The first round of the NBA Development League Playoffs didn't go quite as your's truly predicted considering just one of the four series went the way that I had planned. My list of excuses regarding the errant picks is long, but let's instead get to quick looks at the semifinals games prior to Thursday night's tip-off in each of the two series.
On one side of the bracket, the Eric Musselman-led Los Angeles D-Fenders will take homecourt in their best-of-three series against the Bakersfield Jam. The other side will feature a bit more travel, however, as the Austin Toros are in the midwest to play the Canton Charge in the first game of their series.
I typically judge D-League playoff matchups based on the talent of the teams' head coach, but all four teams are led by solid staffs. That said, whichever team has the most talent will likely rule the roost ... so without further adieu, second round predictions from myself and ramblin' Ryan Ripley are included below.
Los Angeles D-Fenders vs. Bakersfield Jam
The D-Fenders had a rather easy path to the semifinals, ousting the over-matched Iowa Energy in two games even without Charlotte Bobcats call-up Jamario Moon. Musselman's team still has plenty of talent to call on against Bakersfield, though, with MVP candidate Elijah Millsap and two-time NBA call-up Malcolm Thomas likely leading the way as former NBA players Mardy Collins, Orien Greene, Kareem Rush and Christian Eyenga take on supporting roles.
Bakersfield isn't short on talent, either, and seem to only be getting better as the season rolls on (as evidenced by their sweep of the Dakota Wizards in the first round). Bakersfield's best player is should-be NBA guard Trey Johnson, but Derrick Byars, Brian Butch and even Jeremy Wise are capable of carrying the team when necessary.
The battle of tiniest arenas will likely go to three games, but the D-Fenders likely have too much talent for Bakersfield to pull off an upset. -- Scott
This series will again come down to scoring fire power. Even with the D-Fenders losing Jamario Moon to a call-up by the Lakers it is difficult to go against LA's Coach Eric Musselman. With that said, I still like Bakersfield in this matchup. The Jam average 105 points per game and can clearly keep up with the 106 points per game that the D-Fenders averaged this season.
The mid-season addition of Brian Butch gave and already talented Jam team has gotten a needed lift and it doesn't hurt that Bakersfield is a team that has given the D-Fenders trouble in past -- as their regular season match-up record of 4-3 in favor of LA demonstrates.
If there is a team out there that can take out the D-Fenders it is Bakersfield. This series will go the distance with Bakersfield narrowly advancing to the final game. -- Ryan
Austin Toros vs. Canton Charge
I actually picked against the Toros in the first round, but that was when my MVP pick, point guard Justin Dentmon, was on a 10-day contract with the Toronto Raptors (and not making last-minute flights to save the Toros' season). The rest of the team isn't bad either, with a starting lineup that also features Flip Murray, Julian Wright Eric Dawson and San Antonio Spurs assignee Cory Joseph.
The Canton Charge aren't nearly as loaded when it comes to NBA talent, but first-year head coach Alex Jensen keeps finding ways for his team to win. That'll be much more difficult this series, however, considering Luke Harangody is back in the NBA.
Brad Jones is an excellent coach and, when taking into account that the Charge will be without their best player, I'm going to pick Austin in two games. -- Scott
Alex Jensen is a coach who knows how to make adjustments at the right time to win games -- a good skill to have considering Luke Harangody was called back to the NBA, leaving a big hole for Jensen to fill in the front court. Dante Milligan and Frank Hassell shouls still be able to matchup match up well against Austin's Eric Dawson and Julian Wright, however.
The big question will be whether or not the Canton guards can contain Justin Dentmon. If not, Antoine Agudio and Kyle Gibson will need to have breakout games to keep the Charge in it.
Although Austin leads the regular season match-up record 3-1, I have the Charge moving on to face Bakersfield in the championship game. -- Ryan