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NBA Playoffs 2006

The Second Season Begins

The playoffs start this weekend with everybody looking forward to the seemingly inevitable rematch of NBA titans the San Antonio Spurs, the standing champions, and the Detroit Pistons, the challengers. Odds are, the first and second rounds will be window dressing but even for champions, the playoffs are rarely just walks in the park.

There will be a point in each series where the expected doesn't occur. Each player and team will make the adjustments needed for the "W". And that's what we wait for: an underdog that can't be
adjusted to; a team that finally breaks through; a superstar who takes his team to another level. Usually a team or superstar doesn't make the jump to championship level in one year. More likely it's a progression -- just get to the playoffs, win in the playoffs, or make the championship round.

And that leaves us pondering who can really stop that which, in most pundits' minds, is
inevitable? By definition Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, and New Jersey are the only teams that have any real chance of knocking off the favorites. And since none of the potential upsetters match up with any favorites in first round, what should we be looking for?

First rounds are typically series where we get to see if a team is playoff ready. Are there
any injuries that will keep a favorite from moving on? Are there any teams that are clearly on the rise? Let's take a look...


EAST:

Detroit Pistons vs. Milwaukee Bucks: This one is a forgone conclusion. The Bucks are on
the rise, but the gap between these two teams is huge. Ben Wallace continues to show
why he's the real MVP of the Pistons as he intimidates the entire Buck front line.
Prediction: Detroit over Milwaukee in four

Miami Heat vs. Chicago Bulls: The Bulls come into the playoffs playing better than just about anybody in the East. They have an interesting mix of young guns and will look to push the ball as much as possible. What they don't have is somebody who can slow Shaq or Wade down. My biggest concern is Alonzo Morning's and Shaq's health. If the Miami big men get going, the East gets much more interesting.
Prediction: Miami over Chicago in five

New Jersey Nets vs. Indiana Pacers: Indiana is a veteran team and they'll be sure to turn the series into a grind-it-out, slug-it-out affair. The Nets also being the veteran team, will try to run and control the tempo. It's all Nets, except for the fact that in the paint, who can check O'Neal? But when has O'Neal ever been a take-over type of guy? Sorry Peja, you draw the most underrated talent in the league, Richard Jefferson.
Prediction: New Jersey over Indiana in six

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards: This is the series I'm looking at, not necessarily as a toss-up, but more as a barometer of where Cleveland is at. It's "The King's" first playoff series and how he will adjusts to the next level will determine whether his team moves on or not. Also, how's that ankle? The Wizards were here a year ago and they will have experience to draw on and Gilbert is no push-over. That will be apparent when it's all said and done.
Prediction: Cleveland over Washington in seven


WEST:

San Antonio Spurs vs. Sacramento Kings: The Kings are a team on the rise as long as
Ron Artest keeps his head and Bibby keeps improving. If Brad Miller wasn't so damn robotic and Shareef could defend, things might be a little more interesting. But in this case, they up against a team that simply knows how to win.
Prediction: San Antonio over Sacramento in six

Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are a team that's starting to figure it out. But this year won't be their year. They still have so much ground to cover and Phoenix is a few steps ahead of them in their understanding of what it takes to win. We all get to see the disadvantage a scorer like Kobe has against a team lead by a passer/penetrator like Nash.
Prediction: Phoenix over LA Lakers in six

Denver Nuggets vs. Los Angeles Clippers: When the Clippers look back at this year, they will be able to claim the best of LA title. Something they've never been able to say before. Unfortunately that won't amount to much more than a second round defeat. On the other side, Denver seems to be stuck in quicksand; they have lots of talent, but no heart or brain. And they're playing without any momentum. Can they flip the switch? Not with boneheads like Kenyon Martin and Andre Miller. Sorry Carmelo, too much Elton Brand.
Prediction: LA Clippers over Denver in six

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Dallas Mavericks: Poor Grizzlies. They kick butt while the Clippers kick back and it costs them. Really, they should be rewarded, but all they have to show for a strong finish is a meeting with Dallas. Tough draw. At least they win their first playoff game. Don't be surprised if they push the series to six or seven. Even in defeat Pau Gasol will turn a few heads as he matches up with Dirk.
Prediction: Dallas over Memphis in six

If there are going to be upsets, Cleveland, Phoenix and LA Clippers are each in
series where they can fall. But most likely, two weeks from now we'll be looking at:

Detroit vs. Cleveland
Miami vs. New Jersey
San Antonio vs. Dallas
Phoenix vs. LA Clippers