The playoffs are here, but there are still a lot of questions to be answered: Will anybody else get called up? Who will be assigned to help? Who's hot? Who's not? How monumental was the collapse of the Maine Red Claws leading to them missing the playoffs? Do the D-League playoffs really matter since this league is called the Development League, not the Winning League? Speaking of, who is going to win?
While I can't really answer any of those questions with facts, I have my assumptions for all of them and we'll probably get to them by the time the D-League playoffs begin Wednesday when the Iowa Energy meet the Utah Flash.
This morning, though, I'm going to give you my picks for the playoffs with our previews beginning Wednesday. I'm hoping/assuming I will completely disagree with AOL Fanhouse's Matt Moore (who is also publishing his predictions this morning) so we can set up an epic bet that will more than likely lead to a heartfelt tribute video for the loser - a la my favorite WWF youtube evah.
#1 Iowa Energy vs. #7 Utah Flash: Why did the Energy pick the Flash? My guess is that because they have the weakest big men of the possible match-ups and the Energy are pretty much devoid of any true big men. It's going to be a battle, but I'm going to get crazy and pick the Flash in three games. I could see it going either way, but Iowa has lost too much of their core to call-ups (Othyus Jeffers, Cartier Martin and Earl Barron were all starters) and Utah has four players that went to the D-League finals last season, giving them a bit of experience to combine with the chip on their shoulder they already should have for being chosen by the Energy.
#2 Rio Grande Valley Vipers vs. #6 Reno Bighorns: This is a tough game to call because you never know who the Rockets will send to Rio Grande Valley to give them a bit of an extra push. Still, Reno split the series last time the two teams met, and that was when RGV had both Mike Harris and Jermain Taylor - both current Rockets. I'm picking the Vipers in two games (though Reno is dangerous with Rod Benson, Richie Frahm and Desmon Farmer all playing well), but that's with me assuming that at least Harris, if not more, is assigned to the Vipers.
#3 Austin Toros vs #5 Dakota Wizards: I really don't know who to pick in this one. I watched both games they played against each other this season, but both have lost an important starter since - Dwayne Jones was called up from Austin to the Phoenix Suns and Wizards leading scorer Romel Beck left for Venezuela. With the San Antonio Spurs losing their only point guard (George Hill sprained his ankle last night night), it'd seem possible that Curtis Jerrells is called up to the Spurs for the next week. If that happens, It'd make my decision easier as I'd definitely pick Dakota. As it stands though, I think I have to go with the Toros in three games. Even though Dakota's battling injury problems, this series was much better suited for the second round. This will also probably be the series closest followed here at RU, as I'm based in Dakota and Jon L is in Austin.
#4 Sioux Falls Skyforce vs #8 Tulsa 66ers: The NBA could play a big part in this series - will Sioux Falls' Alexander Johnson get called up or will Tulsa get some NBA assignment help? Or both? Size matters and the 'Force have a lot of it - Johnson, Greg Stiemsma, Nate Jawai and Raymond Sykes will all be on Summer League teams this July. The 66ers have size as well, but theirs is a bit more raw. I'll take the Skyforce in three, but if DJ White is assigned, let's flip it around.
#7 Utah Flash vs #4 Sioux Falls Skyforce: This series will be much easier for the Skyforce than their first series unless Utah gets some help in the form of Kosta Koufos and Othyus Jeffers - or something unlikely like that. The only match-up in this series that would definitley favor the Flash would be Kevin Kruger versus David Bailey, and even that's questionable with the veteran savvy David Bailey can pull out. I'll take Sioux Falls in two going into the championship.
#2 Rio Grande Valley Vipers vs #3 Austin Toros: This match-up might be enough to make me hitchhike to Austin and sleep on Jon L and ADB's couch just to catch the three-game series live. While I don't like to give my bracket-picking secrets away, I'm going to take the Vipers in three games for this series just because I had a much harder time deciding if Austin was going to be able to get past Dakota. If Austin might not be there, it's tough to pick them to win.
#2 Rio Grande Valley Vipers vs #4 Sioux Falls Skyforce: This is all contingent based on Harris being assigned and Johnson staying put which is what makes predicting the D-League playoffs more difficult than the NBA's version in my opinion. Once again, I think the Skyforce would be able to use their size inside to win the championship in three games. They have a veteran point guard in Bailey, a great shooter in Kirk Penney, Joe Krabbenhoft who can fill whatever role is needed from the small forward spot, a good low-post scorer in Johnson and Stiemsma should be able to negate almost every drive to the hoop. Rio Grande Valley, while I think they're good, they've lost five players to the NBA this season and that's just too difficult to recover from against a high-caliber, well-coached team like Sioux Falls.