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NBA Playoff Preview

Originally posted on “Is It Sports” by AJ, who recently wrote the position in the spotlight post for Pittsburgh. AJ is a huge NBA fan, much larger than Ryan or I. He nailed the finals matchup correctly, but went with his home town team and picked the Pistons over the Spurs. I added some comments at the beginning, in blue.

Here is the the first NBA Playoff Preview from Is It Sports? You might have noticed that so far we’ve only had one story on here about basketball, and it was on my fantasy team (I ended up winning the regular season title but lost the championship). I didn’t even mention correctly picking North Carolina to beat Illinois in my NCAA bracket when I filled it out after a few (ok, several) drinks when I was in Panama City. One problem with us doing an NBA playoff preview is that I’m a Bulls fan, so I’d be better suited to do a 1995-96 playoff preview (I started getting more interested in the NBA again last season though); Ryan likes hockey so therefore pretty much hates the NBA, and Kevin likes the Warriors, so I’m not sure if he knows what playoffs are. So we recruited the services of my friend and commissioner of my fantasy league, A.J., who is originally from the Detroit area, to do our preview. He wrote this before the playoffs started, I was a little late with the posting, sorry about that. So here it is. – Steve

Favorites
Detroit – They are the team to beat. They have won there last 11 games in impressive fashion, they are as hot as anyone right now. I know I am incredibly bias but I don’t understand how they can not be the favorite. Take Miami, give Shaq all the points you want, but do you honestly think that Dwyane Wade this year is a better basketball player than Kobe Bryant? Miami doesn’t have any other player that can break down a defense like Detroit’s. I’m not guaranteeing that Detroit will go all the way, there are a lot of teams that can beat them, it is just a matter of if they will. But they have to be the favorites.
San Antonio – How can they not be one of the favorites? Right now the big question mark is how healthy is Duncan. They have a great crew around him, but they are not good enough to win it all if Duncan is playing hurt. The addition of Glenn Robinson gives this team another go to scorer that helps to compliment Duncan, while the cast from last year helps to make the Spurs one of the deepest teams in the league. They are easily the favorite in the west.
Miami – It is Lakers syndrome all over again, two of the best players in the league and then nothing. How many playoff teams would Udonis Haslem start for? Houston, Philadelphia that’s all I can think of. What about Damon Jones? None, I can’t think of a single one. He is a decent player when coming off the bench. Now look at their bench, Laettner, Dooling, Doleac no fan since 1992, has said, “Don’t worry. Christian Laettner is coming into the game.” Zoe gives this team another dimension, but he has still not shown that he can play more then 20 minutes for multiple games in a row. All this being said, Shaq and Wade can win a title on their own. It has been done, but I’m just saying that they are that ones that have to do it.

Contenders
Phoenix – It may be the most over used saying in all of sports, but defense wins championships. Now say this five times, PHOENIX WILL NOT WIN THE NBA TITLE. I would like to see you name one team in the last 25 year who have won a championship that plays as bad of defense as Phoenix. I am just waiting to watch Steven A. Smith’s preview of the playoffs when he will rave about how no one in the league can match Phoenix’s offense and how great of basketball they play…then four weeks later when the finals are over it will be all about how you need defense to win championships. Just watch, it happened last year it will happen again this year.
Sacramento – This could be their year, I can’t believe I am saying this but I think they are a better team without Webber. It allows their key players to do what they do best, shoot. They have a weakened front court with the injury of Miller, and the loss of Divac, but they can shoot as well as anyone in the league.
Dallas – See Phoenix

Sleepers
Denver – You have to like Denver right now, they look like the team that they were supposed to be this year. However I don’t see any way for them to be able to beat San Antonio. I would give them a shot against anyone else in the league.
Indiana – They are a scary team to play. They could beat some really good teams if all there cards are played right. Reggie Miller is the last in a series of players that can win any single game by himself. 9 points in 8 seconds, there are three other players in the league right now who could possibly do that, Kobe, AI, and Ben Gordon. LeBron or Wade could be there one day, but are definitely not there yet. Indiana is a dark horse in the east.

Possible Surprises
Seattle – Not the way you want to be going into the playoffs. I would pick any team in the West over them. Like Denver they got a bad draw, they are not going to beat the Kings.
Houston – To start off no team led by either Tracy McGrady or Yao Ming will ever win a championship. First off Tracy McGrady is going to challenge the artist formally known as Air Canada as the biggest cry baby of our generation, the genius in the front office decided to team him up with Yao. Just watch Yao play five minutes and tell me that he is destined to be more than the next Kenny Anderson. I swear Earl Boykins could box him out, in fact I think I have seen it. I would just once want to see what goes on in his head during a game: Luke Ridnour just drove by me, I know I have a foot and a half on him, but blocking him would send the wrong message…I know I’ll hit him on the shoulder after he takes the shot, I’m getting tired anyways, coach will sit me if I have 3 fouls in the first 10 minutes.
Chicago – I have said for the last three years the Bulls probably have the most talent in the Eastern Conference, they have just been too inexperienced. Imagine how good this team would have been if Jay Williams didn’t like motorcycles. While they are probably the favorite to win their first round matchup I just don’t see how they can beat Miami in the second round, however it will be fun to watch them try. By the way, Ben Gordon is the next Reggie Miller.
Washington – Washington is the one team that I know nothing about, they have had so few games on national TV it is hard to get a read on them. From what I have seen, they are good enough to bring any team the full way in a series, I just don’t think they can beat Miami or Detroit.

So they might miss a week of golf
Memphis – They are an interesting team. I think they can beat anyone in the league in a 5 games series, but they just don’t have enough to make a big impact in the playoffs. I predict that they can win two games in the first round.
Boston – They are about 10 times better then they were last year, the sad part is that it is just not good enough. Their three top players (Pierce, Walker, and Davis) all the same type of player. The type that needs 20 shots a game to be effective. There are just not enough touches to go around. Walker ensured that the team will be in the playoffs for the next 3 or 4 years, but nothing more than that.
Philadelphia – AI is a winner, there is no doubt about it. By far the most mentally tough guy in the league. That being said, Weber is the absolute opposite. He has a habit of disappearing or making mistakes during big games. He did it in both championship games when he was at Michigan, and he has done it in the NBA. A winner does not complain about not getting enough touches after being with a team for a week. In the last 2 years he has gone from being in the same class as Garnett and Duncan, to being categorized with Kurt Thomas. If Detroit was offered Chris Webber for Darko right now do you think they would take it? I mean it is Darko. The mascot gets more time on the court then he does. In summary, they don’t have enough fire power to win a series with any of the top teams in the east.
New Jersey – How can you not compare them to Illinois? Kidd, Carter and the possibility of a Jefferson return. There is no one in the league that can come close to matching that. They can give Miami a run for they money, especially with a slowed down Shaq, but with even the slightest presence in the front court the Heat are going to be able to prevail.

Predictions

First Round
Miami vs. NJ – Miami wins (4-2), With Shaq not at 100% NJ can sneak in a couple of wins but no more. Shaq will not let his team go out in the first round.
Detroit vs. Philly – Detroit wins (4-1), AI presents a match-up problem for the Detroit defense, this will allow Philadelphia to win one of the first two games. However every single starter presents a match up problem for Philly.
Boston vs. Indiana – Indiana wins (4-2), There is no way Reggie is going to let his team go out in the first round. Jermaine O’Neal will dominate Boston’s weak front court.
Chicago vs. Washington – Chicago wins (4-3), Probably the best match-up in the first round, two up and coming teams facing off. If they played 10 series each team would win 5. I give the edge to the Baby Bulls though.
Phoenix vs. Memphis – Phoenix wins (4-1), so I lied Memphis will only win one game. But they will give Phoenix somewhat of a challenge.
San Antonio vs. Denver – San Antonio wins (4-2), all six games are going to be hard fought, but in the end it will come down to experience, and no one has more than San Antonio.
Seattle vs. Sacramento – Sacramento wins (4-2), Seattle goes down early in the series, but comes back to win a few close ones.
Dallas vs. Houston – Dallas wins (4-3), It will be a hard fought series but in the end Dallas will come up on top. Watch for Yao or T-Mac to choke during clutch time to cost their team the series.

Second Round
Miami vs. Chicago – Miami wins (4-0), A now healthy Shaq will come back with a vengeance. Chicago doesn’t have a player who can consistently stop Shaq or Dwyane.
Detroit vs. Indiana – Detroit wins (4-2), Indiana will we out for blood in this series, but will come up short. They can’t beat Detroit in a series without Artest.
Phoenix vs. Dallas – Phoenix wins (4-1), These two teams play the exact same type of basketball but Phoenix is just better at it.
San Antonio vs. Sacramento – San Antonio wins (4-2), The difference in this series is that San Antonio just plays much better defense.

Conference Championships
Miami vs. Detroit – Detroit wins (4-3), This one will be as close as the Detroit – Indiana series last year. Detroit will win any games in which Billups and Rip combined out score Shaq.
Phoenix vs. San Antonio – San Antonio wins (4-3), Another hard fought series but Duncan should be at 100% by this point. Look for Ginobili to come up big during the deciding moments.

NBA Championship
San Antonio vs. Detroit – Detroit wins (4-3), This would be one of the all time classic NBA championships, the kind that they rerun on ESPN Classic once a week. Someone unexpected will come up big during game seven. The team has that has that player will win. I think Detroit might be holding an ace up their sleeve with Arroyo. – A.J.