The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

NBA warms up for playoffs

The NBA playoffs are set to begin with many new story lines along with a few familiar trends. From the top, the Pistons and Spurs appear set to enter the elimination rounds with the number-one seeds. This places the two participants from last year’s epic season finale in good position to repeat as Eastern and Western conference champions, respectively.

The Spurs excellent record stems from solid contributions from an expanded bench and the always-formidable trio of Tony Parker, Manu Ginobilli and former MVP Tim Duncan.

The Pistons on the other hand are led by their incredibly balanced starting five that includes four all-stars, Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace.

The leading candidates in the Western Conference to overtake the defending champion Spurs are the Dallas Mavericks, Phoenix Suns and Denver Nuggets.

Dallas is just two games off San Antonio’s pace and would be the number-two seed if not for a seeding policy that allows teams from each of the three divisions to be seeded before wildcard entries. With the emergence of Dirk Nowitzki as an MVP-caliber player and a deep cast of supporting players, including the versatile Josh Howard, the Mavericks are poised for a deep playoff run.

The most intriguing match up of the west’s first round will be the Lakers taking on the Suns in the two vs. seven match-up. The series will feature last year’s MVP Steve Nash against the front-runner for this season’s trophy, the Black Mamba himself, Kobe Bryant.

In what will likely be an extremely high-scoring series, look for Bryant to lead the underdog Lakers to an upset with the Lakers proving to be the more active and defensively capable unit (D.C. natives pay special attention to the shockingly solid efforts delivered by Kwame Brown). In the end, though, the Spurs’ mix of front line talent and a deep rotation will propel them back into the NBA Finals for a showdown with whoever wins the East.

Although the gap has narrowed, the Western Conference still seems a bit stronger, with the East boasting only three teams that seem to have a real chance of raising the trophy. Aside from the Pistons, the Miami Heat and resurgent New Jersey Nets are the teams most capable of a deep run towards the title.

The Heat’s biggest question marks are the health of their two superstars Dwayne Wade and Shaquile O’Neal. A big-name supporting cast of Antoine Walker, Gary Payton and Jason Williams needs to step up if the Heat are to regain top form.

The Nets, who struggled through the early part of the season, possess strong guard play, which is always a good sign in a short series. Jason Kidd, who remains one of the top-five point guards in the league, can control a game without scoring like few others. His ability to set-up high-flyers Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson is what makes the Nets a dangerous team.

With the exception of Detroit, lower-seeded teams have been more impressive than the frontrunners recently. Cleveland is struggling with injuries and fatigue to its two young stars Larry Hughes and Lebron James.

Washington and Chicago have both mounted winning steaks heading into the playoffs, bolstering their confidence and providing the chance for possible upsets. If Chicago can enter the playoffs as the sixth or seventh seed, a feat that seemed nearly impossible two weeks ago, look for the backcourt of Ben Gordon and Kirk Heinrich to propel them past either Miami or New Jersey.

Eventually, Detroit’s balance will allow them to stay fresher and ultimately return to the NBA finals.

Look for another exciting series between two excellent teams. As last year’s seven-game series proved, little separates the two teams. Expect another seven-game series; but this year, Detroit’s new Head Coach Flip Saunders will give the Pistons enough offensive creativity to overcome the Spurs and reclaim the championship.

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