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NBA first-round playoff picks

The first weekend of the NBA playoffs is more than half over and I still haven't put my virtual money or my mouth on the line as to who will advance past the first round. Thus, without getting into too many details (the round will be over if I start spouting; although I'll try to chime in here a few times later in the week), here is the thumbnail version of the way I see it shaking out, with cavaets included where current events have already overtaken my original "wisdom."

Eastern Conference

Heat over Nets in 4.

The Nets have quite possibly the worst collection low post players in the league. The Heat have Shaq. And I still don't like Vince Carter.

Pistons over Sixers in 5.

Philly gets a game only as a means of respecting AI, the second-most valuable player in the NBA this year behind Shaq. A sweep wouldn't surprise me.

Pacers over Celts in 6.

Until yesterday's blowout, I had Indiana winning this in 5. Guess I'm still living in the past, where 'Toine Walker was a rally killer instead of franchise rescuer, and Paul Pierce always has to take--and miss--the last shot. Seriously, although they enjoy a serious edge at point guard (Payton over Anthony Johnson), and better depth, I don't see the Celts overcoming deficiencies in the paint (even with Jermaine O'Neal's bum shoulder) or on the sidelines (Carlisle may be the league's best coach).

Bulls over Wizards in 7.

 Yes, I do think Chicago will sorely miss Eddy Curry in the middle. But Scott Skiles has had them playing great team D all year--check their opponents field goal percentage--and the Wizards are too predictibly reliant on their big three (Arenas, Hughes, and Jamison) for offense. Key matchups: Hughes vs. Hinrich in the backcourt early, Hughes or Arenas vs. Gordon in the backcourt late. (I think the game one is on as I write this, but I don't know the score.)

Western Conference 

Suns over Grizzlies in 5.

All this talk about whether or not uptempo teams can thrive in the postseason will have to wait until the supreme uptempo team--Phoenix--is tested. The dysfunctional Grizzlies are dangerous only so long as they feel like they have nothing to lose. That should be worth a game, two at the most.

Spurs over Nuggets in 6.

This is the series I most anticipate, and the one I am least confident in calling. Variables abound, from the health status of Duncan and Camby (which is huge), to the fascinating matchup between greased lightning Tony Parker and seam-seeker Andre Miller, to inevitable fireworks between the arrogant 'Melo Anthony and the bruising Bruce Bowen. And don't forget K mart, who can be as chippy as the next guy. The more emotional it gets, the more it favors the Spurs, who have a superstar ice man in Duncan and a maniac disciplinarian in Popovich to keep them in line.

Sonics over the Kings in 5.

I had this series going six until I saw how useless the Kings were on the glass for long stretches of the game last night. Plus I want karma to squash the Kings for the two terrible trades they made this year (even if the C-Webb sacrifice was long-term shrewd, knowing the guy was going to blow out what's left of his bad wheel sooner rather than later). Sac has no matchup for Richard Lewis, Peja is a huge choker, Bobby Jackson and Brad Miller aren't close to full strength, and Ray Allen, the best player on either team, is playing for a max contract and max respect around the league. Only an unconscious series from Mike Bibby (who spit the bit last night) or a team choke from a Sonics squad that still doesn't believe it's very good will extend this series beyond 5.

Mavs over Houston in 7.

I had Dallas winning in six before T-Mac trumped Dirk in Dallas yesterday. There are certainly reasons to pick Houston, beginning with McGrady's magnificence and Jeff Van Gundy's court smarts. And Wolves fans still sympathetic to Kevin McHale might note that Houston went out and got four solid-to-very-good backcourt people to lend ballast to the T-Mac/Yao dynamic: Mike James, David Wesley, Bobby Sura, and Jon Barry. It is hard to pick a team in the post season that contains Keith Van Horn, long one of the league's most overrated players. But the Rockets counter with Yao Ming, who is more overrated than Van Horn. Yeah, I know, if the guy could only rest in the off-season he might live up to the hype. But until that happens, we'll see blunderbuss showings in the spring from the big galoot, and Dikembe Mutumbo isn't going to bail him every game as effectively as he did yesterday. Finally, somebody please take that microphone away from Mark Jackson, who is as banal and slow as an announcer as he was durign his last five years at the point.

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