Thursday, June 07, 2007

2007 NBA Finals Picks: My Cautionary Tale

Before I get to my NBA Finals prediction (and ask you for yours), I want to tell a not-unrelated story...

I associate the NBA Finals with what, quite possibly, was one of the worst predictions in the history of sports-TV punditry.

In 2004, I enjoyed a brief yet brilliant career on Around The Horn. Some of you might even remember when I was on the show. (Yes, I still plan to put my highlight reel -- um, "highlight" reel -- on YouTube at some point, which will be tons of amusement for everyone.)

On one of my appearances (06/02/04 episode) the topic on the table was "Who will win the NBA Finals?" Pretty standard sports-TV debate fodder: Lakers or Pistons, and in how many games?

Let me pull back the curtain a smidgen: In the pre-production meeting, we went "around" the panelist group to determine everyone's angle on that topic (and all of the others) for the show.

As the rookie, everyone declared their take before me. Like a nightmare fantasy draft, I watched all the "good" picks get taken:

Lakers in 7... Lakers in 6... Lakers in 5...

I knew I couldn't "repeat" a pick, because that would make for bad TV. I certainly couldn't ask one of the other panelists to give up their pick so that I could use it. And, like all of my esteemed "expert" colleagues, I wasn't about to stupidly say the Pistons would win. So, instead, I blurted:

"Lakers in 4."

It felt like I was outside my body, watching some idiot. Did I really believe that? Or did I just SAY I believed it? Was I making the bold claim simply to... make the bold claim? I'm sure you are shocked that sports-TV pundits might say wild things just for the sake of their wildness.

(Believe it or not, in the Quickie, I sincerely tried only to post opinions that I actually believed in -- or COULD believe in, given the half-baked nature of most of my arguments -- not just for the sake of saying something provocative. Being on TV turned me into my Mr. Hyde.)

And so through the rest of the morning, I worked out my argument, right up until the show taping. I got on the air and proclaimed it, not quite faking confidence -- but not quite exuding it. (Believe me: I was doing enough schvitzing as it was.)

In writing this post, I sincerely intended to go back to the tape and transcribe my argument, but I simply can't bring myself to watch it. I don't have THAT much self-loathing.

Anyway, I defended "Lakers sweep." I figured: If nothing else, it was bold. And isn't that what they're looking for to make "good" TV?

Again, in hindsight, I'm not quite sure why I didn't think it was provocative enough simply to pick the Pistons when everyone else was picking the Lakers.

Believe it or not, I maintained the sincere belief that there was a better chance of the Lakers sweeping than the Pistons winning at all. After all, none of the other panelists gave the Pistons a chance, either.

And so, even as I bankrupted my soul to say something I didn't believe (sweep) for the sake of my interpretation of "good" TV, I still maintained the kernel of integrity to want to get the overall pick right (Lakers).

I'd like to think that sports' governing karmic forces were tracking my muddled morality and decided to screw me as substantially as possible:

Not only did the Lakers not sweep, they didn't even win the series. Hell, they barely came away with a single win in a shocking 4-1 shellacking at the hands of your 2004 NBA Champion Detroit Pistons.

In hindsight, the smart play would have been to pick the Pistons AT ALL. Given the other panelists' predictions for L.A., I could have claimed the Pistons in 4 or 5 or 6 or 7 -- with a perfectly legit argument to be made. Hell, I could have taken ALL those choices. Instead, I took the scraps I was offered.

I wanted to be good on TV. I wanted to be right.

It turns out those two things aren't necessarily compatible.

From "Lakers in 4" surreality to Pistons-in-5 reality, I can say without hyperbole that it ranks right up there in the history of sports punditry as one of the...

Worst. Predictions. Ever.

(Comment Question: Do any of you remember making an outrageously bad prediction? What was it and why do you still remember it?)

Meanwhile, have I learned anything? Well, with all 8 possible Finals outcomes to choose from and without the likes of Woody Paige or Jay Mariotti or Bill Plaschke boxing me in, here's where I come down on the 2007 NBA Finals:

Spurs in 5.

I waffle back and forth on how I feel about LeBron, I would like to see him lead the Cavs to a title in this Finals. But this Cavs team isn't constructed like that type of "shock the world" 2004 Pistons team. These Cavs are more like that 2001 Sixers team: One brilliant player surrounded by mediocrity, on a wonderful run together.

And, in the same way that Sixers team had no answer for Shaq, this Cavs team has no answer for Tim Duncan.

The NBA's "LeBron Era" must wait; the NBA's "Duncan Dynasty" continues: Spurs in 5.

Feel free to add in your own NBA Finals prediction in the Comments.

-- D.S.


Blockage said...

Worst. Prediction. Ever...

I would have to say your Yankees pick in 2004 when the Sox were down 3-0 and you proclaimed..."Its Ovah"

CMFost said...

Spurs in 4

Mr. White said...
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Geoff said...

That is a pretty good pick. I can see the Spurs possibly sweeping the series but I really can't see it going more than 5. The Cavs are just kind of happy to be in this position already, as they realistically were a couple of years away from being where they are right now. Miami injuries and Detroit arrogance/bad coaching kind of accelerated the curve for Cleveland. I know not many people gave them a chance in the Pistons series and they won anyway, but this isn't the same beast. The Pistons don't have a dominant player the way the Spurs do with Duncan, and the Popovich is about a million times better coach than Flip Saunders. The Spurs aren't going to take the Cavs lightly the way the Pistons did and still do.

And yeah Dan, I remember that episode of ATH. I knew no one was going to pick Detroit in that series but your pick of a sweep was still pretty laughable.

Mr. White said...

Gibson will get most of the work guarding Parker and hold up surprisingly well. Did anyone notice how well he held up against Prince in the conference finals.

Bowen won't stop LeBron becuase he gets to the lane so fast. No one can step in and take a charge for the above mentioned reason and he is so strong a foul has to be very hard/borderline intentional to stop him from attempting a shot. You know the refs/NBA aren't going to let that happen.

Between Gooden, Zyklgauskas, and Varejao their are 18 fouls, use them and try an flop some to get Duncan in foul trouble. Every time James attacks the rim is another opportunity for Duncan to foul him.

Cavs in 6

Dan Shanoff said...

I must correct the record: My prediction that "It's Over" when the Yankees were up 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS was absolutely the worst prediction ever. I'll amend the post.

Lowlife said...

Wow. No one is giving Cleveland at least a fighting chance? Not even to win both home games? I really don't expect much from Cleveland, either. But don't major upsets start like this? "Spurs will dominate", "No one can stop Duncan on his way to becoming a legend", etc. Maybe it's just too much wishful thinking, though. But that's all I have to hold on to. And you know the ENTIRE country outside of S.A. is rooting for the Cavs.

Unknown said...

Take remember any awful predictions, but will make one now...Yankees overtake Boston last game of season, win the AL East, and AROD goes out and becomes WS MVP

pv845 said...
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pv845 said...

Spurs in 5 or 6. The Spurs are a better team top to bottom. LBJ will get his calls, but you can't expect that the rest of the team will play as amazing as they did the rest of the post-season.
I actually like the "boring" spurs because they play real basketball and not the aboration that the NBA has become with the advent of the run offense like the Suns and the other teams. The Cavs are a mixture, but are without a strong post prescense to contain Oberto, Elson, Horry, and most importantly Timmy.
@Jman, I don't like the Yankees, but I hate the Red Sox. I would love for that to happen. Although, the rest of the world would never hear the end of it from the Sox fans.

Anonymous said...

What about the Heat going all the way pick from earlier this year?

As for my prediction Spurs in 6. Everyone seems to forget that the finals are setup 2-3-2. I think the Cavs can take two of their three at home, but aren't going to win one in SA.

Carlson said...

Worst prediction ever: I contribute to a Cubs blog on here in Chicago, and in the preseason I actually predicted Kerry Wood would transplant Ryan Dempster as the closer by All Star break. Ugh. I'd like to have that one back.

Spurs in 6. Give LeBron 2 games to be a stud; TD takes the rest.

john (east lansing, mi) said...

blockage, that's a stupid opinion.

Calling the Yanks-Sox series was the easiest prediction ever to make, and anyone who disagreed before Boston took at least one game was a nut. No evidence except the future could have pointed one towards even considering the idea that Boston could force a Game 6, much less come back to win.

Even in terms of most crow-eatin'est predictions, the "Lakers in 4" prediction is way worse. The Red Sox got by on a series of miracles to win 12- and 14-inning games and the freaking Bloody Sock game. The Pistons won 3 games by double digits, and held the Lakers to a franchise low 68 points in Game 3.

Sure, Dan may have been Shanoffily arrogant about his Sox-Yankees pick, and that got thrown in his face, but there were actual thousands of great reasons to make that pick.

Get over it, RSN. We were happy for you, we were happy against the Yankees, it was the most delightfully surprising thing ever. That was the point. No one could have expected it. Everyone should have predicted against it.

Don't you have some regular-season wins to be buying right now?

Unknown said...

Spurs in 6. I think the Cavs, as a team, will pull one game out, likely at home.
LeBron, alone, will be able to will his team to victory a second time.
That's it though. Spurs in 6

Unknown said...

no way dan!
EVERYONE proclaimed that Yanks/BoSox series to be over. It's not the worst prediction ever...if everyone made it.

jhawkjjm said...

Spurs in 6.

They win the first 2, Cavs win games 3 and 5 at home, Spurs clinch at home.

I really hate the 2-3-2 format. What's the point? Why change the format from what you use earlier in the playoffs? I think it gives too much of an advantage to the team without home court advantage. If the home team wins out the first 5 games, the team with the better record goes home for the last two games down 3-2? Aren't they supposed to have an advantage?

Lowlife said...

yeah, I forgot about the series being 2-3-2. So my bold prediction is Cavs in 7 games. I really think this could happen. Why not? I just hope the games are exciting, even if the Cavs lose. I just don't want blowouts and a five game series, that's all.

jhawkjjm said...

raf and others are right, everyone said it was over in the Yanks-Sox series. That and it wasn't a prediction made at the beginning of the series.

Oh, forgot to mention in my other posts, refs will steal a game or two for Cleveland to interest in the series.

pv845 said...

On the 2-3-2 format, I remember reading somewhere that the number of road teams that have acutally won the NBA title has decreased since that change. don't know if it was true, but I beleive it was when the Nets were playing the Spurs in 2003

Darklawdog said...

Realistically speaking, the Spurs will win in 6. The fan in me wants the Cavs to win in 7 with Lebron going off for 50 in SA.

My worst prediction ever.

Probably the Ohio State vs. Florida national championship game. I predicted the Buckeyes in a blowout. I was more than wrong on that one

Joey said...

Dan, when you said your worst prediction ever I immediately though of your Oral Roberts upset prediction.

I'm a Cavs fan so naturally I can't with a good heart say they won't win. I think the series will go at least 6 games either way and am going to say the Cavs in 6. If they split the first 2 games at SA, they will be in great shape.

chipp said...

Spurs in 6:

Robert said...

Worst prediction I've ever made: "Vince Young won't make it in the NFL."

My thinking: "He's no different than Marquis Tuiasasopo (of U. Washington fame) except Young has a worse throwing mechanic. Tui is 3rd string somewhere now... no way Young makes it..."

Boy was I wrong

R. Crowe said...

Either the Spurs or Lakers WILL definitely sweep this series.

BLT said...

One of the most recent predictions that turned into a bet with my buddies was that Alex Rios wouldn't hit 12 HR's this season. I was right.

As for the NBA, Spurs are better all around and Popovich could outcoach everyone in the East, so the pick - Spurs in 5.


Jen said...

I say Cavs in 6. It's with my heart, but I truly believe they can do it.

I'm with lowlife; as long as the Cavs aren't blown out and take it past 5 games, it will be great.

Anyone hear about the feds wanting the Nike banner removed from downtown? They have NOTHING better to do than monitor a banner with Lebron on it!?

Unknown said...

Let me just ask: Am i the ONLY person outside the state of Michigan who took the Pistons to win the series? I mean, admittedly, I took the Pistons in 7 and not 5, but wow.

Anyway, I'm going to be just as bold as I was in 04 and declare: Cavaliers in 7. You'll see.

Unknown said...

My worst prediction ever, by the way, was taking Manhattan over Syracuse in the first round - the year Syracuse won the title. I have no idea what I was thinking, but I do know that my bracket exploded early that year.

More often than not though I make insane picks that work out: two years ago I said that the White Sox would win the AL on Opening Day, last year I said it would be the Tigers, again on Opening Day. This year, I've got the D-Backs winning the NL and so far, it's looking like a possibility. I also took Mason to the Elite 8 two years ago (I had UConn in the finals, though...grr).

Unknown said...

My worst prediction ever was that the Soviet Union would never fall without a bloody full scale civil war. I also thought that the whites in South Africa would never give up without a fight. Good thing I was wrong.

Andrew said...

The Casual Fan in me says Spurs in 6, but he hates himself.

The Conspiracy Theorist in me says LeBron's 48 Special is incomplete without a ring. Cavs in 5.

Also, I would take Boobie and the King over Mr. Longoria and Flopper McWhinesteinchezGinobili any day of the week. Thrice on Sunday.

Andrew said...

My worst prediciton? Iowa State had a lot of talent coming back from an Elite 8 run and nearly taking down Michigan State.

I had them winning it all.

Then they ran into the powerhouse school known as Hampton.

And cue the Price is Right losing

thistlewarrior said...

My dumbest prediction? Following Carson Palmer's 1st preseason game back from the knee injury I actually said "They returning to Miami [site of SB XXIII] to win it all. Mark my words--team of destiny." Oops.

And this prediction will probably be just as accurate: Cavs in 7. (Sorry, I just can't be objective!:) )

Darklawdog said...

Seriously, how is Mike Brown an NBA coach. He is terrible. Who wants to start this website

Halftime adjustments?

nep1293 said...

My worst prediction was thinking Ryan Leaf would be better than Peyton Manning.

Unknown said...

1993, Bills over Cowboys...I should have just handed over the money I bet before the game...