2008 NBA Playoffs


By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 19, 2008; Page E06

EASTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

[1] BOSTON CELTICS VS. [8] ATLANTA HAWKS
Why the Celtics Can Win: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have led the Celtics to biggest turnaround in NBA history and the league’s best record. Celtic Pride is back. They want to raise championship banner No. 17. Boston hasn’t overlooked any opponent this season, and it won’t start now. The Celtics beat Atlanta by double-digits in all three games this season.
Why the Hawks Can Win: Why bother? The Hawks are still partying like it’s 1999, the last time the franchise made the playoffs. Coach Mike Woodson plans to shave his head to celebrate. But unless they can come up with a plan to kidnap the Big Three, the Hawks have no chance.
Difference Maker: Kevin Garnett, Celtics. The MVP candidate is back in the playoffs for the first time in four years. The last time he was there, his Minnesota Timberwolves got knocked out in the Western Conference finals. He wants a championship ring, and he has dominated the Hawks this season, averaging 23.7 points and 13.7 rebounds.
Prediction: Celtics in four.

[2] DETROIT PISTONS VS. [7] PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
Why the Pistons Can Win: The Pistons have won at least 50 games for seven consecutive seasons, advanced to the Eastern Conference finals in each of the past five postseasons. The past two times Detroit was the No. 2 seed, it made the NBA Finals, winning the title in 2004. Detroit is the most battled-tested team in the East, with starters Chauncey Billups, Richard Hamilton, Tayshaun Prince and Rasheed Wallace still remaining from the championship team.
Why the 76ers Can Win: Since Feb. 5, Philadelphia has had the third-best record in the Eastern Conference (22- 12), behind Boston and Detroit. The 76ers have defeated the Pistons in their past two meetings.
Difference Maker: Andre Iguodala, 76ers. Iguodala averaged 23.5 points in Philadelphia’s two wins over Detroit this season and just 16 points in the two losses.
Prediction: Pistons in five.

[3] ORLANDO MAGIC VS. [6] TORONTO RAPTORS
Why the Magic Can Win: Dwight Howard has emerged as a cornerstone center, Hedo Turkoglu is a front-runner for the league’s most improved player award and Coach Stan Van Gundy once led the Miami Heat to the conference finals. The Magic is looking to break the Curse of Shaquino. The franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since 1996, when Shaquille O’Neal led Orlando to the NBA Finals.
Why the Raptors Can Win: The Raptors desired a matchup against Orlando because they have the size and speed to match up with them. The Magic also is the least experienced of the top seeds. Toronto overcame the jitters of making the playoffs for the first time in five seasons last year. They have lost 17 of their past 26 games, but Rasho Nesterovic has come on strong in the second half of the season, scoring in double figures in 17 of his final 18 games.
Difference Maker: Chris Bosh, Raptors. Bosh has averaged 33 points on 64.5 percent shooting in his two games against Orlando this season. In the Raptors’ lone win against Orlando on Feb. 20, Bosh scored 40 points on 14 of 16 shooting.
Prediction: Magic in six.

WESTERN CONFERENCE PREVIEW

[1] LOS ANGELES LAKERS VS. [8] DENVER NUGGETS
Why the Lakers Can Win: With Kobe Bryant’s MVP-caliber performance, the Lakers came out on top of the greatest Western Conference race ever and won the Pacific Division for the first time since Shaquille O’Neal was traded. Center Andrew Bynum remains out with a knee injury, but the Lakers are 22-5 with forward Pau Gasol in the lineup. They are 3-0 against the Nuggets this season, winning by an average of 16.3 points.
Why the Nuggets Can Win: They score more points and arguably have more talent than any team in the playoffs. Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson are the highest-scoring duo in the NBA, combining for 52.3 points per game. Marcus Camby led the league in blocked shots and reserve J.R. Smith has been a revelation in the second half, providing an instant jolt of offense.
Difference Maker: Carmelo Anthony, Nuggets. After being arrested for suspicion of DUI this week, Anthony will have to block out the distractions and focus. Anthony hasn’t played particularly well against the Lakers this season, averaging just 20.7 points — almost five below his season average.
Prediction: Lakers in six.

[2] NEW ORLEANS HORNETS VS. [7] DALLAS MAVERICKS
Why the Hornets Can Win: Chris Paul has blossomed into an all-star and an MVP candidate in his third year, but he hasn’t done it alone. David West joined Paul at the All- Star Game, and Tyson Chandler has helped make them one of the better defensive teams in the league. The Hornets don’t have much postseason experience, but Coach Byron Scott has been to the NBA Finals twice.
Why the Mavericks Can Win: The Mavericks have much more playoff experience than New Orleans, and they have returned to a more comfortable role as underdog. Despite a 16-13 record with Jason Kidd, reigning MVP Dirk Nowitzki is playing more freely and enjoying the union. If any team knows that a lower seed can pull off a playoff upset, it’s Dallas, which lost to eighth-seeded Golden State last season.
Difference Maker: Jason Kidd, Mavericks. The Mavericks didn’t acquire Kidd just to make the playoffs, they thought he was the piece to get them over the top. Kidd will be matched up against Scott, his former coach in New Jersey, and Paul, one of the best young point guards in the league.
Prediction: Mavericks in six.

[3] SAN ANTONIO SPURS VS. [6] PHOENIX SUNS
Why the Spurs Can Win: The defending champion Spurs have never lost in the first round with Tim Duncan in the lineup. They have defeated Phoenix in the playoffs two times in the past three years. Duncan is still the foundation of everything San Antonio does, but Manu Ginobili has established himself as the go-to guy this season, averaging a team-high 19.8 points.
Why the Suns Can Win: The Suns are 3-1 against San Antonio this season. The Spurs are the only Western Conference playoff team that Phoenix has a winning record against. After initially struggling to incorporate Shaquille O’Neal, Phoenix finished the season 15-5 with him in the lineup.
Difference Maker: Shaquille O’Neal, Suns. Phoenix acquired O’Neal with the intention of getting past Duncan and the Spurs. It just had no idea the teams would meet so early. O’Neal is 2-0 against Duncan as a member of the Suns, averaging 15 points and 13.5 rebounds in those games.
Prediction: Spurs in seven.

[4] UTAH JAZZ VS. [5] HOUSTON ROCKETS
Why the Jazz Can Win: As playoff novices, Carlos Boozer and Deron Williams — Malone-Stockton 2.0 — led Utah to the Western Conference Finals last season. The run began when they defeated Houston in the first round, when the Rockets had home-court advantage — and Yao Ming. Boozer and Williams both improved this season and expect to go further this season. Utah won the season series against Houston 2-1.
Why the Rockets Can Win: Houston has home-court advantage and the Jazz has a terrible road record (17-24). The Rockets are shorthanded without Yao, but they have gone 19-7 in absence, including winning the first 10 without him during their improbable, franchise-record 22-game winning streak. The Rockets have found a way to win games without relying on Tracy McGrady alone, and Coach Rick Adelman has pushed the right buttons all season.
Difference Maker: Luis Scola, Rockets. The Rockets have gone 31-7 since the 27-year-old rookie became the starting power forward on Jan. 29. He averaged 12.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and shot 53.4 percent from the floor in those contests.
Prediction: Rockets in seven.

Previewing the Wizards-Cavaliers Matchup
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