The NBA playoffs kick off this weekend. It’s been over a year since the Rockets’ last playoff game, and Houston has not had a lot to get excited about in the playoffs since possibly the 1997 team that featured Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen.
This is likely to be the first year since that ’97 campaign that the Rockets will make it past the first round, not to mention both Yao and T-Mac’s first playoff victory. However, even the most optimistic Rockets fan has to consider the other teams of the Western Conference, and I am here to give you a preview of all the teams, as well as, an overview of the Eastern Conference.
This is going to be a very exciting year in the NBA Playoffs. Get ready for a great three month ride!
Western Conference Breakdown
1. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavericks are considered by many to be the favorite to win the NBA title this season. They have the best record in the league, and have put together on of the most dominant regular season campaigns in NBA history. I shudder at the thought of Dallas winning the championship and watching Mark Cuban hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, but it appears that this will be the most likely outcome. While I will stop short of predicting a Dallas championship, I’ll say the odds are in their favor.
2. Phoenix Suns
The Suns are probably the team with the greatest opportunity to derail the Mavericks championship dreams. There haven’t been many teams as exciting as the Phoenix Suns this season. They are a point scoring machine, and will only be stopped by a team with amazing defense.
3. San Antonio Spurs
If not for the Rockets, the Spurs would probably be my darkhorse candidate to win the West this season. They have all the tools to make a long run through the playoffs, and they have the experience that few teams, if any, in this year’s postseason can match. Still, they have an inevitable second round showdown with the Phoenix Suns that may prove to be too much for them to handle.
4. Houston Rockets
I’m going to come out and say it, this team can win the NBA title this season. They have been playing great basketball over this last part of the season, and this is the strongest the Yao/T-Mac tandem has ever been for the Rockets. Factor in the addition of Shane Battier and a healthy Juwan Howard, and Houston has the right formula to pull off a surprise or two in the playoffs this year.
5. Utah Jazz
I don’t really know what to say about the Utah Jazz. They were on their way to becoming the surprise team of the season, but the wheels fell off here in the last month of the year. Jerry Sloan is truly one of the best coaches in the league, and this is clearly a team heading in the right direction. They will make the first round interesting, but they are still a few years away from competing in the very tough Western Conference.
6. Denver Nuggets
This is another intriguing team to watch in the first round. A lot was made of their mid-season trade to bring Allen Iverson to the Mile-High City, but it just doesn’t seem to have caught fire like many thought it would. However, this is the playoffs, and anything is possible. It’s never a good idea to bet against a former MVP and Finals Participant like The Answer.
7. Los Angeles Lakers
Speaking of playoff warriors, with the playoffs come the time when you see the best out of Mr. Kobe Bryant. I still think the Lakers are not likely to progress from here, but the Suns could mess around and make this an interesting series if they do not pay the proper respects.
8. Golden State Warriors
From a playoff warrior to THE Warriors. I have to think there is a chance Golden State can derail the Dallas juggernaut. They swept the season series from Dallas, and did it while the Mavs were playing some of their best basketball. If nothing else, this is going to be a great coaching match-up between Don Nelson and Avery Johnson. We’ll see how it plays out, but this could be the third time in NBA history that an 8th seed takes down a #1 goliath.
In the Eastern Conference
All you need to know, in no particular order, is that Detroit is the favorite, Miami is the team no one wants to play, Toronto is the team you should cheer for, the Bulls are the best team but will throw it all away, the Cavaliers have the best player, Orlando is just happy to be there, Washington would have made it intresting without the injuries, and the Nets are just showing up for the free t-shirts.
My Finals pick? Rockets vs. Miami, the first and only time Yao Ming and Shaquille O’Neal will face off in the postseason. Like another fabled Houston center, Yao will be unstoppable in his one opportunity to face-off with the legendary Shaq.
How can I figure that outcome? Well, when the Rockets won the championship in 1994, it was the first time a #1 seed, the hated Seattle Supersonics, were upset by the #8 seed, a scrappy team from Denver led by the Rockets own Dikembe Mutumbo. Dallas is very much in the same boat as that Seattle team, and the Warriors are better suited for the upset this season than the Nuggets were back then.
If the Rockets make it to the Western Conference Finals, they will be riding a wave of momentum that will be enough to take out the bloodied winner of the Spurs/Suns series. We will continue that wave into the Finals where Shaq, in his aged condition, will not be able to stop Yao. Dwayne Wade will be kept in check by Shane Battier and offset offensively by one Tracy McGrady. The Rockets will win in six games, and Toyota Center will finally be discovered as the great basketball arena it is.
Yeah, I’m probably smoking something, but I think this is much more possible than impossible.
BELIEVE IT AGAIN!