It’s time for the dance. The real season starts now. This is where legends are born (random sport cliché #25). Yup, it’s the favorite time for women everywhere, it’s playoff time. Personally I refuse to pay attention to the NHL playoffs since no one should be playing hockey in May let alone June. Therefore it’s a roundball recap. The regular season was interesting if predictable for the most part. Kobe’s 81 and the Clips not being a pushover stand out as highlights. But this article is forward looking so on with the playoff preview.
Somehow over the past 5-7 years the eastern conference has gone from powerhouse to the NBA equivalent of a JV squad. I know it sounds harsh but Indiana (.500), Chicago (.500), and Washington (.512) all needed to end the season on winning streaks to get to .500 ball. Milwaukee is in at the 8 spot with a losing record. I trace it back to the demise of true big man center in the east but that’s a different story for a different time.
(1) Detroit vs. (8) Milwaukee
With best record in the NBA there’s no reason to expect that the Pistons will be anything but dominate over the Bucks. Winning the season series 3-1, it should be noted that the loss came with Detroit sitting 2 of their top 3 scorers. Milwaukee is also the only team that made the playoffs with a losing record. The only real danger here is Detroit looking ahead to the conference finals where they’ll meet their first real challenge (no offense to LBJ and the Cavs).
Prediction – Pistons in four without breaking a sweat.
(4) Cleveland vs. (5) Washington
There’s been talk of an MVP trophy for LeBron James this season and with numbers of 31.5 ppg, 6.6 apg, and an even 7 RPG I’m not going to argue. In fact I’m a little scared at the thought that he’s only going to get better. The Wizards have had the Cavs number taking the season series 3-1, but I wouldn’t count of the desire of King James to pull his team into the 2nd round. This match up is basically a battle to see who will be the next sacrifice to the Piston war machine. It’ll be an interesting match-up complete with the drama (?) of Larry Hughes going against his former team but I wouldn’t put money on either of these teams getting past Detroit.
Prediction – Cavs in seven – LBJ breaks out of his shell.
(3) New Jersey (6) Indiana
New Jersey struggled a bit at the end of the season after pulling off a franchise high 15 game winning streak. When the Nets are hot they are simply dangerous with one of the most talented starting 5 in the league. With the triumvirate of Olympians on the floor the possibility of an interesting game is always there but lets not forget that this is the team that brought us the most boring finals in recent history (vs. the Spurs).
The Pacers are in shambles and have been since the Artest trade. I love Peja but he’s not going to be enough. With a record of 41-41 if they were in the western conference they would be headed for the lottery instead of a first round loss. Steve Kerr sums this series as the first to 85 wins. He may have something there.
Prediction – Nets in five.
(2) Miami vs. (7) Chicago
Winners of 6 in a row and 9 of the last 10 the Bulls haven’t been this hot since Jordan was hogging the ball and the world was pretending Pippen was an all-star. Peaking at the right time is important and the Bulls are defiantly peaking. The addition of Kirk Hinrich a few years ago added a measure of stability to the team what was in desperate need of some leadership. Unfortunately for Hinrich and the Bulls, they’re facing Shaq and the Heat. After a season of his lowest production ever this may be the last chance for Shaq to make a run for a title. If Shaq can stay healthy and take pressure off Wade they should be able to pull this one out. If Shaq goes down, look for the upset.
Prediction- Bulls in seven.
The western conference has been the best for a while. It’s got more interesting teams, a faster style, and the best players in the league. It’s like the big brother of the NBA with the fast car and fast women. With the sole exception of Detroit, the east offers little in the way of challenges for the top western squads.
(1) San Antonio vs. (8) Sacramento
I’d like to go into some long diatribe about how the rejuvenated Kings with the defensive minded Ron Artest are going to surprise everyone and give the Spurs a run for their money but let’s be realistic. Since 1999, only the Spurs, Lakers and Pistons have won the championship. While not the flashiest team in the world to watch the defending champion Spurs are easily the toughest team to beat in a 7-game series. They only lost 10 games to conference foes all season. The Kings will get a win or two but the consistency of Tim Duncan and company will prevail.
Prediction – Spurs in six.
(4) Dallas vs. (5) Memphis
Mark Cuban is pissed and rightfully so. Thanks to the new divisions and rules giving division winners’ top seeds, Cuban’s Mavs bring their 2nd place conference finish straight to the 4th seed. The first round here isn’t the problem. If Dallas gets past Memphis, which I expect they will, they’ll run straight into the Spurs in the semis. While Cuban thinks this is a bad idea for me it means that we’ll have at least two rounds of great basketball. Now the Spurs have to go thru Dallas and the Suns (most likely) to get to the Finals rather than the other way around. Not a huge difference for the viewer but I can see where Cuban would rather his team face the Spurs later rather than sooner.
Drama aside, Memphis should put up a little bit of a show but don’t expect Pau Gasol and friends to continue this much improved season past the first round.
Prediction- Dallas in five.
(3) Denver vs. (6) LA Clippers
Proof that the new seeding system is flawed. The Nuggets (44-38) have a better seeding than the Clippers (47-35). Luckily the court is the great equalizer. With Corey Maggette back in the line up the Clips have a chance to do something no LA Clipper team has ever done… win a playoff series. Elton Brand has matured into a leader that the Clippers needed and the solid base of Sam Cassell only helps. This team could go places in a few years. From laughing stock to Cinderella team.
As for the Nuggets, they suck. They shouldn’t even be in the playoffs and if they hadn’t won a division they’d have been in a battle for 8th and on the losing end of a tiebreaker with Sacramento. They’ve been inconsistent throughout the season and if Kenyon Martin doesn’t stay healthy the Clips are going to be all over them.
Hey the Clips aren’t the best team in LA by chance
Prediction – Clippers in five (I believe!!!).
(2) Phoenix vs. (7) LA Lakers
Kid Canada and Mike D’Antoni have done a fantastic job with this team. Way back in September I was in a bar with a friend just after Amare Stoudemire went down for the season. He didn’t believe me when I said the Suns would run and gun their way to the playoffs. Scoring an average of 108 points a game I wasn’t wrong.
As a longtime Laker fan it’s been hard for me to see Kobe destroy my team. 81 points in a game is nice but pass the ball. The Lakers don’t have much depth and have been relying on Kobe scoring 40 a game to get them through. As much as it pains me Chris Mihm isn’t Shaq and Phil Jackson can only work magic if there’s some talent to work with.
Prediction – Phoenix in six, but Kobe goes for 50 in at least one game.
All in all this looks like it’ll be a good year for some NBA playoff action with some possible surprises.