Celts Avoid Disaster, Hang On To Win

This column should start by welcoming Ray Allen to the playoffs – thanks for deciding to play on Wednesday, Ray. But the real story is Boston’s play down the stretch. Holding a 17 point second half lead at home in the playoffs, as much as 12 points in the fourth quarter, the Pistons had no right to even have a chance in the final minute. The Celtics fell apart down the stretch – again. Go to the Atlanta series, the Cleveland series, now against Detroit, each time closely contested game Boston plays in they struggle to finish out the game.In Game 7 against Cleveland they got a few big plays, just enough to stave off Lebron. Last night, they needed to rely on the big cushion they built early, and foul shots down the stretch. The problem: nobody wants to take the big shot late in the game.

Garnett led the way with 33 points, but each time he touched the ball in the fourth the Big Ticket looked pass first. The last few possessions, Detroit was able to lay off him on the perimeter since he didn’t even look to shoot.  Allen did most of his damage early, canning five three’s, none late in the game. Kendrick Perkins provided the big role player performance that teams need to win playoff games. His only contribution in the fourth – a technical foul. Trumping Rasheed Wallace to see who can make the biggest mental mistake as late in the game as possible.

Eventually the lack of mental toughness, that missing killer instinct that the champions have, will catch up with Boston. Surprisingly, it hasn’t yet. But this series is not over. Detroit rides a wave of confidence into Game 6, back at The Palace.

Chauncey Billups was back to his old tricks, 26 points and 6 assists, in a big game. Backup Rodney Stuckey continued to play solid off the bench, stepping up with a big three pointer late – clearly he’s not afraid to take a big shot. Detroit – the king of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – needs to bring the defensive intensity they showed in the fourth quarter, for the entire game. Boston finished over 50% shooting for the game, and dominated the rebounding battle. A vaunted defensive unit, Detroit cannot win giving up 100+ points, they need to play with urgency and intensity for four quarters.

Billups, Hamilton, even Wallace, played solid most of the game on offense. Yet, the sparkplug I keep mentioning, the Pistons equivalent to Ginobili, Tayshaun Prince, still has his head in the sand. Another non-descript performance. He needs to make his presence felt, defensively, offensively, on the glass, in some way. He’s multi-talented, its time to show some of those talents.

Anyone that says they can predict what will happen Friday is crazy. We’ve seen Boston fail to crack 70 on the road, and we saw them steal Game 3 in Detroit. We’ve seen Detroit look unbeatable and unworthy of being a playoff team from a game to game basis in this postseason. With Billups appearing healthy – though Rip Hamilton appeared to injure his elbow late in the game – the Pistons get the edge at home, especially since Boston still looks shaky on the road. If the game is close, or any game here on in is close, Boston has to prove they can hit a big shot and close out a game. Until then, the Celts are walking a dangerous line.

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Celtics Become Road Warriors

Venues change, series change, but the recipe to win does not. It’s very basic, the team who’s role players and bench make the biggest contribution, that has a decided three point advantage or rebounding edge, and can hit big shots to stop a run wins the game. Home, away, higher seed, lower seed, MVP, Coach of the Year, no matter what. Boston did all of the above Saturday night in a dominant 94-80 win in Detroit, that elusive first playoff road win.

Boston’s second unit won this game in the first quarter. The Celts started with 11 straight points out of the gate, and led 15-4 at the 5:34 mark of the first. A minute prior to that Kevin Garnett exited with two early fouls, followed to the bench by Ray Allen a minute later, also with two quick ones. Led by Rodney Stuckey, Detroit reeled off 13 consecutive points in a four minute span. Already up against the wall after losing at home in Game Two, facing the pressure of not having won a road game all postseason, with two of its three stars on the bench in foul trouble, having handed away an 11 point lead, Boston easily could have wilted right here. Likewise, Detroit had a chance to stomp them.

Instead, the Boston reserves – James Posey, Sam Cassell, and Glen Davis – led a 10-0 run to close the quarter. Boston led 25-17 and never looked back. Detroit made runs the rest of the game, but right there the game had a chance to either way. Boston not only responded, its role players, who failed to show up in Game Two , responded.

Detroit’s offense played abysmal. Out of sync consistently, the Pistons had chances to cut into Boston’s lead, which bloated to 18 at halftime and stayed in double digits most of the second half, but could not string together good offensive possessions at any point in the game. Billups and Prince killed the Pistons in different ways. Billups, perhaps still hampered by the hamstring injury that forced him to miss a game in Orlando last series, sat for long stretches of the game as Stuckey stepped up and played a great game in his stead. However, when Billups played he hurt the team. Saunders inserted Billups with 5:30 left for a last desperation run. After the Pistons trimmed the lead to 9 and made a defensive stop, Billups immediately turned the ball over. He then missed a 3-pointer and another jumper on two of the next three possessions. That turnover and missed three killed Detroit’s chances. Either possession would have Boston under pressure, something they have not responded to well on the road late in games. Blame Saunders for looking to Billups late in the game after sitting most of the way, blame Billups for not hitting the big shot, and perhaps not looking for teammates that had better nights than he.

Prince flat out stunk. No injuries, no excuses. Detroit’s equivalent to Manu Ginobili, Prince is a spark plug that can create matchup nightmares for opponents, and cause disruptions on defense. He only caused nightmares for his own team. 2-11 shooting and four rebounds. While role player performance separates teams, its assumed that the stars will play well. Neither Billups nor Prince stepped up.

Credit Boston for hitting a few big shots, and more importantly grabbing six offensive boards in the fourth quarter. Each time Detroit made them sweat, someone stepped up with a big shot – even Ray Allen found the net late in the game. The offensive rebounds though, broke Detroit’s back. When you are trying to come back from a double-digit deficit against a quality team, nothing is more deflating than making a defensive stop and not grabbing the rebound. Getting two consecutive stops is extremely difficult. More importantly, Boston ran more precious seconds off the clock each time.

And how can Piston fans boo throughout this game. The crowd marred a potentially historic night with the city hosting the Stanley Cup Finals, NBA playoffs, and a baseball game simultaneously. Detroit’s performance warranted the boo birds after the game, or late in the fourth, but booing the team in the first half and third quarter, the game still within reach, is unacceptable. A day ago they controlled the series thanks to a big road win. Talk about fickle.

Monday night Detroit is back up against the wall, a familiar position. They trailed Philadelphia 2-1 in the first round before three straight wins. If Billups is hurt he needs to sit, if not he needs to come to play like a star. It wouldn’t hurt if Rasheed Wallace stepped up and called for the ball in a big spot either. He plays good, but not up to his potential. Wallace is capable of taking over a game offensively, what better time than now.

Lebron Needs Help

Classic sudden death playoff games break one of two ways, the game creates a legend or a legend makes the game. Sunday, one legend and one superstar made the game. Forget Bird vs. Wilkins from ’88, go back to Oscar Robertson and Sam Jones in 1963 to find the only other time two players scored over 40 points in a Game Seven. Add Lebron and Pierce to the annals after an epic duel in Boston.

James outdid Pierce with 45 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds to 41, 5, and 4, but the Pierces’ Celtics got the best of the Cavs 97-92 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. In a game featuring two stars at their best, a 38-year-old forgotten role player made the biggest shot, and was the difference in the game. PJ Brown buried an open jumper with 1:21 left to give Boston a three-point cushion. Off a timeout, Delonte West, the only other Cav to show up Sunday, missed a good look at a three, turning the game into a Celtic foul shooting contest for the final minute. Brown, who didn’t even play in the NBA until February this season, finished with 10 points, including six in the final stanza.

He took a few bad shots, maybe fell in love with the three ball too much in the fourth, should have pulled up before his last ill-fated drive to the basket, and as Van Gundy pointed out on the broadcast, missed a boxout on the crucial jump ball late in the game. However, Lebron can answer any criticism levied toward him with a simple question – where’s the help?

The 23-year-old now knows how Jordan felt his first 5 or 6 years in the league, except there is no Pippen on this team. Cleveland stinks. It’s a disgrace what surrounds Lebron. Forget 2010, he may be better off on the Knicks right now, and that’s saying something. Ben Wallace is no longer a rebounding and defensive monster, yet remains an offensive liability. Sczerbiak did not score. Did Ilgauskas even play in the second half? Many people forget the Cavs actually have two former Number 1 draft picks on the team. Clearly the GM who took Joe Smith is no longer employed. Explain to me how Anderson Varejeo and Sasha Pavlovic held out for new contracts before the season. Danny Ferry could dig into the D-League for better talent, or find a sharp-shooter like Boston’s Eddie House in free agency. Though spotty at times, West gave a valiant effort, the only other Cav that actually played like he wanted to win at all costs.

Without help, James almost did it all by himself. Scoring aside, he came up with two big steals in the second half, the second leading to a dunk that trimmed the Celtic lead to 89-88, the closest Cleveland would get. He skied for clutch rebounds after painfully watching former rebound legend fail to box out, allowing Boston to tip back offensive rebounds and maintain possession, forcing Cleveland to get multiple defensive stops.

In the press conference, James intimated the team needs to improve. He handled it with class, shouldering the blame, giving credit to Pierce, critiquing his own game and where it needs to improve. The bottom line is clear, get this man help. Ferry has cap flexibility, he has the biggest star in the world to entice players to come, get it done. At this point, forget finding a Pippen, just improve this make the rest of this team NBA-caliber.

Boston again escaped, this time hiding behind Pierce. Ray Allen was admitted to the Witness Protection Program, only to emerge for a few late-game foul shots. Garnett played decent, but 13 points, 13 rebounds hardly says Big Ticket. If Tim Duncan puts those numbers up in Game 7 tonight, he’ll be killed and the Spurs will lose. To my surprise, Rajon Rondo stepped up with a solid game, enough to keep playoff vet Sam Cassell glued to the bench, though Cassell’s putrid performance in this series also contributed to that.

8-0 at home, 0-7 on the road. No team who played decisive games in the first two rounds ever won the NBA title. The Celtics need to shape up immediately, or this dream season will end. Detroit will get a game in Boston, in fact they will get one of the first two. That’s what the Pistons do. Billups is rested, Lebron is out of the way, Detroit is ready. If Boston intends to advance, the Celtics have to show up on the road. 69 points for a 66-win team is unacceptable, especially in a Game Six against a mediocre, at best, defensive team. Garnett’s legacy is at stake. Rewind before the season, skeptics quietly questioned that none of Boston’s Big Three had advanced to the NBA Finals, and none was known for knocking down the big shot. Well, no need to wonder quietly anymore. Pierce answered the bell, Allen had his bell rung, and the verdict is out on KG. He has not played like a Hall of Famer, has not looked for the ball with the game on the line, and has not stepped up when he had his chance. The season ends in six games unless that changes.

Spurs Force Game Seven

Arguably the best second round match-up in the NBA playoffs, going to a decisive Game Seven, yet can this series be called a classic if the first six games were all won by the home team by double digits? Since the first games of a playoff series have never been decided by 10 or more points, its hard to say. Not a close game in the group. We’ll leave that debate for after the series.

Game Six played out much like the rest of the games. The third quarter decided the game. Why even play the first half in this series. Each game was tight at halftime, before the home team pulled ahead in the third and finished off the win in the fourth. Most games turned to blowouts in the third. Energized crowd, careless turnovers by the road team, withering under the pressure, big shots by the home team.

The Hornets opened the half with three quick turnovers – more than the entire first half – and only managed 12 points in the quarter. San Antonio did not fully capitalize until late in the third, ending the period on a 7-0 run that they extended to 13-0 with two quick threes to start the fourth, pushing the lead to an insurmountable 21 points. Duncan had a vintage 20-point, 15-rebound game. He owned the glass, hit big shots when he needed, but more importantly efficiently passed off when double teams came, opening opportunities for the rest of the team, accumulating six assists on the way.

Giniboli and Parker played their usual solid games. The Argentine throwing six three-point daggers at Byron Scott’s crew, stepping up in a big game to nobody’s surprise. San Antonio expects big efforts from its Big Three. The big road-home disparity is with the role players. Ime Udoka chipped in with 13 points in a solid 21 minutes off the bench, coming up with a big block and two baskets during the second half stretch when the Spurs put the game away. Bowen played solid defense on everyone he matched up, and Kurt Thomas snared 9 boards.

Meanwhile, Paul’s supporting cast failed to provide any support. CP3 had a relatively low key 21 point, 8 assist night. Low-key by his now unfathomable expectations. Chandler shot 7-8 from the field for 14 points, but he should give most of those points to Paul. The point guards ability to drive, draw defenders, and make pinpoint passes to setup easy dunks enable Chandler to shine. Scott’s bench was awful, Jannero Pargo did not belong on the court last night, struggling to make anything happen. West failed to duplicate his coming of age performance in Game Five, before Robert Horry delivered a knock out blow to his back.

Explaining why teams play markedly different at home and on the road is difficult. The movie Hoosiers sums it up, the basket is the same height, the court is the same size, the players are all the same. Yet these two teams – and the Celtics – take on two completely different personalities based on the venue. In this series, halftime started a snowball effect of problems that became an avalanche as the quarter went on. Momentum builds, and the road team starts to buckle under the pressure.

As the Spurs pulled away, West took a shot to the back from Horry on a back screen that West did not see coming. Suffering from back problems, West took a few minutes to get on his feet before heading to the locker room for the night. Stop the conspiracy theories, Horry did not take a cheap shot. Yes, it was blind, and he probably put a little extra oomph behind it because he knew West did not see him, but that’s normal. Every NBA player does that. The fact West had a bad back did not matter. If it was Chandler, Horry does the same thing. Let the play go. It may b a little cheap, but falls well within the realm of being “part of the game”. Expect West to play Monday night.

Throw experience out the window Monday night, its the Spurs first road Game Seven during the Duncan era, unchartered territory. Expect the stars to shine, and the crowd to rise. Outside of that, no certainties. Which role players will step up? Does Horry have another big shot left in him? And can Duncan rebound from three subpar road performances in the Big Easy?

Why Cavs Can Beat Boston

Two or three losses makes you think, at four its a steak, now Boston’s road problems are a troubling trend, following its fifth straight post-season road loss in Cleveland, evening up the Eastern Semifinal at two games apiece. Home-road dichotomy aside, the Celtics find themselves in trouble because they wilt under pressure.

Boston trailed by 3 points after the third quarter. They have three All-Star, superstar players, Cleveland has one, who continues to struggle by his standards. Logic says the Celtic trio steps up, makes big plays, closes the game out, and take control of the series. Yet offensively challenged Anderson Varejao outscored Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett combined in the deciding 4th quarter. Not a tremendous feat considering Allen and Garnett were shutout, attempting only three total shots. That’s Boston’s problem, nobody wants the ball in crunch time. Same situation during Game 4 in Atlanta, reluctance to take the big shot.

The Cavs don’t suffer from that problem. Despite shooting an historically poor shooting performance in the series, Lebron wants the ball no matter how many he misses, and he’s not afraid to the deciding shot, or take it hard to the basket. Like a preying animal, James smelt blood late in the fourth, and sunk his teeth into the entire Celts defense, driving by Pierce and Posey, before giving Garnett – the Defensive Player of the Year – a facial with a powerful, rim rattling signature dunk. A microcosm of the game, Boston on its heels, Cleveland on the attack.

Despite the road problems, Boston has continued to dominate at home, playing like a completely different team. But as the road losses mount, the pressure to win at home builds, and if it comes down to a close game, Cleveland has its go-to guy, but where will Boston turn? Monday night you would not have known KG was even on the floor in the fourth quarter if Lebron didn’t posterize him on that dunk.

All season Boston proved me, and many critics, wrong. Could Rondo run the point, would age catch up with them, can this team play defense? They answered each question emphatically. The last unanswered questions, none of the stars has ever won big in the playoffs and who takes the last shot, may sting Doc Rivers’ squad. Let’s say the Celts are in trouble if Rondo leads the team in scoring again.

Boston Keeps First Round Interesting

All we heard throughout the second half of the NBA season was how the West was wide open, six or seven teams are capable of making the finals, prepare for the most competitive playoffs ever. Well, we’re waiting. After tonight every Western Conference 1st Round series may finish – all in 5 games or less. So much for those classic playoff battles from the start. In fact, only two opening round series are guaranteed to extend past five games, the two least likely when the playoffs began – Detroit-Philadelphia and Boston-Atlanta.

In last night’s Game Four in Atlanta, Joe Johnson did what the heralded Celtics Big Three could not – take over a tight playoff game down the stretch and hit clutch shots. Possession after possession Johnson stepped up while Boston tightened up, finishing with 35 points on the night. Atlanta tied the series at two games apiece by outscoring Boston 32-17 in the fourth quarter.

Initial concerns about Boston this season evaporated during the 66-win campaign, now they may return. Neither Pierce, Garnett, or Allen has ever excelled in the playoffs. No championships, more disappoints and defeats than success. Another question – who gets the ball when the team needs a basket? Last night, nobody wanted the ball. Nobody stepped up. The trio combined for 59 points, but in the playoffs they need to do whatever is necessary to win. If it means scoring 80 combined, that’s what they have to do. In Game 4 they were not prepared. The offense lacked flow in the fourth quarter, settling for long shots, turnovers, no leadership. Sam Cassell, brought in just for these type of moments, when teams need veteran leadership, played only 6 minutes the entire game.

The vaunted defense that dominated the NBA all season,led by Defensive Player of the Year Kevin Garnett, was a figment of the imagination late in the game. Unable to stop Johnson, Rivers called for double teams to slow him down. Late arrivals, and slow rotations led to defensive breakdowns. Inside, uber-athletic Josh Smith continued to put double-doubles, showing no fear of Garnett. Smith and Johnson played so well, Atlanta won without a major offensive contribution from rookie Al Horford, who threw a few verbal jabs toward Paul Pierce after a solid effort in Game Three.

No question Atlanta has talent, Johnson and Smith are All-Star caliber, Horford emerged as a top rookie, Bibby is the veteran leader, along with Marvin Williams and Josh Childress, both capable scorers. Youth, inexperience, and lack of discipline slow this team down. Boston is clearly the better team, even tied at two, the Celts hold an immense advantage with home court. However, if the free wheeling Hawks keep it close, will Boston tighten up under the pressure, and who will hit that big shot?

For the Record: NBA Playoff Picks

This year’s NBA playoffs has it all – except the Knicks. Los Angeles and Boston at the forefront, All-Stars galore, to go along with the most competitive conference in league history. Lakers-Celtics is the NBA’s dream matchup, David Stern TV ratings and dollar signs float through his head just thinking about it. Unfortunately for the Commissioner, I envision a repeat of 1988, not 1986. Enough hype, let’s get it on.

Eastern Conference

36 win teams do not belong in the playoffs. They don’t deserve to collect a playoff share, or even get the chance to pull an upset. Boston dominated the NBA – not just the East, proving it with a 22-5 mark vs. Western Conference foes. KG and company swept Atlanta in the season series, expect much of the same in round one – Celts in 4.

Rarely do 59-win teams fly under the radar, especially one with five consecutive Eastern Conference Finals appearances and a chip on their shoulder after losing to an inferior team last season. Welcome to the Detroit Pistons world. Ripe with a rare mix of veteran leadership, playoff experience, and young energy off the bench, this Pistons team goes deeper than years past, though questions remain on how youngsters Rodney Stuckey, Amir Johnson, Aaron Afflalo, and Jason Maxiell will handle the playoff intensity. Philadelphia had a phenomenal season, outliving expectations. But Mo Cheeks maximized what he could from this team, a few late season losses cost them the sixth seed. Detroit’s advantage in playoff experience, and lock down defense should make this a quick exit for the surprising 76er’s, not a series with the intensity to test those Piston youngsters – Detroit in 5.

Dwight Howard arrived this season. No longer the next big thing, Howard is an almost automatic double-double every time he steps foot on the court, yet the key to Orlando’s ascension to 50 wins was Hedo Turkoglu. A potential Most Improved Player Candidate, the 28-year old from Turkey increased his scoring by over 6 points, and both assists and rebounds by more than 1.5 per game. Off-season acquisition Rashard Lewis teams up with Howard and Turkoglu to form arguably the best frontcourt in the league, one that can beat you from inside and out. Point guard remains Orlando’s weakness, playing right into the strength of the disappointing Toronto Raptors, with a two-headed monster at point that most teams would kill for, TJ Ford and Jose Calderon. After emerging to win the Atlantic last season, Toronto regressed, falling apart when an injury forced Chris Bosh out of action. Bosh vs. Howard is a great matchup of contrasting styles, power and finesse, but the Raptors surrounding cast does not play tough and does not match up with Orlando – Magic in 6.

There are some things you don’t do, then just shake your head when someone does it. DeShawn Stevenson went there. He called out Lebron James. Mind you, this is not Kobe or Duncan making statements, championship rings to back them up, this is DeShawn Stevenson. Calling the NBA scoring champion who carried his team to the NBA finals overrated, a brainfreeze, calling the rest of the Cavs underachievers though, on the money. If Stevenson didn’t light the flame, Washington enters the series playing much better than Cleveland, and they add Gilbert Arenas to a team that learned to play without him. Now, the Wizards must beware of the King taking out his frustration and single-handedly winning this series. Before Stevenson, Washington in 6, now – Cavs in 7.

A two horse race all season, its only fitting the conference championship comes down to Detroit and Boston. The Celtics bring the star power – KG, Pierce, and Allen – with a surprisingly dominant defense and home court. After failing to reach the Finals each of the past two seasons Detroit is on a mission to get back. None of the Celts stars have played big in a big game yet, Detroit’s have. They want the big shot. Point guard is the difference, while Rajon Rondo exceeded expectations, he’s not Chauncey Billups. That matchup will be the difference in this classic series – Detroit in 7.

Western Conference

It happened last season, the eight seed knocking off the top seed in the West, this year only 6 wins separate the two, could it happen again? Not unless Denver suddenly learns how to play defense. Kobe has the running mate he begged for in Pau Gasol, a legit All-Star who fit right into the Lakers system like a glove. Hidden as a third option, don’t underestimate Lamar Odom, an immense talent that quietly averaged a double-double. Odom creates match-up problems for opponents, and can take over a game. The Lakers won’t need him to do that in Round One – LA in 5.

Rarely is the second-seed viewed as an underdog in the opening series, especially one that boasts an MVP candidate. Not quite the underdog in Vegas, a Hornets first round exit would still surprise few. The knock on them, never been there before. Well, Utah’s current cast never did it before last season, and ran to the conference finals. I’m not saying New Orleans won’t pay some playoff dues before contending for the title, but they deserve the second seed and will live up tot that expectation. Chris Paul dominated Jason Kidd all season, the only addition to a Dallas team that choked away the NBA Finals and a first-round series the previous two seasons. The Kidd trade did not provide the big lift a struggling Dallas team needed. Nowitzki injury aside, Dallas was inconsistent all season, with and without Kidd or Nowitzki. They have gaping holes on defense, in the post, and despite their mid-season acquisition, a mismatch at point guard in this series. Byron Scott would love to send Kidd crawling home four years after the outspoken point guard helped get Scott fired in New Jersey – NO in 6.

A heavyweight tussle made for the conference finals, not the first round. Forget the build up and hype, we all know the history between San Antonio and Phoenix by now, we know all the major players, buckle up for a classic. Amare Stoudemire played as good as anyone in the NBA after the Shaq acquisition freed him up on both ends of the court, the Spurs need to find a way to contain him off the pick and roll with Nash to slow down the Suns offensively. Duncan will play big, he always does in the playoffs, San Antonio needs a healthy Manu Ginobili. The lanky Argentine posted career numbers coming off the bench most of the season. A game changer on both ends of the floor, Ginobili makes the plays that win playoff games, a steal, a driving score in the fourth, he does it when it counts most. Expect a fierce battle, the stars will shine, Manu will rise – Spurs in 7.

Somehow, Houston managed to win 22 straight games, mostly without Yao Ming, surely earning Rick Adelman a few coach of the year votes. In this crazy season out West, Utah is seeded fourth, yet Houston holds home court, where they lost to Utah in a first round Game 7 last year. Despite averaging 28.5 ppg in the post-season, the inevitable question – Can Tracy McGrady win a playoff series – comes up, as if McGrady is the reason his team loses each year. Without Yao, McGrady showed signs of slowing down late in the season, hampered by a shoulder injury. Already missing point guard Rafer Alston for the first two games, Houston needs not only a healthy T-Mac, but possibly a herculean effort from McGrady to overcome a talented Jazz squad. Pencil in 3 almost automatic home wins for Utah, 37-4 in Salt Lake this year, Boozer and Williams will get at least one in Houston – Utah in 6.

After my don’t underestimate New Orleans speech, I give them little to no chance in the second round against San Antonio, to whom home court advantage makes little difference. LA and Utah has the makings of a classic, as do most series out West. When two teams are so closely matched, go with the best player on the court, in this case Kobe Bryant. On paper, you can argue the Spurs will lose each of these series, but they are the champs – five times to be exact – until beaten. Spurs in 6.

One question, will any team coming out of the West have enough in the tank when the Finals rolls around? The Spurs have an older team, having to go through Phoenix, New Orleans, and LA, in what expects to be three hard fought series may leave them out of gas in the finals. Detroit will have revenge on their mind, both on the critics who buried them after last season and on the Spurs who ended their chance to repeat in 2005. Lost in the Western Conference hype this season, nobody realizes how good Detroit and Boston actually are, the world will see in the finals – Detroit in 7.