There are a few things you can count on come mid-April:
Some April Showers.
Warmer weather and longer nights.
The smell of ballpark hot dogs...
And disrespecting of the San Antonio Spurs.
Yup, as the NBA playoffs get set to tip Saturday afternoon, the third-seeded Spurs in the mighty Western Conference are — again — getting no love from the media or fans.
Consider this: ESPN.com SportsNation believes sixth-seeded Phoenix will beat the Spurs in the first round by a 56.3-43.7 percent margin. And more people (16 percent versus 13.1 percent) believe the Suns will represent the West in the NBA Finals.
Wait a minute. When was the last time the Suns made the finals? (I'll have to look it up.) The Spurs, meanwhile, have everyone back from a year ago plus the fifth-best player in the league this season in Manu Ginobili. But let's write them off.
I, for one, am sticking by my preseason prediction. Sure, the Lakers are much better with Pao Gasol dropping mini hooks in the lane. And, yeah, at times the Suns look capable of playing defense with Shaquille O'Neal clogging the middle.
But no team plays better defense this time of year than the Spurs, and San Antonio has clutch players at every position. That's why the Spurs remain my pick to win their fifth title in 10 seasons.
My quick predictions:
Western Conference No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers def. No. 8 Denver (5 games): The Nuggets are scary because of their offensive firepower, but they won't be able to stop L.A. in a high-scoring series.
No. 7 Dallas def. No. 2 New Orleans (6 games): The Mavs are too talented to be eliminated in the first round for a second consecutive year. They finally seem to be coming together with Jason Kidd at the point, and that will continue in this series.
No. 3 San Antonio def. No. 6 Phoenix (6 games): In the best series of the round, Ginobili shows why in any other year he'd be a legitimate MVP candidate — as a sixth man. He penetrates the lane constantly and helps gets O'Neal and Amare Stoudemire in foul trouble.
No. 4 Utah def. No. 5 Houston (6 games): If Houston had Yao Ming, it would win with homecourt advantage. It doesn't, which means another first-round exit for Tracy McGrady.
Eastern Conference No. 1 Boston def. No. 8 Atlanta (4 games): Don't expect the Kevin Garnett-led Celtics to take anyone, even the Hawks, lightly. That's the only thing that would slow them down in this mismatch.
No. 2 Detroit def. No. 7 Philadelphia (6 games): Two things will contribute to this being closer than expected. One, the Pistons are bad at closing out opponents even when they win a series' first two games. Two, the 76ers are better than people give them credit for. Their defense will keep them in games.
No. 3 Orlando def. No. 6 Toronto (7 games): Two young, inexperienced teams means a long, back-and-forth series that is ultimately decided by who has the homecourt edge.
No. 4 Cleveland def. No. 5 Washington (7 games): This will be a great series, but in the end it comes down to this: Cleveland has a fully healthy LeBron James. Washington's still-getting-back-into-form Gilbert Arenas won't have enough to offset LeBron — even with help from Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison.
Western Conference No. 1 Los Angeles def. No. 5 Utah (5 games): The Lakers have way too much depth and muscle down low for the Jazz, and that's even if Andrew Bynum isn't close to 100 percent. Carlos Boozer will get worn down and Deron Williams won't be able to carry the Jazz by himself.
No. 3 San Antonio def. No. 7 Dallas (6 games): Another tough series for the Spurs, but this will be Tony Parker's series. Do you honestly think Kidd or Jason Terry will be able to stay in front of the super-quick point guard?
Eastern Conference No. 1 Boston def. No. 4 Cleveland (5 games): LeBron will get the Cavs a game, but the Celtics have way too much talent and depth to let this series become dramatic. Expect a big series from Paul Pierce against Cleveland's smaller, weaker guards and small forwards.
No. 2 Detroit def. No. 3 Orlando (6 games): Again, I refuse to concede a short series to the Pistons. But this will be Chauncey Billups' series, as he abuses Orlando's smaller point guards in the clinching game in Orlando.
Western Conference No. 3 San Antonio def. No. 1 Los Angeles (7 games): Oh, what a series this will be. The T.V. ratings will be great. And the teams are so even. But in the end, the experience of San Antonio's key players will be the difference. While guys like Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf have been pleasant surprises for the Lakers, they'll be outplayed by Spurs veterans such as Kurt Thomas and Bruce Bowen. That, ultimately, will be the difference in Game 7.
No. 1 Boston def. No. 2 Detroit (7 games): I went back and fourth on this a couple times, but ultimately it comes down to this: The Boston Celtics are more mentally stable than the Pistons. I know that sounds psychiatric, but it's true. The Pistons are more likely to lose their cool over a pair of bad calls. Rasheed Wallace is great when his head is on right, but there's no guarantee that he won't lose it at a crucial moment (just reference last season's conference finals). The Celtics, meanwhile, have been focused all season on one thing — winning — and K.G. is the best emotional leader on any playoff team.
NBA FINALS No. 3 San Antonio def. No. 1 Boston (7 games): Did I mention that this is going to be a great playoffs? The finals will be the best since, well, the 1980s. While ABC executives are praying for Celtics-Lakers, this series won't lack in drama. Both teams will want the title badly — with K.G. and crew seeking their first title, and Tim Duncan and his boys looking to finally prove that they can win back-to-back titles.
It will be a defensive series played in the 80s and 90s, but in the end I can only point to one reason why I like the Spurs: the point guard position. As good as Rajon Rondo's been this season, his lack of big-game experience will hurt him in this series. Parker will outplay him in the key minutes. And if Boston brings in veteran Sam Cassell, he'll have problems slowing down Parker.
It will be a great playoffs, a much better postseason than the 2007 version (minus Golden State's upset of Dallas). But in the end the result will be the same:
The Spurs will bring the NBA championship back to the Alamo.