Warriors could Win in open playoffs

    With the defending champion Miami Heat and top regular season team and last year’s Western Conference Champion Dallas Mavericks both eliminated improbably in the first round, this year’s NBA playoffs are more wide open than any year since the strike-shortened 1999 season.

    Add to that fact that there is no matchup reshuffling after rounds and the second round of the playoffs might in fact turn out to be the most exciting of all. Neither the Utah Jazz nor Golden State Warriors have a real chance against either the Phoenix Suns or San Antonio Spurs, but battling each other for the rights to play in the conference finals should make for an entertaining series.

    There are four basketball series being played now, each with the chance to have its share of close games (don’t let Detroit-Chicago game one fool you, the Bulls were just distracted thinking about the De La Hoya/Mayweather fight). The hopes of a Miami Dynasty or Mavericks Reclamation might have ended prematurely, but in the end that might just give a few extra weeks of exciting action to be used as a pre-summer distraction.

    Detroit Pistons vs. Chicago Bulls

    It’s taken a while, but nine years after “”the Shot”” in the 1998 finals, the Chicago Bulls have finally returned to title contention. In that same period, the Los Angeles Clippers have made the playoffs once, and then went back to failing again.

    Chicago has had its share of missteps (taking Jay Williams as the consolation prize to Yao Ming, dealing Elton Brand for Eddy Curry, giving up on Brad Miller and pre-super crazy Ron Artest), but by stockpiling high draft picks (thanks to Isaiah Thomas and the New York Knicks) and building around a core rather than a player, the Bulls have one of the deepest teams, and is one of the most fun to watch.

    The Detroit Pistons, on the other hand, are only three years removed from their most recent NBA championship, two years removed from their last trip to the finals and one year removed from the “”Malice in the Palace.””

    The Pistons have also gone with a core of stars rather than one or two superstars, and though the Bulls took Ben Wallace, Detroit has slowly replaced part of that presence with Chris Webber – who will hopefully do something stupid, like scoring on the wrong basket or getting back with and then re-dumping Tyra Banks – just to maintain his reputation.

    The Bulls are playing with a lot more confidence than last year and Luol Deng is igniting a new British invasion in the NBA, but Detroit’s experience and Chauncey Billups’ ability to actually make the big shots that Ben Gordon likes to take will prematurely end the Baby Bulls’ first legitimate playoff run.

    Pistons in five

    Cleveland Cavaliers vs. New Jersey Nets.

    I actually forgot how good the New Jersey Nets can be, almost as quickly as I forgot how boring Third Eye Blind can be. Losing Nenard Krstic earlier in the season hurt, but Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson have been to the NBA Finals twice, and as we’ve seen in Denver, Kenyon Martin was not the reason.

    Though Vince Carter has turned out not to be the Second Coming, he’s at least come closer to fulfilling the hype than, say, Harold Miner. LeBron James on the other hand surpassed so much of his hype early on that I’ve come to believe he actually held himself back, lowered those expectations a tad, and kept something in the tank for when it really counts.

    The Washington Wizards were a gift playoff series without All-Stars Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, but the lack of a challenge means that we really don’t know how much James can do at this stage.

    It’s like the Chargers trading five draft picks for a safety. You don’t know what you’re getting, but he seems like a nice guy. I find it hard to discount LeBron for his disinterested play when he’s shown that he can take over a game on a whim, and he nearly defeated the Detroit Pistons in the playoffs last season by doing so.

    The Cavs’ Zydrunas Ilgauskus, Larry Hughes and Damon Jones might be overpaid, but if they play the roles they were overpaid for in this series, they’ll seemingly justify all those millions that Dan Gilbert and Usher spent on them … or at least justify the $100 I spent on the ticket stub from LeBron’s first playoff game.

    Cavaliers in seven

    Phoenix Suns vs. San Antonio Spurs

    You know when you hate something for so long and then one day, out of the blue, realize that the thing you once despised you now have come to respect and even cherish?

    This describes my feelings about both Alanis Morissette and the San Antonio Spurs. My Spurs hatred goes back to the final game of the 1995 season, when David Robinson cherry-picked his way to 71 points, the NBA scoring title and an undeserving most valuable player award over Scottie Pippen.

    Then that smiling jerk had the nerve to get injured and help the Spurs pick Tim Duncan in the NBA draft. I already hated the Spurs and now with the “”Big Boring”” Tim Duncan, I started to hate them even more.

    Yet, as you watch the NBA now and see guys like Dirk Nowitzki buckle under pressure and “”Black Mamba”” Kobe Bryant missing just as many big shots as he makes, I’ve come to realize that nobody is more underrated and more reliable than Tim Duncan.

    He has already surpassed the titleless Karl Malone as the greatest power forward in NBA history – no matter how much time he spends at center – and it’s his turnaround off the glass, not Kobe’s high-arching threes, that seem to be the most trustworthy shot in the clutch.

    That’s why its sad to realize that just as I’ve come to appreciate this team, I find myself picking them to lose to a Phoenix squad that I can’t even stand thinking about. Isn’t that ironic?

    Suns in seven

    Utah Jazz vs. Golden State Warriors

    By not having written a first-round preview, I have the luxury of being able to say, with no proof to the contrary, that I was picking Golden State.

    However, that’s a bold-faced lie. I thought two wins early and then Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis would end up making it rain more often in the clubs than on the court.

    Nonetheless, the Warriors have been the most exciting team to watch and the best story still remaining, giving the NBA an upset factor usually saved for the NFL, Major League Baseball or Oscar’s Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories.

    I’ll be equally honest about the Utah Jazz. I actually wrote the header to this paragraph before game seven of the Jazz-Rockets series, with the presumption that Houston would continue the trend of home-team wins.

    I’m not sure how to analyze a series between two teams that I didn’t think would get this far.

    I think the Warriors lucked out in facing the Mavericks in round one, and I think they got another good draw with the Jazz in round two.

    Jazz power forward Carlos Boozer is an inside presence, but not enough of one to severely alter Golden State’s high-speed game plan. I’m with the crowd in thinking that the Golden State Warriors are hip, cool, dope, etc., and that Utah is a place where polygamy is OK, but caffeine isn’t.

    I’m not sure how accurate or relevant either of those assertions is to this series, but I’m going to go with the old coach whose players love him (Don Nelson) over the old coach whose players hate him (Jerry Sloan). Also, Matt Barnes kind of scares me.

    Golden State in six

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