My 2011 D-League Playoffs Preview and Predictions

via www.nba.com

What's up Ridiculous Upside and fellow D-League fans?  It's been awhile since I have written a blog and I do sincerely apologize.  I have been following the 2011 D-League season closely and what an exciting season it has been especially the last week with teams battling for the last remaining playoff spot.  

So with WWE WrestleMania 27 now behind us, the D-League Playoffs are here!

FIRST ROUND:

#1 Iowa Energy (37-13) vs. #7 Utah Flash (28-22)

Just like last year's playoffs, the No. 1 seeded Iowa Energy have picked the No. 7 seed Utah Flash.  The Iowa Energy are yet again entering the playoffs without most of the key players they had for the majority of the season (Chris Lofton to Russia, Othyus Jeffers to the Washington Wizards and Courtney Sims to China), but again Coach Nick Nurse keeps piling up the wins.  Curtis Stinson has -- again -- been the rock of this team and without Sims the team has really been running more.  Utah has been solid all year and I've gotta give a lot of credit to Coach Kevin Young for the job he has done.

Pick:  While I think the Utah Flash will win the first game in Orem, this series will come down to home-court advantage. Nick Nurse, my pick for Coach of the Year, and the Energy will move on in three games with Stinson leading the way along with the 3-point shooting of Moses Ehambe.

#2 Reno Bighorns (34-16) vs. #5 Erie Bayhawks (32-18)

This one is a bit of a head scrather as my buddy Scott pointed out the Bighorns were 6-1 vs. Bakersfield this season but chose the Bayhawks instead.  Now I know Erie has been up and down the last couple weeks of the season but with Blake Ahearn and Ivan Johnson they have one of the best 1-2 combinations in the D-League.  Reno has been LOADED all season with an NBA roster it seems the entire year but Coach Eric Musselman has been able to put it together and have to give him some credit.

Pick:  I really had a tough time picking a winner in this one but I have to go with Reno in three games here.  They just have too many athletic bodies to throw at and slow down Ivan Johnson. Despite the outstanding job Erie Coach Jay Larranaga has done this past year, the Bighorns will advance.

#3 Rio Grande Valley Vipers (33-17) vs. #6 Bakersfield Jam (29-21)

This is an intriguing match-up.  The Bakersfield Jam have been much improved this season and MVP candidate Trey Johnson has been spectacular.  The backcourt consisting of Johnson, Jeremy Wise, and Los Angeles Clippers assignee Willie Warren is a very athletic trio.  RGV's Jerel McNeal has been great all year and the mid-season addition of Jon Scheyer has made them much improved.  Another thing to watch is the improved play of Houston Rockets assignee Hasheem Thabeet (15.5pts/9.5reb/2.5 blocks last 2 games).

Pick: I like the Jam in this series in three games -- the fact that Johnson's been able to rest the past three games definitely helps -- along with Los Angeles Lakers assignee Derrick Caracter, Drew Naymick, Luke Zeller and company winning the battle of the frontcourts as the Jam defeat the defending champs to move on.

#4 Tulsa 66ers (33-17) vs. #8 Texas Legends (24-26)

What an unbelievable finish to the regular season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, Idaho Stampede, and Texas Legends all fighting very hard for that last playoff spot.  Coach Nancy Lieberman found a way to get Texas in the playoffs which means trouble for the rest of the D-League.  The Legends have a slew of former NBA Draft picks in Antonio Daniels, Rashad McCants, Sean Williams, and Joe Alexander (how he hasn't gotten called-up amazes me) and it shows because Iowa, Reno, and RGV wanted no part of this team in the first round.  Tulsa has once again been solid under Coach Nate Tibbetts while being led by the play of Larry Owens and Jerome Dyson.

Pick:  There is a reason why no one wanted to play Texas in the first round and Tulsa finds out.  Antonio Daniels was called-up to the Philadelphia 76ers yesterday but even without him the likes of Justin Dentmon and Booker Woodfox will step up and even with Oklahoma City Thunder assignee Cole Aldrich, the 66ers cannot keep up with the talent of the Legends -- and the great play the last week of Joe Alexander and Rashad McCants -- as the Legends should move on in three games.

SEMI-FINALS

#1 Iowa Energy vs. #8 Texas Legends

It would be interesting to see the Iowa Energy at full strength here with Lofton, Jeffers, and Sims, but unfortunately they are not with the team and Iowa still has to deal with the extremely talented Legends roster.  Joe Alexander has been one of the hottest players in the D-League the last week or so but the big time play of Rashad McCants has been the reason why they can win it all.

Pick: The Texas Legends are on a mission and defeat the Iowa Energy in three very hard fought games, allowing first-year head coach Nancy Lieberman to take her team to the D-League Finals.  The Iowa Energy have no answer for Joe Alexander inside and McCants continues his strong play.

#2 Reno Bighorns vs. #6 Bakersfield Jam

This series is going to be a fun one to watch.  The Bighorns were 6-1 vs. Bakersfield in the regular season but that's a little misleading as Trey Johnson missed 4 of those games and the Jam went 0-4.  One would have to think Reno's Salim Stoudamire will get hot from three-point land one of these games and the playoffs might be his time.

Pick:  I think Bobby Simmons and Andre Emmett will be the difference-makers here.  They are both big and strong and should wear down Bakersfield's Derrick Byars as the Bighorns move on the D-League Championship in two games.

D-LEAGUE FINALS

#2 Reno Bighorns vs. #8 Texas Legends

Just like last season and Tulsa, a No. 8 seed will advance to the D-League Finals.  You couldn't ask for a better matchup with more NBA talent on the floor.  Reno won the regular season series 2-0 but those games were played in mid-January and both teams are much different and playing better as of now.

Pick:  I think all three games are going to be very close.  The duo of Alexander and McCants vs. Andre Emmett and Simmons to go with Patrick O'Bryant vs. Sean Williams down low will be fun to watch.  However, the edge has to go to Reno as the absence of Antonio Daniels finally catches up with them.  The Legends found a way to get in the playoffs at the end of the regular season as well as well as make it here in the Finals but the run finally comes to an end as the Reno Bighorns and Coach Eric Musselman win the 2011 D-League Championship.

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