By Steve Czaban Special to Published May 07, 2008 at 5:22 AM

According to eight of 10 of ESPN NBA "experts," the Atlanta Hawks did not stand a chance against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.

What a shock then for the Celtics to wake up and have to win a tense Game 7 at home before advancing to meet the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Talk about missing the memo.

How do a group of former players, coaches, and NBA writers -- paid for their specific expertise on a single league -- fail to foresee something this dramatic?

The short answer is easy. It's sports. It's unpredictable. That's why we love it.

OK, fine. I get that. Nevertheless, the NBA is a different animal of "unpredictability" than, say, football. For starters, this was a seven-game series and not a single 60-minute contest. In football, when a 14-point underdog wins a game outright, it sure is shocking, but not unheard of.

Furthermore, an NFL game can hinge on a handful of big plays: a fumble here, an interception for a touchdown there, a special teams gaffe.

Not so in the NBA, where the relentless march of the 24-second clock ensures many, many, many chances for the superior team to exert its superiority.

In other words, NBA games aren't usually "flukes." A team that wins does so because it clearly outplays the other. Moreover, a seven-game series is even less of a fluke, because the dominant team has multiple chances to correct the flaws from a previous loss.

The Atlanta Hawks outplayed the living daylights out of Boston three times in this series.

Nobody saw it coming. Why?

I come back to the notion of "experts" in sports. We should expect more from them.

Instead of giving us a slice of their own higher level of understanding about the sport they cover or perhaps played, they are delivering the same caliber of couch level analysis we can do ourselves.

Sure, the Celts are going to roll! Look at the records! Boston posted the best regular-season mark in the league, while the Hawks were an embarrassing "We Need Somebody to Be a No. 8 Seed in the East" 37-45.

Having not seen a single minute of "non-highlight" action from the Hawks this year - easy to do, isn't it? - I had only a vague idea of how their young nucleus was coming together. I had no idea how veteran point man Mike Bibby was working out since the trade this mid-season. I had no idea how strong rookie Al Horford was looking, despite Dick Vitale's overheard cell phone conversations while he was still at Florida.

When you combine those factors, along with the fact that Boston's vaunted "Big Three" of Garnett, Allen, and Pierce is 10 years older on average than Atlanta's "Big Three," then you might want to re-think that sweep.

Plus, using last year's Golden State upset against Dallas as a template, an "expert" on this league might have said: "Wait a minute. Like Golden State last year, the fans in Atlanta are going to give this team an incredible boost because for years they have been playing in front of half-empty buildings. Now, it's the playoffs, nobody cares that they were eight games under .500, and you'll be amazed at what that can do to energize a team."

It would have been an angle on the series, that is worthy of being called "expert" analysis on some level. Why pay these guys on TV just to rubber-stamp what a 29 game difference in the standings already tells you?

Mind you, I am not criticizing those ESPN heads for not calling a seven-game thriller on the nose. I am criticizing them for mailing in their predictions. While my analysis of what made Atlanta so competitive is easy because it's hindsight, I have the excuse of not being an NBA "expert."

I am a talk show host -- a generalist, a raconteur and a commentator on all things sports. I do not get the NBA League Pass on DirecTV, and because I am up at 4:30 a.m. every day, I rarely get to see an entire NBA playoff game from start to finish.

But not the "experts." Oh, no. They are supposed to live this league, breathe this league, and know this league. They watch hundreds of games, talk to coaches, talk to players, and talk to the media that covers these teams.

If that was my only job, and I missed so badly on prediction like this, I'd be somewhat embarrassed. I'd also thank my lucky stars that nobody seems to get fired for giving "expert" analysis which is nothing more than recycled conventional wisdom.




Steve Czaban Special to

Steve is a native Washingtonian and has worked in sports talk radio for the last 11 years. He worked at WTEM in 1993 anchoring Team Tickers before he took a full time job with national radio network One-on-One Sports.

A graduate of UC Santa Barbara, Steve has worked for WFNZ in Charlotte where his afternoon show was named "Best Radio Show." Steve continues to serve as a sports personality for WLZR in Milwaukee and does fill-in hosting for Fox Sports Radio.