April 16th. Doesn't sound as scary as April 15th. That's the last day of the regular season for the National Basketball Association. 32 teams are in contention for the playoffs with 5 teams within a stone's throw of making a run to play extra basketball. The others will be fighting to see who gets more ping pong balls in the Draft Lottery. Isiah Thomas? He'll be looking for a new job.
But enough about that. Let's look at the 8 teams from each division and see how things shape up if the playoffs were to start Monday night.
1 seed Boston vs. 8 seed Atlanta (Boston leads the series 2-0, with one game left in Atlanta April 12th). The Celtics took the first two meetings against the Hawks, who may make it back to postseason for the first time in eight years. What could hurt Atlanta is lack of playoff experience, while KG is the man right now in Beantown. Josh Smith of the Hawks isn't a slouch but he needs to take the mantle of leadership on this team. Boston will win this series 4-1 but Atlanta will give them a fight.
2 seed Detroit vs. 7 seed Philadelphia(Detroit leads season series 2-1 with one game to play in Philadelphia April 9th). Detroit has been pretty steady this season, while Philadelphia is right at the .500 mark. Antonio McDyess needs to shoot well to win. Rasheed Wallace is the go to guy for Detroit. That could be a problem for the Sixers. Detroit in 6.
3 seed Orlando vs. 6 seed Toronto (Orlando won season series 2-1). The Magic roster is an unknown variable. Toronto has Chris Bosh. After that, it's anybody's guess. The Magic do have a bit more firepower than their neighbors to the north, which could spell trouble for the Raptors. No, Canada! Magic in 5.
4 seed Cleveland vs. 5 seed Washington(Teams split season series 2-2 and do not meet again). King James. What can be said about LeBron? The mid-season trade Cleveland made may have strengthened them more than any other team in the East, with the exception of Boston. In Washington's defense, they have been doing better without Gilbert Arenas. The Wizards may need him and this series could be a bigger battle than David and Goliath. This one's going seven and I am picking Cleveland.
Now to the west, young man.
1 seed Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8 seed Golden State (Season series tied at 1, with two games to play at the time of this writing - March 23rd in Los Angeles and March 24th in Oakland). Kobe Bryant could play for any team he wants. He happens to be the best thing to wear a Lakers uniform since Magic. He also doesn't have the distraction of Shaq for the time being. Pau Gasol may be out for a while, which could put the Lakers in further jeopardy in the playoffs. The Warriors are not immune from the injury bug, either, since Chris Webber (knee) is hobbled. It's a good thing that this series may not require jet travel. I'm going with the Lakers in 6, although this could be a somewhat entertaining series, especially if Jack is in the front row.
2 seed New Orleans vs. 7 seed Dallas (New Orelans leads season series 2-1, with one game to play in Dallas April 16th). The Hornets are the NBA's best kept secret. They fly under the radar better than the Sleath bomber. Dallas is hurting since their leader, Dirk Nowitzki injured his leg. This too may be entertaining. New Orleans is a young team and youth may serve them well or hurt them. Dallas will make owner Mark Cuban a happy man. Mavs in 5.
3 seed Phoenix vs. 6 seed San Antonio (Phoenix leads series 2-1 with one game to play in San Antonio April 9th) Shaq vs. Duncan. Sort of like Ali-Frazier, Frazier-Norton. You get the picture. Since the residents of America West Arena got Big Aristotle, they've been strugglng to win. For those of us that think the defending champs are panicing, think again. They'll start their march to a possible repeat by eclipsing the Suns in 6 games.
4 seed Utah vs. 5 seed Houston (Series even 1-1 with one meeting left in Houston April 14th). Right now, the Jazz are healthly and hope to stay that way. They'll need it when they face the Rockets, who are skidding after their 22-game win streak came to an end at the hands of Boston. Also take into consideration no Yao. Yet the Rockets are playing above themselves and Tracy McGrady has to bear the weight of leadership on his shoulders if this team is to advance. This could be another entertaining series and there is a revenge factor here. Last year, Utah knocked Houston out of the playoffs in seven games. I am going out on a limb and taking Houston in 6 over the Jazz.
There's the playoff picture through tonight. As T.O. once said, "get your popcorn ready!"