NBA Playoff Preview ‘07
Awake yet? Have a nice snooze through the 2006-07 NBA season? Good. Now splash some water on your face and prepare yourself for some real basketball. Dwyane Wade is back. Lebron James cares about the game again. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are finally clicking. Tim Duncan is one lumbering step away from meeting a referee in the parking lot to settle a few things. And barring a Black Sox-esque fix, the embarrassing and over-documented tanking that defined this season will be permanently relegated to the rear view.
Plus the Warriors are in the playoffs!!
See, good news all around.
Since we, as fans, are fixated with rankings, I’ve decided to rank the NBA playoff teams, from worst to first, in order of how they will fare in the upcoming second season of basketball. Following is the first half of that list…
Gone real fast
16. Orlando Magic Every couple of years the Magic slip and slide their way into the seventh or eighth seed in the East only to be completely dismantled. The last such occurrence came in 2003 against Detroit. Tracy McGrady actually led the Magic to a 3-1 advantage in that series before the Pistons locked down and took a methodical three straight, reinventing themselves as the new age “Bad Boys”. Since then they’ve seemed to take pleasure in falling behind in the playoffs only to come storming back against mortified opponents. In my opinion getting swept is actually less humiliating than having an adversary spot you a game or two just so they can mop the floor with you the next four nights. If I’m the Magic, I say, thanks but no thanks, just do what you came here to do, Chauncey. Quick and painless exit for Orlando this year…
15. Washington Wizards Not a whole lot to say here. The season-ending injury to Gilbert Arenas prevented the most-hyped rematch from a year ago from really taking place. True, the Wizards and Cavs will meet in the first round again, but there will be no need for Lebron to drive the baseline for an epic game-winner; no need to walk to the free throw line and ice Gilbert Arenas in Game 6. Nope, without Agent Zero in uniform there won’t be multiple one-point thrillers, nor a pulsating-Game 6. There won’t even be a Game 5. Sorry, Wiz.
14. Toronto Raptors 47 wins versus 41 wins. That’s all that justifies the notion that Toronto losing to New Jersey is an upset. So the Raptors won six more games than the Nets and have home-court advantage. Woohoo. Nothing against the Raptors, they are a solid youth-infused team led by a true star in the making, Chris Bosh. Had Chicago beaten New Jersey on the last night of the season the Raptors would have been facing Washington in the first round, and I would have been congratulating Toronto on its first playoff series win since this guy named Vince Carter. Which reminds me…Vinsanity anyone?
Not like last year
13. Los Angeles Lakers Kobe and the Lakers were peaking at this time last season, and surged out to a 3-1 series lead in the first round against Phoenix. Then Steve Nash got angry and the Lakers got juvenile. No matter what, it went down as the most compelling opening round tilt, as the Suns prevailed in seven. This year Kobe has had to drop 40 a game just to keep LA from crumbling down the stretch. Coupled with Amare Stoudemire’s presence in the rematch I don’t see the Lakers winning more than a game this time around. Plus, after three grueling seven game series in the West last year, the Suns now understand they can’t fool around in Round One.
12. Utah Jazz Mainstays in the playoffs during the days of Malone and Stockton, the Jazz had been slowly fading away the last few years. Snatching Carlos Boozer from the Cavs and drafting Deron Williams has helped the Jazz undergo a massive transformation, resulting in 51 wins and another division title to hang in the Delta Center. This will be a team to reckon with for years to come, but in 2007 they have to face a very hungry-Houston team. Both Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming have been patiently awaiting this opportunity for years. The time may be soon for the Jazz, but it’s now for the Rockets.
Formidable first foe
11. Golden State Warriors Lots of intrigue and mystery associated with the Warriors. Here’s what we know: a) Golden State hasn’t been in the playoffs since 1993, b) they are 16-5 over their last 21 games, with Al Harrington making a huge impact once settling in after his trade from Indiana, c) they have won five of the last six games against Dallas, including all three this year, and d) they are playing with absolutely nothing to lose. Question is, how many times can they down the Mavs in the postseason. I say twice. If so, that’s not good news for the defending Western Conference Champs.
Going the distance
10. Denver Nuggets Melo and AI. AI and Melo. It always sounded right, didn’t it? Well now it’s starting to look right as well. No one thought it would be easy, not with Melo suspended for AI’s first month with the Nuggets, not with the marked transition it was going to be for these two megastars to coexist and thrive. Well of late, they’ve done just that. Winners of 10 of 11 entering postseason play, Denver is primed for another run at San Antonio. The Spurs are notorious for slowing teams down, but they’ve never had to reckon with Iverson in the playoffs. Ladies and gentleman, your first Game 7 of the 2007 NBA Playoffs will take place Sunday, May 6th, in San Antonio.
9. Chicago Bulls Beat New Jersey once, avoid Cleveland, Miami, and Detroit until the Eastern Conference Finals. That was the scenario for the Bulls on the last night of the ’07 campaign, and they failed. Now they have to face the defending champs in Round One, and would theoretically have to beat both Detroit and Cleveland to advance to the NBA Finals. But that’s not going to happen. They blew their chance. Can’t mess with karma. In the case of the Bulls karma will be coming in the form of an unrelenting Shaq-diesel, then a crushing dagger from Dwyane Wade in Game 7 of the most thrilling series we’ll see in the first round.
That’s all for now. I’m off to watch the Greatest Rivalry in Sports, aka Sox-Yanks. Back with the rest next week…