2005 NBA Second Round Playoff Preview: Detroit versus Indiana and Phoenix versus DallasThis article was originally published at Suite101.com on May 8, 2005.
Saturday night's two climactic game sevens turned out to be, well, anticlimactic. As TNT analyst Kenny Smith noted--playing off the network's "We know drama" slogan--the games were not "dramatic" but rather they were "traumatic," at least for the viewers (other than those in Indiana and Dallas, of course). Houston joined this year's Chicago Bulls by "accomplishing" the relatively rare feat of losing a playoff series after winning the first two games. Thanks to the collapses by the Bulls and Rockets, I went 4-4 instead of 6-2 in first round predictions.
Speaking of drama, it does not get any more dramatic than Detroit versus Indiana in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Finals. That series was hotly contested and the teams split their four regular season games this year. All of that will be pushed to the side in favor of endless rehashing of the incident that occurred last November 19 at Auburn Hills, when fans threw objects on the court and Pacer forward Ron Artest bolted into the stands, soon followed by his teammate Stephen Jackson. The ensuing mayhem resulted in NBA Commissioner David Stern suspending Artest for the rest of the season, handing out lengthy suspensions to Jackson and Pacers' star power forward Jermaine O'Neal and issuing shorter suspensions for several other Pacers and Pistons. Other than increased security at the games, the main direct impact that this will have on the upcoming playoff series will be the absence of Artest, a vital player for the Pacers on both offense and defense.
While the Pacers and Pistons can be expected to have another grind it out, defensive minded series, Dallas and Phoenix will engage in a 1980s style fast break shootout; the halftime scores in this series may approach the finals scores in some of the Pacers-Pistons games. Here are previews of both of these series:
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Detroit (2) vs. Indiana (6)
Regular season records: Detroit, 54-28; Indiana, 44-38
First Round Result: Detroit def. Philadelphia, 4-1; Indiana def. Boston, 4-3
Head to Head: Tied, 2-2
Team Playoff Leaders:
Scoring--Detroit: Rip Hamilton (21.4 ppg); Indiana: Stephen Jackson (18.9 ppg)
Rebounding--Detroit: Ben Wallace (12.2 rpg): Indiana: Jermaine O'Neal (7.7 rpg)
Assists--Detroit: Chauncey Billups (6.8 apg); Indiana: Anthony Johnson (5.4 apg)
Analysis/Prediction: Before the "Malice at the Palace" incident on November 19, the Pacers were handily beating the defending world champions. That is irrelevant now--Detroit has recovered splendidly from its slow, dreary start to the season and the Artest suspension plus numerous injuries have weakened the Pacers. The fact that Indiana has even made it this far is a tremendous tribute to the coaching of Rick Carlisle and the resiliency and determination of the Pacer players. They simply refused to give up on their season and they will not be an easy out. Nevertheless, the task that they face is daunting. The Pistons are hitting on all cylinders now (couldn't resist that one...)--the starters are playing excellently and Antonio McDyess provides good production off the bench. Detroit does not have as much depth as it did last year, but that is not likely to be a factor considering Artest's absence and the injury problems plaguing O'Neal and point guard Jamaal Tinsley. Detroit will beat Indiana in six hard fought games.
Western Conference Semifinals
Phoenix (1) vs. Dallas (4)
Regular season records: Phoenix, 62-20; Dallas, 58-24
First Round Result: Phoenix def. Memphis, 4-0; Dallas def. Houston, 4-3
Head to Head: Phoenix, 2-1
Team Playoff Leaders:
Scoring--Phoenix: Amare Stoudemire (22.8 ppg); Dallas: Dirk Nowitzki (21.3 ppg)
Rebounding--Phoenix: Shawn Marion (12.5 rpg); Dallas: Nowitzki (8.9 rpg)
Assists--Phoenix: Steve Nash (11.3 apg); Dallas: Jason Terry (4.3 apg)
Analysis/Prediction: As predicted here, Phoenix swept Memphis easily, winning by an average margin of 11.0 ppg. However, Dallas poses a much more significant challenge for the Suns. Houston stunned the Mavericks by winning the first two games in Dallas, but the Mavericks took four of the next five games, including a remarkable 40 point blowout in game seven. Dallas is a deep, versatile team led by one of the league's best players, power forward Dirk Nowitzki. You know that you are a superstar when you lead your team with 21.3 ppg and 8.9 rpg in a playoff series and everyone is talking about how terrible you are playing. Most NBA players would love to ring up those numbers, but Nowitzki did shoot an uncharacteristically poor percentage from the field against Houston and his statistics were down across the board compared to his regular season output. That trend is unlikely to continue versus Phoenix, which does not play the kind of defense that Houston does. The major subplot in this series involves Suns' point guard Steve Nash, who reportedly will be officially announced as the 2004-05 NBA MVP later today. Nash spent six seasons with the Mavericks before returning to Phoenix as a free agent prior to this season. A lot of attention will be focused on his matchup against new Dallas point guard Jason Terry, probably the MVP of the Houston series. Dallas and Houston were two of the hottest teams in the NBA as the regular season closed and when the playoffs began I expected that hte winner of that series would at least advance to the Western Conference Finals. Dallas will beat Phoenix in six games.
My predicted Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Detroit and Miami is still possible, but my Western Conference Finals prediction needs a little tinkering. Pencil in Dallas for Houston as San Antonio's victim in that series. I still expect the Pistons to repeat as champions by knocking off the Spurs in the NBA Finals.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:14 AM