2005 NBA First Round Western Conference Playoff PreviewThis article was originally published at Suite101.com on April 21, 2005.
Phoenix (1) vs. Memphis (8)
Regular season records: Phoenix, 62-20; Memphis, 45-37
Scoring--Phoenix: Amare Stoudemire (26.0 ppg); Memphis: Pau Gasol (17.8 ppg)
Rebounding--Phoenix: Shawn Marion (11.3 rpg); Memphis: Lorenzen Wright (7.7 rpg)
Assists--Phoenix: Steve Nash (11.5 apg); Memphis: Jason Williams (5.6 apg)
Last 10 games: Phoenix, 7-3; Memphis, 4-6
Head to Head: Tied, 2-2
Analysis/Prediction: Memphis slid to the eighth spot as the season drew to a close and made a run at ninth (i.e., missing the playoffs) before Minnesota finally gave up the ghost on its wasted season. Phoenix has been consistently strong all year, led by the playmaking of MVP candidate Steve Nash, the inside play of Amare Stoudemire and the three point shooting of Quentin Richardson, Joe Johnson, Shawn Marion and Nash. Although Memphis did play well against Phoenix earlier in the season, there is no reason to believe that Memphis is going to reverse its late season slide and knock off the number one seed. Memphis may take one game, but it is more likely that Phoenix wins in a sweep.
San Antonio (2) vs. Denver (7)
Regular season records: San Antonio, 59-23; Denver, 49-33
Scoring--San Antonio: Tim Duncan (20.3 ppg); Denver: Carmelo Anthony (20.8 ppg)
Rebounding--San Antonio: Duncan (11.1 rpg); Denver: Marcus Camby (10.0 rpg)
Assists--San Antonio: Tony Parker (6.1 apg); Denver: Andre Miller (6.9 apg)
Last 10 games: San Antonio, 6-4; Denver, 8-2
Head to Head: Tied, 2-2
Analysis/Prediction: Denver is the proverbial "team that no one wants to face" but the Spurs counter with the man Shaquille O'Neal calls "The Big Fundamental"--Tim Duncan, a smooth and deceptively strong post player who combines impeccable footwork with a deadly bank shot form the wing and a very effective top of the key jump shot (which makes it all the more mystifying that he only shot 67% from the free throw line this year). He dueled Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin in the 1999 and 2003 NBA Finals respectively and produced Finals MVP performances on both occasions. Duncan also has a major impact on the defensive end of the court; he is not thought of as an explosive leaper but he annually ranks among the league's best shot blockers, enabling Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs' perimeter players to play very aggressively because they know that Duncan will take care of any guards or forwards who think that they have a clear path to the hoop. If Duncan is healthy, Denver's tremendous record down the stretch will not matter one bit. Watching Houston's Dikembe Mutombo dominate the Nuggets--albeit without Camby--a week before the playoffs start does not speak well of Denver's ability to deal with legitimate post players. However, if Duncan cannot play or if he performs significantly below par then Denver has an excellent chance. Ginobili is an "X" factor for the Spurs, a guy who can score 30 points on any given night and who always wreaks havoc with his hustle and savvy. Denver will fight valiantly, but the Spurs will win in six games.
Seattle (3) vs. Sacramento (6)
Regular season records: Seattle, 52-30; Sacramento, 50-32
Scoring--Seattle: Ray Allen (23.9 ppg); Sacramento: Peja Stojakovic (20.1 ppg)
Rebounding--Seattle: Reggie Evans (9.4 rpg); Sacramento: Brad Miller (9.3 rpg)
Assists--Seattle: Luke Ridnour (5.9 apg); Sacramento: Mike Bibby (6.8 apg)
Last 10 games: Seattle, 2-8; Sacramento, 6-4
Head to Head: Seattle, 3-1
Analysis/Prediction: A lot depends on the status of Kings' sharpshooter Peja Stojakovic and center Brad Miller. Getting back sparkplug guard Bobby Jackson is a big plus for the Kings. Seattle burst out of the gates with a gaudy 27-9 record, but has been fading for most of the second half of the season. Injuries to Rashard Lewis and Vlad Radmanovic contributed to Seattle's problems, but do no entirely explain Seattle's drop off; you can only get so much mileage out of a frontcourt featuring Reggie Evans, Jerome James, Nick Collison and Danny Fortson, who averages 5.6 rpg and 4.3 fouls per game. Seattle has the home court advantage but has actually won nearly as much on the road as at home. Sacramento will win in six games.
Dallas (4) vs. Houston (5)
Regular season records: Dallas, 58-24; Houston, 51-31
Scoring--Dallas: DirkNowitzki (26.2 ppg); Houston: Tracy McGrady (25.7 ppg)
Rebounding--Dallas: Nowitzki (9.7 rpg); Houston: Yao Ming (8.7 rpg)
Assists--Dallas: Jason Terry (5.4 apg); Houston: McGrady (5.7 apg)
Last 10 games: Dallas, 9-1; Houston, 7-3
Head to Head: Tied, 2-2
Analysis/Prediction: Dallas (nine game winning streak) and Houston (seven game winning streak) were the two hottest teams in the Western Conference at the end of the season. That makes this matchup intriguing and disappointing at the same time--intriguing because both teams are strong enough to make it to the Conference Finals, but disappointing because one of them will be bounced in the first round. The two teams tied in the regular season series, but both Dallas wins came before the Rockets really hit their stride. Each team won once on the other's court. Expect to see big scoring numbers from Nowitzki and McGrady--even though McGrady has not yet made it to the second round of the playoffs he has career playoff averages of 29.4 ppg, 6.6 rpg and 5.4 apg. McGrady's lowest scoring average in three playoff appearances with Orlando was 30.8 ppg. This series looks like a toss-up and normally in that case one would go with the team that has the seventh game at home, but I think that Houston will get a split in the first two games and close out the series in six games.
I predict that San Antonio will defeat Houston in the Western Conference Finals. Then, in a battle between the only teams other than the Lakers to win NBA titles since Michael Jordan's 1998 retirement, Detroit will match the achievement of the 1989-90 "Bad Boys" Pistons, repeating as champions.
posted by David Friedman @ 12:10 AM