Cleveland Cavaliers: The reign of King James is upon us, as 21 year-old phenom LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers take the court in the playoffs for the first time in his young career. The Cavs, despite injuries to key players like Larry Hughes, managed to avoid the late-season slump that plagued them last year, and instead finished with a solid 50-32 record. With LeBron as a strong MVP candidate, and having home-court advantage over the Washington Wizards in round one, expect the Cavs to make the second round for the first time in years.
Detroit Pistons: Last years finalists finished with a league and franchise best 64-18 record on the way to home court advantage throughout the playoffs. New coach Flip Saunders has injected life into the previously stale offense that suffered under ex-coach Larry Brown (have a good off-season with the Knicks, Larry) while maintaining their notoriously stingy defense. They have debatably the best starting five in the league, and are a favorite to win the title for the second time in three years. They play the weak Milwaukee Bucks in the first round.
Indiana Pacers: After last years brawl fiasco, the start of the season looked promising until bad-boy and loose cannon Ron Artest demanded a trade and sat out for several months. This was followed by an injury to star forward Jermaine ONeal, and the high expectations of this team were soon squashed. As the sixth seed, they have the advantage of experience and the potential to play the spoiler to the New Jersey Nets in the first round if they can gel in time. We predict an upset.
Miami Heat: After getting to Game seven in last years Eastern Conference Finals, the Heat strangely decided to overhaul their roster, leaving only a handful of players remaining from last years squad. An aging Shaquille ONeal, also known as The Diesel, and young superstar The Flash Dwayne Wade seek to go beyond last years disappointment, and many expect them to have a rematch against Detroit in the Eastern Conference Finals this year. Theyre expected to beat the spunky but inexperienced Chicago Bulls in round one.
Dallas Mavericks: With Dirk Nowitzki putting up career-highs and new coach Avery Johnson producing one of the best first-season records of all-time, the Mavericks were a strong competitor for the first seed in the West. Due to the NBA seeding format, however, Dallas and their 60-22 record are only the fourth seed in the West. Theyre likely to clash with the West number one San Antonio Spurs in the second round after they beat the Memphis Grizzlies in the first.
LA Clippers: Yes, you read that right, the Clippers are in the playoffs. It seems impossible that the long-time butt of most NBA jokes is the sixth seed in the West after securing a solid 47-35 record, better than their Los Angeles rivals the Lakers, but its true. Led by power forward Elton Brand and Gollum look-alike Sam I Am Cassel, the Clippers have an excellent shot at the second round with home court advantage over the weak Denver Nuggets in the first.
LA Lakers: Surpassing all expectations, the Lakers have stormed to the seventh seed in the West. Led by legendary coach Phil Jackson, and the one-man-army known as Kobe Golden Boy/Black Mamba/The Ocho Bryant, the Lake-show faces the high-scoring Phoenix Suns in the first round. Given Kobes unlimited potential to go off for 80-plus points at any time, the Lakers have a slim shot at beating Phoenix.
Phoenix Suns: Led by MVP candidate Captain Canada Steven Nash and his flowing hair, the Suns surprised everyone by finishing almost as well as they did last season. With a huge roster overhaul and the loss of man-child Amare Stoudemire, Phoenix stayed atop the Pacific Division with career years from both Nash and The Matrix Shawn Marion. Theyre favored to make the Western Conference Finals.
San Antonio Spurs: The defending champions and perennial Western Conference powerhouse Spurs finished with a franchise-best 63-19 record despite chronic injuries to Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. Led this year by a breakout season of Frenchman and boyfriend of Eva Longoria Tony Parker, the Spurs are again strong favorites to win the title. The only thing that can hinder their success are injuries to key players.
Predictions for NBA Title winner:
Matt: As much as Id hate to see another dull Spurs/Pistons matchup in the Finals, thats the likely scenario. As much Id like to see anyone but the Pistons win, I think Detroit will take it in Game seven of the Finals.
Mark: Given how strong the top three teams in the West are, I think Detroit will be able to finish off whoever comes limping out of the West in six games.