It is March, and everyone is caught up in the madness. All you hear is RPI and who’s getting the #1 seed. Well throw that RPI and strength of schedule business out the window and let’s get down to what everyone wants to know: who will make the NBA Playoffs!
1) Miami Heat – We all knew that The Big Aristotle going to the Eastern Conference would make Miami a better team, but this is ridiculous. Flash and Shaq, the new Kobe and Shaq, are dominating the East and do not seem to be looking back. With the addition of Alonzo Mourning, this team has placed itself among the top five squads in the league.
2) Detroit Pistons – After a slow start, and a little scuffle with the Pacers, the Detroit Pistons are on a tear right now. They own the best record since January 1st at 23-10 in the new year. They seem to be on a crash course to meet the Beasts of the East, the Miami Heat, in the Eastern Conference Finals. With a championship already under their belt, the battle-tested Pistons look poised to make a run at a repeat in June.
3) Boston Celtics – Well someone has to win the Atlantic, right? This division has been up for grabs since the beginning of the season, and Danny Ainge and the Celtics have taken it into their hands to steal the third seed in the East. Ainge dealt Gary Payton to get Antoine Walker, and ended up getting Payton back a week later. This team will keep the 76ers in the rear-view for the remainder of the season.
4) Washington Wizards – One of the many surprises of the NBA this year, the Wizards are looking to be the first team in 20 years to have three 20-point scorers on one team (Antawn Jamison, Larry Hughes, Gilbert Arenas). This team possesses one of the top backcourts in the league and can play inside and out. It’s scary to think what would happen if Kwame Brown ever amounted to a good player.
5) Cleveland Cavaliers – Lebron James is going to lift the lowly Cavaliers from perennial lottery team to the playoffs in just two seasons. He has a nice supporting cast with Zydrunas Ilgauskus having a career year and other nice role players surrounding the top duo. The one piece that the Cavaliers lack and which is keeping them from being a contender is an outside shooter. Michael Redd, are you sure you want to stay in Milwaukee?
6) Indiana Pacers – Amazing to think that the Pacers are still in the playoffs with the start they had, losing Ron Artest for the season, Stephen Jackson for 30 games and Jermaine O’Neal for 15. This team is battle tested, but nobody sees them going too far in the post-season. At the sixth seed, the Pacers would draw the Celtics in the first round. They can’t complain about that.
7) Chicago Bulls – The Baby Bulls have been making noise all season and will finally break the curse of Jordan and play in the postseason. They have stuck with the youth movement ever since they drafted Elton Brand and moved him for Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. It looks as if these Bulls will find themselves in the playoffs for many years to come.
8) Orlando Magic – Personally, I thought this team was going to be a force in the Eastern Conference, but they just didn’t pan out like I anticipated. Also, I didn’t exactly expect that they would hand over Cuttino Mobley without getting equal value in return. Grant Hill is the Comeback Player of the Year, and rightfully so. Dwight Howard will finish third in the Rookie of the Year voting behind Ben Gordon and Emeka Okafor (in no particular order). This team will have some question marks to answer in the off-season.
Teams That Will Just Miss the Cut
Philadelphia 76ers – Chris Webber is obviously not the right fit in Philly. They owe him a lofty paycheck.
New Jersey Nets – Although Vince Carter has been called the most overrated player in the history of the NBA, he has brought his game to another level. Too bad it won’t be enough to bring the Nets to another level.
New York Knicks – Isiah Thomas is arguably one of the worst GMs in the league. How can you take on so many huge contracts and not get a team in the playoffs?. This team reminds me of the New York Rangers.
1) San Antonio Spurs – Easily the best team in the league, the only thing that can stop the Spurs from winning the title this year is a Derek Fisher miracle, and I don’t see the Golden State Warriors making the playoffs. They should have no problem making it to the Championship Series.
2) Phoenix Suns – The Suns have perfected the run-and-gun offense using a small bench. They will be trouble for most teams in the playoffs, but will they have the legs to keep running for another quarter of the season? Will they be able to knock the three down with consistency for the same period of time? What will they do in a seven-game series with a team that can play defense? A nice story for the season, but too many questions to crown them NBA champions.
3) Seattle SuperSonics – Before the season, I thought that these guys would be the SuperSonics of last year: start hot, then come back down to Earth. Well, I was wrong, because this team is playing lights-out. They have their shooters and their rebounders, and it’s all the offense they need. Their defense is average at best, so if they are not knocking down their shots, it could be an early exit for Seattle.
4) Dallas Mavericks – This team always seems to have a championship-caliber roster, but no defense. To rectifiy that, Dallas brought in Erick Dampier for attitude on the defensive end, and he has stepped it up (well, when he plays). This team has the firepower to run and gun with the best of them, but defense has always been a question mark. You know the old saying: “Offense wins games, defense wins championships.”
5) Sacramento Kings – Let me start off by saying that the Kings should be locked up for robbery. Getting Cuttino Mobley for Doug Christie was the biggest steal of any deadline deal. This team lost its marquee star in Chris Webber, but got a couple decent role players in Corliss Williamson and Kenny Thomas. Sacramento’s biggest threats are now Mike Bibby, who is having a career year, and Peja Stojakovic, who is considered too soft and is not at all a clutch performer. Before Webber was shipped out, I thought this team could make a real push for the title, but not any more.
6) Houston Rockets – Could T-Mac and Yao be the next Kobe and Shaq? Well, T-Mac is holding up his end of the bargain, but Yao has been somewhat disappointing. Yet the Rockets have gotten back on track after a slow start and are right in the thick of things. They have been active all year, acquiring Jon Barry, David Wesley and Mike James, who are all playing a big role. This team could be scary in the playoffs if they can get it all together.
7) Memphis Grizzlies – The Cinderella story of last season, the Grizzlies have quietly kept themselves in playoff contention and have done it without any All-Stars. Everyone knows their role and plays their part in Mike “The Czar” Fratello’s scheme. A good young team, but not going to make much noise in the playoffs.
8) Los Angeles Lakers – Hate him or love him, Kobe Bryant will not be kept out of the postseason. He’s too good a player not to get his team into the playoffs. Bryant is beginning to learn that he doesn’t have to take 25 shots a game to win. He has solid players around him who can shoot the rock, particularly Lamar Odom, who can carry a good scoring load. I don’t see this team winning a playoff series, but they won’t go down without a fight.
Teams That Will Just Miss the Cut
Minnesota Timberwolves – A disappointing season for the Timberwolves. If people say Stephon Marbury is a born loser, then I think you have to put Kevin Garnett in the same category. This team can be summed up in one word: underachieving.
Denver Nuggets – A rocky start got them behind the eight-ball, but George Karl has the ship sailing the right way. Too bad it was a little too late to catch Kobe’s Lakeshow. This will be a nice team next year, and hopefully Marcus Camby can stay healthy.
A student at UMass Amherst, Adam Rizzo has enjoyed the game of basketball since he was just six years old. This is his first article for the Cafe.
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