2007 NBA Playoff Preview - Round 1
by John Canton(NBA)
Posted on April 21, 2007, 11:53 AM
John: Welcome to a preview of the first round of the NBA Playoffs. I (John Canton aka John C.) will be joined by my good friend "Mad" Mike Maloney to guide through every single round of this wonderful journey as we crown a new NBA Champion. Mike and I are both huge hoopheads and our teams both had years that we were pleased with. He's a Bulls fan while a Raptors fan, so we've got a lot to cheer about this season. However, we also know that if you do nothing in the playoffs then what you've done in the regular season is for naught.
I'm as excited for this year's playoffs as I've ever been for two reasons. The first, obviously, is because my Raptors have improved by 20 wins this season and miraculously became the third seed in the (L)Eastern Conference this year. I've watched nearly every game during the season and all I can say is I hope they make it deep because I want the American fans that never saw them play to see just how fun this team is to watch. The other reason to get excited is the quality of play in the Western Conference. In my opinion the top five teams out West are better than anybody in the East. They just drew the bad luck geographically. I'll be staying up late a lot this month to check out those west games because they're going to be tremendous.
In this preview we'll go series by series with our picks and then at the end we'll each toss in some predictions for the entire playoffs. Sounds good? I thought so. Let's go.
(1) Detroit vs. (8) Orlando
Mike: Detroit dropped from 64 wins last year to 53 this year, but they still grabbed the #1 seed, and are poised to cruise through the first round once again. One has to worry about Detroitís complacency that cost them in the playoffs last year, but that probably wonít be an issue until the next round.
Orlando is flat out outmatched here. The Pistons have 4 All-Stars in their starting lineup, along with Chris Webber, who is back to playing good basketball after tanking it in Philly. Detroit swept the season series, and should do a good job shutting down Dwight Howard. Orlando has some talent, namely Howard, who is an absolute beast in the middle, but all in all, the Magic are a very inconsistent team, and donít have enough tools to compete with the top of the conference. Billups, Hamilton, Prince, Wallace, and Webber should make quick work of the Magic and move on to the second round.
Detroit wins series, 4-0
John: This isn't going to be much of a series. The Pistons seemed to be in cruise control for much of the season, especially as they got Chris Webber for nothing. When you get a Hall of Fame caliber player that's still effective at a minimum salary that means nothing, okay? I don't think they're as good as they were during their previous title win and title loss largely because of coaching. I don't think Flip Saunders is that good of a coach. Larry Brown is, or at least he was when he won the title with this team. On the Orlando side, you've got the budding star in Dwight Howard who is going to be in the playoffs a lot in his career and his teams are going to fare much better than this one will. The reality is, though, that Orlando is like the junior varsity team playing against the big boys and they're not at that level. They're not as good offensively, defensively, on the boards, in transition or any area that you want to try to figure out. Congrats on making the playoffs, Orlando. Enjoy your short visit. You too Grant Hill. How'd that seven years in Orlando work for ya? At least the money was good.
Pistons in 4
(2) Cleveland vs. (7) Washington
Mike: A couple months ago this probably would have been a pretty interesting season. Then season injuries took down Caron Butler and Gilbert Arenas, and all of a sudden a shiny, flashy Wizards team looks very vulnerable and their play has been comparable to a train wreck.
Cleveland, meanwhile, has been playing very well as of late, and certainly has to be thrilled with the #2 seed, giving them arguably the easiest first round matchup in the conference, and setting themselves up to face New Jersey or Toronto in the second round, a much better fate than running into a team like the Detroit Pistons. Even without Lebron James, this Cavs team has the firepower to take out the hapless Wizards. With Lebron James, forget about it. Washington will be lucky to keep any of these games within 10 points.
Cleveland wins series, 4-0
John: This two had a great series last year. Lots of fun. This year? It's going to be a disaster. You gotta feel bad for the Wizards because they were growing as a team with Gilbert Arenas being a legit MVP candidate and Caron Butler developing into an All-Star. Then they both got hurt within a week, they got beat a lot down the stretch and now they're stumbling into the playoffs as the seven seed. They'll rely on Antawn Jamison offensively now, but it's playoff time and that means teams focus on star players more than usual. He's going to have a tough time getting any easy looks. Look at their other players. They can't hurt you too bad. That's why this will be a short series.
I think the Cavs improved a lot in the second half because they went with a bigger starting lineup by putting Sasha Pavlovic in there instead of Eric Snow. I can't believe it took that long to realize Snow sucks. Now Larry Hughes is basically the point guard although the offense runs through LeBron James of course. People have accused James of coasting, which seems hilarious because it's not easy to average 27, 7 and 6 like he did this year. He'll turn it up here. The Cavs aren't great, but the Wizards they're playing against are so bad that they'll make 'em look great. Sorry Washington, maybe next year.
Cavs in 4
(3) Toronto vs. (6) New Jersey
Mike: The 3/6 and 4/5 series in this conference should provide by far the more intriguing matchups. The Toronto Raptors have won their first division title in team history, finishing 6 games ahead of last yearís champs, the New Jersey Nets. Toronto has blossomed into a competitive team, thanks in part to the emergence of Chris Bosh as one of the elite big men in the East, and also due to the acquisition of TJ Ford from Milwaukee for Charlie Villanueva. The Raps struggled a lot on defense in the first half of the season, but have really come into their own in the past few months, and are looking to turn a few heads in the playoffs.
The Nets have underachieved for much of the season, but have still shown glimpses of being a very dangerous team, most notably the last game of the season, in which they knocked off the Chicago Bulls and took over the #6 seed. Jason Kidd and Vince Carter are two players that are capable of putting up a triple double at any time. Richard Jefferson has been struggling since coming back from ankle surgery, but looks to be improving with each day. However, Mikki Moore has provided a lift for the team with his power and presence in the frontcourt, which has been much needed for the team considering Jeffersonís constant ineffectiveness.
This is a very tough matchup to figure out. Toronto is already in uncharted territory, and will be playing with nothing to lose. They are a deep team, but inexperienced when it comes to postseason play. New Jersey has had their struggles this year, but still have the ability to play like an elite team, and certainly have the knowledge and experience on how to advance in the playoffs. Look for the star power of Vince Carter and Jason Kidd to be the difference maker as the Nets barely edge out the Raptors.
New Jersey wins series, 4-3
John: The atmosphere at the Air Canada Centre for these games is going to be electric. Man, I wish I could be there. The Raps have been the best team in the East in the 2007 calendar year record wise and they're coming into the playoffs off a 15-4 run. Keep in mind that two of those losses were the last two games of the year when they had nothing to play for. People say the Nets are hot, and I'll admit that they are, but the Raptors are scorching right now. The thing about Toronto is they started off slow in large part because they had nine new players who were getting used to eachother. The team you saw (or didn't see because they were never on in America) from January on was a different animal because once they became familiar they became great.
The reasons Toronto will win this series are as follows:
Depth - Their bench is way better than Jersey's and that's huge in a long playoff series.
Speed - As good as Jason Kidd is, he'll have a tough time keeping up with TJ Ford and Jose Calderon. Not to mention the slow New Jersey big guys trying to run with Bosh and Bargnani.
Best Player - A lot of the time in a playoff series the best player leads their team. The best guy in this series is Chris Bosh, who will destroy the horrible front line of the Nets. Shut up about Vince Carter because it's Bosh's world now. Better leader, better teammate and now the better player.
Team Basketball - Watch how the team moves the ball, trusts eachother and beats you with a balanced offense. The Nets rely too much on a couple guys. That doesn't win.
The Unknown - People in America have barely seen this team, I bet. They've got the chip on their shoulder to prove that they belong. There's no pressure on this team.
The Nets have experience going for them, but to me that's always been an overrated thing. You're telling me you have to go through the experience of losing before you can win? It's never made sense to me. Toronto was 30-11 at home with a great crowd while the Nets have no fans. They have the worst home court in the NBA. Why would the inexperience of the Raps be effected by the worst fans? I don't see that being a problem. Home court is a much bigger factor than inexperience is. This is the coming out party of my Raptors as Chris Bosh shows why he's a top ten player and guys like TJ Ford and Anthony Parker make their marks as quality players in big games. I'm so excited, man. This is gonna be fun.
Raptors in 6
(4) Miami vs. (5) Chicago
Mike: Itís hard not to be disappointed as a Bulls fan. Chicago had control of their own destiny, and had the opportunity to head into the playoffs as the #2 seed. Instead, they played one of their worse games of the year, lost to the Nets, and watched Cleveland steal the two seed out from under them. The main advantage the Cavs have now is a much easier trip to the conference finals. The Bulls, on the other hand, now have to face the defending champion Miami Heat in a rematch of last yearís first round playoff series.
However, itís not all bad news. The Bulls are a much better team than last year. With new center Ben Wallace, the Bulls stumbled a bit in the beginning of the season as they tried to adjust to their new team chemistry. They picked up the pace in the second half of the season, and have the best record in the East since the All-Star break. While Wallaceís impact has been inconsistent on the team, there is no denying the impact of rookies Tyrus Thomas and Thabo Sefolosha. Thomas is a very explosive player, providing a lot of energy, solid defense, and power on offense that the team has not seen in a while. Sefolosha has proven his worth in the last month or two due to injuries, which led to Thabo seeing increased playing time. The Bulls are a very deep team, and can go nine deep without flinching. This is a tougher, more aggressive team from last year, and have more established stars thanks to noticeable improvement from Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and especially Luol Deng.
The Heat, on the other hand, are old, slow, and injured. There is no denying that Shaquille OíNeal will be a force to be reckoned with, and Chicago will have a tough time dealing with him if Ben Wallace gets into foul trouble. However, OíNeal is one man, and the rest of the team is not the championship caliber team from last year. Dwayne Wade is injured, and is nowhere near 100%. The Bulls are a very physical team, and Hinrich gets up in Wadeís face constantly. Wade is going to be in for a long series as each game rolls on. Jason Williams is not the effective impact player that he was last year. Udonis Haslem is also not at 100%, and that could hurt when he matches up against Tyrus Thomas or Luol Deng. The Heat in general are going to run into some issues with matching up with the small and power forward spots, as that is where a lot of Chicagoís strength lies (Deng, Thomas, Nocioni, Sefolosha).
This will be a close series, and if Miami had home court advantage, it would be tempting to pick them. However, I think Chicago will come out mad and motivated with how the season ended, jump out to an early series lead, and never look back. Itís common knowledge that Shaq rests up for the postseason, but that doesnít mean when the postseason comes around that his team becomes unstoppable.
Chicago wins series, 4-2
John: These two had a very competitive series last year where the Bulls pushed the Heat hard to come out with the win. The reason they did that is because they have a very good defense that is even better this year thanks to the addition of Ben Wallace. Sure, they overpaid Ben Wallace big time, but he's going to help them here. Since he's there it's likely that the Bulls won't be doubling Shaquille O'Neal in the post. Big mistake, I think. The big guy's been playing very well over the past couple of months as his legs seem to be in good shape. He always uses the regular season as if it was the preseason because he's always been money in the playoffs. The bigger question is what kind of Dwyane Wade will show up? I'm not sure how ready he looks. If I'm the Bulls I hammer him every single time he comes in the lane. Make him feel the pain. You have to.
I like the Bulls for their depth more than anything. They're a much deeper team than Miami, who probably isn't going to the Finals due to that lack of a bench. For the Bulls to win they're going to need Luol Deng to average 30 points a night. I don't see the Heat being able to stop him. I'm sure they'll throw Posey on him, maybe Eddie Jones as well, but I think Deng is too long for them. He needs to be huge. If he's not I doubt they win the series.
With all that said why will the Heat win this series? Because the Bulls are a team that relies on jump shooting to score points. They don't have any low post scoring. You can't win with a bunch of 6'8" athletic forwards crashing the boards while your guards take jump shots. It does not equate to winning in the playoffs. Very close series, I think. Each team might get a home blowout win as teams always seem to do in the playoffs, but the majority of the games are going to be 86-83 or something like that. Since the Heat have the two best players in the series I like them to win it closely. If the Bulls trade some of their young guys for a legit post player they're a title contender. Not yet, though.
Heat in 7
(1) Dallas vs. (8) Golden State
Mike: Honestly, the whole discussion of how tough the Warriors play the Mavericks is tired. Dallas has easily had the best season in the NBA, and they are not about to follow that up with a first round exit. Golden State will probably be able to pick up a game in the series, but the most interesting thing that could happen would be for Mark Cuban and Don Nelson get into a fight.
Dirk Nowitzki is not about to let his team continue to struggle against Golden State. This team is a veteran team when it comes to the playoffs, where Golden State is really just happy to be in the post-season for the first time since the Chris Mullin (as a player) era. Baron Davis and Al Harrington will provide some problems for Jason Terry and Eric Dampier, but Terry will provide just as many problems for Davis with his stifling defense. In the end, the defensive prowess of Dirk, Terry, Josh Howard, and Dampier are going to be too much for Davis, Harrington, Jason Richardson, and Stephen Jackson to handle.
Dallas wins series, 4-1
John: This will be a very fun and exciting series, as will all of the West series. The story here is that the Warriors swept the Mavs during the season and their head coach is Don Nelson, who had a major falling out with Mavs owner Mark Cuban. The main reason that Nelson got fired is because Cuban realized that his style of play isn't conducive to playoff basketball. He's right, of course. Nelson has a reputation of being one of the best regular season coaches ever if you look at his record, but in the playoffs his teams always fizzle out. Why? The defense, of course. Who is going to slow down Nowitzki in this series? Al Harrington? Ha, good luck.
I see it going six games. The Mavs will win the first two because they're simply better. I think the Warriors will win games three and four because they'll push the tempo, the crowd will be crazy (first playoff games in 13 years) and they'll be able to use that to win a couple games. Then the Mavs will take it over in the final two games because they have the superior coach in Avery Johnson (he actually coaches defense!) and the best player in the series, Dirk Nowitzki, who seems like he's ready to explode in the playoffs. GState will put up a fight and even a little scare into the Mavs. It won't be enough. You don't win 67 games for one of the best seasons ever only to lose in the first round. It does not happen.
Mavericks in 6
(2) Phoenix vs. (7) Los Angeles
Mike: When your coach doesnít have a lot of faith in you, thatís probably not a good sign of things to come in the playoffs. Phil Jackson has openly discussed the injuries plagued by his team, as well as the regression of some of the role players surrounding Kobe Bryant. While last year featured a team playing very cohesive basketball, this year the team has often resorted to its old tactics of giving Kobe the ball and watching him try and score. While last year the Lakers provided the Suns with a very difficult matchup, and almost pulled off an upset, this year the struggling Lakers donít look to have the same abilities.
Phoenix, on the other hand, is very much the same team from last year, except this year they have regained the services of Amare Stoudemire. This is the most dangerous offensive team in the league thanks to the orchestration by point guard Steve Nash. Whatever shortcomings they have from a defensive standpoint, their offensive prowess will be able to overcome against a team like Los Angeles. Kobe might go off on a game and will his team to a win, but without effective play from Luke Walton, Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown, the Lakers are in for a quick first-round exit.
Phoenix wins series, 4-1
John: Before the Raptors came into the league the Lakers were my team because of Magic Johnson. Now? I still like them, especially Kobe Bryant, but I don't like the way they finished the season at all. They stumbled into the playoffs. Bryant's still the best player in the game and his ten 50 point games this season are amazing. Too bad his teammates suck. Lamar Odom hasn't been that great since returning from injury, Smush Parker is not an NBA starter and neither is Luke Walton even though I love his game. He's more of a sixth or seventh man, I'd say. Andrew Bynum started the season great, then what? Then there's the bench - oh wait they don't have one of those teams. People that call Kobe Bryant a hog need to remember one thing: his team sucks with him. A lot.
This is the best Suns team in the three years since Steve Nash has been there. Some are saying this is because of Nash. I don't. He's been great all three years. His numbers are better this year because Amare Stoudemire is playing amazing basketball while showing no signs of missing all of last year. Then there's the emergence of Leandro Barbosa, who averaged 18.1 points this year coming off the bench most of the time. He's the fastest guy in the league arguably, he's one of the best three point shooters and he's been better as the season has went on. As good as Nash has been, it's his supporting cast that has improved the most. That's why they'll destroy the Lakers. I'm calling it a sweep.
Suns in 4
(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Denver
Mike: Tough matchup for the Spurs. Denver is a very offensive-minded team, and despite the talent in Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony, the team is going to struggle mightily against San Antonio. The Spurs are a very veteran team, with Michael Finley, Tony Parker, Bruce Bowen, and Tim Duncan all returning. San Antonio was really on fire in the second half of the season, posting the best record post All-Star break in the league, and look to be very dangerous in the playoffs. Denver simply doesnít have the talent defensively or offensively to keep up with the Spurs.
San Antonio wins series, 4-2
John: The Spurs were my preseason pick. I thought they could have won last year except for that one silly foul by Manu Ginobli on Nowitzki in the West Semis. They came back to win 58 games this year, which is definitely impressive, but I was expecting more out of them. I thought they'd come out with more fire, win something like 65 games and look like the absolute best team this year. Didn't happen. I think their biggest problem will be their lack of a second big guy to compliment Tim Duncan. I don't have much confidence in the Elson-Oberto-Horry triumvirate especially since Horry's probably done this year. Still, they should handle the Nuggets rather easily.
The biggest problems for the Nuggets are lack of depth and a lackluster defense. The Spurs are the best defensive team in the league. They'll throw different looks to fluster the Nuggets high scorers and it will work. It always works. That's what the Spurs do. What the Nuggets have are good big guys in Camby and Nene, who should be able to do a decent job on Duncan. The difference will be Parker and Ginobli for the Spurs. If they put Iverson one of them the other will eat up the likes of Steve Blake and JR Smith. That's what I like about the Spurs. They exploit matchups better than anybody. If the Nugs single cover Duncan like I think they will then watch as Parker or Ginobli leads the team in scoring this series. I like the Spurs to win this one rather comfortably. This is like the appetizer before the main courses that await them.
Spurs in 5
(4) Utah vs. (5) Houston
Mike: If there is a sleeper team in the playoffs, itís the Houston Rockets. Houston has struggled to get to their top playing potential all season. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are both healthy, and have been playing together long enough to really gel. Add in support players Rafer Alston, Shane Battier, and Chucky Hayes, and this team has shown itís going to give any team it faces in the playoffs nightmares.
Unfortunately for Utah, theyíre a team that has been on the way down for the last month or so of the season, and they have the unfortunate pleasure of running into the Rockets in the first round. The Jazz have really been disappointing as a whole, finishing the season on an 8-12 run, allowing the Rockets to take over home court for the first round, including separate losing streaks of 4 and 5 games. Utah is just not going to have an answer to McGrady/Yao. Carlos Boozer has had a career year in Utah, and Okur has put up good numbers, but they are not as dominant as the pair on the Rockets. In addition, Utah is going to struggle mightily with Houstonís defense, which is leading the league in field goal defense. While the Jazz looked like a team earlier in the season that could make some noise in the playoffs, now they look very ordinary and headed towards a first round exit.
Houston wins series, 4-2
John: Out of all the West teams in the playoffs these are the two that I have watched the least of. That's not because I dislike anybody on the teams or anything like that. It just sort of happened. The Rockets play a style of ball that isn't the most exciting to watch, but it is very effective. When both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady have been healthy they have looked as good as anybody in the league. I just don't know if guys like Rafer Alston and Chuck Hayes (or Juwan Howard) are good enough to be starting on a championship caliber team. The Jazz play the game the right way as all Jerry Sloan teams do. They've got some awesome big guys in Memo Okur and Carlos Boozer, plus a quality point guard in Deron Williams. If Utah's going to win the series they're going to need those three to put up huge numbers all across the board. The other key will be the job that Andrei Kirilenko, a great defender who had a down year offensively, does on McGrady. They need him to make sure McGrady doesn't kill them. I'm not sure if he can do that.
The difference, and to me the reason that Houston wins this series, is Yao. I don't think Okur's good enough defensively to handle him. If you double him he's a very good passer and Houston's got the shooters to kill you. If you single cover him he's going to go for 30 a night, which will probably lead to a victory. The Rockets have the weapons to make you pay for mistakes. Should be a fun series to watch with two of the best coaches in the league. I see a lot of close games with Houston's stars carrying them in the end. Congrats to Tracy McGrady for getting out of the first round for the first time. Just as long as the back is okay.
Rockets in 6
GENERAL PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
Mike: Just some general thoughts on the playoffs. I look for Houston and San Antonio to meet up in the conference finals, with Houston winning in 7. Meanwhile in the East, I see Detroit matching up with Cleveland, and taking the series in 6. In the NBA Finals, Houston beats Detroit 4-2 to finally win a championship without an asterisk listed next to it.
Unless youíre looking for my biased picks, in which case, Chicago over Phoenix in 7.
John: Wow Mikey, Houston? Did not see that coming. I think they're probably a year away from that. They need to upgrade some positions to catch up to the big three in the West for me to pick them. I wouldn't shocked if it happened, though.
My preseason pick was San Antonio over Miami, which is definitely a viable option. However, I'm not going to stick with that. While I think San Antonio is one of the three teams that can win it all (Phoenix and Dallas are the other two with Houston being an outsider), I'm going to pick the Suns to beat them in the second round because this is the best Suns team in the three years since Steve Nash has been there. Stoudemire's healthy, he'll give the Spurs fits and the Suns have too many weapons this year for the Spurs or Mavs, who they'll beat in six in the West finals, to handle. In the East I'll pick the Pistons over the Cavs in six only because somebody has to emerge from there. This Detroit team is good, but they're not as hungry or as well coached as they were when they made their last two trips to the Finals. I'll pick the Suns over the Pistons in five in the Finals.
What do I WANT to happen? Raps over Suns of course. Ain't happening I know, but if it does maybe people there'd be more than three people in Canada that would watch that.
Oh, and if the Raps win the NBA Finals this year I'll shit my pants, film it and post it on youtube for you all to see.
Enjoy the playoffs. We'll see you before round two.