Suns – Grizzlies: you may be thinking because the grizzlies split with the suns in their season series and that they can run the ball, ergo the series might go to 7. However, these painful facts of reality need to be realized: the grizzlies don’t have that kind of offense to match the suns basket for basket, nor do they have the appropriate defense to neutralize the suns’ offense. The grizzlies aren’t as athletic or quick up front as the suns are (if you think Gasol can keep up with Armare, then you’re kidding yourself), and they can’t really rebound. They will have to crash the boards by throwing their guards on the glass, and that’s leaving Nash free to make a beeline to the other basket. Since J-Will has never demonstrated an ounce of defensive temerity in his career, he will not slow down Nash one whit, and Nash will wreak havoc. That said, the grizzlies can slow down the suns by a couple of things: play halfcourt ball, ratchet up their transition defense, make sure some bigman shoves around Armare, and get someone to hassle Nash the entire 94 feet for 40 plus minutes. But that is asking a lot from the Grizzlies, so Suns in 5.
Spurs – Nuggets: The darlings of the 2nd half of this season, the Nuggets have been remade in Karl’s vision as a fastbreaking machine that springs into action from terrific defense. However, they’re matched up against the most balanced team in the league, the spurs. Carmelo, despite his offensive versatility, is going to have a hell of time scoring on the Defensive Player of the Year, Bowen. He might be capable of posting him up, given superior size and strength, but that merely funnels his shot attempts into the long arm of the law, Tim Duncan and the other spurs frontcourt players. Kenyon Martin is known for his ferocity, but all the nastiness in the world isn’t likely to faze the stone-faced Duncan. Camby, free to roam on defense, might block a few shots, but he can and will be muscled. Plus the Spurs depth in the backcourt – Parker, Ginobili, Barry, Udrih, Brown – will overpower the Nuggets’ backcourt. Spurs in 6.
Sonics – Kings: Both teams are limping into the playoffs with injuries: long range specialist Radmanovich isn’t healthy, and might not be back until game #3. Lewis has a bad foot, Peja is fighting off a groin injury, and Brad Miller has leg issues. Their head to head matchup doesn’t say much, because only one game was held after the Webber trade. How will the new guys on the Kings perform under playoff pressure? After winning last year’s title with the Pistons as a sub, Corliss has experience. Kenny Thomas will provide scoring, and Skinner is likely to bust someone’s nose. The Sonics were a great team for the first 2 thirds of the season – they crashed the boards relentlessly, moved without the ball intelligently, passed the ball swiftly until someone got an open look and buried the jumper. But injuries destroyed that chemistry, and questions saddle their playoff chances – can they regain their early season magic? Play better defense on the perimeter? Can the bruiser Evans slow down Thomas’ offensive potency? Far too many questions, and the answers won’t be pleasant for Seattle fans. If the kings display some semblance of defense, they will advance. Bottom line: Bibby will rise to the occasion, given his history of clutch shooting, and propel the Kings into the 2nd round. Kings in 6.
Rockets – Mavericks: A spectacular first round match-up between two teams that can win the west – both teams boast players that can go off for 50 at any time, both possess size and length and defensive intensity. However, since the Mavericks are new to this defense thing, after Avery Johnson took over the coaching duties for Don Nelson, it remains to be seen whether their recent change is for real: although Dampier is strong enough to contain Yao, he has been in foul trouble his entire career. If he is not on the floor, the mavs won’t rebound as well. If they’re not rebounding, they’re not running the floor getting easy baskets. If they’re not running, the pace of the game will be in Houston’s favor. Despite Nowitzki’s purported improvement on defense, he still plays D with his hands, not his feet. Terry has the agility to play defense, but seems to conserve his energy on the offensive end of the floor. Keith Van Horn and Jerry Stackhouse aren’t known for their defense. Howard has the length to bother McGrady, but not the experience. The refrees won’t let him get away with anything cheap. Nonetheless, the Mavericks have a huge edge at the 4 spot, because the Rockets won’t have Howard for the series, losing him to injury. Watch for a big series from both Chairman Yao and Dirk Nowitzki. Since the home court edge goes to Dallas, I’m picking them in 7 games.