#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Denver Nuggets: Denver has two of the Associations' finest scoers in Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson, but give me an NBA champion who one, doesn't play as a team, where two players take two-thirds of the shots; and two, that wins it all with perimeter scoring and a lack of a real offensive threat inside. Sure, Marcus Camby is a nice player, if you're talking shot-blocking and rebounding- basically defense. Kenyon Martin could be a better offensive power forward if he got more looks at the basket. Likely MVP Kobe Bryant should have a field day every game of this series. Both teams love to get up the floor early and often, especially Denver. The Lakers, from Bryant, to Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher, simply have weapons that can put the ball in the whole. Lakers in 5
#4 Utah Jazz vs. #5 Houston Rockets: The Rockets went on a 22-game winning streak mostly without Yao simply by playing great defense, making good passes, and cutting hard to the hoop to give each other good looks at the basket. Team basketball. Houston had to become better at this without their 7-6 giant to take up the paint. Heck, even Tracy McGrady became more of a team player, and with his 6-8 frame could afford to post up more to give the Rockets the occasional inside look despite their Chinese teammate. (We all know Dikembe Mutombo can't give Houston that back-to-the-basket threat anymore.) Then you've got the Jazz, the hottest team since the turn of the calender- after the Rockets. With Mehmet Okur able to draw Deke away from the paint, the pick-and-roll game should be open for Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, if Boozer can find the offensive rhythm that he lost two weeks ago. Utah's bench is better than the Rocket's inexperienced reserves, but Houston was the better defensive team in the regular season. Jazz in 6
#2 New Orleans Hornets vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks: My, how things change in the course of one year. Last postseason, Chris Paul & Co. were enjoying the playoffs on their 52-inch flat-screen TVs. Now, they are trying to establish themselves as a serious contender this year and in the seasons to come. Meanwhile, Dallas went 67-15 last season and was the overwhelming #1 seed before getting shocked by the Golden State Warriors and ex-coach Don Nelson in the first round. This doesn't mean, however, that the Mavs can't pull off the "upset," if that's what you want to call it. The Hornets don't have an answer for Dirk Nowitzki, which means that the Hornets better hope that Jason Kidd doesn't have enough left in his defensive legs to slow down Chris Paul (who, by the way, is worse than Deron Williams). Hornets in 7
#3 San Antonio Spurs vs. #6 Phoenix Suns: The absolute best series of the playoffs, from a national perspective. For the third year in a row, the Spurs and Suns meet in the playoffs. This is the rubber match, since the Suns won a conference semifinal series in 2006, while San Antonio won a controversial conference semifinal matchup last year, when Amare Stoudamire and Boris Diaw were wrongly suspended for the deciding game. Now, Stoudamire looks to prove that he has surpassed future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan as a premiere power forward in the West. Phoenix has talent, and may yet get enough out of Shaq to cause Duncan problems, but San Antonio is deeper- and a four-time NBA champion with Duncan as their captain. Spurs in 7
#1 Boston Celtics vs. #8 Atlanta Hawks: You kidding me? Celts in 4.
#4 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #5 Washington Wizards: Washington may throw Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, DeShawn Stevenson (who called LeBron James "overrated" earlier this week- not a good idea heading into a playoff series against the man), and perhaps even Gilbert Arenas at James, but it shouldn't matter. Three of those four players are All-Stars, but defensively they won't be able to slow him down. The Wizards have fine perimeter players, like Jamison, Butler and Arenas, who missed almost the entire season with a torn ACL, but if the Cavs are smart they will utilize their superior size down low and dominate the glass with Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Ben Wallace and Joe Smith not having a problem on the boards against Brendan Haywood and Andray Blatche. Heck, half of the Cavs' points might come off offensive putbacks. Cavs in 6
#2 Detroit Pistons vs. #7 Philadelphia 76ers: The Sixers showed life in the latter quarter of the season, but had a four-game swoon to end the year that pits them against Detroit rather than the beatable Cavs. Andre Miller may in fact be just as good a point guard as Chauncey Billups, but after that Detroit is just so much deeper than Philadelphia. Samuel Dalembert of Philly may have problems getting taken outside by Rasheed Wallace. Pistons in 5
#3 Orlando Magic vs. #6 Toronto Raptors: SNORE. ZZZZZ. Oh, wait, Dwight Howard against Chris Bosh? That's intriguing. Two of the best young, but so very good big men face off. That's a lot of length getting thrown around right there. Howard has more size, and a better supporting cast with Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. Magic in 5