseason fantasy pools.
#1 - Look at games played vs. rank.
I am going to talk as if the season ended today. So let's pretend it's the first round and Cleveland meets Chicago. Based on what we see on paper and looking at the stats alone, it is quite possible for Chicago to go the distance with Cleveland. Over the regular season, these two teams have played four times and that series is at 2-2. Of the games Chicago won, the Bulls squeaked past the Cavs by one point. Of the games Cleveland won, it was by seven or fourteen points. What does this tell us? If these two teams met in the playoffs, either side is capable of coming out on top. Sure the Cavs are favoured to dance the final dance, but they will need to watch their free throws, silly mistakes and injuries to Shaq and Lebron. When these three things were factors, that's when the Cavs loose. Which is why Cavs Coach Mike Brown has been resting Lebron in preparation for post season action. The Cavs have made major adjustments to their starting line up twice this season and both times a loosing streak ensued. Remember when they were juggling Shaq, Moon and Parker? If they stick to Parker, James, Shaq, Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison as their starting five, they could go all the way this year. I only say could based on looking at the stats and game sheets alone. Remember, think outside the box.
#2 - Look at consistency and injuries.
You are probably going to think I flipped my lid based on my comments about the Cavs and now this next little ditty. Let's pretend my beloved Lakers meet Oklahoma in the playoffs. During the regular season, these teams played some interesting games. This series has the Lakers winning three of the four contests. Not bad. But look at how those games were won. While one of those Lakers wins were decisive, the other two were won by no more than three points. And the game Oklahoma took off with? The final score was 91-75. This just shows us that when you meet the Lakers on the hardwood and they are inconsistent and battling injuries, it is quite possible to pull off an upset. Take that 91-75 contest back in March. Kobe turned it over eight times and as a result, Oklahoma turned out a 19-point lead in the first half and the Lakers had their worst scoring night of the season. Remember too, Kobe is out for the final two games of the regular season nursing a fracture on his right index finger. This will affect the Lakers' rhythm and their consistency when he does come back. So don't bet the farm on the yellow and gold just yet. Just pray that lots of rest will iron things out.
#3 - Look at teams with stars vs team depth.
We have all heard it before - no single player can win a championship. It's a team effort. This is why as talented as Steve Nash is there's no way he could beat the Jazz with his entire team sitting on the bench, With this being said, let's pretend the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz are currently challenging each other in the playoffs. When you think of the Phoenix Suns, say the first three players that come to mind. If you said Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire and Grant Hill, you think like me. When you think of the Utah Jazz, do the same thing. Ok, Deron Williams, oh that guy out of Duke... Carlos Boozer and maybe Ronnie Price. I am talking about the first people that come to mind not necessarily the best players on the team. The three Jazz players I named don't have as big a name as the three from Phoenix but does this mean the Jazz are an inferior team? Not really. So far, of the three times the Suns and Jazz have met this season, the Jazz are up by 2-1. Both teams have the exact same regular season record (52-28), too. Very tough choice. Do you go with the youth and relative inexperience (all players 30 years old and younger) compared to the older (not by much with only 3 players over 30) and wiser Phoenix Suns? You might get caught with choosing the Suns and the Steve Nash factor but I wouldn't scratch the Jazz off your list just yet.
#4 - Underlying Factors - Emotions and Story lines.
Anything can happen in the playoffs - you know it and I know it. Motivations for winning a championship are just as important as drive at this point and can give you that extra edge. Look at what's happening in Denver. Anyone who has been involved in sports knows full well your team is like extended family and the coaches like parental heirs. Imagine if your Dad was battling cancer and you made the playoffs, wouldn't you want to kick it into high gear if only for the sentimental reason that a battle won on the court is a battle won for Pops? I would. Especially, if I was talented enough to play under George Karl.
#5 - Have fun with it.
Make friendly bets and enjoy the playoffs. A little rivalry between friends never hurt anyone and makes you become invested in the playoffs even if your team is on the sidelines. Play responsibly and look for the Dino Nation Blog playoff picks coming soon. I am looking forward to what James and Anas has to say - my brothers in basketball.