The first game of the 2010 D-League playoffs that I'll be able to watch live tips off tonight at 7 pm CT from lovely Bismarck, North Dakota. For those of you that don't live in beautiful North Dakota, it'll also be on Futurecast.
Jon L picks the Dakota Wizards to win in three games, while me and Mike Gansey (I'm either titling a book that or it will be the name of our band) both picked the Austin Toros to win in three games (though that was before the Marcus Williams call-up).
The two teams split the season series in Bismarck, with Dakota blowing out Austin 91-73 behind the play of Lester Hudson in the first game. In the second game, though, Austin came out shooting hot (15-of-25 from 3-point territory), but the Toros barely held on for a 114-113 victory after Maurice Baker missed a last second shot. Since those games, both teams have lost valuable players as Austin's Dwayne Jones was called up to the Phoenix Suns along with the aforementioned Williams while Dakota's Romel Beck was waived due to a hand injury before shadily defecting overseas.
This will probably be the best series of the first round, if not the entire playoffs in general, so I suggest you tune in.
PG - Curtis Jerrells vs. Maurice Baker: Jerrells is a young, shoot-first guard that's still learning the ropes of playing the point guard. Still, he's developed quite well under the tutelage of Quin Snyder and the pick-and-roll heavy offense he runs. How well, you ask? In addition to averaging 20.7 points, 5.7 assists and 4.5 rebounds while starting all 50 Toros game this season, he also played well enough for the Spurs to warrant paying him NBA money while playing for their D-League team. Baker is nearly the opposite of Jerrells - a 31-year-old (now) pass-first point guard, though he also is able to fill up the box score as he's averaging 5.8 rebounds per game to go along with 12.2 points and 4.3 assists. Baker is able to score when called upon, though, so not all is lost. In he case of the young hotshot rookie versus the wily old veteran, I'm going to give Baker the nod.
SG - Alonzo Gee vs Darren Cooper: Gee is probably the best player on the court in this game. Ridiculously athletic and strong finisher are my two favorite traits. He's also on assignment from the San Antonio Spurs, which is a nice luxury for the Toros. Cooper, on the other hand, is a defensive stopper and D-League vet, having played the last couple of season with the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Ironically, he's known for his defense. He's also a pretty good, but inconsistent 3-point shooter. I'm going to give this match-up to the NBA guy..
SF - Eddie Basden vs Renaldo Major: This is purely a match-up of veteran defensive specialists. Something I wasn't aware of, though, is that Basden is shooting 40% from beyond the arc this season - something that isn't exactly what I'd call Major's specialty. Still, I don't think Basden's going to get many open opportunities, leading me to push this one as well.
PF - Michael Joiner vs Marcus Dove: This ought to be another fun match-up! You know what that means? We're 4-of-4 when it comes to solid match-ups! Joiner's not really a power forward, but he's played there out of necessity for the majority of the career simply because he's big enough to defend the position in the D-League while creating match-up problems on the offensive end with his 3-point shooting prowess. He won't create a real match-up problem this game, though, as Dove was named the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year his senior year at Oklahoma State and can essentially guard the 2-5 with his long wingspan and quick feet. His offense isn't quite where you might like it, though. I'm going to give the nod to Joiner in this one, just because when he's hot, he's hot.
C - Luke "Big Hugga" Bonner vs Corsley Edwards: I'm not really sure what I can tell you about Bonner simply because I haven't been able to watch him play (he's been with the Toros 16 games, but averages less than 10 minutes in those games). He's 7-foot-1, he likes to shoot the 3-pointer and he's a pretty big body. Edwards is a former NBA draft pick (way back in 2002) with a nice mid-range game and a sprained ankle. Coach Rory White expects him to play tonight, but doesn't know how much he'll be able to contribute. I envision right around 20 minutes for each of these guys, rendering it a push and leaving the remaining match-ups to the bench.
Austin's bench is, well, a little slim (but stronger with the assignment of Gee). Squeaky Johnson is a great minor league point guard that would probably have started on about half of the D-League teams this season, though he's not one that is going to contribute much in the box score - not because he can't (he has a nice 3-point shot), he just doesn't ... Lewis Clinch is a gunner and shot pretty well in his last game at the Bismarck Civic Center. How well, you ask? 8-of-14 from the field in 26 minutes including a ridiculous 6-of-9 from beyond the arc ... David McClure is from Duke, so he has that going for him, but not much else - we'll call him a hustle player ... They recently acquired Cory Underwood, making this his fourth D-League team this season, but I'm not sure how much he'll be able to contribute without having played in about a month and only having two practices with the Toros ... Dominique Coleman used to be a stud in the D-League, but he isn't this year. Jon L is still still hopeful he'll be able to turn it back on. So am I, but I'm probably a little less optimistic.
Dakota's bench is pretty deep everywhere you look. Lester Hudson, on assignment from the Memphis Grizzlies, probably leads the pack as he can already score in bunches and is learning the role of the point guard from the veterans in front of him ... Curtis Withers started quite a few games at the center position for the Wizards this season and is a great contributor off the bench as an undersized big man ... David Bell is a great shooting option with a lot of D-League experience with the Wizards, though he's struggling from inside the arc this season ... James "Boo" Jackson is a hustle big man that inexplicably gets spot starts for the Wizards.
Dakota's bench gets the nod in a big way, which will happen when you lose three players to the NBA as the Toros have.
Coaching match-up: Both staffs are great. Seriously.
Score prediction: 113-112. I'm not sure which teams going to win yet. I'll get back to you before game time.
Random prediction: I really don't have one, but let's say either Cory Underwood or Boo Jackson invokes the other to pick up a technical foul. It just seems like it'll happen.