Saturday starts the second season for the NBA. While Minnesota and New York, sans Isaiah Thomas, fought for the right to have more ping pong balls, 16 teams will begin their quest to be NBA Champs. Four teams will be looking to add to their hardware and two more will be in the playoffs for the first time in ages. There is one fly, so to speak, in the ointment, that being Atlanta with a sub .500 record and making their first appearance since Bill Clinton was in the White House. Defending their title will be San Antonio, so "the hunter being the hunted" storyline could see some daylight.
Storylines don't win basketball games, players do. 16 teams will try to reach the top of the NBA mountain come June and it will not be an easy road. While I'm not that big an NBA fan (having gone to only two games, both in Atlanta, both losses), I have taken some interest. So without delaying any further, here are my picks for the first round of the playoffs. Some of the games can be seen on ESPN, ABC and TNT. It's win or go home!
(1) Boston vs. (8) Atlanta
While Pierce, Garnett and company will be looking for a trip to the NBA promised land and a possible meeting with either San Antonio or Phoenix, they can’t look past the Hawks, who may have something to prove. I don’t think the boys from the Peach State can win but I think they’re going to let the rest of the league know that they could be a force to be dealt with in the 2008-09 season. My heart says to pick the Hawks but my common sense says to go with Boston in 6.
(2) Detroit vs. (7) Philadelphia
(3) Orlando vs. (6) Toronto
(4) Cleveland vs. (5) Washington
The Wizards have a lot of work to do to break the slide against the boys from Lake Erie and a healthy Gilbert Arenas can be deadly. I’m thinking sweep. Cleveland in 4. At least Gilbert will have something to blog about.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Denver
Denver is reeling from the latest legal problems with Carmelo Anthony’s arrest for DUI (called DWI in most states). Iverson can’t do it by himself and if the Nuggets don’t play their best basketball, it could be the last rites for Denver. On the other hand, this could be one of the better series in the first round of the playoffs. Look for the Lakers to take it in 7.
(2) New Orleans vs. (7) Dallas
New Orleans is one of the league’s best kept secrets. This is their third trip to the NBA playoffs as the New Orleans Hornets. It won’t be their last but they won’t take this series this time. Dallas in 5.
(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Phoenix
The Spurs have to play like they want to repeat. Period. It’s how champions are made. They will be tested. Manu Ginobilli and company have to stay out of foul trouble and stay focused on the prize. The Spurs will take it in 6, but will have to fight like hell to do it.
(4) Utah vs. (5) Houston
Utah is no slouch, either, taking five of their last six games and look pretty good of late.
For Houston, T-Mac needs to shoot better than 7-21 from the field and the Rockets will be without Yao Ming and will need to play their best basketball under those circumstances. Shane Battier needs to be healthy if they want to move on to the next round.
For Utah, their leader is a Boozer. Carlos, to be exact. He’s Utah’s go-to guy and will be a force to be dealt with. All the Jazz have to do is stay focused and they’ll win this series, even though Houston will fight them tooth and nail. I am going out on a limb for this one and pick Houston to get revenge on the Jazz for the meltdown in 07 in 7.
. A rematch of a series that went 7 games with Houston falling at home at the Toyota Centre to Utah. Houston has won 5 of their last seven games, despite a setback at the hands of Utah last Monday night. . Shaq vs. Duncan. Sounds like a Playstation game? Nope. This one’s for real. The defending champs against a team that may be better than some think, especially since the Suns added Big Aristotle to their roster. They may need the big fella to play a lot of minutes, since Grant Hill is on the shelf with a groin injury and may or may not see action. . The Hornets were flatter than a tortilla against Dallas and Dirk Novitski in their last regular season meeting in Big D. The Mavs also have Jason Kidd, which could spell trouble for the boys from the Big Easy. . The Lakers are hungry. They got bounced out of the playoffs in the first round in the last two seasons, so Kobe and the Lakers will have something to prove and will play as if they have a MAJOR chip on their shoulders. Pau Gasol is back and better than ever, so that should take some pressure off of KB. . The Cavaliers will be looking to extend their playoff streak against the Wizards in this one. King James has all the tools that he will need for Cleveland to move on to the next round. . These two teams combined playoff record is 36-54. Orlando has not won a series since defeating Atlanta in 1996. I would like to see the Chris Bosh/Dwight Howard matchup. Toronto has talent, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t take the Raptors lightly and they will give the Magic a fight in this series. However, there can be only one winner. I like Orlando to bring the city of the Mouse to the next round in 7. . The last time these two teams met was in the 2005 playoffs, when Allen Iverson was still a Sixer. This is not your father’s Detroit team. No more Isaiah Thomas or Phil Laimbeer. If Rasheed Wallace and Chauncey Billups play their best games, there’s no way that Philly can beat them. If they get into foul trouble, anything could happen. I am looking forward to this one and may actually sit down and watch. Going with the Pistons in 6. . You can’t argue with 16 NBA titles hanging in the Fleet Centre rafters. Add Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the roster and you have a team that will make its first playoff appearance since 2005, when they were beaten by Indiana. Atlanta at 37-45 is looking at the post season for the first time since the Clinton administration (1999). The Celtics won all three meetings between the two clubs this season.