Everyone outside of Boston and Detroit seem to think that the winner of the Western Conference will be a walk to win the title overall. The Western Conference teams have been so strong all year and got stronger with trade deadline acquisitions of Jason Kidd and Shaquille O'Neil.This will make for an exciting playoff basketball with tons of stories; can Shaq take on Duncan? Will Byron Scott live vicariously through Chris Paul while taking out Kidd and the Mavericks?
Los Angeles Lakers (1) versus Denver Nuggets (8)
Prediction: Lakers in 7
Why: When each team has a player that can put a team on it's back, you have to think that the series will go down to the wire. However, unlike Kobe, Iverson has proved that he can do it single handedly. In the Nuggets, The Answer is not just Iverson, but 'Melo, Camby AND and rejuvenated Kenyan Martin. The Lakers are now a better team and have proven it since acquiring Pau Gasol. Getting Bynum back is just icing on the cake but they will take the full 7 games to get it done. Nuggets may have no problems on offense, by they are the weakest defensive team going into the Western Conference playoffs, and where 2nd worse in the Western Conference behind Golden State. I look for Kobe to take advantage of that when it counts.
New Orleans Hornets (2) versus Dallas Mavericks (7)
Prediction: Hornets in 5
Why: While the Hornets may have either no playoff experience, or bad playoff experience (I'm talking to you Stojakovic!), Byron Scott knows all about what it takes to play in the playoffs, and I think he will have this team of disrespected veterans playing their best basketball of the season. The Mavericks are no slouch at 7th seed, winning 51 games this season, but the Kidd trade was a failure, and they will mess the depth they gave up in losing Diop.
San Antonio Spurs (3) versus Phoenix Suns (6)
Prediction: Spurs in 5
Why: Phoenix is not Miami, Shaq is not the same player he once was, Nash does not work well with a big slow player clogging the driving line. Phoenix may hate the Spurs immensely, but it will not be enough to beat a team with the kind of experience, talent, and team play that the Spurs have. Depth will be a huge factor in this tough, hard nosed series, and the Spurs have depth in abundance, while the Suns only goes 2 men deep. I still liked the Suns chances more prior to the trade for Shaq, as opposed to now.
Utah Jazz (4) versus Houston Rockets (5)
Prediction: Jazz in 5
Why: The Jazz are simply too strong at home, and have all the pieces they need to go far in the playoffs. The Rockets are seeded 5th thanks to an amazing 22 game win streak. They had to work hard for most of those games, and they earned it, but it created false hope as this team is simply not that good, especially now that Mutombo is their only option replacing Ming at center. McGrady has proven time and time again that he should not be their first option when going into the playoffs, but management seems to refuse to open their eyes. Well, they won't be able to keep them shut after a quick exit again.