As I have mentioned, in the first round, every single participant in the 2010 TrueHoop Stat Geek Smackdown picked the Cavaliers, Magic, Hawks, Celtics and Lakers to win in the first round. So the action came down to the Spurs vs. Mavericks, Nuggets vs. Jazz and to a lesser degree to Suns vs. Blazers (where my mom alone picked Portland). Another key factor was the two-point bonus for correctly picking the number of games a team wins in.
ESPN's John Hollinger was the only person in the Smackdown to pick all eight first-round series correctly. On top of that he nailed the number of games in two of the eight series, to lead with 44 points. He is trailed by Kevin Pelton, who has 41, Stephen Ilardi at 39, and Jeff Ma and David Berri who each have 35.
David Thorpe, who is not part of the contest but has been publishing picks on ESPN.com, has called me three or four times to point out that his own predictions thus far would put him ahead of Hollinger. (As long as we're trafficking in hypotheticals, I'd add that if I had, like a normal person, picked the Suns to beat the Blazers, my picks on ESPN.com would have tied Hollinger.)
The people at Team Rankings are part of a growing number of geeks who are playing along on their own websites. They did a pretty sick job in the first round, correctly picking all eight winners, and getting the number of wins correct in four of them. It's hard to do better than that. That's good for 48 points. I have also been getting e-mails from an attorney in Texas, Matthew R. Stahlhut, who says he has a picking system that really works. He e-mailed picks before the first round, and proved to have all eight winners, and finished with 46 points.
New picks for a new round
In the second round, everybody agrees that Orlando will walk all over Atlanta -- all but Ma and my mom predict a five-game series.
Similarly, all but Ma -- a Boston fan, it's worth noting -- picked the Cavaliers to beat the Celtics, and most think it won't be all that close.
Jazz vs. Lakers got every single stat geek to pick the Lakers, while my mom thinks the Jazz have what it takes.
Spurs vs. Suns, though ... that's where the action is in this round. The Suns have homecourt advantage, outscored opponents by a greater margin than the Spurs did, and earned the trust of five of the Smackdown's eight participants. But three -- Neil Paine, Stephen Ilardi and Haralabos Voulgaris -- believe in the Spurs. Paine says a key factor is that the Spurs were impressive in beating the Mavericks, while the Suns were uneven in their first-round victory over the Blazers.
I'll make a bold prediction that it'll be impossible to win this year's Smackdown without getting this series right. There are only three series left after this round, and this is a rare opportunity to gain on the field.
And for the record, the people at Team Rankings, who did so well in the first round, have published their picks for conference semis, and they like Cavaliers in six, Jazz in seven, Suns in seven and Magic in six. That Jazz pick might be making them nervous already ... let's see if they can hang on to their phantom lead as the playoffs continue.