Best: T’Wolves @ Mavericks: Garnett and Nowitzki are as always the showcases of this match-up. If either Dallas or Minnesota wants success in June, they’ll need help from the supporting cast. Josh Howard is back for Dallas, as is Troy Hudson for Minnesota. Szczerbiak is the T’Wolves #2 man, but Dallas has an enigma with Terry, Howard and Daniels all producing sporadically.
Runner-up: Rockets @ Lakers: This was always the game where Yao Ming would breakout for a 30-pt performance. With Shaq gone and Chris Mihm in, is Yao going to come and play? McGrady and Kobe provide perhaps the only one-on-one match-up in the NBA where both players are assured to score 30+ points.
Blowout: Spurs @ Hornets: Western teams are always going to give their best against the Spurs, but even then it doesn’t translate to a W. The Warriors were in a similar spot earlier this year and lost at home by 30. The Hornets have had to travel between Baton Rouge and Oklahoma City just for home games, so facing the Spurs isn’t much of a break. How long can the Hornets continue play hard before they crack like the Saints did?
Best: Pistons @ Grizzlies: Two of the best defensive teams in the NBA face off in Memphis. Stoudamire and Jones have added veteran leadership on defense, something that Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells didn’t have the patience for. Detroit wins all their close games, so Pau Gasol will have to step up (again) to give Memphis a win.
Runner-up: Warriors @ Celtics: These are two teams that might miss out on the playoffs solely because of inexperience. Only Fisher, Davis and Calbert Cheney have been in the playoffs for Golden State. Boston isn’t much better and doesn’t have a player who has been to the Finals. Golden State has a slight advantage, since Delonte West will have issues covering Baron Davis.
Blowout: Raptors @ Magic: Toronto’s willingness to play hard has begun to waver. Jalen Rose is now on the bench for a serious lack of production. Jose Calderon is injured, which means there’s a lot of standing around. With Grant Hill back, Orlando’s offense is more fluent and shouldn’t struggle to take advantage of the Raptors weak D.
Best: Sonics @ Suns: Last year, the Sonics were the only team to win in San Antonio, Phoenix, Dallas and Miami. This year the Supersonics can’t even maintain their home court. Phoenix is better version of Seattle; still the two teams play exactly the same way. Expect no defensive pressure in this one. Both teams are prolific scorers and lethargic defenders.
Runner-up: Spurs @ Bucks: Both teams rely heavily on their supporting cast, particularly Milwaukee. The Bucks need Ford, Redd, Simmons, Magloire and Bogut to all produce. The 3-pter is going to be tough for Milwaukee; they lead the League in 3-pt shooting, but San Antonio is one of the best teams in terms of defending the outside shot. Simmons and Bogut will have to get points in the paint for a Bucks win.
Blowout: Hawks @ Heat: Only if Shaq and Wade don’t try at all; that’s the only way this isn’t a 30-pt blowout by halftime. Zaza Pachulia and Al Harrington are far too undersized to make a dent in Shaq’s box score. Joe Johnson wants to be a superstar but will get a rude awakening when he faces Dwyane Wade. If Miami is anything close to Detroit, they’ll put this game away after the 1st quarter.
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