NBA fans have been waiting for this all season long. The first round of the playoffs are finally here, with tantalizing match ups and an abundance of superstars to delight your roundball-loving soul.
Indiana Pacers (No. 1) vs. Boston Celtics (No. 8): Ugh. The Boston Celtics are the epitome of why everyone trashes mercilessly on the cesspool that has become the bottom half of the East. There is absolutely no reason that this team should be in the playoffs. In fact, they may be the worst playoff team in the history of playoff teams in any sport. And no, I'm not forgetting the fabled '86 Chupacabras of the Mexican Jai Alai Tournament of Champions.
If I were to tell you their roster is made up of guys named JoJo Morales, Steve Bonton, Bob Hathaway and Ian Valentine, would you believe me? After all, is there really much of a difference between those names and the real roster, which consists of Kendrick Perkins, Marcus Banks, Ernest Brown and Mark Blount? Absolutely not.
Boston comes staggering into the playoffs at 36-46, with only eight wins more than the putrid Atlanta Hawks, the only team they beat in their last six games. Can we just give the Pacers a bye and let the Celtics in the lottery? It's best for all parties involved. Pacers in 4
New Jersey Nets (No. 2) vs. New York Knicks (No. 7): This local-rivalry grudge match, already being dubbed "The Lincoln Tunnel Series," has all the makings of a classic. The match up between New York's Stephon Marbury (former Net, current Knick savior) and New Jersey's Jason Kidd (best point guard on the planet) is about as intriguing as intriguing could possibly be considering the two were traded for each other three years ago.
New Jersey is the defending two-time Eastern Conference champions, but have been saddled with injuries to Kidd and the volatile Kenyon Martin recently. If Kidd and Martin are 100 percent, they will thrash the Knicks with their high-energy play.
But, alas, they are certainly not 100 percent (unless they are keeping it secret), which swings the favor in the direction of New York. Another positive factor for New York is the lack of a fan base for the Nets. Continental Airlines could be turned into another Madison Square Garden if Knicks fans make the six-mile trek across the state boundary, and that could be a huge boost for New York. Knicks in 7
Detroit Pistons (No. 3) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (No. 6): The Bucks were left for dead before the season even started due to the lack of brand names they had in prior seasons like Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, Gary Payton and George Karl. But sharpshooting All-Star Michael Redd stepped in and provided the impetus needed in the East to make it to the playoffs, shocking critics and fans alike.
Milwaukee was superb in the first half of the season, but tailed off in the second half with TJ Ford going down to injury and the arrival of the maligned Keith Van Horn, playing on his fourth team in three years. A loss in the last game of the season to the lowly Raptors cost the Bucks valuable playoff position, and now they will head to Auburn Hills to face the menace that has become Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace and the Detroit Pistons.
Now, it's really time to leave the Bucks for dead. Pistons in 5
Miami Heat (No. 4) vs. New Orleans Hornets (No. 5): After their 0-7 start, the Heat, along with head coach Stan Van Gundy and the talented but troubled Lamar Odom, were left for dead and seemed to be headed to the lottery once again.
But something happened to this team at the end of the season. They finally clicked. Rookie Dwayne Wade excelled, Van Gundy lived up to his family name and Odom dominated in every statistical category en route to a 17-4 record in the final 21 games.
Now, Miami, arguably the hottest team in the East, heads into a first round match up with the banged up New Orleans Hornets who are to be banished to the Western Conference at the beginning of next season when the Charlotte Bobcats join the East. One last run for the teal and purple hornets? I don't think so. Watch for the Odom and Wade coming out party. Heat in 5
Minnesota Timberwolves (No. 1) vs. Denver Nuggets (No. 8): Minnesota may never have escaped the first round of the playoffs prior to this season, but this is a different, and ten times nastier, Timberwolves team.
Before this season, it was always Garnett and a cast of goons trying to battle the heavyweights of the West, but, General Manager Kevin McHale brought in two playoff-tested veterans in Sam Cassell and Latrell Sprewell in the offseason, and now the Wolves are a legitimate contender for the title.
This is the year of Garnett. Wolves in 5
Los Angeles Lakers (No. 2) vs. Houston Rockers (No. 7): Despite what the media will tell you, this isn't going to be the seven-game slugfest that it can be. Yao Ming versus Shaquille O'Neal is a great match up on paper, but can Yao keep up with Shaq for seven games (if necessary)? I doubt it.
Then there is Kobe Bryant, the second best player in the league behind Garnett. This kid is a cold-blooded killer that Houston has no cure for. Steve Francis, who is a complete moron, will try too hard, but cannot carry Houston. Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, who loves big men like Yao and Pat Ewing, will probably want to trade the so-called "Franchise" in the offseason because of his ball-hogging ways.
Sadly, for the rest of the league, LA's miraculous win in the season finale might have opened the floodgates at exactly the right time. Lakers in 5
San Antonio Spurs (No. 3) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (No. 6): The Memphis Grizzlies are in the playoffs! After years of ineptitude, poor trades, Big Country Bryant Reeves and suckiness that knew no bounds, Memphis has finally made it.
Unfortunately for the Grizz though, they play the reigning champion San Antonio Spurs in the first round, and more importantly, Robert Horry. Horry or the retired Steve Kerr have been on the past ten championship teams, an omen that does not bode well for head coach Hubie Brown and his talented team.
This should still be a fun series to watch, expect a return to glory for the matured baller formerly known as "White Chocolate," Jason Williams. He will lead the Grizzlies into battle to give San Antonio everything they've got. Too bad it just won't be enough against the nearly flawless (poor free throws) Tim Duncan and the champs. Spurs in 6
Sacramento Kings (No. 4) vs. Dallas Mavericks (No. 5): If you love high scoring basketball (and who doesn't?), this is the series for you. Sacramento looked like this was finally the year they were going to get over the hump, but ever since Chris Webber has returned to the lineup, the Kings have been in disarray.
With Kobe Bryant's heroics on the final day of the regular season, and Sac-town's letdown against the Warriors, the Kings fell from the 2-7 match into the 4-5 series with the always potent Dallas Mavericks.
If the Kings don't right their ship, this season could end in a most disappointing fashion for one of the league's most talented teams. Dallas has the firepower in Dirk Nowitzki, Steve Nash, Michael Finley, Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison to blow any uncomfortably playing squad out of the water, and that is exactly what the Kings are right now. My heart says Kings in 6, but my head says Dallas in 7