Tuesday , Apr , 15 , 2003 C.Y. Ellis

NBA Playoff Picture

As the regular season draws to an end and the playoffs get set to begin, everything is coming into focus. The Western Conference is looking dominant as it has all season with each of top three seeds vying for home-court advantage; (1) Mavs, (2) Kings, and (3) Spurs. The Eastern Conference similar to last year appears mediocre with no real dominant teams. The team with the most wins is the New Jersey Nets with (48) wins, but that record would only assure them fourth or fifth in Western Conference. Once again playoff magic is in the air and same questions arise: Can any one team truly dethrone The Lakers? Is there any team from East that can beat a team from West in the Finals? And lastly will the Kings exact their revenge and win it all this year?

Let’s start with Western Conference:

The Contenders

1. Dallas Mavericks
Dallas is widely considered one of the elite teams in the league because of their high-octane offense. But as the playoffs approach, their glaring weaknesses are their defense and lack of post-presence. Opting to play a zone defense all year has proven successful, but the Mavs cannot expect to win with this formula as the playoffs become a half-court slugfest and man-to-man defense is crucial in shutting down the other teams star player or players. If the Mavs gain home-court advantage with their deep team it could be interesting.

2. Sacramento Kings
Next in waiting are the Sacramento Kings- last year’s team to win it all are back at it. This time with solid additions to there bench with (Keon Clark & Jimmy Jackson). The Kings are playoff tested and healthy enough to withstand another battle with The Lakers. Chris Webber, Bibby, & Stojakovic will be amped to exact revenge on the team that sent them one win away from the Finals last year. Only weakness here maybe free throws. But Chris Webber has been hitting them consistently of late, not to mention clutch plays all season. They hope he can carry it through to the playoffs.

3. San Antonio Spurs
Our next NBA contender is the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been winning consistently all season and nine in a row currently. After adding Ginobili & Jackson in the off-season and re-signing Rose, Tim Duncan finally has a supporting cast. The only question now is can they beat the LA. Lakers when it counts? They’ve beaten the World Champs 4-0 in regular season, and own the tiebreaker over Dallas & Sacramento so their chances are just as good as anybody’s if not better.

4. Los Angeles Lakers
The world champs struggled early in the season with Shaq’s toe surgery. But after New years have rounded into playoff form. Kobe & Shaq will need all the help they can get if the hope to repeat as champs for the fourth consecutive year. The bench has gotten older and slower, but Kobe & Shaq are still the best one-two punch in the league. They should be favoured throughout. “The Pretenders”

5. Minnesota Timber-wolves
The T-Wolves are having another fine season lead by the all-world MVP Kevin Garnett. The only question here is when will he get the out of the first round. After six consecutive playoff exits, the time is ticking for Garnett to get Minnesota a win in the first round. The off-season additions of Hudson & Gill, bench players: Smith, Trent and also Szczerbiak will all be needed to carry the load with Garnett. Without home-court advantage in the first round look for another playoff exit from Minnesota.

6. Portland Trailblazers
Portland is also a pretty decent year. Wallace’s technical fouls are down. The team is fighting for the fourth or fifth spot in the playoffs. But on the other hand, in fighting has begun to set in with Randolph and Patterson going at it of late. Hate to say it, but where there’s smoke there’s fire…in Portland this is nothing new. Every year around this time the Blazers begin to self-destruct due to bad chemistry, I expect no change this year. Look for major moves in the summer.

7. Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz are another team on the outside looking in. They have a good record, but not exactly enough pieces to knock any of the top four teams. Expect Malone & Stockton to make their first round series interesting like last year when they took Sacramento to a four game Series. The addition of Harpring should help with the scoring and Kirilenko will provide some fire for their bench. We should enjoy this as we are probably bidding farewell to two Hall of Famers in Stockton and Malone.

8. Phoenix Suns
The Suns are having a decent season. The drafting of Amare Stoudamire has finally provided some interior depth for Shawn Marion and the lowly Suns. The backcourt has been solid all year with Marbury having one his finest seasons in recent years. The Suns are a very good home team. But their biggest hurdle has been producing on the road where their (14-25) currently. If they can steal a road game or two in the playoffs it may be interesting.