NBA playoff matchups

April 17, 2004|By Milton Kent

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Indiana (61-21) vs. No. 8 Boston (36-46)

Season series: Indiana, 3-1.

Pacers outlook: Indiana comes in having won its last five to clinch the best record in the NBA and the best mark in franchise history. Point guard Jamaal Tinsley boosted his three-point percentage from 28 percent last year to 37 percent this season. Forward Jermaine O'Neal averaged 22.5 points and 17.5 rebounds against the Celtics this year.

Celtics outlook: Boston has lost five of its past six. Paul Pierce shot 45 percent against the Pacers and 38 percent from three-point range, averaging 20.5 points. Ricky Davis averaged 14.1 points this season for the Celtics after he arrived from Cleveland.

Prediction: The Celtics knocked off Indiana in last year's playoffs, but they'll be lucky to capture a game in this series. In fact, they probably won't. Indiana in four.

No. 2 New Jersey (47-35) vs. No. 7 New York (39-43)

Season series: New Jersey, 3-1

Nets outlook: Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin have slowly built back their minutes and stamina after late-season knee ailments. Richard Jefferson, the team's leading scorer in the regular season, averaged 16.5 points and six rebounds in four games against the Knicks. The Nets dropped three of their last five but rested Kidd and Martin in those losses.

Knicks outlook: New York is 25-22 since acquiring point guard Stephon Marbury. Allan Houston was activated from the injured list after missing 32 games with knee problems, but isn't expected to play much in the early games. The Knicks narrowly missed being one of six teams to be ranked in the top six in the shooting categories (FG percentage, FT percentage, three-point percentage).

Prediction: If Kidd and Martin are slowed, this could be a closer series than one might think, especially if the Knicks keep the Nets from running. Still, New Jersey has too much playoff experience not to advance. New Jersey in six.

No. 3 Detroit (54-28) vs. No. 6 Milwaukee (41-41)

Season series: Detroit, 3-1

Pistons outlook: Detroit won eight of its last nine and 16 of the last 19 to storm into the postseason as the hottest team in the East. Point guard Chauncey Billups has been slowed by a sprained left ankle. Center Ben Wallace is the first player in league history to record 1,000 rebounds, 100 steals and 100 blocks in four consecutive seasons.

Bucks outlook: Milwaukee lost its last three to tumble out of the fourth seed and home-court advantage in the first round. With T.J. Ford out for the playoffs with a spinal cord bruise, Damon Jones will take over at point. Desmond Mason was second in sixth-man scoring behind Dallas' Antawn Jamison.

Prediction: The Bucks were the highest-scoring team in the East, but the Pistons play way too much defense for Milwaukee to stay in this series. Detroit in five.

No. 4 Miami (42-40) vs. No. 5 New Orleans (41-41)

Season series: Miami, 3-1

Heat outlook: Miami has won 12 straight at home and 17 of their last 21 overall. For the ninth straight year, the Heat placed in the top eight in scoring defense. Rafer Alston has hit a three-pointer in 48 straight games, the longest current such streak in the league.

Hornets outlook: New Orleans lost six of its last 10 in the regular season. Center Jamaal Magloire had six 20-point 10-rebound games in his last seven. With small forward Jamal Mashburn out of the lineup with a knee injury, George Lynch will start. The Hornets are 30-21 with Lynch as a starter.

Prediction: The Heat gives all the impression of a building power, while the Hornets give the look of a team on the verge of being scattered to the four winds. Miami in five.

Western Conference

No. 1 Minnesota (58-24) vs. No. 8 Denver (43-39)

Season series: Minnesota, 3-1

Timberwolves outlook: Minnesota has won nine straight to capture the Midwest Division for the first time in franchise history. Reserve point guard Troy Hudson is out for the postseason with ankle problems. The Timberwolves tied with Indiana for the league's best road record at 27-14.

Nuggets outlook: Denver reached the playoffs for the first time since 1994-95, winning its last seven at home. Forward Carmelo Anthony has averaged 24.7 points a game since Feb. 1. The Nuggets had lost eight in a row to Minnesota before beating them, 101-92, on March 24.

Prediction: The Timberwolves had better win the first two in Minneapolis or risk having their failure to ever win a first-round series dredged up again. But Denver doesn't have enough to challenge. Minnesota in five.

No. 2 Los Angeles Lakers (56-26) vs. No. 7 Houston (45-37)

Season series: 2-2

Lakers outlook: Los Angeles won seven of its last 10 and its final two to win the Pacific Division over Sacramento. Karl Malone severely sprained his right ankle, but is expected to play. Kobe Bryant is averaging 30.8 points in his past four games.

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