Monday , Apr , 25 , 2005 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Trash Talk: Volume XVII

Hi, all. The playoffs are underway! Normally I despise the use of exclamation points, but this is one of the rare occasions where it can be justified. At this point of the year, every drop of sweat, every flex of every muscle and every squeak of every pen on a dry-wipe board in sixteen arenas across America (sorry, Toronto) means that much more. Sneakers are tied tighter, socks are pulled higher and the sweat circles on every coach’s designer suit are larger (I’m talking to you, Stan Van Gundy). Uncertainty marks the time, and only one thing is definite: fifteen playoff teams will go home with nothing.

In the last edition of Trash Talk, I took you through my analysis of the first-round match-ups in the western conference. With the seeding finally established, I’ll now go on to break down the picture in the east, where games are already underway.

<b>NBA Trash Talk</b>: <I>Volume XVII</I>“/><b>Miami (1) vs. New Jersey (8)</b> </p>
<p><i>TWIsM </I>is right.  This is Shaq’s world and we’re all just living in it.  The Big Quotable may not have had his strongest season statistically, but fans from the U.S. to the U.A.E. know that he and, by extension, his teams, save their best for the postseason.  The other half of Miami’s superhero twosome, Dwyane Wade, a.k.a. The Flash, showed the world as a rookie that he has what it takes to thrive in the clutch when he hit the game-winner in his first ever playoff appearance. </p>
<p>That’s not to say that the Heat are a two-man team.  Miami’s supporting cast is more than capable of holding down the fort when Dwyane and Diesel are sitting.  Udonis Haslem, a former Florida standout, has thrived since Shaq’s arrival, as has Damon Jones, who hit 225 three-pointers on the year, only one less than Quentin Richardson and Kyle Korver, the regular season leaders in that category.  Throw in Eddie Jones (who, suspiciously, never appears to age) and Alonzo Mourning, and you have the core of a great basketball team. </p>
<p>Still, it’s hard to write off New Jersey, who, in season terms, hit a buzzer-beater to make the playoffs.  While they may not run as deep as Miami, they are led by Jason Kidd, the triple-double machine, who joins forces with a Vince Carter we haven’t seen for several seasons.  Certain analysts have chosen the Nets as the upset team of the first round, but I just don’t buy it.  I applaud them for their late-season surge and I’d love to see Kidd and Carter play a little while longer, but they’re no match for my boys in the red corner. </p>
<p><b>Detroit (2) vs. Philadelphia (7)</b></p>
<p>MoTown take on the City of Brotherly Love in the two versus seven match-up in the east, and most expect the former to run over the latter.  Before we begin to consider this series properly, however, I implore you to forget that Detroit won it all last year.  While the squad you see this year resembles, at least aesthetically, the one that took home the trophy, looks are one of the few similarities between the two teams.  The ice in their championship rings seems to have cooled their enthusiasm, with the team now looking, as a friend of mine put it, “like they ain’t hungry no more.”  Without the desire that catalysed their championship run, their trademark defence began to suffer, showing new holes every game.  One statistic in particular shows how their lack of effort has manifested itself in their defence, and that number pertains to the amount of times they have conceded one hundred points in a game.  Last year their opponents only managed to break the century mark five times; this year, they let in over a hundred on eighteen occasions. </p>
<p>Still, they shouldn’t have too many problems dealing with Philly, a team which secured its playoff berth very late in the year, and only then thanks to the play of the A.I. tandem.  The younger half of that duo, Andre Iguodala, has been one of this season’s most impressive rookies, contributing energy, rebounding and defence to a sickly Sixers squad.  The first A.I. has been his incredible self all season long, putting up one of the strongest lines of his career, balling his way into MVP contention on aging limbs worn down by years of bumps and bruises.  </p>
<p>Then there’s Chris Webber, he of the <i>I-thought-we-had-a-timeout-left</i> fame.  Despite averaging slightly under 20-10-5 for the season, he’s a notoriously poor performer in the playoffs, especially when it comes down to crunch time. </p>
<p>This series should be over with in five games, and even that prediction might be a little forgiving to Philadelphia.  If the Sixers are to snatch a game from the Pistons, it’ll be because The Answer drops another hot half-century, as he seems to do at some point in every postseason.  Big Ben and company may not make it much deeper in the playoffs, but they should have few problems making it past the first hurdle. </p>
<p><b>Boston (3) vs. Indiana (6)</b></p>
<p>I hate to see Reggie go out this way, but it looks like a first-round exit to an overachieving Boston side will be the end of his Hall of Fame career.  With Ron Artest available, it would be a different story but, as we all know, one cup was enough to end his season and destroy Indiana’s championship hopes.  Jermaine O’Neal is looking shaky and Stephen Jackson can’t do it all on his own.  Reggie will undoubtedly have his moments, but at his age those are few and far between.  Jackson, currently enjoying a career season despite his suspension, will have to be the focal point of Indiana’s offence while O’Neal struggles, and that isn’t good news for the Pacers. </p>
<p>Boston, however, are doing pretty well for themselves right now, with the second coming of Antoine Walker somehow working out for the franchise.  ‘Toine has improved his shot selection a little since his return to Massachusetts (which is to say that he now occasionally chooses not to shoot the ball), and is also helping Boston on the boards, grabbing nine rebounds a game this year.  Paul Pierce, although not currently enjoying a great season by his standards, continues to be one of the league’s premier performers, capable of putting thirty points on the board on any given night.  With Artest doing whatever he does away from the game of basketball (hopefully not rap again), Indiana has nobody to handle P-Squared, and he’ll be looking to bounce back from his poor effort in game one and capitalise on the Pacers’ defensive deficit. </p>
<p>Unless Jermaine finds his feet, Stephen Jackson plays the ball of his life and Mr. Miller forgets his age, Boston should run right through Indiana and into the second round.  Thanks for the memories, Reggie. </p>
<p><b>Chicago (4) vs. Washington (5)</b></p>
<p>This is the series I awaited and dreaded in equal measure.  As a fan, I hoped these two teams would meet, as it would guarantee at least four games of up-tempo basketball played by two young and excitable squads.  As a writer, I feared the match-up as I knew that, sooner or later, I’d have to pick a winner between the two.  I’ve rolled dice, flipped coins and pulled names out of a hat, and even that hasn’t drawn me any closer to calling this one.  </p>
<p>On the one hand you have the upstart Bulls, a team so young that, at certain points in the season, they ran with four rookies on the floor at once.  Kirk Hinrich is fast becoming one of the league’s top floor generals (even if he is playing as a combo guard), and Ben Gordon is establishing a name for himself as one of the game’s clutch performers, coming up big late in games so consistently that “Ben Jordan” quickly gained popularity as a nickname for the former Connecticut guard.  Add to that an improving Nocioni, the athletic Tyson Chandler and the veteran presence of Antonio Davis, and you’ve got yourself a pretty dangerous team. </p>
<p>On the other hand there is the high-octane Washington, led by two flashy guards, Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes.  The pair forms arguably the league’s best backcourt combination, and undoubtedly one of the most athletic.  Between them, they average 47.5 points, 11 boards, 9.8 assists and 4.6 steals.  They’re joined by All-Star forward Antawn Jamison and, well, nobody else.  As nice a team as they are, Washington relies heavily on their big three, and a weak showing from any of them could kill their chances of advancing. </p>
<p>Nonetheless, they have the opportunity to send the Baby Bulls crying to their mothers if they can execute as they did to earn their spot in the playoffs.  The call would be an awful lot easier if Chicago had the services of Luol Deng and Eddy Curry at their disposal, but as that’s not the case, it’s anyone’s series as far as I’m concerned.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you if this one goes the full seven. </p>
<p>There’s more than enough high-quality hoops on the air right now to keep you entertained, so I’ll let you all make your way back to the couch.  Enjoy watching dozens of world-class athletes (and Chris Webber, who hasn’t left the floor since 2001) fight one another for the highest team achievement in all of professional basketball.  For a true hoop-head, this is entertainment at its finest. </p>
<p>Take it easy now, </p>
<p>Chuck. </p>