With the weather getting warmer and baseball season in full swing, it can only mean one thing: the NBA playoffs are here! Each first round series has it’s own stars, intrigue, and storyline, so leave it to MF to break it down for you.
(1) Detroit Pistons vs. (8) Orlando Magic
Why you should watch: Grant Hill returns to Detroit with the Orlando Magic, the team he left the Pistons for as a free agent in 2000. He brings along phenom Dwight Howard, who reminds anyone with a long-term memory of a young Shaquille O’Neal: At 6’11” and 265 lbs, he’s a sight to behold, and he’s only 21 years old. But the Pistons are the best team in the East, and they’ve got the same nucleus that they had in 2004 when they won the NBA title, plus a rejuvenated Chris Webber.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Washington Wizards
Why you should watch: Gilbert Arenas vs. Lebron James would have been an epic battle, but without Arenas and first time all-star Caron Butler, the Wizards won’t offer much resistance for King James. It’ll be like watching your buddy play against the computer on the easy difficulty setting in NBA live, except you won’t be watching your buddy play video games: you’ll be watching the most gifted talent to come into the league in years take target practice.
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. (6) New Jersey Nets
Why you should watch: Vince Carter goes north of the border to face-off with the team that drafted him in 1998. Carter was a malcontent when he was in Canada, and you can be sure that the Raptors’ fans haven’t forgotten. The Nets hope to spoil the party for the Atlantic Division champion Raptors, who’ve been the biggest surprise in the NBA this year. Jason Kidd, who plays the purest basketball you’ll ever watch, (and who leads his team in rebounds, assists, and steals), hopes to exploit Toronto’s inexperience – it’s the Raptors first playoff trip since 2002.
(4) Miami Heat vs. (5) Chicago Bulls
Why you should watch: The Bulls may come in dragging – had they won on the last night of the season, they would have been a #2 seed, but instead they’ve got to play last year’s NBA champs in the first round. Shaquille O’Neal playing Eastern Conference playoff basketball is usually like watching Danny Almonte pitch in a little league game, but he’s a year older, and Dwyane Wade is nowhere near 100%. The well-balanced Bulls, who’ve got four guys averaging double figures, could be a problem from Miami if they can’t rebound from a disappointing end to an otherwise strong season.
(1) Dallas Mavericks vs. (8) Golden State Warriors
Why you should watch: Warriors coach Don Nelson leads the Warriors back to the playoffs for the first time since Bill Clinton’s first term in office to face off with the best team in the league. Nellie coached Dallas until 2005; Avery Johnson was his protege before taking over and leading the Mavericks to the NBA finals in his first full year on the job. Johnson’s Mavericks, a team that’s developed more defensive intensity with him at the helm, will try and keep up with the up-tempo Warriors, a club that looks to turn an upset after beating them all three times they played this season.
(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) LA Lakers
Why you should watch: The superb Kobe Bryant faces off against the most exciting team in the league in a rematch from last year’s playoffs. The Lakers were up 3-1 on Phoenix, but couldn’t close out the series. Watching Kobe try to single-handily battle the relentless Suns offense, led by Steve Nash, should bring out his best – especially after last year’s ugly playoff spat with Raja Bell. Also, Amare Stoudamire returns to the playoffs after spending last year recovering from micro-fracture surgery, and he figures to dominate against a weak Lakers front line. Kobe should drop at least one Jordan-esque performance (55 points or better?) in the desert, but don’t expect Nash to let his Suns lose the series.
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Denver Nuggets
Why you should watch: Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony will have to share the ball against a more disciplined and consistent Spurs club, led by all-everything Tim Duncan. If they can play nice and the Nuggets swingmen can keep Tony Parker out of the paint, this series could run seven games. But people forget that the Spurs have won three NBA titles in the last seven years, and they’re just as complete and polished as they’ve ever been. It really all depends on how focused the Nuggets can be – it’s always tough to eliminate a veteran San Antonio team.
(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Houston Rockets
Why you should watch: The Rockets one-two punch of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming looks to take the next step forward against the second-biggest surprise in the NBA this year, the Utah Jazz. Yao, who averaged 25 points and nine boards a game this year, stands 7’6″ and 300 lbs. McGrady’s been unable to take his teams deep into the playoffs so far in his brilliant career, but he may finally be able to do it with Yao clogging the middle. Deron Williams, who averaged nearly ten assists a game this year, will need to continue a stellar season to keep the under manned Jazz competitive, but the Rockets star power may prove too much for Utah to handle.