“Of the three major sports leagues, the NBA playoffs provide the greatest upgrade once the playoffs begin. This year further exemplifies the theory. Even the series sweeps are more exciting. Who would have thought the Bulls would benefit from dropping from the No.””
Of the three major sports leagues, the NBA playoffs provide the greatest upgrade once the playoffs begin.
This year further exemplifies the theory.
Even the series sweeps are more exciting. Who would have thought the Bulls would benefit from dropping from the No. 2 to the No. 5 seed on the last day of the season? And who in their right mind would have predicted Golden State’s improbable run in the postseason, pushing the 67-win Dallas Mavericks to the brink of elimination?
The only safe bet is that this is only the beginning.
1. Warriors / Mavericks
This has been the best first-round series in recent history, especially since the league switched the first round from five to seven games. Dallas, who dominated the regular season, is facing elimination tonight. The team that shoved the Mavs’ backs against the wall, the Golden State Warriors, barely made the playoffs.
Even more amazing is the way they’ve done it. The Warriors’ three wins are by an average of 11 points. They’ve been in complete control for the majority of games.
But Golden State missed its chance. They had the Mavs on the ropes, leading by nine late in the fourth quarter which allowed Dallas to score the game’s final 15 points, stealing what should have been the series-clinching win.
In stealing Game 5, the Mavs figured out how to beat Golden State. Dirk Nowitzki finally looks confident, scoring 30 points in the game. The Mavs were finally able to free Nowitzki up by inserting Austin Croshere in the lineup.
Croshere had tallied three DNP’s and 11 minutes in the series before hitting three 3s in Game 5, making the Warriors pay for doubling down on Nowitzki.
The Warriors clearly showed they do not have the composure needed to put the final nail in the Mavs’ playoff coffin.
2. The Baron of Oakland
Davis has emerged as the playoffs’ most important player. In the Warriors’ three wins, he is averaging 30 points, more than five assists and seven rebounds while making all the key plays down the stretch.
He’s this generation’s Andrew Toney. Like Davis, Toney was an incredible talent who’s career was plagued by injuries. Both players would be remembered as players who were all-star caliber in the regular season and all-world in the playoffs if they didn’t have to constantly battle injuries throughout their careers.
Toney was known as the Boston Strangler for his heroics against the Celtics as he co-piloted the Philadelphia 76ers to an NBA championship in 1983. It’s no coincidence that was Toney’s best – and healthiest – season of his career.
Davis’ playoff success isn’t limited to this year. He single-handedly prompted the league to use the instant-replay system, when he made a 40-footer with less than a second left in Game 3 of the 2002 first-round series between Charlotte and Orlando. Davis’s heave clearly banked in before the buzzer and would have been one of the most memorable playoff moments in history, but the play was waved off by officials.
3. Bulls in and Heat out as title contenders
The Chicago Bulls first-round sweep of the defending champion Heat sent shock waves throughout the NBA. Although many experts picked the Bulls to contend in the East at the beginning of the season in the wake of the Ben Wallace signing, the Bulls failed to show their true tenacity in the regular season.
Their style of play is scary for any opponent. They slow down the game, win with defense and have a balanced scoring attack where any of four players can score 20-plus points in any game. Most impressive, though, is they do it without ego.
4. Yao in and Shaq out as dominant player
The self-proclaimed Most Dominant Player in the NBA, Shaq, lost his title after being eaten alive by Wallace. The new MDP is the Houston Rockets’ Yao Ming. Yao’s 24 points and 12 rebounds per game have vaulted the Rockets to a 3-2 lead.
He’s finally established himself as a go-to player. He is leading the Rockets in scoring this playoffs over teammate Tracy McGrady.
With coach Jeff Van Gundy’s slow-down style, he’s the perfect center for what the Rockets want to do. At 26 years, old he’s just entering his prime and could be the MDP for a long time, especially the way McGrady is handling Yao’s emergence.
A side note: I’ve never been a McGrady supporter until this playoffs. He’s embraced his role as the second option and playmaker. He’s averaging seven assists per game and his on-court chemistry with Yao looks very good.
The Eastern Conference semifinal between the Bulls and the Detroit Pistons looks to be the best matchup. The Bulls’ style mirrors the Pistons. Selfless offense and hard-nosed defense is the formula for playoff success and both teams exemplify this system. I still think the Pistons are the team to beat in the East. They’ve got experience and aren’t slowing down like the Heat. The Bulls, however, have more depth and are playing their best basketball of the season. Home-court advantage will push the Pistons to a game-seven win.
In the West, the Suns will finally get over the playoff hump and beat the Spurs in what looks to be another enticing series. Unlike the Bulls/Pistons series, this series matches complete opposites in terms of style. The Suns’ fast-break style offense and deep bench can pose problems for any team in the league. But the only team that was able to slow the Suns was the Spurs. They held the Suns to 85 points – their second lowest scoring output of the season – in a seven-point victory April 5 in which they forced the Suns to play half-court basketball. But the Spurs victory was in San Antonio and the Suns will have home-court advantage in the series. Phoenix will win the series, which will also go seven games.
The other series in the West is the only one that doesn’t have at least one team set to advance. The Mavs, as I mentioned, will come back and win the series, and the Rockets will advance as well. I would not hesitate to predict the Mavs to win the series against the Rockets, but it’s hard to tell how much the Golden State series will drain the Mavs. Dallas will probably lose the first game or two but will storm back to win the series in six.
The final series, the Cavs versus New Jersey (who should take care of Toronto), will be the most predictable. The Nets don’t have an inside presence to stop Zydunas Ilgauskas. Z looks as if he is finally back to form after he had off-the-court issues with his family. He looks as good as he has since before last season’s playoffs – where he was completely ineffective, averaging 10 points and six rebounds.
In this year’s first round against Washington, he averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds, including 20 points and 19 rebounds in the series clincher.
Other predictions: Western Conference Finals: Suns over Mavs, seven games. Eastern Conference Finals: Pistons over Cavs, seven games. Finals: Suns over Pistons, five games.
“” #1.1361979:249517943.jpg:SPORTS-WARRIORS-MAVS-19-FT.jpg:Baron Davis, right, drives past Devin Harris during Game 5. :KHAMPHA BOUAPHANH/ MCT”