A (non-verbal) conversation with David West

It’s a poorly kept secret that while we at The Undebeatbles love each Pacer unconditionally. One of our favorites is our spiritual and emotional leader, David West. I recently had the chance to sit down with the team’s leader in collective will, and here’s a snippet of the conversation we had.

The Doctor: David, thanks for sitting down and taking the time to talk. Not sure if you know this, but I’m actually a Xavier graduate as well. We actually overlapped a bit, and I even drove you in the shuttle a couple times. So, GO MUSKIES! Do you keep in touch with the team? How do you feel about their chances this year?

DW_xu_celebrate_1.jpg

The Doctor: OK, OK. I’m a little less bullish than you, but moving to the Big East will be good for the program overall. Enough reminiscing, let’s talk about these Pacers. Your role on this team is as a leader, veteran and mentor...does that make you feel old?

DW_angry_2.jpg

The Doctor: Whoa, big fella! Don’t overreact. I’m just saying we’re not spring chickens anymore. To be fair, you’re still killing it out there and leading this team to a 10-1 record. What are your general feelings about this team?

DW_goofy_celebration.jpg

The Doctor: I totally agree!!! Glad to hear that the feeling in the locker room is similar to the giddiness that we as fans have. I love watching this team play. You guys definitely pull for one another. Do you feel like you’re in the best sports relationship of your life? Like, do you buy each other surprise gifts and give random hugs and stuff?

DW_confused.jpg

The Doctor: Yeah, ok, maybe not. But you guys definitely get along, right? The chemistry seems amazing.

DW_fist_pump_2.jpg

The Doctor: Awesome. That’s especially good, because you’re going to need it to do the things this team wants to accomplish. There are teams out there standing in your way. Obviously, Miami has LeBron and are reigning champs, Brooklyn has a deep and experienced team, and Chicago just beat your pants off. Do you fear any of these teams?

DW_angry_3.jpg

The Doctor: That’s what I thought. Eff those guys. OK, David, I’ll let you get out of here. Good luck with the season, I look forward to celebrating in June!!!

DW_xu_celebrate_4.jpg

Fantasy Basketball Power Rankings

That's right, Pacer Fans, the Undebeatables are hosting a fantasy basketball league.

The winner gets a T-Shirt and holds the rotating (both meanings) UndebeataCup! 

It's a Keeper League, but if you weren't included this year, fear not. The two last-place teams get booted out to make room for new fans next season.  

We'll give an occasional update on the podcast regarding the standings, so if you're curious about our squads, we've posted an arbitrary Power Poll that Coalson made up. Enjoy! 

Fantasy Power Rankings.jpg
Fantasy Power Rankings pg2.jpg
Fantasy Power Rankings pg3.jpg
Fantasy Power Rankings pg4.jpg
Fantasy Power Rankings pg5.jpg

Nash's Photo Shoot

Nash's Photo Shoot

Okay. So, Steve,we're going to do a photo shoot. Just relax. First, just smile. Just like any old photo. Give me a big ol' toothy grin. Yeah, okay. Less gassy, more happy. Okay. Not sure there. Next we'd like to try a focused, determined look. Sure. Go with that. Think precision, think winning. Okay that's not quite it. Let's get angry. Imagine completing a perfect pass to nick young and he blows the layup for the 50th time. Okay, that's too angry. Here, here's a basketball. That might help your comfort level. Dribble around a little. Good, yeah. Now hold the ball up. Give me confident. Give me sexy. Make love to the ball. Yes. Yes. Now hate it. Shun it. Reject it. Good. Now give me confused. Maybe confused with a hint of boredom and resentment. Give me a bit of, "I just sharted myself at the fair." Now hold the basketball like you've never seen one before. K, now quickly give me malfunctioning robot. Yes. Got it. That's the one. Great job, Steve. Really a pleasure to work with, you're a natural.  

Read More

Eastern Conference Predictions 2013-14

The boys wrapped up their season predictions in Episode 30. We have listed them here as a handy reference.

Remember Pacer Nation, The Undebeatables do not advocate illegal gambling. But if you find yourself in Vegas, consider the over on your Indiana Pacers. You can thank us later. Also, the under on the Sixers is free money.                       

                                          Jason       Coalson       Harper       Joey/Vegas

Atlanta Hawks                     48             40             39             40

Boston Celtics                     15             20             23             27.5

Brooklyn Nets                     56             55             54             52.5  

Charlotte Bobcats                27             27             22             27.5

Chicago Bulls                      56             60             55             56.5

Cleveland Cavaliers             35             45             44             40.5

Detroit Pistons                    45             42             43             41

Indiana Pacers                    60             59             60             53.5

Miami Heat                        61              63             63             60

Milwaukee Bucks                25             36             30             28.5

New York Knicks                55             48             45             49.5

Orlando Magic                   24             29             25             24.5

Philadelphia 76ers             14             16             12             16.5

Toronto Raptors                38             34             38             36.5

Washington Wizards          41             44              43             42

 

 

Western Conference Predictions 2013-14

The boys picked win totals for this year's Western teams. Listen to Episode 29 for their reasonings.

But remember kids, the Undebeatables do not advocate illegal gambling and do not encourage Pacer Nation to use these predictions for gambling purposes. If we did, we'd say take the under on the Kings.

                               

                                                     Jason          Jon         Harper       Joey/Vegas

Dallas Mavericks                       45              40              37              44

Denver Nuggets                       50              50              51              47                      

Golden State Warriors              48              48              53              49.5

Houston Rockets                      57              52              51              54.5

Los Angeles Clippers                58              58              61              57

Los Angeles Lakers                   35              32              38              33.5

Memphis Grizzles                     55              45              49              49

Minnesota Timberwolves           41              40              42              41

Oklahoma City Thunder            54              62              55              50.5

New Orleans Pelicans                32              41              41              40

Phoenix Suns                           20              9                15              21.5

Portland Trailblazers                 30              38              43              38.5

Sacramento Kings                    22              19              18              31.5

San Antonio Spurs                   60              55              58              55.5

Utah Jazz                                25              33              22              27.5

Taking Our Talents to South Beach

 Over the last 19 years, I have watched or listened to nearly 1,500 Pacer games, not including the 173 playoff games during that span. These games have affected me on different levels, ranging from being background noise while I slept to inundating me with anxiety. They have inspired both cursing and laughter. Over the years I have cheered raucously in arenas and clapped violently from my couch. I have shared great memories with friends; I have suffered alone.

The Pacers have pushed me to pace, to chain smoke, to drink too much. I have danced, hugged, screamed. I have wept bitter tears and tears of joy. But as with all things, with time passed, the games blend and fold upon one another until the years and the memories become one mass of Pacer games played. Until a DJ Augustine crossover could just as easily be a Travis Best crossover, and my lament about a slow moving center could apply to Rik Smits as well as to Roy Hibbert. Antonio Davis could even sub in for David West and I might not flinch. How many handwritten letters (sent and unsent) to Donnie Walsh, how many long-winded e-mails to friends, how many angry texts, until all the ink spilled is one story, one event, one grand game played out in my mind? 1,500 chances, 1,500 hopes, 1,500 frustrations, until Market Square Arena and Bankers Life Fieldhouse are one arena, and all the arenas across the league have become one court, a 94 by 50 foot wooden pallet, awash with the sweat and blood and sacrifice of dozens of men, that somehow paint not a portrait of a singular NBA basketball game, but paint a portrait of me—a 34-year-old man and a 15-year-old boy simultaneously one in time and space. These are my Pacers. This, too, is me. And so I watch, continue to watch, continue to add to the grand painting of accumulated and increasingly vague Pacer memories.

As I watched game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, the trend continued. Spike Lee sat court side as though he hadn't left his seat since 1994. It was another game in which this current incarnation of the Pacers put together their recipe for victory—clamping down on defense, their offense enough to create separation, cruising their way to another double digit home win. And then it happened. Iman Shumpert hit three three-pointers in a row, and a ten point margin and a seeming win at hand, turned into a dogfight. Suddenly Carmelo Anthony's efficient and nearly superhuman offensive effort against the leagues best defense didn't seem a footnote in a losing effort. As New York's role players continued to rain threes into the fourth quarter, I couldn't bear to watch anymore.

I turned off the TV and turned on the radio so I could listen to Mark and Slick. They had cheered and lamented with me through the years, their voices had guided me through so many close games, I knew I had to be with them now. With 5:42 remaining in the game, the Pacers up 90-89, cold-all-series JR Smith hit a huge three to put New York up two and Slick yelled “dammit,” and my stomach flipped and my knees buckled. The three of us had been here before. Teams lose more than they win. To be a fan is to understand that you will be let down more often than not. The three of us had been let down together so many times. I had to sit, I had to pace, but more importantly I had to begin to prepare myself for what was to come. A Pacers team too inexperienced to win on this stage. “Dammit” is right, Slick. And so, with the young Pacers down two, Carmelo backing down Paul George on the low-post, spinning to the basket, our season on the brink, I held my breath, but deep down knew it was over. And then Big Roy Hibbert blocked Carmelo's dunk at the rim! Mark Boyle screamed “recycled!” as George gathered the loose ball, pushed it up the court, found Hill who passed to West on the left block who sent the ball to a wide open Lance Stephenson under the basket for two. We were all tied up. The crowd roared through my radio so it became difficult to hear Mark Boyle, as the Pacers ripped off an 11-2 run, leading to an unlikely win, led by the unlikeliest of heroes, Lance Stephenson.

Lance Stephenson, drafted in the second round by Larry Bird, was passed on by every NBA team, because in spite of his obvious physical talents, he was perceived as a knucklehead. He had maturity issues, and at the time, it was a huge risk by Bird, for a team desperately trying to reinvent its image. We had shipped out all the “thugs” and had brought in “good guys.” Off the bat, Stephenson had legal problems, pissed off his teammates, and seemed to bring tension and unease to the franchise. But Bird stayed steadfast, signed him to a cheap long-term deal and rolled the dice. When coach Frank Vogel inserted him into the starting lineup after Danny Granger went out with his season-ending knee injury, and Danny's presumed replacement Gerald Green seemed lost, it appeared more desperation than inspiration. And yet Lance was a revelation. He still made boneheaded mistakes, his offensive game was modest, defensively he occasionally got lost. But the early-season Pacers, a floundering team, had suddenly found some nasty, and in the process forged an identity. Five man rotational Plus/Minus stats show that with Lance in the starting lineup the Pacers were +288, better than any other lineup in the league outside of Oklahoma City starters at +291. So there you have it: Great story—troublemaker finds a home. But Game 6 against the Knicks was something I did not see coming. A poised, aggressive Stephenson produced a career high 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 assists, consistently driving to the basket at will, pressuring the Knicks defense, and in no small part helped secure the win for Indiana.

Out of the blue and gold fog that is my Pacers memory, certain games and moments emerge. And most often those memories codify because they stand out for their shock value: 25 points in the fourth quarter, 8 points in 9 seconds, the 40 footer, Memorial Day Miracle, Byron's shot that started it all. There was Tayshon's block, the 4 point play, Reggie's last game, The Brawl. What binds all of these moments, what makes them stand out from the rest, is that I didn't see them coming. I was wholly surprised. Game 6 against the Knicks the other night joins that list—for Lance's emergence, a recently concussed Hill gutting it out, West's creative and timely passing, George's feathery jumper, Roy's block, and the team's collective patience and poise. After all these jaded years and 1,500 some odd games, I can still be surprised. 

            During the series, the Indiana Pacers produced five different leading scorers in six games. They won as a team. This Indiana team is the first NBA team to make the Conference finals without a top-5 draft pick since 1994. But the Pacers have always won as a unit, a collection greater than their parts.  Since joining the NBA, their most notable star was a skinny guard who needed multiple screens to employ his unworldly talent for hitting big shots. Indiana teams over the last two decades have been built on depth and toughness and chemistry, and in as much, they compete, and have stayed largely relevant. Yet in the absence of a big name star, they have almost always been the underdog. The same is true today as it was 19 years ago. So what is the Pacers reward for upsetting the Knicks? A rematch with the Miami Heat and a chance to take on the most dominant basketball player on the planet, LeBron James.

MATCH UP VS. MIAMI

Last season James won the league MVP, an NBA championship, the Finals MVP, and an Olympic Gold Medal. He followed that up with one of the greatest seasons in NBA history. He led the Miami Heat in points (26.8, 4th in the NBA,) rebounds (8, second highest among wing players in NBA,) assist (7.3, 10th in the NBA), and field goal percentage, (.565, 5th in the NBA.) He finished with 1.7 steals a game, while behind Dwyane Wade, it was still good enough for 12th in the league. He ended the year number one in Player Efficiency Rating, an equation created by statistician John Hollinger, widely considered a useful tool to understand the overall impact of individual players. It was the seventh highest PER in NBA history, only topped by seasons from Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan and LeBron himself.  During the 2012-13 season James had a run of six straight games in which he scored 30 points a game on 60% shooting from the field, a stretch of dominance that no one else has achieved in NBA history. Awarded his fourth MVP at years end, James landed in the elite company of all-time greats Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, and Wilt Chamberlain, and joins only Russell in winning 4 MVP's in 5 years. LeBron led his team on a 27 game win streak. And one gets the feeling he is not done. His interest seems less in beating the competition, and more in perfecting the game. He's a basketball nerd—a student of the game and it's history, as well as a stat geek, eager to learn and evolve based on advanced analytics. Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski called LeBron brilliant, and on top of that he just happens to be one of the most gifted physical athletes the NBA has ever seen. LeBron James is not only the most dominant player of his era, at the age of 28, is already in the debate for any era.

James is flanked by Dwyane Wade, a top-5 shooting guard all-time. (Jordan, Kobe, the Logo, are the top three for sure. If you leave Wade out of the top five, he's only competing with Sam Jones and Pistol Pete Maravich, so is at the very least number six on any list. In my mind, Wade has the hardware over Pete.) Wade finished 7th in overall PER and he's the Heat's second best player. Add in Chris Bosh, All-Star that quietly put together a monster season. He shot .535 from the floor landing him 14th in the league in field goal percentage, and shot .557 on two pointers largely from jump shots between 16 and 20 feet, qualifying him in no uncertain terms as an elite jump shooter. The Heat also trot out savvy veterans, Chris Anderson, Shane Battier, and arguably the greatest shooter of all time in Ray Allen. All of this adds up to the Miami Heat possessing the best offense in the league. And not by a little bit. They averaged 102.9 points per game, good for 6th in the NBA, but were the second best three point shooting team in the league, and shot .496 overall from the field, demolishing # 2 San Antonio at .481. They beat teams by an average of 7.9 points per game in the regular season and in the playoffs that number is an astounding 13.9. One could make the argument that they have played weak competition in Milwaukee and an undermanned Chicago Bulls team, but an average 14 point margin of victory in the playoffs is what it is. The Heat have only lost three games in their last 48 outings. If all of that doesn't terrify you as a Pacer fan, you're just not paying attention. So how do Pacers compete?

KEYS TO VICTORY

In many ways this will be a series of contrasting styles. The Heat are number one in offense and the Pacers are the best defensive team in the league. Miami was top ten in forcing turnovers during the regular season, while Indiana was in the top ten in turning the ball over. The Pacers were the number one rebounding team, while Miami ranked dead last. The numbers bear out what our eyes tell us. Miami plays small ball, spreading the court with multiple shooters and possess elite wing players that pressure the ball, get turnovers and easy baskets. While the Pacers play smash-mouth basketball, going big with rebounders and play sound, non-gambling defense. These contrasts give insight into Indiana's keys to victory.

For the Pacers keys to victory, I'm going to refer to the matchup between the two teams this season, as well as the six-game playoff matchup last year. The teams are still largely the same personnel-wise. Yes, Miami added Ray Allen, “Birdman” Chris Anderson, and were without Bosh much of last years series, so they are better. The Pacers have an almost entirely new bench, but it still is not much of a factor. They are without Danny Granger, and his length, leadership, moxie, and shooting will be sorely missed. But the Pacers starters 1 through 5 are improved over last year, so let's call it a wash. (Danny, don't take that statement too hard. I hope you come back next year 100% healthy. Yet despite being the face of the franchise for five years, Most Improved Player, NBA AllStar, you and your 14 million dollar contract need to come off the bench next season. I hope that you understand that its best for the team, and if you can check your ego, re-sign for a reasonable contract, and play this utterly indispensable role, you'll be rewarded by being a perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate and a key player on a team that will vie for a Championship over the next three to five years. Thank you in advance.) 

PLAYING BIG

In the six playoff games last season and the three regular season, rebounding and points in the paint were significant indicators of each outcome. The Pacers out-rebounded Miami by 54 in their four wins, whereas Miami pulled down an extra 14 in their five victories. Indiana did win the battle of the boards in two losses, but those games were marred by turnovers, coughing up 26 and 27 points off turnovers in those games. Turnovers have been a problem all year for the Pacers, but were not particularly so against the Heat—giving up 15.6 to Miami, while surrendering an average of 14.5 to the rest of the league. A key to this series will be keeping those turnovers in check, but more importantly not allowing those inevitable miscues to become easy points for Miami. Beyond that, points in the paint appear to be the most closely related to outcome. In all 9 games, the team who scored more points in the paint came out with the win. It will be extremely important to establish Hibbert and West down low to put pressure on the Heats small lineups, and equally important for George and Stephenson to attack the basket.

DEFENSE

While Indiana's size is an advantage in rebounding, interior defense, and on the offensive end against Miami, the Heat's small ball attack will cause Indiana headaches. When Haslem and Bosh are on the floor Hibbert can stay close to basket and bring help defense on slashing wings, but Miami likes to go small with Bosh at center and Shane Battier at the power forward position. That means West will have to defend a three point shooter, which he did fairly successfully when he was matched up against Iman Shumpert in the New York series. But more troubling is that Hibbert will have to guard Bosh, who makes his living on long jumpers and even has three point range. Hibbert isn't adept at chasing players out on the perimeter, which will allow an efficient jump shooter such as Bosh a lot of room to operate, and more importantly will draw Roy out of the paint providing open lanes to LeBron and Wade. It will be interesting to see if Vogel has a defensive scheme to deal with this matchup nightmare. If not, it could be a short series.

Keeping LeBron and Wade out of the paint is extremely important. To that end, the Pacers defense was better than it was last season. In fact, the Heat only scored 30.7 paint points a game against Indiana, their lowest total against any team. Hibbert was superb in the New York series, but he can't do it alone. Stephenson will have to neutralize, if not out play Dwyane Wade. No one in the league can out play LeBron James, but George has shown this season that he can slow him a bit, holding James to 21 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and 51%, all below his season averages of 27, 8, 7 and 57%. Like Carmelo and Josh Smith in the previous rounds George will once again have to contend against a stronger player in the post. LeBron likes to post-up on the left block, a place from where he is devastatingly effective. Keeping him out of that area will be easier said than done. 

STAYING OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE

George will have to come up with a monster defensive effort and do it without fouling. I believe that fouls will be the most significant factor in the series. If (and when) the Pacers starters get into significant foul trouble, the already difficult task of beating the Heat becomes nearly impossible. While Ian Mahimni and DJ Augustine have played well in stretches, Sam Young deserves credit for his play in game 6 against the Knicks, and Tyler Hansbrough seems to love nothing more than to mix it up against Miami, this series will be decided by the starters. If the starters can't stay on the floor, Pacer Nation will be figuring out how to strengthen the bench for next year sooner rather than later.

BALL MOVEMENT AND SHOOTING

Another way Miami will deal with Indiana's size is by fronting the post. The Pacers have all year long struggled with feeding their big men in the post, particularly against fronting. Battier is one of the best in the business at denying entry passes and the boys in blue and gold will have to be patient and creative in finding ways to get West, Hibbert, and Hansbrough the ball. If Indiana gets frustrated and starts jacking ill-advised three pointers, they may find themselves in large deficits early and often.

The wing players for Indiana must be selective and effective in making Miami pay for doubling the post. If Hill in particular can consistently hit the open three or find the open man in the offensive rotation, the chess match of big vs. small will tilt in the Pacers favor.

One of Indiana's great advantages in this series is that there is not one or two players the Miami Heat's defense can key on. The Pacers score and win by committee. On any given night, any one of the starters can be the leading scorer. That sort of offensive unpredictability will serve Indiana well and keep Miami on its heels. That is true most of all because of the emergence of Lance Stephenson. Last year an after thought, and early in the season a non-threat offensively, Lance, when aggressive, can create havoc with his speed in transition and his strength driving the ball to the basket. He's the X-factor in this series, because I'm not sure what he's capable of. I'm not sure even he knows. But if he can play smart and under control as he did in game 6 against New York, Miami won't know what hit them. 

PREDICTIONS

Having said all that, Miami is not going to look past the Pacers as they did last year. They know we are coming. I believe that last year's playoff series was a wake up call for Miami. LeBron's playoff stats before the Heat went down 2-1 against Indiana looked like this: 27.6 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.1 assists, on 47% shooting. After Indiana got his attention, his numbers from game four in that series through the Finals went up dramatically to 31.6 points, 11.3 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 51% shooting. We poked the bear and he responded with authority. In no small part, that same series against Indiana inspired Miami's small ball attack. In the first three games they were getting out-muscled and out-bigged (and their most effective big man Chris Bosh was out with injury,) and so Heat coach Eric Spoelstra changed his offense to emphasize his rosters strengths: speed, length, shooting, and one of the most gifted players the league has ever seen. They went small and gave the keys over to LeBron, sparking an offensive juggernaut, and the league hasn't been the same since.  Even so, the Pacers won the first two regular season match ups against the Heat. After losing to Indiana on February 1, 89-102, the Miami Heat ripped off 27 wins in a row, the second longest winning streak in NBA history. Miami not only knows we're coming, Indiana is at least partial motivation for the Heat being the dominant team they are today.

Make no mistake, the Pacers are monumental underdogs and no one in the media will pick them to win, no one in Vegas, either. To do so would be foolish. While Indiana's defense can potentially neutralize Miami's potent offense, Indiana's shaky offense is in very real danger of collapsing against the Heat's lightening-quick pressure defense. Miami is not only a good team, they are an historically great team. They have won 45 of their last 48 games. That's why, in my original playoff picks I chose Miami in 5. The Pacers aren't on Miami's level. They are too young, too inexperienced, and they are missing the depth and consistent outside shooting to contend.

But, too, there is this: David West said this about the Indiana Pacers, “This is the most together group I’ve been a part of. I made the observation, at some point every day every guy speaks to every guy on this team, and I’ve been on teams where that’s not the case. Everybody has a conversation at some point throughout the day, and that’s huge for us, especially in tough situations. ... We don’t talk about it, we practice it. We don’t have any egos. We don’t have any ‘I’ guys. We have a bunch of ‘we’ guys.”

This is a special group of guys. It is a confident bunch. They wanted all year to get here, to see the Miami Heat in the playoffs again, to test themselves against the best. Vogel wrote on the whiteboard in the locker room “Believe.” He has these guys believing. And maybe, just maybe that special game 6 against New York will be for this young group of Pacers what that game back in 1994 was to Reggie's Pacers. After multiple years of losing in the first round of the playoffs, Indiana was once again a heavy underdog going into Orlando. The expectations were low, they didn't have a superstar, just a collection of guys that played tough and together. They battled, kept it close, and then it happened—Byron Scott hit a jumper with 2.2 seconds to go, putting the Pacers up 89-88 for an unexpected victory. That win made the team believe they could play with anyone. That shot propelled Indiana all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals against the Knicks, where Reggie would drop 25 in the 4th quarter in the Garden. That moment entered the Pacers into an era in which they were perennial contenders for a decade. Maybe, years from now, we'll remember this year's game 6 like we remember Byron Scott's shot. A moment in which this collection of Pacers began to understand that the sky's the limit. Because basketball still has the ability to surprise. Pacers in 7.

I believe.  

Joey's Playoff Predictions

Joey's picks as gleaned from episode 14.

EAST

1. Miami vs 8. Milwaukee

Miami in 5

2. New York vs 7. Boston

New York in 6

3. Indiana vs 6. Hotlanta

Indy in 5

4. Brooklyn vs 5. Chicago

Brooklyn in 7

WEST

1. Oklahoma City vs 8. Houston

OKC in 4

2. San Antonio vs. 7. LA Lakers

San Antonio in 4

3. Denver vs 6. Golden State

Denver in 6

4. LA Clippers vs 5. Memphis

Memphis in 7

All the picks are in. Be sure to check out the rest of the Undebeatables' predictions by scrolling down. Let's Go Pacers!

Playoff Predictions: Fair and Balanced Edition

Jon Harper aka "The Enforcer"

April 20th

West Side!

#1 OKC Thunder vs #8 Houston Rockets

Match-up to watch: Kevin Durant vs Russell Westbrook

Who will get to 40 first?! Kevin Durant should win this one. He will be guarded by Chandler Parsons. That's not going to work. I'm sure they will try to come up with something to slow him down, but there isn't a lot of that game film to study. Westbrook may decide to employ the best strategy, ball denial. The Rockets best chance in this series may be to let Russell be Russell.

Best potential subplot: James Harden may defect by game three, part of a complicated long con by “The Beard.” If not, he may wish he hadn't shown quite so much to Thabo Sefolosha during practice during his years with the Thunder; a very good defender with great familiarity is going to make Harden's life very difficult for four games.

Prediction: Not close. Oklahoma City Supersonics win in four.

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs #7 the Lake Show

Match-up to watch: Los Spurs vs Father Time

Two time MVP and Johannesburg-born Steve Nash (yeah, who knew?) is reunited with new coach Mike D'Antoni in LA. Wait, they've both been there all year? The run and gun returns, making life difficult for the aging Spurs. If Howard can hit a few free throws and plays Timmy Duncan tough I think the Lakers are going to surprise some people.

Best potential subplot: Media coverage of Kobe Bryant as cheerleader

Kobe Bryant's reputation as a teammate is less than impressive. When the Lakers play well, I predict the media will find some bizarre way to give Kobe credit for their success, proving he is the heart and soul of an improved Laker team that couldn't have done it without him...by doing it without him.

Prediction: Watch out now! Lakers in 7.

#3 Denver Nuggets vs #6 Golden State Warriors

Match-up to watch: AI vs Klay Thompson

Andre Iguodala (aka “Andwe Igwodwala”) will run rampant in this series against an inferior defender. And by the way, the Warriors' backup shooting guards are Kent Bazemore and Brandon Rush...'nuff said. But their options at three behind rookie Harrison Barnes are Draymond Green, a rookie who may not be healthy, and Richard Jefferson. Mark Jackson will need to really flex his coaching muscles to keep him under 30 a game.

Best potential subplot: Stephen Curry's coming out party

The world at large doesn't know who this kid is yet, but very soon they will. Coupled with a great fit at coach for a guy they're trying to move to the point, Curry and former Pacer Mark Jackson are going to make some serious waves for years. But this won't be one of those years.

Prediction: Go Mark! I hope your do better than I think. Nugs in six, but maybe not as close as it sounds.

#4 (The Other) LA Clippers vs #5 Memphis Grizzlies

Match-up to watch: Not a fair question

I think that every position match-up in this series in intriguing. This series is going to be close, maybe the best first-round series as JT has pointed out. I am picking Tayshaun Prince vs Jamal Crawford. That's right, I just picked bench players over CP3 and Blake Griffin. It may come down to the little things in this one and if Tayshaun can shut down Jamal (and he's got the game to do it) it will not only validate the Rudy Gay trade but also give them a real shot in this series.

Best potential subplot: Chris Paul vs Tom Hanks

CP3 will break out all the tricks of the trade in this one. In what may be a very tight series, Paul may finally get the best actor Oscar nod he deserves but Tom Hanks has two movies out this year. It's a pick 'em.

Prediction: Picking against this defensive-minded Memphis team would be like picking against the Pace. That said, nobody rolls over here. Grizz in six, but look for two overtime games.

Eastern Conference

# 1 Pacers vs #6 Atlanta Hawks

Match-up to watch: Hawk twos and threes vs PG

Paul George's natural match-up in this series will be Kyle Korver. Paul George is poised to prove he is ready for the big stage and this isn't going to be the guy who stands in his way. They are going to have to show Paul George a lot of different looks to slow him down. Dahntay Jones has defensive game, but he won't be the answer to PG in this series. Worse for the Hawks, if they spend too much time on PG, Lance may show he would be in the most-improved race but for his teammate.

Best potential subplot: The Pacers are better than you.

Prediction: Gonna be a hard-fought series. We won't win more than one game by fifty. Pacers in four.

# 1.5 Miami Heat vs #8 Milwaukee Bucks

Match-up to watch: Brandon Jennings vs King James

Brandon Jennings forgot to watch the game film of the Pacers' playoff series against the Heat last year. In a less-than-impressive moment in Pacer history, Lance Stephenson gave LeBron the old choke gesture after a missed free throw in our second playoff game. The rest is history. Jennings decided predicting that the Bucks would upset the Heat in six was a smart play. I'm guessing that giving one of the hottest teams in NBA history some bulletin board material may not play to their advantage. Look for LBJ to flash a triple-double in the first game, but not because he has to--just to prove how easy basketball is.

Best potential subplot: Dwayne Wade's worst playoff series ever

LeBron is going to yolk so hard on the Bucks after being begged to do so that Dwayne will be unable to take more than two shots in the first two games. He will split his time laughing his ass off at the overmatched Bucks while on the court and napping on the bench after LBJ and Ray Allen score 25 each.

Prediction: Yeah, Miami. Can you win in three if you win by 30 every night?

#2 NY Knicks vs #7 Herotown Celtics

Match-up to watch: Kevin Garnett vs Carmelo Anthony

I think we have every reason to believe that the Celts will shift defensive duties of Brandon Bass to Tyson Chandler.  No doubt that Carmelo will see a ton of different schemes, but as a game plan I think that Doc Rivers goes to Garnett (15 time All-Star) to make the league's leading scorer work hard for his points. There will still be plenty. I think that Woodson would love to counter big but the injuries he has in his frontcourt make that impossible. Instead, he will be forced to go small and will need at least two great (relative term) games from Steve Novak.

Best potential subplot: NYC vs all of America

New York has, since the dawn of time 5000 years ago, enjoyed the unflagging support of every other market in the country except Boston. This year, NY will find out what it's like to have to play against a team that no one could root against. Boston will have the best home court advantage in their history and won't lose a game in front of a thankful crowd after one of the most traumatic weeks in their long history. NY, though, knows a thing or two about adversity and isn't going to give Boston any quarter.

Prediction: If I had picked the Eastern Conference first, I would have taken the Spurs on the other side in seven and an upset here. There won't be two upsets at this seed, however, and I'm already committed. The Knicks will need all seven games.

#4 Brooklyn Nets vs #5 Chicago Bulls

Match-up to watch: Brook Lopez vs Joaquim Noah

Lopez is really underrated. Noah is very good. Joaquim will play despite not being 100% and won't show much sign of weakness. However, I think that Brook Lopez is ready to have a great playoff series and will benefit from Deron Williams being very hot, as JT correctly noted. He's also correct that no one gets to walk through Thibodeau's defense. Lopez will turn this series by negating the Bulls' rebounding advantage, containing Noah, and making him work hard on both ends.

Best potential subplot: Discovery of players who aren't Derrick Rose

I'm fairly sure that until game 5, the majority of pregame will be dedicated to talking about a possible return of Derrick Rose. If it happens the Bulls will win. When it doesn't...drum roll please:

Prediction: Jay-Z gets garbage minutes in a game six victory for the Nets.

Conference Semis

Western Conference

OKC vs Grizzlies

Prediction: Look for OKC to pull this out, taking them deep to seven. It's a tough playoff run for the Thunder, but they're up to the task. Too much greatness.

Nuggets vs Lakers

Prediction: The magic will wear out for the Lakers here and a hot Nuggets team will win the day. Nuggets in six.

Eastern Conference

Miami and the other guys

Prediction: Unless Rose surprises with a comeback (which he may) the unlucky team here will be the Nets. Either way, Heat in 5.

Pacers vs Celtics

Prediction: The Celtics will not have learned more than us from the regular season matches. Physical series, but the Pacers will have enough in the tank thanks to a few extra days of rest. Guess what? Pacers in four.

Conference Finals

OKC vs Nuggets

Prediction: The road for OKC finally gets a little easier. They match well against this team and win in a less physical series, six games.

Indiana vs Miami

Prediction: There is no team playing better basketball than the Miami Heat. Luckily we are able to stay hotter yet and continue our road to perfection. There's a chance we could lose one, but I am taking the Pacers in four.

NBA Finals

OKC vs Your Indiana Pacers

Prediction: Well, another tough match-up, but the Thunder will look past the Pacers to the next round against the only team they thought they would have to face in the Finals, the Heat, and lose in a surprising four games.

JT's Playoff Predictions

Here's what I think might happen over the next two months in the NBA universe:

First Round

EAST

#1 Miami vs. #8 Milwaukee

Matchup to watch: Monta Ellis vs. Dwyane Wade - Ellis can catch fire and potentially win a game on his own...but that probably won’t happen. Although, If he can make Wade work defensively, it could have impact for the Heat’s run to the Finals.

Coolest potential subplot: LBJ averages a triple-double for the series, which would make him the 6th player to do so. (Oscar Robertson (1), Wilt Chamberlain (2), Magic Johnson (4), Fat Lever (1), Jason Kidd (2))

Prediction: This is a snoozer. Heat in 4.

#2 New York vs. #7 Boston

Matchup to watch: Raymond Felton vs. Avery Bradley - For all the talk about Carmelo, the Knicks play best when Felton is getting in the lane and finding open shooters. Bradley is more than capable as a defender, and his ability to shut down Felton could result in a dangerous situation for the Knicks.

Coolest potential subplot: Boston fans drench Carmelo with Honey-Nut-Cheerios-fueled trash talk and get in his head.

Prediction: Boston’s a little too old and a little too banged up, and will have to rely on the mercurial Jeff Green way too much. Knicks in 6.

#3 Indiana vs. #6 Atlanta

Matchup to watch: Roy Hibbert vs. Al Horford - In the 4 gams against Hotlanta this year, Big Roy has only averaged 9.5 PTS and 7.3 REB, putting up a donut in one of the L’s. If he can establish a presence in the post and get the Hawks’ already thin frontline in foul trouble, it will be good news for the Pacers.

Coolest potential subplot: The Undebeatbles partying with the Pacers after a Game 5 clincher.

Prediction: The Pacers aren’t playing well enough to sweep anyone. Pacers in 5.

#4 Brooklyn vs. #5 Chicago

Matchup to watch: Deron Williams vs. Tom Thibodeau’s scheme - D. Will is playing as well as anyone in the league now, and the Bulls do not have a single player to deal with his size and strength on the perimeter. But, “Thibs” is not going to sleep for the next 48 hours coming up with a way to stop him.

Coolest potential subplot: An over-emotional Carlos Boozer actual wakes Brook Lopez up from his life-long coma.

Prediction: Between the Nets being kinda up & down and the Bulls playing great D, this one goes the distance. But, in the end, Brooklyn will get their first playoff series win. Nets in 7.

WEST

#1 Oklahoma City vs. #8 Houston

Matchup to watch: James Harden vs. Thabo Sefolosha - The biggest trade of the season may come back to haunt the Thunder. Harden has been transcendent for Houston and will surely want to show Sam Presti he made a huge error. However, OKC has the luxury of having Thabo focus all of his energy on stopping the bearded wonder.

Coolest potential subplot: Durant averages 40 to send a message to the Association.

Prediction: This will be a fun series to watch and each game will hit the over, but OKC just has too much firepower. Thunder in 5.

#2 San Antonio vs. #7 LA Lakers

Matchup to watch: Tim Duncan vs. Dwight Howard - Duncan has been amazing this year in limited minutes. He’ll be asked to play more minutes now and against pretty tough competition. Howard is looking better, but my money is on TIMMMMMMAYYY!!!! 

Coolest potential subplot: Tracy McGrady somehow looks like Tracy McGrady again and helps a team to a second round for the first time.

Prediction: It was a valiant effort by the Lakers to rally their way into the playoffs, but the Spurs don’t give a crap about that. Spurs in 4.

#3 Denver vs. #6 Golden State

Matchup to watch: Ty Lawson vs. Stephen Curry - Curry is on fire headed into his first playoff series, averaging 26 a game over his last 10. Lawson will put pressure on him, but has been hobbled of late, so his health may determine how far the Nuggets go.

Coolest potential subplot: Mark Jackson brings back the shimmy shake after a big GSW win.

Prediction: It’s been a great season in Denver, but they lose much of their home court advantage in the post-season due to a lack of back-to-backs. Plus, too many injuries. Warriors in 6.

#4 LA Clippers vs. #5 Memphis

Matchup to watch: Blake Griffin vs. Zach Randolph - This is a matchup of young man strength vs. old man strength. Z-Bo has an amazing ability to make buckets without jumping, and he specializes in sticking his Rick Mahorn-esque butt into his opponent. Griffin will have to avoid being frustrated by this and knock down 18-footers to balance things out for the Clips.

Coolest potential subplot: CP3 relieves Vinny del Negro of coaching duties after he blows game 4 in OT. 

Prediction: This is the series I’m most looking forward to outside of Pacers-Hawks - goodbye sleep! The Clippers rattled off 7 straight to wrest home court advantage away from the Grizz in this series. That and Mr. Paul will get them to the second round. Clippers in 7.

Rounds 2-4

Since the rest of the rounds are hypothetical, I’ll give no analysis for now. But here’s how I think it will shake out:

Conference Semis

EAST

#1 Miami vs. #4 Brooklyn - Heat in 6.

#2 New York vs. #3 Indiana - Pacers in 6.

WEST

#1 Oklahoma City vs. #4 LA Clippers - Thunder in 7.

#2 San Antonio vs. #6 Golden State - Spurs in 5.

Conference Finals

EAST

#1 Miami vs. #3 Indiana - Heat in 5.

WEST

#1 Oklahoma City vs. #2 San Antonio - Thunder in 7.

NBA Finals

Miami vs. Oklahoma City - Miami in 7.

Coalson's Playoff Predictions

The Undebeatables will have a full playoff preview in the upcoming podcast, but we thought it best to put our individual predictions in writing. Thus, making it easier to refer to our inaccurate analysis.

I'll go ahead and put my inaccuracies on the line first.

Round 1:

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat vs. 8. Milwaukee Bucks

Miami just won 66 games, only the sixteenth team to win more than 65 games in a season in NBA history. (12 of the 15 went on to win the title.) Meanwhile, the Bucks won 66 games...in 1971, led by Big O and Kareem, back when he still went by Lew Alcindor. That was a long time ago, and I can promise you LeBron does not fear this current incarnation of the Deer.

Miami in 4

2. New York Knicks vs. Boston Celtics

Every year I count out the Celtics as washed up, every year they do something special. New York is playing well, but I think Boston has the defense, the experience, the veteran pride, and the motivation to take them out. An emotional win in one of the first two games in NYC will push the Celts over the top in a long and gripping series.

Boston in 7

3. Indiana Pacers vs. 6. Atlanta Hawks

The Pacers have not been playing well over the last several weeks and in the process lost the chance to win 50 games in a season for only the 9th time in franchise history. But I think we've been saving our legs for the post-season. The Hawks give Indiana trouble with the zone and that's about it. This is a special Pacers team and they'll remind us of that in the first round.

Indy in 5

4. Brooklyn Nets vs. 5. Chicago Bulls

All four regular season games were close, the Bulls winning 3. Its tough to see these Bulls, with so much resolve inspite of the year they've had, going down to a fairly uninspiring Nets team...but that's what I'm predicting. If only because I couldn't find a coin to flip.

Brooklyn in 7

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 8. Houston Rockets

Harden matched against his old team will serve as nice theater, but OKC is way too good to let this become a series.

Oklahoma in 5

2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. LA Lakers

I've heard the Ewing Theory. I like the Ewing Theory. But the Lakers just can't beat the Spurs without Kobe. I think the frontline of Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard can be dominant, but it won't be enough against the finely tuned basketball machine that is Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, and the San Antonio Spurs.

San Antonio in 6

3. Denver Nuggets vs. 6. Golden State Warriors

This one is gonna be fun. First one to 120 wins. Stephen Curry of the Warriors just set the single season record for three pointers, so needless to say he can shoot. But I think the depth and relentlessness of the Nugs proves too much.

Denver in 5

4. LA Clippers vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies

I don't like betting against the best player in a series, which in this case is Chris Paul on the Clips, but I think the Memphis defense is going to be the true star. This one will be long, hard fought, and ugly.

Memphis in 7

Round 2:

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat vs. 4. Brooklyn Nets

Miami is on a mission. Nets just happy to be here.

Miami in 5

3. Indiana Pacers vs. 7. Boston Celtics

While I've said before that Boston is a bad matchup for the Pace for a variety of reasons, I believe Indiana can make enough adjustments in a series to win. I do think Boston has too much poise to lose against a young team in a game seven, so I'm ending this one before that becomes an issue.

Indiana in 6

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies

Blood bath. But the best team wins.

Oklahoma in 6

2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 3. Denver Nuggets

As a resident of Colorado and a fan of the Nuggets, I really want to believe that they can run the older Spurs off the floor. But I think the ride comes to an end here, with homecourt the difference.

San Antonio in 7

Round 3:

Eastern Conference

1. Miami Heat vs. 3. Indiana Pacers

While I think the Pacers are as well suited as all most any team in the league to beat the Heat, we are still a year or two away from being able to get it done. Miami is a team of destiny.

Miami in 5

Western Conference

1. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 2. San Antonio Spurs

Same Western Conference Finals as last year. Last year the Spurs won the first two and then lost the last four. I assume that Coach Pop and Timmy spent the entire offseason trying to figure out what happened, and may have. But Kevin Durant and the Thunder are no longer just talented, inexperienced kids. They are the second best team in the league.

Thunder in 6

NBA Finals

Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

One year later...same teams, same result. Give LeBron another MVP, Finals MVP, and ring number two. A fitting end to what was in many ways the Season of LeBron.

Miami in 6

My Bracket!

I know what you're wondering. Did he not have the guts to make a prediction for the Finals, or could he just not figure out how to insert the winner in his bracket template. It's a valid question.

Jon's 2013 NBA bracket.gif