Early-round intrigue in NBA Playoffs
Vail, CO Colorado
It’s that time of year again.
Winter is slowly (very slowly) becoming spring, the mountain is closing and, yes, the NBA Playoffs are about to explode.
With 28 of the 30 NBA teams in action Wednesday night, first-round matchups slowly began to fall into place. When the dust settled, NBA fans were left with some very intriguing confrontations. Here’s a look ahead at what to expect in Round 1.
No. 1 Cleveland vs. No. 8 Detroit
In what should be the series most likely to result in a sweep, the once high and mighty Pistons, who finished the season four games below .500, have drawn the NBA’s best team, Lebron James … er… the Cavaliers. Despite missing out on tying an NBA record with 40 home wins in a single season, the Cavs rested their starters Wednesday night in preparation for the (hopefully) long playoff road ahead. They should get plenty of rest between rounds one and two, as Detroit, still blundering in the wake of trading their star point guard to Denver, can’t hope to win more than one game.
Cleveland in four.
No. 2 Boston vs. No. 7 Chicago
A matchup that, at year’s beginning would have been immediately penciled in as a sweep, has suddenly gathered a great deal of interest. A recent report that reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett could miss the entire playoffs has many people in Boston worried not only about getting back to the NBA Finals, but about getting out of the first round. While they have beaten the Bulls twice in three tries this year, Boston has not beaten Chicago since the Bulls’ midseason trade that netted them Brad Miller and John Salmons. You can be sure Chicago will keep this in mind as they head to the Garden for Game 1 this afternoon.
Boston in six.
No. 3 Orlando vs. No. 6 Philadelphia
These two teams enter Round 1 on moderate losing stretches, going a combined 9-11 in their last ten games, but Orlando’s losses have come largely due to resting starters. Philadelphia on the other hand, enters on a down note for the second year in a row. Last year, they were bounced in the first round by Detroit, and this year should be no different. With Dwight Howard healthy and an extensive array of shooters around him, the Sixers will struggle to keep up with Orlando’s offense.
Orlando in five.
No. 4 Atlanta vs. No. 5 Miami
Atlanta defeated Miami by two less than a week ago, but this should be no indicator of things to come. Both teams, already knowing the other to be their first round opponent, rested starters and played half-heartedly to avoid giving their opponent a glimpse of their first round strategy. This series should in fact be quite the opposite, as both teams have plenty of young, athletic talent. While Atlanta is more organized and more talented squad, you can’t count the Heat out as long as Dwyane Wade is in the lineup. Make sure you watch this one.
Miami in seven.
No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 8 Utah
While it seems anything could happen this year in the West, this series appears to be the only sure thing. Despite a 33-8 home record, Utah finds itself up against the league’s longest and perhaps deepest team. With Andrew Bynum’s return to the starting lineup, L.A. will be an even more formidable opponent, with tremendous height at almost every position. The Jazz will have to hope they can steal a game in Los Angeles, a daunting task considering their 15-26 road record and the Lakers’ 36-5 home record, and they must keep the Lakers from winning in Utah. At worst, Utah’s brilliance on their home floor should keep them from getting swept. Los Angeles in five.
No. 2 Denver vs. No. 7 New Orleans
Thanks to a Houston loss Wednesday night, Denver managed to clinch the second spot in the West and with it, its first home-court advantage in the playoffs since 1988. Aided greatly by its early-season trade for Detroit’s Chauncey Billups, Denver appears ready to break a string of five consecutive seasons losing in the first round.
Standing in their way will be the league’s best point guard Chris Paul and the young New Orleans Hornets. After struggling in the absence of center Tyson Chandler, New Orleans is now at full strength. They enter the playoffs having lost two in a row and six of their last ten, while the Nuggets won 14 of their last 16 games to finish the season. With Denver’s 33-8 record at home, the Hornets could quickly find themselves in a 2-0 hole, so winning Games 3 and 4 may be necessary if they hope to advance to Round 2 for the second consecutive year. Much like Utah, New Orleans must steal a game on the road and hold serve at home to have any chance.
Denver in five.
No. 3 San Antonio vs. No. 6 Dallas
In a classic battle of Texas, the Mavericks, who started the season 1-7, have forced their way into the six seed. The Mavs’ tremendous push may have earned them some good fortune, as San Antonio will be without guard Manu Ginobli, who was an integral part of three of the Spurs’ four championships over the past 10 years. Still, it’s tough to count Greg Popovich and his awfully-consistent Spurs out, as they have played almost the entire season shorthanded. It should be a grueling battle, but expect the Spurs to come out on top.
San Antonio in seven.
No. 4 Portland vs. No. 5 Houston
In what is most-exciting first round matchup, the young and athletic Blazers will host one of the league’s most experienced and conservative teams. Houston has surged in Tracy McGrady’s absence, but has struggled closing out games without a true scoring star. The Blazers are very deep, with a variety of athletic shooters that put up points off the bench. Contrary to Portland’s streaky style, Houston will rely on its steady veteran presence, like Shane Battier, Yao Ming, and Ron Artest, to give the Rockets a chance to win their first playoff series since 1997. This one should be a long and tumultuous series. Be sure to tune in when it kicks off late tonight.
Houston in seven.
A senior at Battle Mountain High School, Davey DeChant will likely start his journalism career at the Vail, Daily before joining Sports Illustrated.