NBA Playoffs: Pistons Seek To Bring Title Back To Motor City
By Denis Gorman
Now, the real games begin. Come Saturday afternoon, the best basketball players on the planet will go head-to-head with each other. The survivor will have the right to call themselves champions.
And, unlike past years, there isn’t one dominant team. Every team that qualified for the playoffs can make a valid argument as to why they should be the last team standing. Without any further ado, our NBA Playoff Preview:
(1) Miami vs. (8) New Jersey:
The Heat was anointed the East’s dominant team on July 14th, 2004. On that date, GM Pat Riley traded F/C Lamar Odom, F Caron Butler and PF/C Brian Grant to the Lakers for the sport’s most dominant player, Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq has enjoyed a rebirth of sorts in South Florida, teaming with second-year guard Dwyane Wade. Repeatedly, O’Neal (22.9 ppg, 10.4 rebounds, 2.3 bpg) has said Wade’s the best guard he’s ever played with. Considering he’s had Penny Hardaway and Kobe Bryant as running mates, that’s saying something.
New Jersey was expected to battle the Charlottes and Atlantas of the world for a lottery pick. Jason Kidd was coming off of microfracture knee surgery (the same procedure that Allan Houston underwent) and they lost Richard Jefferson to a broken wrist on December 27th. For most teams, that would have spelled the end of the season.
Enter Vince Carter. The former UNC star was traded to Jersey on December 18th, and immediately developed a kinship with Kidd. Carter, who dogged it while trying to have Toronto trade him, re-introduced himself to the NBA.
In the second half of the season, there hasn’t been a better player in the league than Carter. Kidd is healthy, and Jefferson will be coming back shortly.
The Nets are the hot team right now, and are healthy. Miami has been a playoff team for awhile, but Shaq has missed the last three games due to an injured thigh. Can the MVP candidate get up and down the court? We’re betting that he can’t. New Jersey wins.
(2) Detroit vs. (7) Philadelphia:
The Pistons are the defending champions. Philly, after a hot start, has struggled in the second half. This will be quick and painful for Iverson and Co. Detroit wins.
(3) Boston vs. (6) Indiana:
The Celtics have been one of the NBA’s pleasant surprises, literally running away with the Atlantic Division.
Indiana, after the brawl in Detroit, has been the league’s nicest story. But, without Ron Artest, Jermaine O’Neal and Stephen Jackson, the Pacers’ season ends. Boston wins.
(4) Chicago vs. (5) Washington:
The series to watch. Two young teams making playoff debuts, and will it ever be fun.
The Baby Bulls are missing leading scorer Eddie Curry, but we think rookie guard Ben Gordon formally introduces himself to the basketball-viewing public. Chicago wins.
Eastern Conference Semifinals:
(2) Detroit vs. (8) New Jersey:
The Nets will have Carter, Kidd and Jefferson.
The Pistons will be fully loaded. Three men can only carry you so far. Detroit wins.
(3) Boston vs. (4) Chicago:
Boston has playoff experience. This will be the Bulls’ first go-’round. Experience wins. Boston wins.
Eastern Conference Finals:
(2) Detroit vs. (3) Boston:
Detroit’s better. Detroit wins.
(1) Phoenix vs. (8) Memphis:
Phoenix signed Steve Nash, who should be the NBA’s MVP, as a free agent over the summer. Observers thought that the Suns would be good, but not great.
How wrong they were. Phoenix has served notice on the rest of the NBA, winning a league high 62 games. The Suns have re-introduced the fast break to the NBA, and Nash is a big reason why.
The Grizzlies are not the prototypical eight seed. They have 10 guys that could start on any NBA squad. They will be able to run with Phoenix, and they can play defense. Memphis wins.
(2) San Antonio vs. (7) Denver:
Tim Duncan’s hurt and the Nuggets have been one of the hottest teams in the league in the second half. That’s enough for us. Denver wins.
(3) Seattle vs. (6) Sacramento:
The Sonics, along with Phoenix and Boston, have been a season-long relevation. Sacramento’s championship window is closing quickly. Seattle wins.
(4) Dallas vs. (5) Houston:
The Texas Tango. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady will keep Houston close. But Dallas has begun to play defense under new Head Coach Avery Johnson. Dallas wins.
Western Conference Semifinals:
(3) Seattle vs. (8) Memphis:
Memphis’ depth is the difference. Memphis wins.
(3) Dallas vs. (7) Denver:
Kenyon Martin loves playing against—and getting in the head of—players he deems “soft.” Dirk Nowitzki should be one of those players. We’re betting on Martin. Denver wins.
Western Conference Finals:
(7) Denver vs. (8) Memphis:
Two up-and-coming teams in the Midwest going basket-for-basket. Memphis is deep. But Denver’s got Carmelo Anthony, who the Grizzlies will not have an answer for. Denver wins.
Detroit vs. Denver:
You can’t bet against the defending champs. Detroit’s better. Detroit wins.