Saturday, April 22, 2006

The NBA Playoff Preview

While most of the ado on the site has been over the NHL playoffs that started last night, some of us are also excited about the NBA playoffs, which start today.

Okay, I'm excited about the playoffs. I think that there are a lot of intriguing matchups, most of them out West. The East looks pretty straightforward, but if nothing else, guys like D-Wade and LeBron will be entertaining to watch. I could see all of the Western matchups going either way, which excites me greatly.

So with that in mind, here's a quick preview of the first round matchups.

Eastern Conference

(1) Detroit Pistons vs. (8) Milwaukee Bucks
Detroit is gunning for their third straight appearance in the finals, while Milwaukee is probably just looking to put in a respectable showing. Detroit's weakness yet again this year is its bench, but that won't matter in this series. They have the best starting five in the game, and they will roll over a game, but overmatched Bucks squad.

Prediction: Pistons in 4

(2) Miami Heat vs. (7) Chicago Bulls
The Heat came within a couple of minutes of the NBA Finals last year, and this past summer blew up the team, and rebuild with Shaq, D-Wade, and a bunch of chuckers (Walker and Williams). The Baby Bulls are well-coached, and have the ability to steal a game, but don't match up to the Heat. They don't have anyone who can stop Shaq, and D-Wade is a difficult matchup for even the best defenders in the league. Some of these games could be fun, though.

Prediction: Heat in 5

(3) New Jersey Nets vs. (6) Indiana Pacers
The Pacers have enough talent to compete, but the lingering drama of the Artest incident, plus his holdout this year, seems to have succeeded in killing the club's morale. The Nets aren't a contender, in fact I can't take a team that has 40-year old Clifford Robinson in its rotation seriously, but they do have Jason Kidd, and he's the difference in this series. That, and I think that Vince Carter is less of a liability to disappear than Peja Stojakovic is. The Nets roll, and Larry Legend gets ready to blow up the Pacers and rebuild in the off-season.

Prediction: Nets in 5

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Washington Wizards
You could frame this as a matchup of LeBron vs Gilbert Arenas, and it wouldn't be too far from truth. If you treat this series as such, it's clear who's going to advance. Cavs win, setting up a second round matchup with the Pistons that will basically be a recreation of the Celtics/Bulls playoff series from 1986.

Prediction: Cavs in 6

Western Conference

(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Sacramento Kings
It's time to get crazy. The Spurs have logged a lot of extra games between the playoff runs and international tournaments. On top of that, their best player (Duncan) is nursing a foot injury, and their key bench acquisitions (Van Exel and Finley) dropped off significantly. And let's not forget that the Kings have Ron Artest, who can neutralize Manu Ginobli. So what are we left with? A veteran, but inconsistent bench, Tony Parker, and Rasho Nesterovic/Nazr Mohammed at the 5.

The Kings have Brad Miller, who should post double-doubles every time out against Rasho or Nazr, enough power forwards to play a game of hack-a-Duncan - he's not a good Free Throw shooter, remember, a playoff tested Point Guard (Bibby), and enough guys who can score from the wing (Artest, Wells, Martin, Garcia).

But can they beat the Spurs 4 times out of 7? I say they can.

Prediction: Kings in 7

(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
Can Kobe Bryant single-handedly take out the Suns? He may have to post 4-5 40 point games to do it; the scary thing is, it's entirely probable that he will. The Suns are built more for playoff basketball this year than they were last year, but without Amare Stoudamire, it will be tough for them to last more than a round or two. I think this will be a good series, but the Lakers will pull the upset. While the Suns took 3 out of 4 from LA this year, that 20 point LA blowout earlier this month is weighing heavily on my mind.

Prediction: Lakers in 7

(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers finally put it all together this year, and not only made the playoffs, but backed into home-court advantage in Round 1 after a loss to Memphis earlier this week. Denver is dangerous, or more specifically, Carmelo Anthony is dangerous, but LA has Quinton Ross at the 3, and he will give Carmelo fits all series. On the flip side, Denver has an ailing Kenyon Martin to defend Clippers star Elton Brand. I think that will be the difference.

Prediction: Clippers in 6

(4) Dallas Mavericks vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies
The Mavs just missed out on the top overall seed, but as a consolation, they get to feast on the Grizzlies. They have a strong rotation, led by Disco Dirk and Jason Terry. I think the Grizz will be more game than people think, but in the end, there won't be enough Pau Gasol for them to move on.

Prediction: Mavs in 6

These results would create some intriguing matchups for Round 2 - the consummate team (Pistons) vs the one man army (LeBron/Cleveland), two teams notorious for underachieving (Mavs vs. Kings), and the Battle of Los Angeles (Clips vs. Lakers). Oh, and a dull Heat/Nets matchup that will be over in 4 or 5. I have to admit that I have no idea who would make the finals out of this, but since I think Detroit is due for a fall, and I can't bring myself to pick the Lakers, I will go with the somewhat unexpected final of the Miami Heat against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Settle in, enjoy, and go Celtics go! Oh wait...


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