Tuesday, May 31, 2011

2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: The Finals

After going a perfect 2 for 2 in my Conference Finals predictions, it's time for me to make my NBA Finals pick. It has been a largely entertaining NBA Playoffs up to this point, though we have yet to have a truly great series. Sure, there have been plenty of good games and exciting finishes along the way but we haven't that great 7 game series where the majority of the games could have gone either way. Perhaps we will get that great series with this 2006 Finals rematch.

NBA Finals
Heat vs. Mavericks

Heat in 6
Say what you will about LeBron James and the whole "Decision" fiasco, but the Heat are one step away from justifying all of the ridiculous hype. The amazing thing about the Heat is that they only need to be within a few points in the 4th quarter and their two stars are capable of carrying them to victory. The Mavericks have something that the Heat haven't faced yet, and that's a closer of their own in Dirk Nowitzki. Even though the Heat will throw everything they have at him, Dirk is essentially unguardable, making it that much harder for Miami to put the Mavs away. Still, the Big Two on the Heat are too strong and if they can continue to get contributions from the role players now and then, they will be neatly impossible to beat.

That is my pick for the NBA Finals. Let me know if you agree or disagree!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wilson Valdez (!!) is the winning pitcher in Phillies 19-inning marathon game

That was just how they planned it. After using every available pitcher, the Phillies were forced to turn to Wilson Valdez in the 19th inning and he didn't disappoint, getting three Reds batters to pop out, including 2010 NL MVP Joey Votto. In the bottom of the 19th, the Phils finally plated a run on a Raul Ibanez sac fly and won the game, 5-4, and gave Valdez a win in his first pitching experience.

Valdez actually wasn't terrible, throwing nearly 90 miles an hour as he needed just 10 pitches to get out of the inning. While he was certainly lucky that the Reds didn't get a hold of any of his pitches in their pop-outs, Valdez did a commendable job for someone who probably won't pitch another inning in his career.

As with any 19 inning game, there were plenty of other quirky moments, including Carlos Ruiz playing third base, Danys Baez going 5 innings without giving up a run and Domonic Brown getting 5 plate appearances despite not entering the game until the 9th inning. Phillies fans at the ballpark also deserve a ton of credit for staying late into the night and making plenty of noise in the final innings; you truly had to be a dedicated fan to sit through what amounted to more than 2 full baseball games with very little scoring.

And, hey, the Phillies have another game in just a few short hours! Hopefully Cliff Lee can pitch a complete game and save the bullpen from having to over-extend.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Phillies offense explodes in Utley's return

Chase Utley is so good, he can go 0 for 5 and still spark the Phillies offense.

Utley's return lit a fire under the Phillies offense, just not in the way we all expected. Behind a 7 run second inning that saw them bat around, the Phillies exploded for double-digit runs as they drubbed the Reds, 10-3, in Utley's return to the lineup. It was the most runs the Phillies have scored since April 29th against the Mets.

While one would think that Utley sparked the offensive outburst, the Phils did all of their damage without Utley, who made solid contact a few times but failed to find a hole. Every Phillie starter, including pitcher Cole Hamels, managed a hit in the game, with five of them picking up at least two hits. Maybe the players were just as excited about Utley's return as the fans?

Call it the Chase Utley effect or simply call it a coincidence, it sure was nice to see the Phillies offense awaken after being dormant for most of the season. While Utley didn't directly have an impact in the scoring tonight, his return makes the lineup that much stronger from top to bottom. If he can play at even 75% of his ability for the rest of the season, he will be a massive upgrade over Wilson Valdez and Pete Orr. If this is the spark that lights the Phillies offense through the rest of the summer, the rest of the NL should probably just give up now.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Chase Utley is back in Philadelphia

He's baaaaaack! According to the Phillies beat writers, after an entire offseason of rehab and a few weeks of games in Clearwater, Chase Utley has returned to the Phillies. Utley isn't in the lineup today and won't be used until tomorrow, where you can expect him somewhere near the top of the lineup, if not in his usual #3 spot.

Utley's return is a welcome sight for a lineup that continues to struggle to score. With Domonic Brown already here, Utley almost here and Jose Contreras expected back soon, things are finally starting to come together for the Phillies. That they've still managed to have the best record in the NL without all of these pieces is truly remarkable.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Domonic Brown is back!

The Domonic Brown era has resumed in Philadelphia. With the placement of Shane Victorino on the disabled list, the Phillies have called up Brown, who has been recovering from a broken hand since spring training. The Phils were apparently hesitant to call up Brown, who hit .341 in Triple A, but with the offense struggling over the last few weeks, he was the only useful piece they could call on. I would expect Brown to spend the rest of the season with the Phils and work his way into one of the starting outfield spots sooner rather than later.

In another roster move, the Phillies called up David Herndon and sent down Scott Mathieson. This move is just a precursor to Joe Blanton eventually being placed on the disabled list and Vance Worley being recalled.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Jason Giambi (??) single-handedly destroys the Phillies

Thursday was turn back the clock night for Jason Giambi, who seemingly took a time machine back to the year 2000 before facing the Phillies. In his first three at-bats, Giambi crushed home runs deep into the ballpark as he accounted for all 7 runs in the Rockies 7-1 win.

Remarkably, entering Thursday's game against the Phils, Giambi had just one homer on the season and 4 total RBI in 31 plate appearances. In just 3 swings, the 40 year old not only more than doubled those totals but he also saw his batting average jump from .115 to .194.

Giambi's performance was the only notable performance from an otherwise soggy and nondescript game. The Phillies offense was its typical punchless self while the pitching was everything you would expect from a game that Kyle Kendrick was forced to start. Kendrick, who took over for Joe Blanton after he was scratched from the start, put the Phillies behind immediately in the first inning when Giambi hit his first home run.

As for Blanton and his injury, don't be surprised to see Big Joe land on the disabled list soon due to his wonky elbow. With Vance Worley waiting to take over his rotation spot, there is no reason for the Phils to worry about whether Blanton can answer the bell in four days. Given Worley's numbers this season, he has done more than enough to earn a start every 5th day.

Things don't get any easier for the Phillies as the Texas Rangers come to town tomorrow for the start of Interleague play. While the Phils still cling to the best record in the NL, that will change if the offense doesn't wake up during the next seven games against the Rangers and the Reds.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Phillies offensive woes are getting ridiculous

After yet another loss where the offense barely registered a heartbeat, the Phillies offense has gone from concern to serious issue. Sure, lately they have been fielding lineups that feature Michael Martinez and John Mayberry in prominent roles, but it's hard to have much confidence in this group even when everyone is healthy.

Just how bad have things gotten? Since whipping the Nationals in three straight in early May, the Phillies have scored just 29 runs in 11 games, an average of 2.6 runs per game. In that span of games, the Phillies team batting average has dropped from an already low .265 to a paltry .252. Also in that span, the OBP has dropped 14 points and slugging has dropped 15. No matter who the opposition throws out there, from a stud like Josh Johnson to a dud like Jake Westbrook, the Phillies haven't been able to muster anything with the bats.

Through this stretch of ineptitude with the bats, the Phillies have still managed to maintain the best record in the National League. While some of that has to do with the relative weakness of the NL, the pitching has done more than enough to hold up its end of the bargain, allowing a league-low 134 runs this season. From the excellent starting pitching to an above-average bullpen, there is nothing to complain about with the Phillies pitchers. Hopefully the offense can wake up this season and not continue to waste the great outings the Phillies aces are giving them day in and day out.

With the return of Chase Utley on the horizon, there is some reason for hope for the Phillies offense. Given that Utley is not going to be himself for a few months, though, he can't be looked at as an instant savior. It's time to embrace the fact that this isn't the 2008 Phillies anymore; they have clearly morphed from a team that would mash with anyone to a pitching-first, defense-second team that is going to try to win games with timely hits. While it may prove successful, it's going to lead to a lot of headaches and nail-biting.

Monday, May 16, 2011

2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Even though we are already one game into the Eastern Conference Finals, it's still time for me to make my Conference Finals Predictions! After an exciting first round, the NBA Playoffs got even better in the second round, what with the huge Mavericks upset and the 7 game Thunder/Grizzlies series. With two more great series on tap for the Conference Finals, we could be headed for one heck of a finish. After going 3 for 4 on my second round predictions, here are my Conference Finals picks:

Western Conference
Thunder vs. Mavericks

Mavericks in 6

Things seem lined up for the Thunder to take the next step now that the Lakers and Spurs have been knocked off. Unfortunately for the Thunder, they are coming up against a Mavericks team that just played their best series in team history. The Mavs have it all right now, from the ridiculous three point shooting to the incredible point guard to the unstoppable superstar, which should all add up to more than OKC can handle. While this series does have a bit of a youth vs. experience vibe to it, I think both teams are ready for the big stage and it should be a great series. Count on Dirk not being denied another shot at a title.

Eastern Conference
Bulls vs. Heat

Heat in 6

This was my pick before Game 1 and I'm sticking to it. Sure, after how the Bulls manhandled them in Game 1, I would be smart to switch it to Heat in 7, but I'm banking on Miami just having a hangover from their win over the Celtics. Expect the real Heat to show up in Game 2 and pull out a tough road win. There is a lot to like with the Bulls, from their size, ability to guard just about anyone and, of course, the brilliance of Derrick Rose, but I've seen enough from the Heat to know that when they are on, they are the best team in the league. Winning 4 of the next 5 against Chicago is a tall order but if anyone can do it, it's Miami.

Those are my picks for the Conference Finals. Let me know if you agree or disagree!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Flyers to host 2012 Winter Classic

After participating in the 2010 Winter Classic at Fenway, it appears that the Flyers won’t have to wait very long to host an outdoor game of their own. Rumors have flown all day but Tim Pannacio has confirmed it: the Flyers will host the 2012 Winter Classic, at Citizens Bank Park, against the New York Rangers on January 2nd, 2012.

While the Winter Classic is normally played on January 1st, the NHL has pushed the game back a day because the Eagles are hosting the Redskins on New Years Day at Lincoln Financial. With the rest of the NFL also playing on New Years Day, it makes sense that the NHL would move the game and attract as many eyeballs as possible.

It’s likely that much of the NHL will be upset that the Flyers get to participate in another Winter Classic so soon, but for Philadelphia fans, this is awesome news. The Flyers and Rangers are both huge draws, so the NHL is sure to make plenty of money on the game and Philly will be in the spotlight the entire time. You can also expect HBO to make their 24/7 documentary for the weeks leading up to the game, so that’s going to be another awesome experience for Flyers fans.

Good choice, NHL. You’ve rewarded some of the best fans in hockey with one of the most exciting games of the year. Philadelphia won’t let you down.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Offense wakes up just in time to carry Phillies past Marlins

Better late than never, Phillies offense. After being shutout for the first six innings by Ricky Nolasco, the Phillies offense woke up in the late innings against the Marlins, picking up 5 runs in the final three frames to pull out a 5-3 win.

The big hit of the night belonged to Jimmy Rollins, who singled home a pair of runs with two outs in the top of the 9th. It was a quick turn back to hero for J-Roll after being the goat in yesterday's loss when his error allowed the Marlins to score the game-winning run. The other big hit for the Phillies came off the bat of Shane Victorino, who hit his 6th homer of the season to tie the game in the 8th inning.

Cliff Lee wasn't nearly as dominant in his outing tonight as his previous outing when he struck out 16 batters. While he did give up 3 runs and only managed 4 strikeouts, Lee was effective enough to keep the Phillies within striking distance for their late rally.

The win on Wednesday night secured a series victory for the Phillies over the Marlins and kept them 3 games ahead of Florida in the NL East. Now the Phils head to Atlanta and look to bury the Braves, who are currently 5 games behind them in the standings. They'll need the offense to not sleepwalk through the first 6 innings of the game if they want to get anything done against the strong Braves pitching.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Halladay "loses" duel with Josh Johnson

Apparently Roy Halladay has to be perfect if he wants to beat Josh Johnson.

In a rematch from last season when Halladay threw a no-hitter against the Marlins, two of the best pitchers in baseball lived up to the hype, each mowing down the opposition and going deep into the game. In the end, an unearned run given up by Halladay was the difference as the Marlins edged the Phillies, 2-1.

Despite getting hung with the loss, Halladay was his usual dominant self, striking out 9 Marlins and giving up only 1 earned run. He basically made only one mistake, a walk to the opposing pitcher (Johnson) that set up the Marlins first run of the game. The second run was unearned after a Jimmy Rollins error allowed the first batter to get on base in the 8th inning, a play that triggered another Marlins tally.

The Phillies offense, which scored its only run on a Ryan Howard homer, couldn't be faulted for not producing against Johnson. While they had no problem getting guys on base in the early innings, they couldn't capitalize after Johnson bore down and went for the kill. If Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in baseball, a case could be made that Johnson is right behind him.

The best thing about the Phillies is that, whenever they lose, they have another ace taking the mound in short order: Cliff Lee will look to follow up his 16 strikeout performance tomorrow in the series rubber match. It should only take a run or two from the offense to get a win.
(Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Chase Utley begins rehab assignment tonight

The cure (hopefully) for the Phillies offensives woes is (hopefully) going to be back soon. According to every Phillies beat writer, Chase Utley, who had been in extended spring training for the last few days, will begin his rehab assignment today, joining the Class-A Clearwater Threshers for their game tonight.

It's a big step for Utley, mostly because it starts the clock for a return to the major leagues. Rehab assignments can only last for 20 games, so, barring a setback, Utley should be back with the Phillies by the end of the month. Some beat writers are even targeting May 18th when the Phillies return from their road trip.

Utley's return won't fix everything that is wrong with the Phillies inconsistent offense but it can only make things better. Even Utley at 70% will be a huge improvement over Wilson Valdez or Pete Orr. The best team in baseball will get even better with the return of Utley, and that's something to get excited about.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Blanton back in usual form in return from DL

In what can only be called an adequate effort, Joe Blanton was victorious in his return from the disabled list as the Phillies beat the Marlins, 6-4. Blanton, who hadn't pitched since April 23rd due to elbow issues, pitched 5 spotty innings, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits and 2 walks. While it wasn't exactly pretty, it was good enough to keep the Phillies in the game, which is about all we can expect from big Joe.

When he's healthy, Blanton may never dominate on the mound but he's certainly good enough to pitch 6 or 7 innings and give up something in the range of 3 to 5 runs. If the Phillies lineup can give him any kind of support, like they did Monday night, he should be good enough to win about half of his games. That's pretty decent for a number 5 starter.

The Marlins did their fair share to lose this game, from baserunning mistakes to fielding gaffes to poor pitching. With a below-average lineup and a rotation with only one stud, they hardly look like a team that is going to compete in the NL East. Still, expect a great game tomorrow as the two best pitchers in the NL, Josh Johnson and Roy Halladay, face off. First team to score a run wins?

Friday, May 6, 2011

Cliff Lee strikes out 16, still takes loss for Phillies

Reason #540 why wins and losses mean very little for pitchers: Cliff Lee struck out 16 batters yet still took the loss in a 5-0 Braves victory over the Phillies. Yeah, that seems fair.

While Lee had a rough start to his outing, giving up 3 runs in the 3rd inning, he was nothing but dominant after that, striking out 11 batters in innings 4 through 7. In other words, of the 12 outs Lee needed to get in those 4 innings, he got strike outs for 11 of them. Lee's 16 strikeouts were not only the highest in the majors this season but they were also one short of the Phillies team record of 17, which is held by Art Mahaffey.

Lee was dominant but Derek Lowe was better for the Braves, no-hitting the Phillies for 6 innings before allowing a pair of hits that chased him out of the game. The Phillies offense then had their chance to make a comeback but failed, striking out three straight times with two runners in scoring position in the 7th.

This just in: Cliff Lee is good. The Phillies starting pitchers have so far held up their end of the bargain, giving the team quality innings and special outings on a regular basis. The fact that Lee has a record of 2-3 is much more indicative of an inconsistent Phillies offense than anything he is doing. I have a feeling the "great pitching but inconsistent hitting" theme could be an ongoing narrative to the Phillies season.

No miracle this year: Bruins sweep Flyers out of playoffs

There will be no miracle comeback for the Flyers this season. In fact, the Flyers won't even make the Bruins sweat this time. In Game 4, it was more of the same in this series as the Bruins outplayed the Flyers on both ends of the ice and won, 5-1, and swept the defending Eastern Conference champs right out of the playoffs.

So ends the season for the Flyers, who now can only look back in disappointment. The team dominated the NHL for most of the regular season only to inexplicably stop playing hard in the final month, then saw their lethargic play carry over into a inconsistent playoff effort. While many will blame the goaltending, and rightfully so, there is plenty of other blame that should be placed on the skaters for their lack of intensity even when their backs were against the wall.

The Flyers now enter the offseason with a ton of questions. Do they finally get that elite goaltender that we've been clamoring for? Will they move out a forward or two to make some cap space? What, if anything, can they do to improve their defense? With a long offseason ahead of them, I'm sure Paul Holmgren will wrestle with how to fix this Flyers team that massively underachieved. While there is a ton of talent in this group, something has to change if another Stanley Cup run is to be made.

So another Flyers season ends in disappointment. Not that it makes it any easier but at least were are used to this feeling.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Phillies remain best in NL after sweep of Nationals

The demise of the Phillies offense has been greatly exaggerated. On Thursday, the Phillies finished off a sweep of the Nationals by beating them 7-3. While the Phils continue to get great starting pitching nearly every time out, the offense has awoken after a slow stretch, averaging 5.6 runs per game in their last 7. That's a big improvement over the 2.7 runs they averaged in the 11 games prior to that.

Raul Ibanez, of all people, has led the offensive resurgence, picking up 8 hits against the Nationals in 3 games. Raul, who was hitting an abysmal .154 before playing Washington, saw his average rise 60 points to .214 since Tuesday. He was quite the run producer in the series, hitting 3 doubles, 2 homers and picking up 5 RBI. Ibanez has been a streaky hitter throughout his career so hopefully this is the first step on the way to respectability after a miserable start.

While they looked great in sweeping the Nationals out of town, the Phillies next 9 games will tell us more about them. With 6 against the Braves and 3 against the Marlins over the next week, the Phils will be facing the two teams directly below them in the standings. It will be a nice early test and a good chance for them to create a little breathing room in the NL East.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Gonna need another miracle: Flyers trashed by Bruins, trail series 0-3

If the Flyers plan on advancing past the Bruins again this year, they are going to need another miracle. Unfortunately, given what this team has shown us in this series, that miracle isn't going to happen.

The Bruins whipped the Flyers from start to finish in Game 3, getting two goals in the first minute and then dominating the rest of the way for a 5-1 win. The Bruins were by far the better team, dominating the physical game as well as the scoreboard for the entire night. From the Bruins control of the puck to Tim Thomas in net, nothing the Flyers did allowed them to get any traction towards a comeback. Game 3 was simply a lost cause for the Flyers as they failed to show up defensively in the beginning and then didn't have the determination to get back into the game.

After what happened last year, some fans might jokingly suggest that the Flyers have the Bruins right where they want them. While they did pull off the miracle comeback and won four straight games last year, nothing that we have seen from the Flyers in this series gives us any reason to have hope. The Flyers are a mess on defense, have below average goaltending at best and haven't been able to solve Thomas. Is there a chance that they somehow figure everything out and reel off four wins again? Sure, but this Bruins team is better than last year and they have shown they can hang with even the best that the Flyers have to offer. The difference this year starts with Thomas, who should be able to win one more game in this series on his own.

While I'm hoping they turn it around, it appears the Flyers are headed for a second round exit. Given how dominant they were for the majority of the regular season, that would be nothing short of a disappointment. I guess we're all pretty used to that in Philadelphia.

Jayson Werth booed, then cheered, in return to Philadelphia

In one of the greatest mixed messages ever, Phillies fans first booed Jayson Werth in his return to Philly, then gave him a standing ovation:

Yeah, the guy sold out for more money, but it's hard to blame him. Thanks for a few good years, Werth. Now I hope you never get a hit in Philly again.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Flyers face another deficit as Tim Thomas steals Game 2 for the Bruins

The Flyers almost have the Bruins right where they want them. After winning Game 2 in overtime by a score of 3-2, the Bruins have now taken a 2-0 series lead against the Flyers. Just one more loss to go by the Flyers and they will be ready to make another miracle comeback, right?

Tim Thomas stole the game for the Bruins, looking unbeatable after giving up 2 goals in the first 10 minutes of the game. Thomas made 52 saves in total on the night, including several of the highlight variety. There wasn't anything the Flyers could do against Thomas; no matter how often they generated a good scoring chance, he was there to stonewall them. The Flyers outplayed the Bruins for the majority of the game yet had little to show for their efforts because Thomas stood on his head.

Despite the loss, the best player on the ice for the Flyers tonight was James van Riemsdyk. This game was something of a coming out party for JVR, who had been emerging as the Flyers best forward in the playoffs. In Game 2 he took his game to another level, not only scoring a pair of goals but basically owning the ice whenever he was on it. While it may have taken awhile for him to develop, JVR has become the beast that we all envisioned when the Flyers took him second overall in the 2007 draft.

The Flyers goaltending carousel continued to turn in this one, though not because of ineffective play. Brian Boucher started the game for the Flyers and was solid in net despite letting in two goals in the first period. Midway through the second period, Boosh took a puck off the hand and had to leave the game. Sergei Bobrovsky replaced him and performed quite well, making a few sparkling saves as he shut down the Bruins for the rest of the period. Despite how well he played, Bob's night was done at the start of the third period when Boucher came back into the game. Despite giving up the overtime goal, the Flyers should feel confident in starting Boosh in Game 3.

Coming back from an 0-2 deficit in a series is nothing new for the Flyers but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy. The Flyers can take some consolation in the fact that they were the better team in Game 2 but, unfortunately, Tim Thomas probably has another game or two like that in him in this series. With the series now shifting to Boston, the Flyers are going to have their work cut out for them. Winning Game 3 and not relying on another miracle comeback will obviously be their first step in getting back into the series.

Experts weigh in on Eagles 2011 draft

Grading an NFL draft before any of the players take a snap in the NFL is pretty pointless; no one can really know how good these players are going to be in May. That said, it's still interesting to at least get a gauge on how the experts think the Eagles did in their draft. While the Birds didn't make any flashy picks like they have in years past, they certainly had a solid draft and addressed some of their needs. Here is just a sampling of what some experts are saying about the Eagles draft:

Mel Kiper, ESPN: C+
This feels like last year. I look at the Philly board and think, "Well, they got a lot of guys." The Eagles targeted what I considered their three biggest needs with their first three picks. The selection of Watkins surprised some people, as he may have been available even into the early second round, but they may believe he has the capability to stay at tackle. I think he's a guard. Elsewhere, Jarrett provides depth at safety, and Marsh will be asked to step in early at corner. David Akers can't feel too confident about his future in Philly, as Henery was the first kicker off the board. The looming question now is what picks or players will come back if and when the Eagles decide to deal Kevin Kolb.

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: B
I like the pick of Danny Watkins in the first round. He is a nasty player who will fit in on their offensive line, which needs help. Fourth-round pick Casey Matthews, Clay's little brother, will help at a position of need. Should be a good special-teams player, as well. The Eagles always seem to do a good job in the draft. This year was no different. The key might be second-round safety Jaiquawn Jarrett.

Adam Caplan, Fox Sports
: B-
The Eagles were able to secure at least three future starters with their first three selections. However, selecting a kicker in the fourth round is a bit questionable.

Clifton Brown, Sporting News: C-
Danny Watkins will help the offensive line, but they could have used a pass rusher, and some of their defensive picks may have been reaches.

For my full run-down of the Eagles draft, click here.
I give the Eagles a B-. They addressed their needs on the offensive line and in the secondary but they didn't even draft a defensive lineman. They must be waiting until free agency to fill that hole.

How do you grade the Eagles draft? Vote in the poll on the left!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Phillies fans break out in U-S-A chants after hearing of death of Osama bin Laden

If this doesn't make you feel proud for your country, nothing will. Way to go, Phillies fans. Video via Mocksession.com.

2011 NBA Playoff Predictions: Round Two

After a day of rest, the second round of the NBA Playoffs are ready to kickoff with some great matchups. The best of them all is the Celtics/Heat matchup, which might be the best second round series we've had in many years. The first round had a number of great games but no series that went the distance so I'm hoping Miami and Boston give us an epic seven game series. After going 5 for 8 in the first round, here are my second round picks:

Western Conference:
Thunder (4) vs. Grizzlies (8)

Thunder in 5
The Grizzlies look like geniuses for tanking at the end of the season so they could face the Spurs. Unfortunately for them, they now have to play a team they don't match up well with in the Thunder. I scoffed at the idea of the Thunder making the NBA Finals when some were picking them in the preseason but now it appears that only the Lakers stand in their way.

Lakers (2) vs. Mavericks (3)
Lakers in 6
Dallas proved all the doubters (me included) wrong by handling the Blazers in the first round. Now, for the first time ever, Dirk will face Kobe in a playoff series. It's amazing to think these two have never faced each other but that doesn't mean I expect it to be much of a series. The Lakers big men are going to be more than the Mavs can handle.

Eastern Conference:
Bulls (1) vs. Hawks (5)

Bulls in 6

I'm not a big believer in the Bulls but I'm even less of a believer in the Hawks. Sure, they play great defense, but Chicago isn't going to get far if all they do is sit back and watch Derrick Rose go to work on offense.

Heat (2) vs. Celtics (3)
Heat in 7

The winner of this series will win the NBA Championship. Although they seemed to be sleepwalking through parts of their series against the Sixers, the Heat appear to be gelling together at just the right time. While they have zero bench, each player on Miami seems to have a better understanding of what their role needs to be for the team to win. In other words, LeBron is getting better about letting Dwyane Wade take over at the end of the game. I think the Celtics are going to run out of gas and the Heat are going to blow past them as the series goes deep.

Those are my picks for the second round of the NBA Playoffs. Let me know if you agree or disagree!