Miami vs. New Jersey - Shaq-fu is a little hurt and there is talk of the fact that he may not play the first couple of games this series. If that's the case then New Jersey has a chance to stay competitive in this thing. Vince Carter's decision to earn his money again this season has been nice. There's not a lot of options to stop him on the heat. But here's why I see Miami handling this thing easily. 1. Jason Kidd cannot shoot, and hasn't been able to pull his clutch shooting routine much anymore. 2. There is no defensive answer on NJ for Dwyane and Shaq. 3. New Jersey has only one scoring option and that's Vince. He's going to pussy out the first time Hasslem or Shaq flattens his ass. And that's that.
Chicago vs. Washington - The Bulls have been decimated by injury late in the season with Deng breaking his wrist and Curry suffering from an irregular heart beat. That's not good. But frankly the Bulls have lost key players during the season and still found ways to win. They play such a good team game. They'll miss Curry's low post scoring, but not in this game. Washington doesn't have any interior scoring or defense. And while Washington has a three-headed monster in Arenas-Jamison-Hughes, I just don't see them lighting up Chicago and their league leading defense (well, they have the lowest opponents FG% at 0.422. Not bad).
Boston vs. Indy - We meet again. Third first round tussle with Indiana has some problems. O'Neal is hurting, the Abuser is out, Artest isn't making a playoff cameo, and Reggie is tired from carrying this team into the playoffs. The Celtics real weak spot is center and if O'Neal was healthy the C's would be in trouble, but that's not the case. I see the Celtics handling buisness in this series, though it won't be easy because they are predictable in close game situations and they don't defend the post well. Still, I see it going Boston's way here.
Detroit vs. Philly - Iverson put the Sixers on his back yet again and brought them to the playoffs. A marvelous performance by AI, and really astonishing considering the beating he takes every year. He plays with the most heart and toughness of anyone in the NBA and is fun to watch. But the problem is that he is not a great team player, and his team isn't that good. Detroit on the other hand is a solid, cohesive team loaded with defensive stoppers and just enough offensive to knock people around. It's going to be fun watching Webbs cry and then bitch and moan after the fans boo him out of town.
Detroit 4-0 sweeper special.
Miami vs. Chicago - Chicago is young and precocious. Shaq will now have the taste of blood in his mouth. Too much inexperience and no one to make Shaq work defenisively will hurt Chi-town in this round. This will be very easy for Miami and allow Shaq to rest up for his grudge match with a certain eastern conference team.
Detroit vs. Boston - I've watched enough Celtics basketball to know that Boston doesn't have the consistency, fundamentals, or mental toughness to hang with Detroit. Tayshaun can cause Pierce all kinds of problems, and the Wallace brothers are going to give us the ugly reminder of why Danny Ainge traded Walker away in the first place. Hopefully the Celtics can save face here, or maybe Larry Brown gets weirder and bolts from the Pistons mid-playoffs. That's the only way I see them having a chance.
Detroit vs. Miami - This is the clash of the Titans now. The clear front runners in the Eastern Conference once the Brawl removed Indy from this weight group. The last time Shaq tangoed with Detroit in a series he had on the purple and gold, and he looked very, very effective. That Lakers team had funk problems. Not so this Miami team. Miami comes in with two all-world players in Wade and Shaq who cannot be stopped offensively. Haslem has shown that he can scrap and hold his own against Ben Wallace (rasheed will be too much for Udonis offensively) which is good. And Zoe is showing signs of being able to give Miami effective minutes. I think that's enough to beat Detroit, who I don't think are talented enough to beat a team with beaming superstars that are playing together. It will be interesting to see how Brown defends Shaq and how effective Rip will be (will Wade guard him? Can Eddie Jones even hope to stay with him?). But in the end, Shaq is too much for everybody. And he's happy. And he's motivated.
Phoenix vs. Memphis - Everyone is rightly noting that Memphis backed into the playoffs after initially responding to the Czar. Memphis hopes to be physical and slow the pace of the game down to give themselves a chance to win this series. Fratello clearly is one of the coaches who conspired to ruin basketball by overcoaching and playing a slow down game. I don't see how he can be successful here. This Phoenix team has too many horses and a great floor general in Nash. Every opportunity is a fast break and Stoudemire runs the floor better than any big man I've ever seen. Memphis will succeed sometimes in slowing the pace, but this will also hurt them as they have no real go to scorer in the half court sets, but rather unsteady and unproven shooters and wingmen.
Dallas vs. Houston - This could be a really entertaining playoff series. Dallas has actually improved in several areas since Nash and Nellie departed. Avery Johnson has emphasized defense, defense, defense and Dallas has one of its deeper teams in a while with a legitimate enforcer in the paint. Dirk has clearly risen to top five status this year emerging as a full-fledged superstar. Houston started out slowly, but it seems that McGrady and Yao are starting to click a little better. Houston's front office was also wise to bring in some extra help in the likes of David Wesley and Jon Barry to stabilize their rotation. Yao's numbers have been good this year considering that he's averaging 30 minutes a game (he needs an offseason to really develop) and Mutumbo continues to show some signs of life. In the end I think Houston is limited by a lack of a PF, a key position on the floor, and Dirk is going to exploit that to no end. Still could be a fun series to watch though.
Seattle vs. Sacramento - I really don't know. According to my Seattle source people are getting ready for the next big let down, but honestly Seattle has had some key injuries coming down the stretch. Sacto has had the same problem losing the likes of Peja and Brad Miller for significant stretches. Both are expected to play in this series. I'm only thinking Seattle is going to win because I don't like Sacto. Really, I have no clue what happens here.
San Antonio vs. Denver - No team is playing better in the second half of the season than Denver under Carl. They have a lot of front court size and some fairly reliable scorers. Anthony remains a question mark. He's shown signs of being a really good player, but also showed a lot of inconsitency in his first playoff appearance. Granted he was a rookie. The buzz out of San Antonio is all about Duncan's ankle. If it's healthy they expect a run for the title. If not, well it's hard to predict. Still San Antonio had great games even with Duncan out with players like Ginobli really raising their game a notch. I like the Spurs here because they have big game experience and Denver does not and Karl has a history of having talented teams flame out. Denver just isn't ready yet.
Dallas vs. Phoenix - Can't miss entertainment. Dallas plays a little more defense this year than in previous ones but they can still run and score with the best of them. I really think Dirk is going to be the difference in this series with too much scoring and too much clutch scoring. Plus I think Dallas can guard Nash with some bigger players like Daniels and stifle him a bit. This is still going to be so much fun to watch.
Seattle vs. Spurs - Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan. Tim Duncan. That's all that matters here, and let's face it both Seattle and Sacto are soft as hell so the Spurs are going to mash whichever team gets here.
Dallas vs. Spurs - Nobody can stop Dirk. But nobody can stop Duncan defensively either and San Antonio has more options and just better all around experience. We saw last year that San Antonio certainly has weaknesses (e.g. knock Parker on his ass a couple of times and he becomes less aggressive) but I think Dallas has more of them. I think without a Shaq sized obstacle in his way, Duncan shreds through the lesser opposition of this years playoffs.
San Antonio vs. Miami - Shaq vs. Duncan round two. I think Miami takes it because this might be the most motivated Shaq has been in years. I see him giving it his all, putting up 30-20 games to go along with Wade's all around excellence and the help of a few role players. Shaq can force Duncan into playing more defense than he normally does and get him into foul trouble. Wade causes headaches for the Spurs and is quick enough to handle Ginobli or Parker on Defense. The only issue will be Eddie and Damon hitting shots and Haslem getting garbage points and working the glass. Plus I think 'Zo gives them just enough to get by.