For the first time in his 9-year NBA career, Kobe Bryant will be watching the entire playoffs at home on television. The same can be said for fellow all-stars Kevin Garnett and Lebron James. Their teams barely missed the postseason. The 2005 NBA playoff match-ups are set despite the absence of some of the league’s brightest stars. The first-round games begin April 23. Sixteen teams are in a fight for the elusive Larry O. Brien trophy.
In the Western conference, the Phoenix Suns are the number one seeded team with a 62-20 record for this year. After going 29-53 last season, the Suns had the best record in the entire NBA. This can be credited to the acquisition of guards Steve Nash and Quentin Richardson. Center Amare Stoudemire led the team to many of their 62 wins, of which 31 were on the road.
The Memphis Grizzlies held opponents to 43.2 percent shooting for the season and are ranked 5th in the NBA. This season, the Grizzlies and the Suns split the four regular season match-ups. In three of the four meetings, the Grizzles held them to under 100 points. Playoffs will show who prevails, the Grizzlies’ guard Jason Williams or the Suns’ guard Steve Nash.
The Denver Nuggets, the number seven seeded team brought in coach George Karl mid-season. This boded well for the team, resulting in a 32-9 record to end the season. Forwards Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin both encouraged the team to improve their individual performances by following in their examples.
The San Antonio Spurs are the number two seeded team. The Spurs possess a defensive ace in forward Bruce Bowen, who can give Nuggets leading scorer Carmelo Anthony the same kind of trouble that he faced last year in the playoffs in the first round versus the Minnesota Timberwolves when he only managed to score just 15 ppg. The whole series may be predicated on the Spurs’ forward Tim Duncan’s ankle that he severely sprained one month ago.
The Seattle Supersonics are the number three and are making their first playoff appearance since the 2001-02 campaign. Supersonics’ forwards Rashard Lewis and Vladimir Radmovovic have both suffered injuries this season. Hopefully, they will be able to play in the playoffs. They will face off against the Sacramento Kings who are now without forward Chris Webber. Guard Bobby Jackson with an average 12 ppg has recently come off the injured list to help the Kings win a 132-107 game against Phoenix.
Both the Sonics and Kings have a lot of questions to answer coming into this series. Can the Sonics, get any inside play from forwards Reggie Evans, Nick Collison and center Jerome James? More importantly can the Sonics rediscover their three-point shooting touch they had for much of this season?
The Dallas Mavericks with one of the best offensive teams, are the number four seeded team and will compete against the Houston Rockets who are ranked number five and have the third best scoring defense in the league. Rockets’ guard Tracy McGrady and center Yao Ming have been a cohesive combination on the floor and led the team to a 33-14 season finish. The Mavs have switched coaching gears with Don Nelson stepping down and Avery Johnson stepping up the defensive training.
In the Eastern conference, Miami is the number one seeded team with a 59-23 season. They will face off against the number eight seeded New Jersey Nets. Vince Carter now plays for the New Jersey Nets in a trade from the Toronto Raptors. Teamed with Jason Kidd, Carter turned into a serious clutch scorer. He scored 30 points or more in 24 times making a new NBA record for a player that changed teams in the middle of a season.
Miami, with a combination of guard Dwayne Wade averaging 24.1 ppg and center Shaquille O’Neal averaging 22.4 ppg, has done even better than critics expected. More importantly, the Heat have other tools in their arsenal like forward Udonis Haslem with 10.9 ppg and 9.1 rpg, guard Damon Jones who averaged a career best of 12.7 ppg.
Number two seeded Detroit Pistons and the number seven seeded Philadelphia 76ers will face off in the playoffs. The Pistons could possibly sweep this series. There is no conceivable way that a one-man gang in the Sixers who posses the league’s leading scorer in guard Allen Iverson, averaging 30.7 ppg can defeat a defensive minded, battle tested group. The Detroit Pistons defense surrendered 89.5 ppg to their opponents on 43 percent shooting from the floor.
The Indiana Pacers are ranked 25th in the NBA per point contest have an offense focused on Jermaine O’Neal who averages 24.3ppg and 8.8 rpg whose versatility possesses a challenge to the likes of Boston Celtics’ forwards Antoine Walker and Raef LaFrentz. On the perimeter, the Pacers posses the likes of guard Fred Jones, veteran marksman Reggie Miller and Stephen Jackson, who have the ability to make shots at a high rate. On the other side, Celtics’ guards Paul Pierce and Ricky Davis will be tough match-ups for anyone who defends them.
The Chicago Bulls and the Washington Wizards both have the least playoff experience on their rosters. They have not been in the playoffs in seven and eight years respectably and will face each other in the first round. The Wizards have had their first winning season in eight years with one of the best offense trios in guards Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes and forward Antawn Jamison. The Bulls have an inside presence in center Eddy Curry who will not be playing due to an irregular heartbeat. The Bulls can rely on guards Ben Gordon and Kirk Hinrick to handle the bulk of the scoring.
Basketball fans will be glued to their television sets to view the NBA playoffs. These highly competitive match-ups are proof that the road to the championship will be long and hard. By mid-June only one of the 16 teams will be able to call themselves champions.