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Friday, April 17, 2009

NBA Playoffs Preview

Here is a primer for the NBA Playoffs, which begin Saturday:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (66-16) vs. No. 8 DETROIT PISTONS (39-43)
Summary
Two years ago, these teams met in an Eastern Conference Finals and Detroit was heavily favored. The Cavs pulled the upset and the two franchises have experienced contrasting fortunes ever since. LeBron was brilliant in that series, and has since been surrounded by the right supporting cast, chiefly point guard Mo Williams, who is a legitimate secondary scorer. Williams will match up with Rodney Stuckey, whose inability to replace the production of Chauncey Billups has caused plenty of consternation in Detroit. The man whom Billups was traded for, Allen Iverson, is officially on the playoff roster but will not play, ostensibly because of a back injury. Even if he were there, and on his best behavior, this series would be no contest. The Cavs hold a clear advantage at four of the five starting positions, with the Richard Hamilton vs. Delonte West matchup the lone exception. Will Bynum can light it up off the bench, but Cleveland's got a deep mix of youth and experience in reserve to counteract anything he might do. The Cavs were dominant at home, going 39-2, and would have tied the record of the 1986 Celtics for most homecourt wins of all time had they not rested their stars in the finale. They'll have homecourt advantage in every series they play in this postseason, including their opener. They'll scarsely need it against the Pistons. Prediction: Cavs in 4.

Schedule

Game 1 - Sat April 18 Detroit at Cleveland 3:00PM ABC
Game 2 - Tue April 21 Detroit at Cleveland 8:00PM TNT
Game 3 - Fri April 24 Cleveland at Detroit 7:00PM ESPN
Game 4 - Sun April 26 Cleveland at Detroit 3:30PM ABC
Game 5 * Wed April 29 Detroit at Cleveland TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 1 Cleveland at Detroit TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 3 Detroit at Cleveland TBD TBD

Lineups
Cleveland Cavaliers
Starters
PG Mo Williams
SG Delonte West
SF LeBron James
PF Anderson Varejao
C Zydrunas Ilgauskas
Bench
G Daniel Gibson
G/F Wally Szczerbiak
F/C Joe Smith
F/C Darnell Jackson
SG Sasha Pavlovic
SG Tarence Kinsey
C/F Lorenzen Wright
Injured
F/C Ben Wallace (status unclear)
PF J.J. Hickson (out two to three weeks, lower back)

Detroit Pistons
Starters
PG Rodney Stuckey
SG Richard Hamilton
SF Tayshaun Prince
PF Antonio McDyess
C Rasheed Wallace
Bench
PG Will Bynum
C Kwame Brown
PF Jason Maxiell
SG Arron Afflalo
F Walter Herrmann
F Amir Johnson
PF Walter Sharpe
Injuries
G Allen Iverson (out, back)

No. 4 ATLANTA HAWKS (47-35) vs. No. 5 MIAMI HEAT (43-39)
Summary
This season has seen Dwyane Wade at his absolute best. The MVP of the 2006 Finals returned from injury this year to guide a team that went a league-worst 15-67 last year to the fifth seed in the East, shepherding a rookie head coach, a rookie point guard and another rookie, No. 2 overall pick Michael Beasley, who is the team's sixth man. Wade led the league in scoring with a 30.2 average, garnering MVP consideration even though LeBron and Kobe were leading their teams to their conferences' best records. The spectre of a second-round matchup with LeBron's Cavs has the league salivating. But standing in the way is an improved Atlanta team that built on last year's stiff seven-game challenge of the champion Celtics to earn homecourt advantage in the first round. The Hawks' first five are as good as just about anyone's. It's the bench, which strains to go eight deep, that has kept Atlanta down. But that scarsely matters in the playoffs, where minutes are stretched and virtually nobody plays any more than eight players anyway. The Hawks will no doubt have all kinds of trouble guarding Wade, with Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams and Mike Bibby all likely to be assigned to him at one point or another. The Heat will have their own difficulty dealing with a veteran point guard in Bibby, and with Johnson, who has been through the playoff wringer before with Atlanta and Phoenix. The Hawks, who are tough at home, will milk their extra game in Atlanta for all its worth. Prediction: Hawks in 7.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sun April 19 Miami at Atlanta 8:00PM TNT
Game 2 - Wed April 22 Miami at Atlanta 8:00PM TNT
Game 3 - Sat April 25 Atlanta at Miami 6:30PM TNT
Game 4 - Mon April 27 Atlanta at Miami TBD TBD
Game 5 * Wed April 29 Miami at Atlanta TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 1 Atlanta at Miami TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 3 Miami at Atlanta TBD TBD

Lineups
Atlanta Hawks

Starters
PG Mike Bibby
SG Joe Johnson
SF Marvin Williams
PF Joe Smith
C Al Horford
Bench
G/F Mo Evans
C Zaza Pachulia
G Flip Murray
PF Solomon Jones
SG Mario West
SG Thomas Gardner
PG Acie Law

Miami Heat
Starters
PG Mario Chalmers
SG Dwyane Wade
SF Jamario Moon
PF Udonis Haslem
C Jermaine O'Neal
Bench
PF Michael Beasley
SF Yakhouba Diawara
SG Daequan Cook
C Joel Anthony
SF James Jones
PG Chris Quinn
C Mark Blount

No. 2 BOSTON CELTICS (62-20) vs. No. 7 CHICAGO BULLS (41-41)
Summary
Here is where the true intrigue in the first round lies. How well will the Celtics play without Kevin Garnett? Not very well, in all likelihood. Rajon Rondo is going to be asked to become one of the "Big Three," and even if he does elevate his game, there is no way he can replace Garnett's on-court intensity, and certainly not his low-post defense. So much of Boston's success in the brief KG era has been about their team defense, and perhaps the Celtics, to some extent, can mask the gaping hole Garnett leaves. And maybe Glen Davis will put together a string of nights where his midrange jumper is hot to replace the scoring they're missing. It's conceivable Boston gets by Chicago, but they won't go any farther without Garnett. The Bulls offer plenty of reasons why the Celtics may even be screwed for the first round. Point guard Derrick Rose has justified his status as the No. 1 overall pick from last year, and his play has been worthy of Rookie of the Year honors. Ben Gordon, entrenched as a starter now, is as explosive a scoring force as anyone. John Salmons has been a revelation since coming over in a trade from Sacramento. And the first three guys off the bench, Brad Miller, Kirk Hinrich and Tim Thomas, are all veterans who have gotten it done in the playoffs before. Chicago's got a great shot to advance. They might even be favorites, if Rose weren't a rookie, if Salmons weren't prone to being eaten alive by Pierce and if Tyrus Thomas was decidedly better than Davis. Prediction: Celtics in 7.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sat April 18 Chicago at Boston 12:30PM ESPN
Game 2 - Mon April 20 Chicago at Boston 7:00PM TNT
Game 3 - Thu April 23 Boston at Chicago 8:00PM TNT
Game 4 - Sun April 26 Boston at Chicago 1:00PM ABC
Game 5 * Tue April 28 Chicago at Boston TBD TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 30 Boston at Chicago TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sat May 2 Chicago at Boston TBD TNT

Lineups
Boston Celtics

Starters
PG Rajon Rondo
SG Ray Allen
SF Paul Pierce
PF Glen Davis
C Kendrick Perkins
Bench
G Eddie House
F/C Leon Powe
F/C Mikki Moore
SG Tony Allen
F Brian Scalabrine
PG Stephon Marbury
SG Bill Walker
Injuries
PF Kevin Garnett (knee, status unclear, could be out for year)

Chicago Bulls
Starters
PG Derrick Rose
SG Ben Gordon
SF John Salmons
PF Tyrus Thomas
C Joakim Noah
Bench
PG Kirk Hinrich
C Brad Miller
F Tim Thomas
G Lindsey Hunter
PF Linton Johnson
SG Anthony Roberson
C Aaron Gray
Injuries
SF Luol Deng (could return only for deep playoff run, stress fracture in right tibia)

No. 3 ORLANDO MAGIC (59-23) vs. No. 6 PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (41-41)
Summary
These two teams enter the playoffs with no momentum, so they're fortunate to run into one another. Philadelphia lost six in a row before winning on the season's final night against Cleveland's B-team, while the Magic lost to the Raptors, Knicks, Nets and Bucks in the last two weeks. It's a clash of tempos, as the Sixers will look to run while the Magic will pound it inside to Dwight Howard and free up room for their three-point gunners. Orlando has a clear advantage with Howard in the middle against Samuel Dalembert, but the rest of the matchups depend on how well the Magic are shooting and spreading the ball around. Rafer Alston, who has been a part of the Houston's recent first-round flameouts, will try again to win a playoff series against a superior point guard in Andre Miller. The veteran Miller is no Deron Williams, whom Alston has had to go against the last two years in the first round, but Miller's savvy will play a key role as he looks to control the pace. Thaddeus Young came back in the final game of the regular season after missing the last seven with a sore ankle and a bruised bone in his foot, and if he's not at 100 percent, the advantage at power forward definitely tips in favor of Rashard Lewis. Andre Iguodala can run Hedo Turkoglu ragged if he wants to, and must find some way to use his superior athleticism to his advantage. Shooting guards Courtney Lee and Willie Green are in their teams' lineups in large part because of their defense, and could be switched off of each other if the situation warrants. Orlando's defense has been the key to its ascension into the league's elite, but Philly's defense finished in the top half of the league in points allowed as well. The Sixers arguably have a better bench, as well. If it seems like it adds up to a fairly even series, it does, despite the 18-game difference in the standings. Howard's pre-eminence will be the deciding factor, but it will be closer than you might expect. Prediction: Magic in 7.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sun April 19 Philadelphia at Orlando 5:30PM TNT
Game 2 - Wed April 22 Philadelphia at Orlando 7:00PM NBATV
Game 3 - Fri April 24 Orlando at Philadelphia 8:00PM ESPN2
Game 4 - Sun April 26 Orlando at Philadelphia 6:30PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 28 Philadelphia at Orlando TBD TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 30 Orlando at Philadelphia TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sat May 2 Philadelphia at Orlando TBD TNT

Lineups
Orlando Magic

Starters
PG Rafer Alston
SG Courtney Lee
SF Hedo Turkoglu
PF Rashard Lewis
C Dwight Howard
Bench
F/C Tony Battie
SG Mickael Pietrus
PG Anthony Johnson
C Marcin Gortat
SG J.J. Redick
PG Tyronn Lue
C Adonal Foyle
Injuries
PG Jameer Nelson (out)

Philadelphia 76ers
Starters
PG Andre Miller
SG Willie Green
SF Andre Iguodala
PF Thaddeus Young
C Samuel Dalembert
Bench
SG Lou Williams
F/C Marreese Speights
PF Reggie Evans
C Theo Ratliff
PG Royal Ivey
F Donyell Marshall
SG Kareem Rush
Injuries
C Elton Brand (out)



WESTERN CONFERENCE

No. 1 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (65-17) vs. No. 8 UTAH JAZZ (48-34)
Summary
The Lakers gave us a preview of what to expect when on Tuesday, they toyed with the Jazz before pulling away in the second half for a blowout victory. And that was when the game meant something for the Jazz but had no bearing on the Lakers' position. L.A. has all its cogs working, with Andrew Bynum back and at 100 percent, which allows Lamar Odom to go to the bench, turning that unit into an elite corps of reserves. The Lakers have the ultimate crunch-time scorer in Kobe Bryant and not one but two inside scoring threats in Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Jazz never quite recovered from early-season injuries, and it's unclear if Carlos Boozer is fully healthy. Paul Millsap is a more than capable backup but not the kind of scorer that Utah needs to team with Deron Williams, an elite point guard without elite finishers. This will be no contest. Prediction: Lakers in 4.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sun April 19 Utah at L.A. Lakers 3:00PM ABC
Game 2 - Tue April 21 Utah at L.A. Lakers 10:30PM TNT
Game 3 - Thu April 23 L.A. Lakers at Utah 10:30PM TNT
Game 4 - Sat April 25 L.A. Lakers at Utah 9:00PM ESPN
Game 5 * Mon April 27 Utah at L.A. Lakers TBD TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 30 L.A. Lakers at Utah TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sat May 2 Utah at L.A. Lakers TBD TNT

Lineups
Los Angeles Lakers
Starters
PG Derek Fisher
SG Kobe Bryant
SF Trevor Ariza
PF Pau Gasol
C Andrew Bynum
Bench
F Lamar Odom
G Sasha Vujacic
SF Luke Walton
PG Jordan Farmar
G Shannon Brown
PF Josh Powell
C D.J. Mbenga

Utah Jazz
Starters
PG Deron Williams
SG Ronnie Brewer
SF C.J. Miles
PF Carlos Boozer
C Mehmet Okur
Bench
PF Paul Millsap
F Andrei Kirilenko
G/F Kyle Korver
F/G Matt Harpring
PG Brevin Knight
C Jarron Collins
PG Ronnie Price

PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS (54-28) vs. HOUSTON ROCKETS (53-29)

Summary
Two intriguing teams meet to decide who gets eviscerated by the Lakers in the next round. It's a shame, because either would make an interesting participant in the Western Conference Finals. The Blazers have a young group with plenty of potential but virtually zero playoff experience. The Rockets are built around a core of veterans, many of whom have been around for consecutive first-round losses against in the last two years against Utah. Tracy McGrady, was around for those disappointments, and of course he won't be this year because of his midseason knee surgery. McGrady had become known for guiding his teams to the playoffs only to be quickly finished, and it will be enlightening to see if Houston truly is better without him. The Rockets were certainly no worse after losing their main scoring threat and trading Rafer Alston to the Magic, handing the keys to the offense to young Aaron Brooks and inserting Ron Artest into the starting lineup. Brooks and Artest now find themselves walking right into a major challenge, having to guard veteran Steve Blake and emergent superstar Brandon Roy, respectively. The Artest-Roy matchup will be a show, as a former Defensive Player of the Year tries to slow one of the league's Top 10 scorers. Yao Ming against Joel Przybilla is another such clash of scoring versus tenacity, as Przybilla has proven a pest against the league's more talented centers. Portland's bench is of course a great strength, and the Blazers will likely defy playoff convention by going 10-deep. The Rockets aren't quite as deep but do boast some bruisers, like Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes, who solidify the team's reputation as a defense-first outfit. Defense does win championships, after all. But you have to have some semblance of offense to win, too, and when Tracy McGrady went down, the Rockets lost their go-to scorer. McGrady may have the reputation as a playoff loser, but that doesn't mean Houston is automatically a winner without him. Prediction: Portland in 6.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sat April 18 Houston at Portland 10:30PM ESPN
Game 2 - Tue April 21 Houston at Portland 10:00PM NBATV
Game 3 - Fri April 24 Portland at Houston 9:30PM ESPN
Game 4 - Sun April 26 Portland at Houston 9:00PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 28 Houston at Portland TBD TBD
Game 6 * Thu April 30 Portland at Houston TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sat May 2 Houston at Portland TBD TNT

Lineups
Portland Trail Blazers
Starters
PG Steve Blake
SG Brandon Roy
SF Nicolas Batum
PF LaMarcus Aldridge
C Joel Przybilla
Bench
SF Travis Outlaw
SG Rudy Fernandez
C Greg Oden
PG Sergio Rodriguez
PF Channing Frye
PG Jerryd Bayless
PF Michael Ruffin
Injuries
SF Martell Webster (out, stress fracture in foot)

Houston Rockets

Starters
PG Aaron Brooks
SG Ron Artest
SF Shane Battier
PF Luis Scola
C Yao Ming
Bench
SG Von Wafer
PF Carl Landry
PG Kyle Lowry
G/F Brent Barry
PF Chuck Hayes
PF Brian Cook
C Dikembe Mutombo
Injuries
SG Tracy McGrady (out, knee)

DENVER NUGGETS (54-28) vs. NEW ORLEANS HORNETS (49-33)
Summary
The Nuggets made a trade that brought everything together. The Hornets almost made a trade that blew everything apart. Denver's fortunes turned on a dime when Chauncey Billups arrived from the Pistons, bringing championship experience as well as a pass-first attitude, both of which the Nuggets have long lacked. The fate of the Hornets, at least for this season, was spared when a money-saving deal was vetoed when Tyson Chandler failed his physical with the Thunder. That brought shot-blocking Chandler back to New Orleans, but the Hornets have found the Thunder's doctors were onto something. Chandler's ankle has been excrutiatingly slow to heal, and without him New Orleans was unable to get homecourt advantage for one or two rounds in the playoffs. The lack of homecourt edge cost the Hornets against the Spurs in the second round last year, but that's not all New Orleans has going against them this year. The Nuggets are on a roll, having won 14 of their last 17 as the team continues to coalesce neatly into the roles coach George Karl has designed for them. Carmelo Anthony is the No. 1 scorer, J.R. Smith the No. 2 scorer and sixth man, Kenyon Martin the defensively oriented post man, Nene the offensive inside force, Dahntay Jones the perimeter stopper, and Chris "Birdman" Anderson the energy guy off the bench. It's a classicly functional NBA team matched up against the Hornets, who have been almost entirely reliant upon Chris Paul and to a lesser extent David West. James Posey, who was supposed to be the player to put New Orleans over the top and into the Finals, hasn't gotten it done. And neither will the Hornets. Prediction: Nuggets in 5.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sun April 19 New Orleans at Denver 10:30PM TNT
Game 2 - Wed April 22 New Orleans at Denver 10:30PM TNT
Game 3 - Sat April 25 Denver at New Orleans 1:00PM ESPN
Game 4 - Mon April 27 Denver at New Orleans TBD TBD
Game 5 * Wed April 29 New Orleans at Denver TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 1 Denver at New Orleans TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 3 New Orleans at Denver TBD TBD

Lineups
Denver Nuggets

Starters
PG Chauncey Billups
SG Dahntay Jones
SF Carmelo Anthony
PF Kenyon Martin
C Nene
Bench
SG J.R. Smith
F Linas Kleiza
PG Anthony Carter
PF Chris Andersen
C/F Johan Petro
F Renaldo Balkman
PG Jason Hart

New Orleans Hornets
Starters
PG Chris Paul
SG Rasual Butler
SF Peja Stojakovic
PF David West
C Tyson Chandler
Bench
F James Posey
G Antonio Daniels
F/C Melvin Ely
PF Sean Marks
SG Devin Brown
SF Julian Wright
C Hilton Armstrong
SG Morris Peterson

No. 3 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (54-28) vs. No. 6 DALLAS MAVERICKS (50-32)
Summary
The Spurs dynasty was presumed dead when it was announced a couple of weeks ago that Manu Ginobili would be out for the playoffs. That doesn't mean they can't still make the Mavericks trip over their headstone. San Antonio rallied for home wins against Utah and New Orleans to ensure home court advantage for the first round, meaning that though they won't win a title, they can at least win a round or two. Tim Duncan, whose knees have been killing him in the second half of the season, put up 20 points and 19 rebounds in the season finale, a week after scoring just four points against Portland and days after sitting out at Sacramento. He's still capable of flashing back to the transcendent player he always had been. The emergence of Drew Gooden after he was acquired for the season's final weeks has provided a portion of the inside scoring they need, while Tony Parker is in full command as the team's No. 1 option as well as distributor. Parker, if with a definite advantage in quickness against Jason Kidd, just might let everyone know he is right at the level of Chris Paul and Deron Williams atop the point guard food chain. There exists just as much possibility that Dirk Nowitzki will remind us all that he is just two years removed from an MVP season. He can do that and the Mavs may still lose, however, if Jason Terry isn't a 20-point scorer, Brandon Bass doesn't punish the Spurs on the boards and Erick Dampier can't at least hold his own down low. Those are a lot of ifs. Prediction: San Antonio in 7.

Schedule
Game 1 - Sat April 18 Dallas at San Antonio 8:00PM ESPN
Game 2 - Mon April 20 Dallas at San Antonio 9:30PM TNT
Game 3 - Thu April 23 San Antonio at Dallas 8:30PM NBATV
Game 4 - Sat April 25 San Antonio at Dallas 4:00PM TNT
Game 5 * Tue April 28 Dallas at San Antonio TBD TBD
Game 6 * Fri May 1 San Antonio at Dallas TBD TBD
Game 7 * Sun May 3 Dallas at San Antonio TBD TBD

Lineups
San Antonio Spurs
Starters
PG Tony Parker
SG Roger Mason
SF Michael Finley
PF Matt Bonner
C Tim Duncan
Bench
F/C Drew Gooden
G/F Bruce Bowen
SF Ime Udoka
PG George Hill
C Fabricio Oberto
F/C Kurt Thomas
PG Jacques Vaughn
Injury
G/F Manu Ginobili (out, ankle)

Dallas Mavericks
Starters
PG Jason Kidd
SG Antoine Wright
SF Josh Howard
PF Dirk Nowitzki
C Erick Dampier
Bench
SG Jason Terry
PG J.J. Barea
F/C Brandon Bass
PF James Singleton
G/F Gerald Green
SG Matt Carroll
C Ryan Hollins
SF Devean George

2 comments:

Cindy said...

beautiful, my angel. go nuggets!

Anonymous said...

Wow...very complete info. I am going to print this out and carry it around with me. Thanks for keep me in the loop on the hoops!