2005 NBA Conference Finals Playoff Preview: Miami versus Detroit and Phoenix versus San AntonioThis article was originally published at Suite101.com on May 21, 2005.
Two rounds of NBA playoff action are complete and at this point my prognostication record is roughly equivalent to a 48-34 season--seven correct series predictions (including five which also pegged the exact length of the series) and five incorrect picks. Playoff season is also cliche season, so it should be noted that I "stepped up" in the Conference Semifinals round, selecting the winner in three of the four series, in two cases also nailing the exact number of games.
Much like the NCAA Tournament, which features upsets early but generally matches up "chalk" teams in the Final Four, this year's NBA Conference Finals round includes nothing but one and two seeds. Each of the remaining teams has a distinct identity--Miami showcases "Shaq Diesel" and "Flash," Detroit has "The Defenders" (the title of their postseason media guide), San Antonio has "Groundhog Day" (Charles Barkley's nickname for the metronome-like efficiency of Tim Duncan) and Ginobili and Phoenix has MVP Steve Nash, emerging superstar Amare Stoudemire and the "Matrix" (Shawn Marion).
Eastern Conference Finals
Miami (1) vs. Detroit (2)
Regular season records: Miami, 59-23; Detroit, 54-28
First Round Result: Miami def. New Jersey, 4-0; Detroit def. Philadelphia, 4-1
Second Round Result: Miami def. Washington, 4-0; Detroit def. Indiana, 4-2
Head to Head: Detroit, 2-1
Team Playoff Leaders:
Scoring--Miami: Dwyane Wade (28.6 ppg); Detroit: Rip Hamilton (19.9 ppg)
Rebounding--Miami: Udonis Haslem (11.5 rpg); Detroit: Ben Wallace (12.5 rpg)
Assists--Miami: Wade (8.4 apg); Detroit: Chauncey Billups (7.0 apg)
Analysis/Prediction: The defending champion Pistons got off to a slow start this season, but down the stretch it became apparent that Miami and Detroit were on a collision course to meet in a much anticipated Eastern Conference Finals. Miami's roster is constructed like the rosters of many previous NBA champions--two stars (Shaquille O'Neal and Dwyane Wade) surrounded by excellent complementary players who know their roles and fill them without complaint. The Pistons do not have one defining star--Defensive Player of the Year Ben Wallace comes closest to fitting that description--but they have perhaps the beset starting five in the league: Ben Wallace at center, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince at forward and Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups at guard. Collectively this quintet has size, speed, length and toughness. Detroit Coach Larry Brown is playing most of his starters 40-plus mpg; the three bench players who are receiving the most playing time are Antonio McDyess, Lindsey Hunter and Carlos Arroyo. The Pistons showed that they could beat a Shaquille O'Neal anchored team in last year's NBA Finals, knocking off the Los Angeles Lakers in five games. It is clear that the "Shaq Diesel" that Detroit will face now is considerably less than 100% physically. Detroit's suffocating defense wears teams down mentally and physically during the course of a playoff series and, as Detroit Free Press columnist Drew Sharp mentioned in his May 20th column, "Game 6 is their stage." The Pistons have six straight Game 6 wins and will make it seven against the Heat, defeating the Eastern Conference's number one seed in six games.
Western Conference Finals
Phoenix (1) vs. San Antonio (2)
Regular season records: Phoenix, 62-20; San Antonio, 59-23
First Round Result: Phoenix def. Memphis, 4-0; San Antonio def. Denver, 4-1
Second Round Result: Phoenix def. Dallas, 4-2; San Antonio def. Seattle, 4-2
Head to Head: San Antonio, 2-1
Team Playoff Leaders:
Scoring--Phoenix: Amare Stoudemire (26.4 ppg); San Antonio: Tim Duncan (23.7 ppg)
Rebounding--Phoenix: Shawn Marion (12.3 rpg); San Antonio: Duncan (10.7 rpg)
Assists--Phoenix: Steve Nash (11.7 apg); San Antonio: Tony Parker (5.0 apg)
Analysis/Prediction: Phoenix has the NBA MVP (Steve Nash), the Coach of the Year (Mike D'Antoni) and the Executive of the Year (Bryan Colangelo). The status of shooting guard Joe Johnson (19.0 ppg in six playoff games before being sidelined by a broken facial bone) is questionable, but the Suns get plenty of offensive firepower from Amare Stoudemire (26.4 ppg on .529 field goal shooting) and Shawn Marion (22.5 ppg on .508 field goal shooting). Nash, traditionally a pass-first, shoot-second point guard, erupted for 30.3 ppg against Dallas, shooting a sizzling .550 from the field. In 10 playoff games Phoenix has averaged 116.0 ppg while shooting .491 from the field, .443 on three pointers and .751 from the free throw line. San Antonio has some heavy duty weapons as well, led by Tim Duncan (who has won two regular season MVPs and two Finals MVPs), Manu Ginobili (the versatile hero of Argentina's Olympic team who is second on the Spurs in playoff scoring and assists and third in rebounding) and speedy point guard Tony Parker. Bruce Bowen, a perennial All-Defensive Team member, Nazr Mohammed, who is shooting a team-best .574 from the field during the playoffs, and Robert "Mr. May" Horry (second on the team in both playoff three pointers and blocked shots) are also key members of the Spurs' rotation. Phoenix has more "talent" in terms of athletes who are explosive scorers but the Spurs have championship experience and a relentless defense that has limited postseason opponents to 91.1 ppg on .435 field goal shooting. In a classic matchup of tenacious defense versus fast break offense, San Antonio will beat Phoenix in six games.
Before the playoffs began, I predicted that Detroit would repeat as NBA champions by defeating San Antonio in the NBA Finals and there is no reason to waver from that pick now.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:42 AM