NBA Playoff Preview
In a season that featured incredibly low scoring and worse shooting, it's time for the war. In previous years, the playoffs had a real shape to them, there were teams we expected to see in the finals, teams we knew were cannon fodder, and Michael Jordan. Now, we see an Eastern Division where the eight teams were separated by a total of 6 games. In the West, we have teams that are too young, teams that are too old, teams that are coming alive late, others that staggered home, with very few certainties. Let's dive in.
Heat vs. Knicks: The war to start all wars. Subtexts of pupils and mentors in the coaches and best players. Key players (Hardaway and Sprewell) actually hate each other from a previous stint as teammates. The last two times they met were decided by fights and who was suspended by them. The intensity should make up for the lack of scoring. Miami should survive because Zo is significantly better than Patrick. Heat 3-2
Pacers vs. Bucks: Great job by George Karl getting the Bucks here, while the Pacers, expected to be the class of the East, struggled. Bucks lack the size to handle the Pacers and this is traditionally where Karl's coaching magic runs out. Pacers will take it up a notch for the playoffs. Pacers 3-0
Orlando vs. Philadelphia: A wonderfully interesting series. Penny vs. Iverson, Chuck Daly vs. Larry Brown. Two teams that exceeded their expectations and now want more. Orlando tailed off a bit the second half, as they couldn't quite find the right lineup. The Sixers won two of three, were a last second steal from sweeping this series. Still, Orlando seems to have more weapons, not sure Iverson can win a playoff series on his own. Orlando 3-2
Hawks vs. Pistons: The other 4 vs. 5 series. The Hawks with Steve Smith were as good as anybody in the East. The Pistons have the best player in Grant Hill, who has probably become underrated -- no one mentions him as a potential MVP. This probably depends on how well the Piston guards shoot. Let's call the mild upset. Pistons 3-2
San Antonio vs. Minnesota: The brilliant Kevin Garnett gets a showcase here. Well, for three games he does. After that, he gets to convince Joe Smith to stay. San Antonio is the best team in the league right now, but they've been in this position before and didn't win. Spurs 3-0
Portland vs. Phoenix: Great job by Dunleavy. While others were working on being the next Jordan, Jason Kidd has become the next Magic. Now if he was only playing with the next Kareem. Phoenix is too small for the Blazers, who have versatility on their side. Still, Portland staggered home while Phoenix finished fast. Portland's depth was a huge asset for the compact season, but it's a lot less valuable here. Can the Suns pull the upset? Phoenix 3-2
Jazz vs. Kings: The series we want to see. The young guns vs. the old ones. White Chocolate vs. Stockton. Malone vs. Webber. All three games between these teams went to OT. This is Utah's last choice for a first round opponent. I figure the Jazz wins one game easy and steals two others -- the class and experience differential is too big. We may have to get used to the thought of the Sacramento Kings being an NBA power. That's next century, for now… Jazz 3-1
Lakers vs. Rockets: Speaking of old guns vs. young ones…have the Rockets run out of gas? Have the Lakers hit their stride? Is either of these teams really dangerous, or are they both incapable of extending good play over a 7 game series? Lots of babies in the backcourt in this series, not sure it'll make for a good series to watch. On the other hand, there won't be much defense in here, so that should make it a little entertaining. The Rockets have playoff class to call on, so let's go with them. Rockets 3-2
This may be as entertaining a first round as we've seen, made more so by the fact that it will matter -- there may be 12 or 13 teams that can actually get to the Finals.