NBA Playoffs

The 2005-2006 NBA season has been an absolute pleasure. We’ve all enjoyed watching D-Wade’s astounding acrobatics, LeBron’s demonstrations of pure strength, and Kobe’s nightly fireworks display. But as this amazing season comes to a close all eyes will turn to the playoffs (except those which wander back to the nagging MVP questions). With so many great teams throughout the NBA this season, the playoffs look to be just as exciting as the season has been. Three teams, the Detroit Pistons, the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks have won 60 games this year, no small feat in today’s NBA, but it will all be forgotten if they stumble in the playoffs. The site of the greatest potential stumble is in the first round of the Western Conference. Depending on how the final week turns out, the Sacramento Kings should be playing either the Spurs or the Mavs in the first round. Sacramento’s record doesn’t truly reflect the team’s abilities, leaving San Antonio or Dallas with no opening round push-over. After a mid-season trade to acquire Ron Artest, arguably the best defender in the league and a formidable scorer, the Kings have greatly improved their roster. Only last week the Kings beat the Spurs in San Antonio, where the Spurs have only lost ten games all season. Also, Spurs’ shooting guard Manu Ginobili hasn’t been suiting up as he nurses calf and shin contusions. While moving on to the second round may only be a fantasy for the Kings, this series looks to be competitive and exciting. The Western Conference is also home to the Phoenix Suns and the Los Angeles Lakers, who look set to play each other in the first round. While it is a nice thought to think that Phil Jackson, the “Zen master”, would be able to rally his Kobe-dependant team to beat Steve Nash and Shawn Marion’s Suns, it just doesn’t seem possible. Kobe may even drop 50 points more than once during the series but the season will end for the Lakers, leaving Kobe with a sore back from carrying the team all season and Jackson contemplating his third retirement. In the Eastern Conference things appear to be much more concrete. The higher seeded teams of the first round, the Pistons, the Miami Heat, the New Jersey Nets and the Cleveland Cavaliers all look to easily slide into the second round. It’s in the second round where the real excitement will begin. The Pistons are positioned to play the Cavs after the teams beat the Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards, respectively. This will be LeBron’s first visit to the postseason, after his team endured a horrific second-half collapse last year. Lebron’s first real test will be against the universally top-ranked Pistons with their suffocating defense and their finely tuned offense. While it will certainly be exciting to watch LeBron’s first attempt at a championship, hopes are not very high. The Cavs are 1-3 against the Pistons this season, and while King James does possess divine talent and Herculean strength, this probably won’t be the demi-god’s first championship. Although the Cavs probably won’t win any rings this season, it will definitely be worth watching them to see how many laws of physics and probability LeBron will defy. The other Eastern Conference semi-final may very well be between the Heat and the Nets. Recently the Nets have been red-hot, winning 12 of their last 15 as of April 13th, including an 11 game winning streak. If momentum is any hint of success, the Nets postseason potential is through the roof. But to capitalize on this momentum the Nets will have to battle through Shaquille O’Neal, Dwayne Wade and the Heat. This will be a difficult feat, as the Heat will be trying to make up for a season where they underperformed, despite winning over 50 games. Also, as many know, Shaq saves his best performances of the year for the playoffs (evidently because he was exhausted from role in Scary Movie 4), and Shaq’s very best is often unstoppable. While there are lots of postseason games to be played, I fully expect the #1 seeds from both conferences to advance to the finals. By today’s standings this match-up would be a repeat of last year’s Championship match: the Pistons vs. the Spurs. Last year these two teams duked it out for 7 games and the Spurs finally emerged victorious. If they meet again it will without a doubt be another remarkable series, with the outcome far from certain even after Game 4. This past NBA season was a wild ride, supplying everything a sports fan could want. The playoffs look as if they will continue to provide every fan with what they are looking for: great and exciting basketball.