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2007 NBA Playoff Preview - Round 2
by John Canton (NBA)
Posted on May 6, 2007, 1:13 PM

John: Welcome to the second round of the playoffs. In the first round we said goodbye to the Magic, Raptors, Heat and Wizards in the (L)Eastern Conference and the Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets and surprisingly (at least to some) the Mavericks in the Western Conference. Only eight teams are left as the road to the NBA Finals continues. Who do we like to come out of these series? Keep on reading to find out.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Detroit vs. (5) Chicago
Mike: Both teams are fresh off sweeps of their respective first round teams. Detroit beat Orlando handily, although they didnít seem to motivated or impressive in doing so. Chicago took out the world champs with relative ease, as the Miami Heat looked old, injured, and unable to handle Chicago in any area of the game. Clearly the Bulls will have a much tougher task when they face the Pistons.

One of my biggest complaints about the first round is the long break both teams have had. The Pistons are a veteran, experienced team, and the break will give them a good opportunity to rest up. Chicago, on the other hand, is a younger, inexperienced team, who had a great rhythm going and played well against the Heat, who have to take an unnecessary break that will only serve to get them out of their groove. Iím not saying thereís anything that the NBA can do about it, but itís frustrating to watch.

Detroit is a very solid team, and have a number of quality starters on offense and defense. They arenít a great offensive team, but they are a very even team offensively, so there are any number of players on the team that can step up in the event not all of the starters are having great games. Chauncy Billups and Rip Hamilton are a formidable backcourt, and Teyshaun Prince has a great ability to get to the basket. Defensively, there are few teams that match the teamís talent and tenacity. Prince will be a much, much better matchup for Luol Deng than anyone from the Heat was. There are a number of shot blockers on the team, including Chris Webber and Rasheed Wallace. Detroit is giving up the second-fewest points in the league, and that should cause a streaky offensive team like Chicago trouble to score.

The Bulls are also one of the best defensive teams in the league, so donít expect many 100-point games in the series. Luol Deng is coming off one of the best set of games in his career, as he and Ben Gordon combined for an average of 49 points per game in the first round. While Gordonís ppg has been an offensive boost the Bulls, heís going to have to improve his field goal percentage if he hopes to contribute against Detroit. Chicago is really going to need multiple players to make an impact on offense in addition to Deng and Gordon. Kirk Hinrich is going to have to do what he can to find open looks. Ben Wallace is going to have to rotate the ball around well, and hustle on the offensive glass. Andres Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha are going to have to provide a spark off the bench, offensively and defensively. Tyrus Thomas didnít see much playing time in the first round, hopefully he manages to make an impact in whatever time he plays in this round.

Overall, Detroit is the better team, but itís not so significant that Chicago canít pull off the upset. It will be very tough for either team to pick up a road win, however I think Chicago will win Game 2, and Detroit will win Game 4, forcing a Game 7. If Chicago can keep the tempo up, and find fast break opportunities, and play with the hunger, tenacity, and energy they are known for, theyíve got a shot to take the series. Winning at home is very important. The Bulls are in general not a good road team, especially against tough competition. Because the Bulls have to win at least one game on the road because they donít have home court advantage, and probably two games because Detroit will probably win won on the road, this matchup is probably too tough for Chicago, and I see Detroit advancing.
Detroit wins series, 4-3

John: I know Mike is big into this series because the Bulls are his team, but from an unbiased standpoint I have to say I'm not very intrigued by this matchup. Even though both teams play the game the right way it is a boring brand of basketball. Still, it's cool in the sense that it's an old rivalry that's renewed over 15 years. The players probably don't care too much about that. The fans do, though, which should make for a fun atmosphere.

I think ultimately what it will come down to in this series is execution on the offensive side of the ball. Both defenses will be there I'm pretty sure, but I like the Pistons more because they can beat you in different ways on the offensive end. The Bulls are way too reliant on the jump shot on offense. The Pistons, meanwhile, beat you by Hamilton coming off screens, Billups scoring in a variety of different ways, Prince with his balance offense and the inside/outside combo of Webber and Wallace. They're not deeper as far as the bench goes, but I don't think that's an issue. Webber and Sheed aren't old. They'll hold up. The reason the Bulls were able to dismantle the Heat was because they were quicker and deeper. They don't have that advantage on the Pistons. Plus, Detroit's man to man defense is as good as anybody. They won't have to double anybody in the post because the Bulls lack a post game, which is the reason why I've said they're not going to the Finals. You can't win on jump shots. Against Detroit, those jump shots are going to be covered most of the time. I like the Pistons in six. It might be seven if the Bulls can get really hot at home.
Pistons in 6

(2) Cleveland vs. (6) New Jersey
Mike: As good as New Jersey looked at the start of their series against Toronto, they didnít finish nearly as strong. Part of this was due to Toronto making adjustments and playing better, but part of it is due to New Jerseyís inconsistency that they showed throughout the season. Vince Carter can be a streaky player, putting up 35 and shooting over 50% one night, then struggling and scoring 17 while only shooting 30%. Richard Jefferson is still a question mark due to his ankle injury earlier in the season. His play has improved over time, but he is still out of rhythm, and misses easy plays he should have no trouble finishing. Jason Kidd has been very consistent in his performances, and the Nets would be long gone without him. Their big men Boone and Moore have been a nice addition to a team that normally struggles beyond its big 3.

Cleveland is fresh off a sweep of the hapless Washington Wizards. Similar to the Pistons, the Cavs knocked off the Wizards with little problem, but looked fairly unmotivated doing it. They canít keep that attitude against the Nets, or else they will be in for a rude awakening. The Wizards had lost half of their offense (Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler) and all of their leadership due to injury, and was limping around like a wounded horse waiting to be put out of its misery. The Nets will prove to be a much tougher opposition. As is usually the case with Cleveland, the key to victory is not Lebron James, the key is his teammates. Zydrunas Ilgauskas is going to have to make his presence felt on both sides of the court, and take advantage of a relatively weak matchup with the Netsí Jason Collins. Sasha Pavlovic and Larry Hughes will have the tough task of guarding the impressive backcourt duo of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, although Lebron might switch out with one of the two and cover VC instead of the hobbled Richard Jefferson.

A key statistic in this matchup may be free throw shooting. Cleveland, and Lebron James in particular, are not a great free throw shooting team, and in a close game, that could be the difference. Overall, Cleveland looks to have the advantage, as they have more weapons, and really no one on the Nets has the caliber play of Lebron James. Add in home court advantage, and Jerseyís seeming inability to play well on the road, and Cleveland should be able to take this series without getting into too much trouble.
Cleveland wins series, 4-2

John: I don't like the Nets. They beat my Raps, they have my enemy in Vince Carter and I think they have the worst fans in the league. They couldn't even sell out a game six of a playoff series! That's atrocious. What's funny is that after the game the players were talking about how supportive their fans were. What fans? That's why they're at a disadvantage. I think home court is a big thing in the playoffs and because of their atrocious fan support it's going to hurt them in this series.

I like the Cavs in this series because I think the lineup they've used in the second half of the season has been really good for them. By taking the slow as molasses Eric Snow out of the starting five and replacing him with Sasha Pavlovic while moving Larry Hughes to the point it has improved the team. Pavlovic is a much better option scoring wise and that opens the floor up for James, as well as Hughes and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. I just think they have too many options for the Nets. Throw in the fact that they've been resting for the past week and I think that they'll jump out to a quick 2-0 lead in this series. I don't think the Nets are good enough or deep enough to come back from that. Like the Bulls, they lack a post game and without that it's tough to win the playoffs. I also think Cleveland's a better defensive team than my Raps, who were too stupid to realize all the Nets ever want to do is shoot threes after the drive 'n kick. I think James steps up his game, as does the rest of the team. I like the Cavs to win rather convincingly too.
Cavs in 6

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(4) Utah vs. (8) Golden State
Mike: Iím really glad Iím not one of those idiots that picked the Dallas Mavericks to win it all. I made the sensible pick, the Houston Rockets.

...oops

Here was my analysis of Dallas/Golden State:

ĒHonestly, 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.Ē


Wow, was I spot on with that or what? Instead what we got was one of the most exciting playoff series to watch in recent memory. Dallas completely fell apart, Don Nelson found every weakness he could about the Mavs and exploited it to no end, Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson played out of their minds, and the Warriors were anything but satisfied with just making the playoffs. Jason Terry and his Ďstiflingí defense couldnít stop Davis if his life depended on it. No one on the Mavs could stop him or anyone else on that team. Just a truly incredible accomplishment.

Because of that, Iím going to jump on the Warriors bandwagon in this matchup against the Jazz. Utah is a tough matchup, and Golden state will probably be slowed somewhat. However, Utah has shown itself to be incapable of finishing games, something that Golden State will attack to no end. I think one of the most interesting matchups of the game is Don Nelson vs. Jerry Sloan. Two veteran coaches going head-to-head. I am looking forward to see what each coach has in store for the other in terms of gameplans. I see Golden State stealing one on the road, and of course not losing a game at home, and taking this one in six.
Golden State wins series, 4-2

John: Who could have forecasted this matchup in the West semis before the season or even before the playoffs? I doubt many did. I know that the Warriors bandwagon is huge, as it should be, but I find it hard to believe that Don Nelson is going to outcoach Jerry Sloan the same way that he did Avery Johnson. Sloan knows Nellie. They've both been coaching forever and if anybody can come up with a strategy to slow down Nellie's tricks it is going to be Jerry Sloan. Coaching is huge.

The thing that made the Warriors beat the Mavs is the mismatches. Against the Jazz those mismatches won't be as prevalent. The Jazz don't have a big team. Okur's nearly 7 feet, but he's not going to have a tough time dealing with Al Harrington if they decide to start him at center. The guards on the Jazz are quick, athletic and big, which means they won't be outrun by the Warriors players. It's a totally different series. The other thing about the Jazz that I like is their offense is very balanced whereas Dallas tended to rely on Nowitzki too much. Are the Warriors good enough to slow down Williams, Boozer and Okur? I don't see it happening. I do, however, see the Jazz being able to stop the Warriors when they have to. They're deep, they're disciplined and they got the players to get it done. The advantage that Baron Davis had over Jason Terry last series won't exist here because Deron Williams will not allow it. He's fast, physical and exactly the type of guy that can shut down Davis. That'll be the difference. Plus, can you count on Baron to last the whole series? I don't think you can. Should be a fun series no matter who wins.
Jazz in 6

(2) Phoenix vs. (3) San Antonio
Mike: This is the consensus Ďmarqueeí matchup for the second round. The Phoenix Suns and San Antonio Spurs, two of the best teams in the league, going head-to-head for a likely spot in the NBA Finals, thanks to the early exit by the Dallas Mavericks. These teams have very contrasting styles, Phoenix with itís fast-paced gameplan, lots of scoring, lots of offense, tons of weapons, and San Antonio with a much slower pace, very aggressive defense that just pounds away at the other team.

The Spurs stumbled a bit out of the gate, losing Game 1 to the Denver Nuggets in the last round. However, the team regrouped, adjusted their play, and did a nice job of limiting Carmelo Anthonyís impact on the series. Of course, thatís not tough when he had Allen Iverson as a teammate, who did just as good a job of limiting Carmeloís impact as anyone on the Spurs could have done defensively. Ultimately, San Antonio didnít have too tough of a time taking out Denver because Iverson still has the Philly attitude that he has to do everything to win, and against legitimately good teams like San Antonio, thatís just not going to work. If he can figure that out, and learn to pass the ball and find Anthony a lot more than he did in the playoffs, Denver can be a tough team. Anyways, the Spurs are going to have their hands full with the Phoenix Suns. Steve Nash is enough to give anyone fits, and he has a number of weapons he can use against the Spurs, i.e. Rajah Bell, Shawn Marion, Amare Stoudemire, and Leandro Barbosa, just to name a few. It will be interesting to see how the tandem of Tim Duncan and Fransisco Elson can handle Marion and Stoudemire. Stoudemire was not available when the two teams met last year, and he will certainly make a difference this time around.

Phoenix is coming off a fairly dominating performance against the Los Angeles Lakers. Their continued offensive attack was just too much for the hapless Lakers, who really buckled under the pressure and had no one to go to outside of Kobe Bryant. The Suns are going to do everything they can to keep the pace of the game up, and Nash will be very focused on keeping things moving in transition. On the defensive side, Nash is really going to have to step it up to keep Tony Parker from having a big series. While Nash gets a lot of credit as a player (and rightfully so), he does not play great defense, and can be exposed, which Parker will look to do. Stoudemire will probably match up against Duncan, which should make for a very entertaining matchup on defense and offense. Barbosa will need to continue to make his presence felt for this Phoenix team, who canít afford to lose any of its offensive effectiveness against a team like the Spurs.

Overall, this is really a series that could go either way. There are little things that each team is going to need to take into account and make sure they do correctly in order to win. Phoenix is not a great defensive team, and they will have to run the games at their pace in order to win. Amare Stoudemire is going to have to have a big series, and Barbosa will have to make an impact off the bench. San Antonio will have to make sure and keep the tempo, and not get caught up in a fast-paced game, as they will lose if they try. Tony Parker is going to have to have a big game offensively, and take advantage of the matchup against Nash. Duncan, Elson, will have to shut down the lane, while Robert Horry will have to draw his big man defender out to try and open up the lane for the rest of the team. I always believe that a great defensive team will overcome a great offensive team, and I think that will be the case this year. Many people believe that this is Phoenixí year, but thatís not going to happen until the Suns learn to play some defense. With Dallas out of the way, this yearís championship is the Spursí to lose.

San Antonio wins series, 4-3

John: To me, this is the best matchup in the playoffs and it's the real Finals as well. They had an awesome series two years ago. This one should be even better because this is the best Suns team in the three years since Steve Nash has been there. They are deeper thanks to the improvement of Leandro Barbosa (one of my favorite players to watch) as well as the resurgence of Amare Stoudemire, who looks as dynamic as any big man in the league. The thing about the Spurs is they have the kind of depth, veteran leadership and star power to beat anybody at any time. It's like if they turn it up and play at the top of their game they are a very hard team to stop. They're also the best team defensively in the league and we all know defense wins championships.

I think the Suns are due. This is their time. It is their year. Sure, defense is the name of the game in the playoffs and the Spurs have the edge in that area, but there's something to be said about a team wanting it more. I think that team is Phoenix. It's not to say that the Spurs lack hunger or the desire to win a fourth title. It's just that when you've never won it before that drive tends to be greater than that of a previous winner. Maybe none of this makes sense. I don't know. I believe these teams are so evenly matched and they're in for such a close series that all of the little intangibles are going to make a difference. Ultimately, I see the Suns coming out on top. Nash will make the right plays at the right time, Stoudemire will be a tough cover for the Spurs and their supporting cast will step up to get the job done because they're younger than the Spurs group that may be showing their age against a running team like Phoenix. We'll see about that one. It should be a lot of fun.
Suns in 7

Enjoy the playoffs. We'll see you before round three.

Email Mike: m.t.maloney@gmail.com
Email John: oratoryjohn@gmail.com




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