Sam Amico is a local guy, been a basketball writer for various publications for some time now. He's doing some spots on Drennan's new show on STO.
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Sent out his 1st rd playoff predictions yesterday. Good reading ...
No. 1 Detroit vs. No. 8 Orlando
It's been an interesting two seasons for the Magic. Last season, they started poorly, looked great at the end, and just missed the playoffs. This season, they played well early, finished with a whimper, and practically backed into the postseason. What's happened? I have NO idea. And how's that for some top-notch analysis?
All I know is the Pistons have looked like a championship-caliber team ever since signing Chris Webber. I sure never would have expected that, either -- as Webber's skills appeared to be diminishing in Philadelphia. On top of that, he didn't exactly look overly motivated. But like Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton and even Rasheed Wallace, Webber has revived his career in Detroit.
The perplexing Magic feature young center Dwight Howard (who still doesn't get enough touches or own a go-to move in the clutch), point guard Jameer Nelson, and everybody's favorite veteran, forward Grant Hill. They could be a nice team once they get things figured out, but today they're no match for Detroit. Pick: Pistons, 4-1.
No. 2 Cleveland vs. No. 7 Washington
Things couldn't have worked out better for the Cavaliers, who needed a victory and a Chicago loss on the season's final night to land the No. 2 seed. They got it, avoiding an opening-round series against Miami and instead getting to face off against the worst team in the entire playoffs. More accurately, it meant the difference between losing in the first round or making it all the way to the conference finals.
Think about it. The Cavs are on the side of the bracket with Washington, Toronto and New Jersey. Meanwhile, Detroit, Miami and Chicago will be beating the living tar out of each other on the other side. So LeBron James and the Cavs shouldn't just reach the conference finals, they shouldn't really even be challenged on their way there.
Meanwhile, the Wizards have been playing very hard, but are simply too depleted to put up much of a fight. As Miami coach Pat Riley said of the loss of Wizards star Gilbert Arenas, "It's a basketball tragedy. When you have a good team like the one they had, and then lose a guy like that, you lose an entire season's worth of work." Pick: Cavaliers, 4- 0.
No. 3 Toronto vs. No. 6 New Jersey
You can't help but love watching the Raptors. They're young, athletic, exciting and overachieving. But those traits tend to hurt a team in the playoffs -- even with a talented all-around big man such as Chris Bosh.
Then there's the Nets, the team that was supposed to win the Atlantic Division, before sleepwalking through the first half of the season and letting the hungry Raptors take control. But the Nets have the perfect playoff team. They are loaded with more-than-capable veterans like Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Carter (insert gasp here, Raptors fans). Role players Jason Collins and Clifford Robinson also have a firm grasp of playoff basketball.
It's been a magnificent season in Toronto. Sam Mitchell should be coach of the year and Bosh deserves consideration for first-team all-league. There is tons of hope for the future, and expectations and excitement will surround the team entering next season. But again, the Nets have a better understanding of the postseason, and could even give Cleveland a run in the second round. Pick: Nets, 4- 2.
No. 4 Miami vs. No. 5 Chicago
The fact the Bulls have home-court advantage makes this the best first-round series of them all. Nor does it hurt that the Bulls have Ben Wallace, who plays Shaquille O'Neal better than anyone in the league. Chicago's Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng are also two of the NBA's stingiest defenders, and Ben Gordon one of its most dangerous scorers. And you can't help but love high-flying rookie Tyrus Thomas, who seemingly soared out of nowhere in the season's second half.
So why am I picking the Heat? Well, for the same reason I'm picking New Jersey to beat Toronto -- because the Heaters have the edge in experience. They've sort of coasted through the season, picking up steam when things got desperate, fading back to boredom once their playoff seed had pretty much been set.
Plus, if Dwyane Wade is anything close to healthy, I have a hard time picking ANYONE to beat Miami, including anyone from the Western Conference. This team is good enough to get it done on the road, and like all great competitors, you can bet Riley, O'Neal and Wade are setting out to prove it. Pick: Heat, 4- 2.
WESTERN CONFERENCE PICKS
Now for the West:
No. 1 Dallas vs. No. 8 Golden State
The Warriors are gonna win the first one; I can just FEEL it. But when it comes to this series, that's the only bold prediction I'm making. The rest is pretty elementary: Don Nelson will give his former team fits, but soon-to-be league MVP Dirk Nowitzki and forever- underrated Josh Howard (and Jason Terry) will simply be too much in the end.
But golly, this is going to be a lot of fun -- and will even overtake Phoenix-L.A. as the first-round's highest scoring series.
A big key for the Mavericks will be neutralizing Richardson, as the Warriors have fared as he's fared for the majority of the year. And for the past two months, Richardson has been pretty doggone good. But just like the Mavs have continuously proven under Avery Johnson, when a big defensive stand is needed, they know how to make it happen. Pick: Mavericks, 4-2.
No. 2 Phoenix vs. No. 7 L.A. Lakers
I was half-tempted to pick the Lakers here, only because Kobe Bryant is THAT GOOD. But I couldn't even bring myself to pick them when they had a 3-1 lead on the Suns in last year's first round -- because the rest of the Lakers are THAT BAD.
OK, that's being too harsh on guys like Lamar Odom, Luke Walton and Smush Parker, but L.A. just doesn't match up. Especially when it comes to defending center Amare Stoudemire, whom they didn't even have to deal with last season (he was out with a knee injury).
So even if Parker plays his usual strong defense on Steve Nash, and Bryant continues to ring up playoff memories of You Know Who, the Suns are just too balanced and poised to get bounced this early. Still, it will again be a lot of fun watching the Lakers try. Pick: Suns, 4-2.
No. 3 San Antonio vs. No. 6 Denver
I might change my mind tomorrow, but if you asked me today who will win it all, I would pick the Spurs. They are just so calm, so collected, so well- coached that they never beat themselves. In order to overtake the Spurs, you really have to outplay them.
I like the Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson combo for the Nuggets, and have a great deal of admiration for how this team has meshed and played very hard as the season has gone on. But these are the Spurs. Tim Duncan is a champion through and through, and Bruce Bowen and Manu Ginobili frustrate Anthony more than any two guys in the league -- and they just happen to be on the same team.
If the Nuggets were facing any of the other high seeds, I'd say they have a chance. Maybe next year. Pick: Spurs, 4-2.
No. 4 Utah vs. No. 5 Houston
The Rockets have the home-court advantage and I have yet to see anyone pick them to lose this series. Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Jeff Van Gundy and the rest are everyone's favorite sleeper. Well, I'm about to change all that.
It's true that the Jazz have struggled lately, almost winning the Midwest Division by default. But they also won 51 games and finished 20-21 on the road, tied for sixth-best in the league. They did it with inspired play from Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur, both of whom had career sseasons. Second-year point guard Deron Williams was pretty good too, even if he did kind of fade near the end.
If the Jazz can continue to get the type of confidence and inside production from Boozer and Okur that both displayed all year, then there's really no reason to believe this overachieving season will come to an end. Of course, that's not to say the Rockets will be an easy out. Far from it -- as I like watching (and even rooting for) Yao, McGrady and Shane Battier as much as anyone. But whenever I suspect a series will be remarkably close, I usually lean toward Jerry Sloan. Pick: Jazz, 4-3.