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Nba Playoff Preview Capsules

April 22, 2006|Mark Heisler


* Who: No. 1 San Antonio (63-19) vs. No. 8 Sacramento (44-38)

* Season series: San Antonio, 2-1

* What you need to know: Talk about a No. 8 no one was dying to meet. The Kings were 18-24 before Ron Artest arrived, lost three of their first four while getting used to him, then finished 25-11, including a 97-87 victory at San Antonio on April 5. Despite the Spurs' gaudy record, they weren't the same team. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili were hobbled, averaging a modest 18.6 and 15.1 points, respectively, and Tony Parker carried them, averaging 18.9 and shooting 55%. However, the Spurs were able to ease up at the end and Duncan will benefit from more time between games.


* Who: No. 2 Phoenix (54-28) vs. No. 7 Lakers (45-37)

* Season series: Phoenix, 3-1.

* What you need to know: Nor could you find anyone eager to play Kobe Bryant. As one West coach noted, "They try to keep it close and they've got the game's greatest closer." The problem is keeping it close. The Suns are the league's best team at dictating a fast pace, having been held under 100 points four times since Christmas. One trick is not taking the first open shot as the Suns do. Another trick is scoring with them, so even if Bryant averaged 42.5 against them this season, he'll need a lot of help from Lamar Odom, et al.


* Who: No. 3 Denver (44-38) vs. No. 6 Clippers (47-35)

* Season series: Clippers, 3-1.

* What you need to know: In case you haven't heard, the Clippers have home-court advantage. After all the uproar about how they wanted this matchup, the Nuggets, who are excitable, anyway, with Carmelo Anthony, Kenyon Martin and Ruben Patterson, should be in some mood. The Clippers are a good defensive team with frequent lapses. The Nuggets had the No. 5 offense, with Anthony coming into his own, averaging 26.5 points. Neither is on fire: The Clippers lost five of their last eight and tried in all but one or two. The Nuggets nodded off after wrapping up their lame division, losing eight of their last 12.


* Who: No. 4 Dallas (60-22) vs. No. 5 Memphis (49-33)

* Season series: Dallas, 3-1.

* What you need to know: Not only did the 60-win Mavericks get the No. 4 seeding, putting them on a collision course with San Antonio in the second round, they'll have a hard time getting there against the grind-it-out Grizzlies. Picked to miss the playoffs, the Grizzlies lost point guard Damon Stoudamire, plugged in former Laker Chucky Atkins and finished 23-10 with the league's No. 1 defense. Maverick Coach Avery Johnson converted Don Nelson's old freewheeling team into the No. 7 defensive team, so this won't be a fireworks show and it might last awhile.



* Who: No. 1 Detroit (64-18) vs. No. 8 Milwaukee (40-42)

* Season series: Detroit, 3-1

* What you need to know: The Pistons, known for rock-ribbed defense, rose from No. 23 to No. 3 in three-point shooting under Coach Flip Saunders, led the East from opening night and posted the most wins in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Bucks, looking explosive and exciting, started 17-11 but went 23-31 the rest of the way. They barely knew rookie Andrew Bogut was there and were never the same after Mo Williams, their backup point guard and second-best player, was hurt. Milwaukee's Michael Redd has made himself a big-time scorer, but it takes more than one of those to bother the Pistons.


* Who: No. 2 Miami (52-30) vs. No. 7 Chicago (41-41)

* Season series: Miami, 2-1.

* What you need to know: David, meet Goliath. The Bulls are young, small and scrappy. The Heat has Shaquille O'Neal, not to mention Dwyane Wade. The Heat went 41-20 after Pat Riley took over, even if Riley could have screamed watching O'Neal ease through the season. Nevertheless, O'Neal lost the weight Riley demanded and looked much quicker while only occasionally extending himself. Teams now routinely single-cover O'Neal, who must show he can still make them pay for it. The young Bulls are incredible fighters, like their coach, Scott Skiles. Unfortunately, like Skiles, they're physically limited too.


* Who: No. 3 New Jersey (49-33) vs. No. 6 Indiana (41-41)

* Season series: Indiana, 2-1.

* What you need to know: This doesn't look to be the normal No. 3-6 matchup. The Nets aren't scary and people still think of the Pacers as they used to be. However, the Pacers were only 8-9 with Jermaine O'Neal playing alongside Peja Stojakovic. Leadership is an issue with former leader Reggie Miller, who predicted they'd have chemistry problems before the season, saying he hasn't noticed much improvement. At least, the Pacers are big. The Nets, who aren't, depend on Vince Carter to be great, which he is only intermittently.


* Who: No. 4 Cleveland (50-32) vs. No. 5 Washington (42-40)

* Season series: Washington, 3-1.

* What you need to know: LeBron James, who seems to reach a new level every two months, averaged 33 points after March 1 as the Cavaliers, who broke down in the stretch last spring, finished 18-7. James has more help with Larry Hughes and Flip Murray. Last season, they were depending on Jeff McInnis and Robert Traylor. The Wizards again have the league's high-scoring trio with Gilbert Arenas (29.3), Antawn Jamison (20.5) and Caron Butler (17.4) taking Hughes' old place. Nevertheless, with the league's No. 21 defense, when they don't score a lot, they lose.

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