PISTONS v CAVALIERS
SEASON SERIES: Pistons 3-1. All of the games were won by at least 11 points.
STORYLINES: LeBron won his first playoff series...but now faces a true test. The Mighty Pistons. These Pistons ran away with the Central Division [which the Cavs are a part of] and are an infinitely better defensive team than the Cavs last opponent, the Wizards.
KEY FACTOR: The ability of the Cavs to get to the free throw line. Detroit is a physical, defensive team. But, they have a weak bench. If guys like Larry Hughes and LeBron James can force Detroit to commit fouls and they can get to the line....they have a chance to steal a few games.
PREDICTION: Pistons in 5. LeBron is great enough to will at least one win in the games at Quicken. He's also good enough to keep the games within reach. But the Pistons team is just too good to be punked by Cleveland. They have size underneath and cool backcourt presence. They will trap the Cavs, trying to force the ball from LeBron's hands. If James get to the hoop....guys like Sheed, Prince and Big Ben will be waiting for him.
HEAT v NETS
SEASON SERIES: Nets 3-1. The only Heat win was a 1-pt win at home during the first week of the season.
STORYLINES: Both teams had rough times winning their first round series. The Heat were combative with both the Bulls and themselves. That shows that the team can be screwed with in the head. The Nets may not have been here if it wasn't for Peja Stojakovic barely playing. The biggest sub-story off the bat will be Dwayne Wade's hip.
<FONTSIZE=1>KEY FACTOR: Nets big men. The Bulls don't have big men, so Shaq was able to operate freely at times. However, in the two games that Miami lost, Shaq got into bad foul trouble. He could get into it easier here. Jersey has slightly better bigs and Nenad Krstic played very well in the Indiana series. If Jersey can hold their own here, it will go along way to winning this series.
PREDICTION: As much as I hate the Heat's chances at winning a title...I think they can get thru the Nets. The paint will be key, yes, but also look at the Vince Carter/Dwayne Wade score-a-thon. Carter completely dominated the Heat during the season....but the Nets struggled to hold down the Pacers Anthony Johnson in the last series. Yeah, Anthony Johnson. So what will Dwayne Wade and Jason Williams do? Carter will have some big games...but I think he'll disappear when it counts. Heat in 6.
SPURS v MAVERICKS
SEASON SERIES: Tied 2-2. The last three meetings were pretty close games.
STORYLINES: Well, many people feel that these are the two best teams in the West....maybe even the league. And the story is that they are playing one round too soon. In my eyes, what does it matter? You gotta play them sometime. This is also Avery Johnson, former Spur point man, going against his former team.
KEY FACTOR: The frontlines. Rebounding will be the key. I think as the rebounding stats go...so will the series. The Mavs start Dasagana Diop now.....and the Spurs start Tim Duncan at center. That could change in this series....with Nazr Mohammad back into the starting lineup and Robert Horry to the bench.
PREDICTION: Spurs in 7. I like the Mavs team. I think this is the best Mavs team in the Mark Cuban Era. However, these are the Spurs. Most of these Spurs are 2-time champions...with Tim Duncan being a 3-time winner [when Avery Johnson, now the Mavs coach, was the starting PG for San Antonio]. And, of course, there is Robert Horry who has six championships. In a series like this....talent, experience and execution matters. The Spurs have advantages in all those areas. And despite the outstanding job that Johnson did this year with Dallas....Greg Popovich is the dean of championship coaches [save Phil Jackson] currently in the NBA.
SUNS v CLIPPERS
SEASON SERIES: Tied 2-2. And all the games were decided in double figures. In one of the games, the Suns won by 31 pts.
STORYLINES: The Suns face the other LA team now. After taking care of the Lakers in a fierce 7-game series, they have the same procedure in this Clippers series. For the Clippers, well, this is the first time they've come off a series win in 30 years. Not just a win....but an impressive win over Denver in which they completely dominated the Nuggs.
KEY FACTOR: Elton Brand. Brand may be the best Clippers player ever...and he will be the biggest factor in this series. This Suns team couldn't stop Kwame Brown in the paint. How can they possibly deal with E-Brand? The Clippers must exploit this mismatch and in doing that should slow the tempo down. If they cannot....they don't have a shot to win here.
PREDICTION: Suns in 7. Look, the Suns have played as many playoff games in the Staples Center as the Clippers have so far....so while the fans make a difference, the actual home court may not. Over the last three games with the Lakers, Phoenix found their swagger. This is a running team who's MO is creating thenexploiting mismatches.