I have to admit, I was really hoping to see a more competitive first round in the playoffs. Although what we received was almost like getting a big movie twist reveal that everybody already figured out about 10 minutes into the movie. With the exception of the terrific series between Milan and London. We may have a record for the least amount of playoff games the league has ever played in the first round. Let’s hope that the second round can reverse the boredom and provide some excitement.
#1 Barcelona Counts vs #4 Capetown Zulus
It was a little surprising to see that Barcelona dropped a game to Mexico City, but I give credit to the Hellcats for fighting during the series. As excepted Barcelona was led by Ira Redwine and Primo Bugeja. Ira has really upped his game for the big stage. He is scoring 25.6 points per game, compared to 20 during the regular season. He is also dishing out nearly a full assist less per game at 6.8. Due to Ira taking more of a scoring role, Primo is scoring about 3 points less per game with 22. This formula appears to be working. Barcelona will need to continue their stellar defense if they want to keep the Zulus at bay. Ajani Valentine and Greg Lacy are earning their money as they lead the team with a combined 5 steals per game. The Counts have been making shots at a blistering rate with four players connecting on over 50% from the field. While the first round was simply a warm up as the downed the World Division foe. Now they face the Hellcats big brother in Capetown. This will not be an easy series for the Counts. The Zulus won the season series at a clip of 2-1. Barcelona needs Ajani to start shooting from long range to spread out the floor. Ajani is not their primary scorer that he once was, but he simply cannot be a spectator on the floor as he has been on the offensive end. The Counts front court is their primary weak spot. Marc White is a strong rebounder and defensive player, but he isn’t a threat in the post. The same is true with the elder statesmen of the team Greg Lacy. They know their role is to simply grab rebounds and play defense. But with super star Abdiel Gordon coming to town, you have to make him work on both ends of the court. Gordon could single handedly win a couple games if he is focusing only on offense. If Barcelona is able to keep Gordon in check, they probably don’t need to change a lot of things.
Capetown made quick work of Gabon, earning them the Circle of Life trophy as the top African team in the league. Capetown is riding the brilliance of Abdiel Gordon who averaged 25 points in the regular season. In four games against Gabon, he averaged over 35 points a game. Justice Grant is a nice side kick as he is grabbing nearly every rebound available. This should be worrisome to the Spanish club, knowing that their own front court will probably be over power by the Gord0n and Grant combo. Capetown is very solid at the small forward position with Ahmed Dougherty and Casey Pointer from the shooting guard spot. Both of these players have been the primary scorers on previous teams, but they have melded well in their supporting cast role. If Pointer can cause Bugeja to take a handful of bad shots, it could turn the series into Capetown’s favor. The notable weakness for Capetown is at the point guard position. They are using Bodnar and Caldwell as a committee role. Neither one of them is a scoring threat. Bodnar is the better defensive player. This is a matchup that must concern GM Adrian Arceo. Knowing that Ira Redwine is willing to distribute as well as score, these two Zulus may not have what it takes to slow him down. It would be disrespectful to say that the Counts are an underdog considering that they finished with the third best record in the league. But one thing cannot be disputed. It has been foreordained that everything the light touches belongs to Capetown and the Zulus of the past will be looking down on this matchup. The Counts will wound the Zulus but they will not leave a scar.
Capetown wins in upset fashion 4-2
#2 Cancun Outlaws vs #6 London Disco
Cancun should be well rested as they watch Milan go head to head with London for the full seven games. We all knew that Cancun would have little trouble with Paris. And while Paris did steal a game, that wasn’t that particularly shocking. What was shocking is the fact that Paris shot over 50% from the field and scored over 100 points in the game. When you only allow during the season an average of 89 points per game. The key to beating them is simply getting to the century mark. In fact in 13 of Cancun’s 22 losses this season, it was due to the other team scoring at least 100 points. This is how they are built, they suffocate you defensively. They slow down the game so there are less possessions to work with. And on average they only allow you to make 42% of your shots from the floor. They are the number one defense in the league. On the flip side their offense is not very dangerous. They average 99 points a game which is 24th out of 30 teams. If London is able to get fast break points they will have a good shot to cause the Outlaws a lot of stress. The Outlaws have one true super-stud, their Frenchie Trentesols. In his second season he is averaging 25 points per game in the playoffs. Considering that the team is averaging only 92 points a game in the playoffs. Trentesols is responsible for over 27% of the team’s offensive output. When you look at the rest of Cancun, it can be hard to determine why they are so difficult to beat with consistency. GM Patrick Fullum has painstakingly put together a roster where each player is an expert at fulfilling a particular role. I couldn’t fathom seeing what this team could do with an extra 30 million to add to their roster. Cancun is the best team per dollar in the league. They are spending only 68 million this season on roster. Just another example of what a true GM can do when they have to consider the financial side of the league. London presents a challenge to Cancun. They know that they need to keep Cordell Parks and Chance Crowley in check. While the split the season series 2-2. It appears that Cancun simply needs to be consistent on defense. If they can keep Milan to under 45% shooting, they will expect to win. This is where Cancun is better than your team. Cancun has enough talent to simply abuse specific matchups
London surprised most people by outlasting Milan in a seven game heavy weight battle. I for one was not one of those people. London has underachieved through much of this season, but they have always had the talent to beat just about anybody. One of the ways that they beat teams is their dominance on the offensive boards. They create so many extra chances that it can cause the opponent to get frustrated. London uses a triple headed monster attack. Cordell Parks, Chance Crowly and Juwan Bixby all average over 20 points a game. While they lack the true superstar, having multiple players that are capable of having a huge night can cause a lot of matchup issues. Yuri Vilasny isn’t the point guard he was from even two years ago, but he has found a spot in London that allows him to be successful and help the team win. He no longer is a big scoring threat, but he is able to distribute the ball to the big three. It will be interesting to see if Cancun has their Frenchie go up against Juwan Bixby or they could move him to center to abuse Keenan Carrington at center. London is going to have to find matchups they can win. London needs to learn how to win while shooting less than 45% from the field. This is never an easy task. If they can find a way to get to 100 points against Cancun. If they are able to do that they will most likely win. If their big three are held to 15 points a game, this will be a very short series. London has a lot of talent, but they will have their work cut out for them.
In the end this has the makings of being one exciting series, as long as you can appreciate low scores and shooting percentages that are so bad you would swear they were both playing for Great Plains College. As is often the case in closely matched teams, coaching becomes key. And when it comes to coaching we have to give the edge to Cancun.
Cancun wins 4-2
#1 Brooklyn Rage vs #4 Colorado Pioneers
The only thing unexpected about Brooklyn’s first-round matchup is that they actually dropped a game. It is one of the rare instances when both Bailey and Miles fouled out of the same game. It has often been speculated that the best way to beat the Rage is to get the foul calls in your favor. This is no easy task. And it is hard to count on getting the calls especially when you want them to go against the Rage. You can only hope to give the Rage reason to reduce their defensive pressure, and nobody has been able to consistently force them to be a little lax in this department all season. Bailey’s playoff numbers are down in nearly every statistical category compared to the regular season. Granted a five-game sample is not set in stone. But we all have to wonder if the many long seasons of playing over 95 games each year is starting to take its toll. Interesting enough, Jarius Miles’ numbers are also a little bit down. Normally we would say that they are playing reduced minutes as they winning by over 20 points a game. However, their minutes have stayed consistent all season long. Omar Jefferson still continues to provide a steady third wheel. In what should likely be his last season with the Rage, thanks to anticipated financial adjustments the league must make to promote better competition? Omar has been proving that despite his age, he is still one of the top 6 point guards in the league. Brooklyn knowns they have significant advantages over Colorado. Considering that they have won every game by nearly 30 points. In public, they will say that they are worried, but when being honest their confidence in an easy series won’t be tested. They are the team that doesn’t need to make adjustments, they simply say our 2nd string team is better than your first string, because we have so much more money to spend on our team then you do.
Colorado looked very impressive in manhandling Boston. Boston learned what happens when you get rid of Talacka. John Devine has a pretty strong series, and he will be called upon again to face a slightly more difficult opponent. As you might expect Darond Lyons needs to come up big for the Pioneers. Historically, he has really struggled against Brooklyn due to Bailey’s defense. It almost appears as if Lyons is happy to let someone else have the spotlight when he has a difficult matchup. This simply cannot happen if Colorado has any hopes of upsetting the Rage. Colorado needs to be hitting on all cylinders to power them through the rocky terrain of Brooklyn. They know they will be demolished at the point guard spot. Edgar Kamara is not the player he was three seasons ago. Colorado needs to apply immense defensive pressure. They proved against Boston that they don’t always foul very much, so they need to push the boundaries defensively hoping to slow down the Rage. They have nothing to lose, considering they were dismantled during the regular season. Devine and Kinsey need to have the series of their career for the Pioneers to have a chance. Brooklyn doesn’t have rely on significant points down low, but they play tough defense across the board. If Devine and Kinsey are unable to have stellar games in the post, they will have no chance to advance to the conference championship.
Brooklyn continues on in unexciting dominating fashion. 4-0.
#2 California Fighting Cocks vs #6 Kansas City Wild
California made quick work of the Arizona baby Dragons. Stacked at every position, this was nothing shocking. California has gone all in in challenging for a title this season. The most difficult thing they have had to work on is how to incorporate Birkhead and Morrell. Morrell was challenging to be the top scorer in the league until the trade to California. Now he appears too been relegated to being the 3rd or 4th option in the playoffs. The other dilemma is what to do with Birkhead. While he has never been a primary scorer for any team, he is known for his stout defense and rebounding. I would theorize that despite his ability to still produce, he should backseat to Kurt Beck. Right now Beck is playing minutes at the three and four spots. I may be better to simply give Beck 35+ minutes solely at the four spot depending on a given matchup. Interesting enough, Birkhead might be the answer to slowing down Jeremy Sims of Kansas City, in which case, moving Jesus Morrell to the four spot so that he can abuse Neetar. California is one of the few teams that has enough quality players and backups that they can move players around to maximize matchups. Considering that they are only paying their team 78 million on the year as opposed to spending well over a hundred million has some teams have done. This is the mark of a savvy GM who understands the financial side of the business. A couple of things are clear with this matchup. Hassan Watt (the future heir to the league) continues to prove why he is one of the best players in the league. It is an insult that he was only awarded to the All-Stud second team. Bishop Stein who has always been labeled as a scoring point guard, has proven that he can pass the ball. He isn’t a superb defender, but he will still cause opposing guards issues. The Fighting Cocks split the season series with Kansas City 2-2. The concerning part of that, is they lost their last two games against he Wild. This is after the deal that brought Walt Jackson to the Wild. On the flip side, this is prior to California bringing the Jesus and followers out west. California has the edge in nearly every matchup with the exception of Kurt Beck and Walt Jackson. Beck is a terrific player, but Walt Jackson is special. While Jackson doesn’t have the benefit of playing with an elite point guard anymore. He still players the game at such a high level. He plays hard at both ends of the floor. The key for California to win is simply, slow Jackson down a little bit. Contain Sims with Birkhead, and let Jesus, Bishop and Watt reign down Armageddon.
Kansas City has to be disappointed that they failed to win their division title. Though it could be say this was due to strategy to give them the best chance to get past the second round. This will be a difficult series for Kansas City. Fortunately, they are currently healthy. As good of season as the Wild have had, there has to be a sense of some disappointment. To think that Walt Jackson would only help the team finish with 8 wins over the previous season. I realize that Jackson wasn’t added to the roster until the third week of December. We have to wonder if he simply doesn’t mesh with the new supporting cast. Or perhaps there is more to building a team then simply getting a superstar hoping he will fix everything. Regardless, Kansas City is not a team you should overlook. They are counting on Jeremy Sims to continue his explosive self. He is scoring a blistering 32 points a game. I expect that to change once he meets Jesus. If Sims is slowed down by Jesus, or simply shutdown by Birkhead has he has been known to have happen. Kansas City will struggle to take any games in the series. I don’t expect Sims to keep scoring quite so much, but he still needs to average 25 points per game in the series. The Wild really need Walt Jackson to pretend he is still in Toronto. They need him to simply light up the floor as he is the one player who is simply better than his counterpart for California. One area that Kansas City has the advantage is getting to the free throw line. They play a very physical style of play. And they need to hope they are making their free throws. They averaged nearly 36 attempts in each of the six games with New York. They shot very poorly as a team under 70% of those easy shots. If they are able to bring their team free throw shooting percentage up to 70% they will force California to play a little softer, which will open up their KC offense.
This series really could go either way, but it feels like the odds are not in Kansas City’s favor. California wins the series 4-2, setting up a matchup with the Dormammu.