We are only 12-16 games away from finishing this wild and entertaining NBA season (yes, this has been exciting). Let's take a look at the matchups if the season ended today.
(1) Boston vs. (8) Atlanta
Analysis: Sweep....enough said.
(2) Detroit vs. (7) Washington
Analysis: See previous.
(3) Orlando vs. (6) Philadelphia
Analysis: Is the Eastern Conference wild card section so bad that we're looking at 3 sweeps in a row? Yes.
(4) Cleveland vs. (5) Toronto
Analysis: The Cavaliers are fading dangerously fast to the point where losing that 4 seed and home court (only a 3.5 game lead) is still a possibility. Cleveland, with the loss to Orlando last night, have now lost 6 of 7 on the road, with their lone win against the Knicks, in which LeBron ripped New York a new one with 50 points. Please also note all of these losses were after the trades that sent Drew Gooden and Larry Hughes to Chicago, Donyell Marshall and Ira Newble to Seattle, and Joe Smith, Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak (sp?), and Delonte West to Cleveland (and a couple of other players that are bench warmers). They have actually gotten worse because they traded with terrible teams that collectively have a lot of experience, but no championship caliber style of play anymore.
As for the Raptors, please note that I said Cleveland losing home court is a possibility. The Raps lost all 5 games in their road trip, giving up 100 in 4 of them, including a 137-105 hammering from Denver. And the fact that this coincides with Chris Bosh's injury tells me that Toronto is not playoff ready yet. Give me the Cavs in 5.
(1) Houston vs. (8) Golden State
Analysis: We could be looking at yet a season in which all of the lower seeds in the Western Conference win their first round series. Golden State is 17 games over .500 but clinging to the 8th spot. Monta Ellis is an emerging star in this league, and their small ball style of play that won them a famous series against Dallas last year has carried them throughout the season again this year. Baron Davis is back to being the star he once was with the Charlotte Hornets. They certainly bring exciting basketball that in many ways is more entertaining than the Phoenix Suns.
The problem I see in them is having to get past a 41 year old man named Dikembe Mutombo. He is still blocking shots, and he has had one of his best seasons on the defensive side in years. T-Mac has a supporting cast that is unknown to most of us (ever heard of Luis Scola before this run?), and they have a 10 game winning streak without Yao, and 22 overall. If they go 3 for 3 on this road trip after the Boston game, which is at New Orleans, at Golden State, and at Phoenix, you are looking at your Western Conference champions. This has the making of an entertaining series if the standings hold up (which they won't). Rockets in 6.
(2) New Orleans Hornets vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs
Analysis: The Hornets' playoff experience is um....limited in this case. They'll have home court, they have Chris Paul, but....as long as you have the combination of Ginobili, Parker, and Duncan on the Spurs side, you're going to be in for it. In case you have forgotten, San Antonio are the defending champions, and I can't see them bowing out in the opening round. Spurs in 6....and it's not an upset.
(3) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks
Analysis: Am I the only one thinking that this had the potential to be a sweep for the Lakers? Even with Bynum and Gasol likely healthy by the time the playoffs arrives, I can't see this being a blow out anymore because Dallas woke up all of a sudden Dallas has won 5 in a row and Jason Kidd seems to be working into Avery Johnson's system very well now. This is a toss-up.....It's going to be a 7 game series, Lakers.
(4) Utah Jazz vs. (5) Phoenix Suns
Analysis: I pick on the Suns all of the time, but of all of the teams I think they are capable of beating in a playoff series, it's Utah. I think Phoenix's win for the Spurs turned their season around, and they have won 4 in a row. The Suns with Shaq are now 7-6, not good, but they started out 3-6 remember? I refuse to believe it is because of Shaq but it's because Amare Stoudemire is playing out of his mind. Notice they are giving the ball to him less and less and letting him to the dirty work on the defensive side. Preventing Shaq from getting the ball (which immediately slows the game down when he touches it) means Phoenix can run their offense like old times. Look at their offense now compared to the game against the Pistons in which they lost by 30 and you've seen a team coming pretty close to running and gunning like they did with Shawn Marion.
For Utah, they are very much an on and off team that benefited from a 10 game winning streak from January to February. It's become clear the offense revolves around Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. They seem to do most of the work with Boozer's boards and Williams' tremendous assist count if you look at the stats sheet. But they have won potentially fatal problem and that is winning on the road. Utah is an astounding 29-3 at home, but an awful 16-21 on the road, and Dallas is the only other team currently in the playoffs with a losing record away. If my memory is correct, even if Utah wins the Northwest Division, as long as they still have a worse record than Phoenix, it's Phoenix with the home court, and that can be a killer. Suns in 5.
And I'll sit back and watch the hate comments begin.