16 teams being their quest for a world championship. The rest get ready to play ping pong and scout top draft picks. But would you rather have a #1 overall pick or be the #1 overall team?
Exactly. So instead of a draft preview, I'm taking a look at each first round playoff series.
(1) Dallas Mavericks vs. (8) Golden State Warriors
A lot of people are really enjoying this whole storyline of Don Nelson - the architect of this Mavericks team - now leading the Warriors against the best team in the Association. The only player on the current Mavericks squad that Nellie really got a good chance to coach is Dirk. The bigger story is the student-vs.-teacher coaching match up of Nellie and Avery Johnson. Nellie allowed Johnson to coach several games before finally stepping down and turning the team over to him.
From a match up standpoint, Dallas is clearly a better team. I know they lost the season series to the Warriors, but that was the regular season. In the playoffs, Dallas will be on a mission to get back to the finals and complete the championship run they let slip through their grasp last June. The Warriors may surprise the Mavericks by even winning a game at the American Airlines Center, but don't let that fool you. This series is all Dallas.
No Joshin' around, my pick: MAVERICKS in 5
(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers
A rematch of last year's first round match up. The Lakers had a 3-1 lead, but the Suns stormed back and made a run all the way to the Western Conference finals. Too bad the Lakers aren't equiped to enact any sort of revenge. This is the ultimate one-on-five series. Kobe has little help around him for the postseason. Who on this Lakers roster has demonstrated an ability to step up in the clutch other than No. 24?
Now perhaps that's because Kobe would rather take a triple-teamed buzzer-beater than pass off to Smush Parker (and, by the way, that's the correct decision by Bryant), but there isn't anyone else capable of draining the do-or-die shot. Kobe may have a few 50-point games in this series, but 50 points isn't enough to be a Suns team that averaged a league-high 110.2 points per game.
No Joshin' around, my pick: SUNS in 5
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the wisdom of Gregg Popovich. Do I even need to explain my rational with this series?
Okay, Nuggets fans, let me clarify something for you. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are great players. They are phenominal players. They are each capable of being the centerpiece of the team. And that's the problem. Who's taking the final shot when the game is on the line? When Iverson was traded from Philadelphia, I thought it was a great move for Denver. They have a great deal of talent, but that talent - other than Iverson - doesn't know how to win in the postseason. In Denver wants a chance to win, Melo should differ to A.I. as much as possible. I know this is an older Iverson than the one who led the Sixers to the NBA Finals in 2001, but he's still capable of dropping 40 in any postseason game.
The Spurs are going to be tough to be, though. Too tough. Forget the Alamo. They are remembering Ginobili's Game 7 foul on Dirk last year that sent Dallas to the Conference Finals. The Spurs are not a team that loses in the first round, and certainly not to Denver.
No Joshin' around, my pick: SPURS in 6
(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets
Thank goodness for Houston they finally have home court advantage in the first round. (They finished one game better than the Jazz to secure a home series.) The Rockets haven't advanced in the playoffs since the Charles Barkley days I believe. Yikes! Tracy McGrady has never been out of the first round. And it always seems that Yao and T-Mac play better when the other is injured (which is pretty often).
Utah has a big edge in the coaching match up. Jerry Sloan versus Jeff Van Gundy? Not even close. Sloan has been winning since T-Mac was in diapers. But home court will finally pay off for the Rockets, who went 28-13 in Houston. This may be ther first winnable series they actually win in a long time.
No Joshin' around, my pick: ROCKETS in 6
(1) Detroit Pistons vs. (8) Orlando Magic
Detroit is far and away the best team in the JV conference. Their 91.8 points allowed are the best of any team in the East. Orlando's Dwight Howard will get to showcase his talent on a national stage, but much like Kobe vs. the Suns, he won't be able to do any significant damage. The Pistons are a complete team, and the Magic won't have a healty Darko.
To sum up just how much trouble Orlando is in: they are going to be missing Darko. This is the same guy who sat the bench while Detroit cruised past the Lakers to win it all a few years ago.
No Joshin' around, my pick: PISTONS in 4
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Washington Wizards
This series may have been a great second-round series had Gilbert Arenas not gotten hurt. The Wiz certainly wouldn't be a 7-seed. Instead Washington is in a freefall. They don't have Arenas or Caron Butler - their two best players - and Cleveland has some guy you may have heard of named LeBron James.
This series will give James an opportunity to learn to make big-time postseason shots. We saw this year in the regular season he doesn't have the killer instinct of guys like Arenas or Kobe Byrant, but a series against a weak opponent may help him figure out how to be that buzzer-beating sniper.
Thanks to these injuries, fans are being deprived of a great series. And the Wizards are being deprived of any chance to move on.
No Joshin' around, my pick: CAVS in 4
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) New Jersey Nets
This series will be one of the closest in the first round. A vetern Nets team led by Jason Kidd and Vince Carter will have to contain the younger and more explosive Raptors. Toronto's combination of Chris Bosh and TJ Ford are going to be tough to stop. Some argue that the Raptors' youth could come back to bite them, but in the first round of the playoffs, experience isn't as important as energy.
The Nets can get out in transition, and Richard Jefferson is always a threat to have a big game when opponents get too focused on Carter and Kidd. Toronto has home court, and that's important because this series is going to Game 7.
No Joshin' around, my pick: RAPTORS in 7
(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
The Bulls were a preseason favorite out of the East. That didn't seem to work out. They will have home court in this series thanks to a better regular season record than Miami. The home court won't matter as much, however. Miami is capable of splitting the first two games in the Windy City, and they are more-than capable of winning at home (see 2006 NBA Finals).
Once again, the focus will be on Shaq against Ben Wallace, who Chicago acquired specifically for the playoffs to stop the Diesel. Only problem is that Shaq has been unstoppable. Since the Heat were left for dead when Dwyane Wade got hurt, Shaq took over. He put this team on his back and led them from out of the playoffs all the way to the fourth seed.
In the Bulls pick up the pace and force Miami to run, the older Heat team is in trouble. And I've never been a big Antoine Walker fan at all, however if he does get hot it could be an unavoidable dagger to the Bulls. Walker will be a bigger factor in this series than people think. He will take a great number of shots, and his shooting percentage will help decide this series. If he's off, Wade will have to make the concious decision of passing to a well-guarded Shaq or even James Posey instead of a wide-open black-hole shooter like Walker.
The Bulls have a lot of talent, but I can't pick against Shaq in the playoffs. Not after all he did in the second half of this regular season.
No Joshin' around, my pick: HEAT in 7