Look for Spurs, Mavs, Pistons and Nets to move on
So, apparently I'm a writer for the D. I've never written an article for a newspaper before, but I write all the time, I read the paper all the time, I watch basketball all the time and I vomit uncontrollably all the time. Three of those things should be useful in writing this article. So we'll see how it goes.
The NBA playoffs seem to inevitably clash with academics; the first round starts at just about the same time as midterms and the NBA finals are nestled nicely into the week of final exams. But, for those of you who, like me, find it infinitely more rewarding to stare at what's happening on TNT and ABC than at the monotonous drivel that's going on in a textbook, here is your preview for the second round of the NBA playoffs.
Detroit v. Philadelphia
The Pistons have one of the league's premier defensive players in Ben Wallace, while the Sixers have one of the league's most talented offensive players in Allen Iverson. Unfortunately, Iverson is also the only exciting player on either of these teams, meaning that this series will be almost as boring as hanging out in the Sig Ep basement.
Philadelphia is a slightly more-rested team, having knocked the Hornets out of the first round in six games, while Detroit struggled through seven with the surprising Orlando Magic.
However, the strategies that the Pistons employed to finally contain Tracy McGrady will translate nicely into the second round, where they face another team that is essentially led by one scorer. The Sixers live and die by Iverson's sword, and if he is shut down, Philly will be almost as worthless as the staff at Dick's house.
The Pistons will stifle him by making him work hard on the defensive end and being physical with him when he's on the offensive side. Iverson may still lift his team to victory, but he won't lift them to four victories. Look for Detroit to take this one in five games.
Boston v. New Jersey
Boston made a strong statement by knocking off the talented and hard-nosed Indiana Pacers in six games. But now comes an even more daunting challenge: the New Jersey Nets, who beat the Celtics in last year's playoffs to win the Eastern Conference championship.
Jason Kidd is the Velveeta cheese of basketball: he makes everything around him better, but by himself, he's not quite enough. The Nets' success hinges on how much their other players step up. Kenyon Martin and Richard Jefferson must continue to play at the level on which they finished the first round, and role players like Lucious Harris and Kerry Kittles must make solid decisions on both ends of the court if New Jersey hopes to beat the double-barreled fire power of Paul Pierce and Antoine "Fat Baby" Walker.
The key to the game for the Celtics are the intangibles; not only must Pierce and Walker play superbly, but there must be solid bench production and continual adjustments made by the coaches. If these things fall into place and Tony Delk can counter Jason Kidd, then the Celts should take the series. But that's a bit too much to ask. He won't, and they won't, and the Nets will win it in six.
San Antonio v. Los Angeles
Rooting for the Lakers is like dating a freshman: it's fun and easy, but in the end, it leaves you feeling cheap and empty. For the last few years, picking L.A. to win the championship has almost been a forgone conclusion. If you cheer for them, you feel like all of Hollywood is cheering with you -- along with most of the NBA com-missioner's office and referee's personnel.
On the other hand, you may want to slap that cocky squint off of Kobe's face. It might be true that Bryant needs a beating almost as much as that guy who is trying to sell Indian head canes, but there's no denying that he and Shaq are one of the most unstoppable one-two punches in the history of the league.
That being said, the Spurs are not a team to be taken lightly. Tim Duncan is playing the best basketball of his career, with the ever-steady David Robinson providing essential support. Tony Parker needs to bounce back from the schooling he received from Stephon Marbury, while Steven Jackson and Manu Ginobili (where did these guys come from and why are they so good?) must continue to play solidly. I think they will, and the Spurs will capitalize on 1) injuries to Rick Fox and Devean George and 2) the season-long sub-par play of the Lakers. San Antonio should take this series in six games.
Dallas v. Sacramento
This may be the highest-scoring series of the second round. The Kings just broke the hearts of about a million Mormons by knocking Utah out of the playoffs and John Stockton out of the league.
The Mavericks toyed with the Blazers before finally beating them in an emotional seventh game. The key for Dallas seems deceptively simple: play defense, which would shut down the Kings' explosive shooting and passing while setting up their own signature transition offense.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, defense has not been their forte in quite some time. As Dallas learned in last year's playoffs, it can be frustratingly difficult to stop the unconventional scoring styles of Peja Stojakovic and Vlade Divac. Doug Christie may be one of the ugliest men in the history of professional sports, but he is also one of the scrappiest players in the league and seems to always be in the right place at the right time.
For Dallas to have a chance, Steve Nash will have to overcome the shooting funk that has plagued him recently and play all-star caliber ball against the underrated Mike Bibby. Shawn Bradley will have to do more than maintain his role as a defensive force, becoming a reliable asset on offense as well. And, of course, the post presence of Chris Webber must be negated by the shooting of Michael Finley and Dirk Nowitzki. It's going to be a tough one, but I've got to support my boys and say that the Mavericks will edge the Kings in seven.