Friday, April 22, 2005

First Round Playoff Preview

I'm moving this weekend and will be without TV and internet for the start of the playoffs which should give me a ready excuse to escape the boxes from time to time. Plus, there will be a bit of ignorant bliss should any of these predictions look horribly wrong initially.

There's nothing better than NBA Playoff basketball. Detractors make a few valid points about the varied quality of ball during the 82 game grind, but in the post-season the best players and coaches (and, this year, George Karl too) in the world exploit each other's weaknesses ruthlessly and repeatedly. Missing the first weekend will only whet my appetite.


Miami vs. New Jersey

Shaq’s health will determine how long this series lasts. Richard Jefferson’s return to the Nets likely won’t make much of a difference.

Not to get all Charley Rosen here, but Vince Carter appears to have no regrets with purposely tanking while a Raptor in order to force a trade. Such selfishness is still apparent whenever Carter touches the ball. Carter has been a highly effective scorer since arriving in New Jersey but he’s still an aesthetically unpleasant player who plays no defense. The self-imposed limitations of Carter’s game will be all the more apparent when he shares the court with the better players and teammates who populate this series.

Miami in 5

Chicago vs. Washington

Eddy Curry and Luol Deng will be missed. Both could have taken advantage of the soft underbelly of the Wizards defense. Without those two, this becomes a fairly terrible matchup for the Bulls. Yes, Arenas and Hughes will take too many chances defensively and give up easy buckets, but their length and athleticism should trouble the Bulls two remaining offensive options: Gordon and Hinrich. The combination of Harrington, Antonio Davis, Chandler, and Funderburke will have to contribute enough garbage buckets and face-up jumpers to weather the guards’ inevitable cold stretches.

On the other end of the court, Gilbert Arenas will be holding his coming-out party. Hinrich can only cover one the Wizards guards at a time. The other Wizard guard will have his way with Gordon or Duhon. Deng’s absence will preclude Skiles from going big and sliding Nocioni into the backcourt. Nocioni’s more of an annoyance than a great defensive player at this stage of his career, anyway.

Points will be at a premium for the Bulls, but they’ll play hard, physical basketball. These two teams fought in the pre-season and Tyson Chandler got thrown out of their game last week for kicking at Jaimson’s groin. This will be as ugly a series as possible for two teams featuring four guards this good.

Washington in 6

Detroit vs. Philadelphia

Iverson will give another valiant effort. Webber will be completely physically intimidated by the Pistons frontline. Larry Brown will gaze longingly at Andre Iguodala. It will all be over with quickly.

Detroit in 4

Boston vs. Indiana

If Jermaine O’Neal is reasonably healthy, the Pacers have a chance. If O’Neal is limited, some combination of LaFrentz, Blount, Jefferson, and Perkins should be able to slow O’Neal enough for the Celtics broader array of talent to prevail.

The Celtics are an odd mix of veterans reduced to role players by age (Payton) or injury (LaFrentz) and young players who have to yet grown into their potential (Jefferson, Allen, West, Perkins) surrounding two players (Pierce and Walker) who don’t always channel their desire to win in the ideal direction. Thus, their quality of play varies wildly, often within the same game. The in-game swings of fortune could make this an exciting series even if one team or the other sweeps. I don’t think that will happen. The Celtics inconsistency and Rick Carlisle’s coaching will bridge some of the talent gap. Paul Pierce won’t have to deal with Ron Artest, though. I expect Pierce to get to the line his customary 10 times per playoff game and lead the Celtics to the second round.

Boston in 6


Phoenix vs. Memphis

Memphis is constructed to be a very good regular season team. Their depth and interchangeable parts alleviate the 82 game grind. In a short series, however, frontline talent almost always takes over. Phoenix has frontline talent and they exploit it better than any other team in the league. Furthermore, The Grizzlies two-deep is stocked with players of similar skill sets but lesser talent so there aren’t any matchups they can exploit.

Phoenix in 4

Dallas vs. Houston

Who’s going to guard Nowitzki? Clarence Weatherspoon? Scott Padgett? Ryan Bowen? Exactly.

Houston’s attempts to slow the pace will likely result in more forced shots by Tracy McGrady than a free-flowing offense making use of the varied skills of a very nice collection of backcourt players (Sura, Wesley, Mike James, Jon Barry) or Yao Ming.

At this point, Yao is partially responsible for not yet dominating games regularly. It’s too early to give up on him as a franchise player, but this series won’t help his reputation. Or McGrady’s likely, either.

Dallas in 5

San Antonio vs. Denver

If Tim Duncan’s healthy, San Antonio is the best team in the league. Because he’s not and because the Nuggets players don’t all hate George Karl yet this series holds some interest.

If Duncan plays at all, the Spurs should advance to the second round. This isn’t a good matchup for the Nuggets. Andre Miller won’t be able to fully exploit Tony Parker’s defensive limitations. Earl Boykins might be able to do so, but he’ll give back roughly the same number of points he scores. Bowen and Brown should be able to force Carmelo Anthony into bad shots while Nesterovic and Mohammed compete with Kenyon Martin, Camby, and Nene on the glass.

San Antonio in 6

Seattle vs. Sacramento

I’ll say it. Brad Miller is Sacramento’s best player. It doesn’t look like he’ll be able to play in this series so Seattle should advance even if Radmanovic can only play limited minutes.

Seattle is best when Allen, Lewis, and Radmanovic are all on the court. If those three are healthy and creating problems then Ridnour and Daniels are interchangeable at the point and any member of the Evans/Collison/Fortson triumvirate can contribute with screens, rebounds, and fouls.

Either of these teams would be in serious danger were they playing one of the other six teams in the first round. Though both teams might be absent an important player and play hobbled stars their shared preference for the downhill portion of the game should make for an entertaining series.

Seattle in 7

Miami over Washington in 5
Detroit over Boston in 5
Phoenix over Dallas in 7
San Antonio over Seattle in 6

Detroit over Miami in 7
Phoenix over San Antonio in 7

Detroit over Phoenix in 6

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