Well, with the way the Wings postseason is headed and the continued mediocrity of the Tigers, it seems Detroit will have to pin its championship hopes on the Pistons instead.
It's not exactly a bad bet, either, since Detroit is pretty solid this year. Over the off-season I wondered why the team didn't make a big move, to shake up a squad that couldn't make it back to the finals and was only going to be another year older and, therefore since it's a veteran team, another year worse. But I guess I underestimated the front office's savy - which was a mistake because the team is as strong as it's ever been. And is one of the teams with a better than average shot at winning the title this year. The secret is a drastically improved bench which makes the Pistons deep and strong. They still lack that go-to player down the stretch. And if someone like Billups or Sheed goes out then they're in trouble - but, then, you could say that about a lot of teams. But the Pistons are all-around strong and are going to be a tough out for any of their potential opponents.
And those opponents look lined up nicely. Boston took the top seed which means they're bracketed in with the #2 spot out of Detroit's division - Cleveland. That means, likely, that Boston is going to have to face two tough opponents to get out of the East while Detroit only has Boston to really worry about - and, yeah, it's a big worry but not as much of one as they'd have with Cleveland and, while not exactly pushovers, Orlando and Philadelphia just aren't in that same league. That legitimate title contender league that, really, in the east to which only Detroit, Boston, and the Cavs belong.
Anyhow, here are my picks (Home team in caps):
- BOSTON over Atlanta
- DETROIT over Philadelphia
- Toronto over ORLANDO
- CLEVELAND over Washington
- BOSTON over Cleveland
- DETROIT over Toronto
- BOSTON over Detroit
- LOS ANGELES over Denver
- NEW ORLEANS over Dallas
- SAN ANTONIO over Phoenix
- UTAH over Houston
- LOS ANGELES over Utah
- San Antonio over NEW ORLEANS
- San Antonio over LOS ANGELES
- BOSTON over San Antonio
In the East, I expect Boston and Detroit to hold serve. I think Detroit matches up extremely well with Philly who just doesn't have enough to push the series to dangerous territory. Likewise with the Celts and Hawks.
But Cleveland/Washington looks like a close match-up. The Wizards have played the Cavs very well over the past few years and I don't expect that to change this year. I think this is the series in the first round most likely to head to six or seven games. But, ultimately, I think the LeBron factor is in play here. He's just too good and he'll will his team to victory enough to get them past Washington.
While in Orland/Toronto you have the least deserving of the top three seeds - the champion of the weakest division in what's arguably the weakest conference - up against a team that made a late season surge. The Raptors are a team that relies on the long ball and if they get hot, they can easily steal this series so I'm going to call for the upset.
In the second round, Toronto scares me enough that I was glad the Pistons didn't draw them in the first round. But I think they'll be pushing their luck winning just the first round and Detroit's depth will tell, so they take that series, too.
Meanwhile, Boston/Cleveland could be a nailbiter but while I think James can propel them, will them to victory I don't think he'll be enough against the Green Machine. The Cavs will steal a game or two but they won't be able to sustain it over the long haul.
That sets up an epic showdown in the Eastern Finals. A revival of the old Detroit-Boston rivalry of the Bird/Bad Boys days. I expect this series, if it happens, to be tough and tightly contested. Headed to seven games from the time the ball is first tipped. A slog, a battle, that's going to push both teams to the limit. Boston should, if things play out the way I think they will, come limping into this series after a tough fight with the Cavaliers. While Detroit should be relatively fresh. But as much as I'm a homer, as much as I'm going to root for my Pistons to win, Boston has just been so good this year. PPG, points differential, efficiency, by whatever metric you look at they're the class of the league. And while I think the Pistons have as good a shot at getting past them as any team does, I don't think it's big enough. They'll go down. It'll take 7 games. It'll be brutal and, perhaps, memorable. But I don't think it's a series the Pistons will win.
Over in the West, well, I think contrary to the way the season played out the postseason is going to be pretty boring with the high seeds winning out. Tough to see the Lakers losing to the Nugget and I think the Hornets are for real while Dallas mortgaged their future to get worse this season. I'm one of those people who think the Shaq trade was a disaster and I think it's going to tell against the Spurs. While Houston/Utah is a bit of a toss-up but I think the Jazz are solid if unsexy. LA is the hot choice to make the finals but, personally, I think they need a healthy Bynum to do it. And, I suspect, they're not going to get him. So, I think the Spurs are going to have one last shot at a title as their window starts to shut.
That sets up a San Antonio/Boston finals where, again, I think Boston is just too strong to beat this year.
Of course, I'm never right about these things. But, then, that's why they play the games.