NBA playoff matchups

April 23, 2005|By CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NBA playoff matchups

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Miami Heat (59-23) vs. No. 8 New Jersey Nets (42-40)

Series: Heat, 3-0

Outlook: It's the Nets streaking in with Vince Carter and Jason Kidd leading the way. The Heat struggled with a 7-7 finish and Shaquille O'Neal down with a stomach virus and deep right thigh bruise. He says he'll play tomorrow, but should be slower than usual. But the Nets might have spent themselves just getting there.

Pick: Heat in six.

No. 2 Detroit Pistons (54-28) vs. No. 7 Philadelphia 76ers (43-39)

Series: Pistons, 3-1

Outlook: Two hot teams with the Pistons winning 11 straight before taking the last game off and the 76ers winning eight of 10 to qualify. Intriguing matchup with Allen Iverson against his former coach, Larry Brown. It's unlikely Chris Webber can do much to relieve the pressure on Iverson as Detroit will prevail.

Pick: Pistons in five.

No. 3 Boston Celtics (45-37) vs. No. 6 Indiana Pacers (44-38)

Series: Pacers, 2-1

Outlook: The Pacers overcame several significant obstacles just to make the playoffs. Jermaine O'Neal will fit in with the team better in the playoffs as the Pacers slow the pace and they could get Jamaal Tinsley back at some point.

Pick: Pacers in six.

No. 4 Chicago Bulls (47-35) vs. No. 5 Washington Wizards (45-37)

Series: Wizards, 2-1

Outlook: The Wizards have two All-Stars and a potential third, Larry Hughes, who probably missed it because he was hurt. Lack of defense may prove costly to the Wizards against the youthful Bulls.

Pick: Bulls in five.

Western Conference

No. 1 Phoenix Suns (62-20) vs. No. 8 Memphis Grizzlies (45-37)

Series: 2-2

Outlook: The Grizzlies limped into the playoffs on a 1-5 run and with internal problems again. The question all season has been whether the Suns can take their open style to the playoffs and whether any team can stop it. Not Memphis.

Pick: Suns in four.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs (59-23) vs. No. 7 Denver Nuggets (49-33)

Series: 2-2

Outlook: The Nuggets were the second-half story at 25-4 after the All-Star break and 28-4 overall with coach George Karl. They got a tough break in drawing the Spurs. But Tim Duncan is not fully healthy on that sprained ankle. Denver's problem is that Marcus Camby is hobbled with a hamstring injury and the Nuggets were 6-10 without the all-defensive team candidate. The Spurs will need pickups Glenn Robinson and Nazr Mohammed, but have a little too much.

Pick: Spurs in six.

No. 3 Seattle SuperSonics (52-30) vs. No. 6 Sacramento Kings (50-32)

Series: SuperSonics, 3-1

Outlook: The Sonics, staggering into the playoffs as Denver almost caught them, have been everyone's favorite first-round upset loser. So getting the hobbled Kings is a break. It's unclear when Peja Stojakovic and Brad Miller will play and Bobby Jackson is just returning. That's not the same Kings team, and Seattle will batter them inside.

Pick: Sonics in five.

No. 4 Dallas Mavericks (58-24) vs. No. 5 Houston Rockets (51-31)

Series: 2-2

Outlook: This could be the best first-round playoff matchup. They're the conference's two hottest teams with Dallas coming in with nine straight wins and Houston with seven straight. Dallas struggled with defense in the playoffs under coach Don Nelson. The Mavericks are trying under Avery Johnson, which will make a difference. A few too many ifs for Houston. The Rockets have no one to match Dirk Nowitzki with Juwan Howard out and Yao Ming usually tires late in the season.

Pick: Mavs in seven. - Chicago Tribune

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