Playoffs sure to test regular-season success stories
Posted: Thursday April 20, 2006 11:25AM; Updated: Thursday April 20, 2006 11:16PM
With Avery Johnson's voice in their ears, the Mavs have become better defensively. The playoffs will test that commitment.
Who's the MVP?
Before we get to crowning an NBA champion, I feel obliged to weigh in on one of the most compelling regular-season story lines: the MVP.
Even as I put pencil to paper to cast my vote, I wasn't sure. And anyone who says it wasn't a tough pick this season doesn't know NBA hoops from hula hoops. Here's how I voted.
1. Chauncey Billups, Detroit Pistons
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns
4. Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks
5. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers
On another day, might I have voted in the exact reverse order? Possibly. Congrats to whomever wins it -- I honestly have no idea who it will be, though my best guess is either Nash or Bryant. -- J.M.
What? The playoffs are here already? Why, it seems like only yesterday that the New York Knicks were in the playoff hunt. Actually, that seems like a decade ago.
Despite the down-to-the-wire scrambling for placement, particularly in the Eastern Conference, I don't see any overwhelming surprises among the Sweet 16. The two Los Angeles teams, obviously, were a little better than most observers expected, while the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, both playoff-watchers, were a little worse.
With the postseason beginning on Saturday, it's time to home in on the most compelling story lines of the war of attrition that will eventually crown a champion in June.
Herewith my five-pack of postseason story lines.
Will the NBA's seeding system be a factor?
It already has been. The Clippers made out better by finishing as the sixth seed in the West instead of the fifth, the reverse being the case for the Memphis Grizzlies. Phoenix, meanwhile, ended up with a playoff path to the conference finals superior to Dallas' even though the Suns won six fewer games than the Mavs.
Mike Fratello's Grizz deserve much credit for playing hard and beating out the Clips, even though their reward is a first-round matchup against Dallas instead of Denver, the Nuggets being the Clips' easier opponent. And unless Memphis upsets the Mavs, the most combative Western matchup -- San Antonio versus Dallas -- will take place in the second round, not in the conference finals. Look for the NBA to make a change next season, probably seeding the top four teams in each conference according to record.
On a related subject, are the Dallas Mavericks still, you know, the Dallas Mavericks?
Their coach, Avery Johnson, calls them out whenever he feels they turn into wimps on defense, the traditional Mavs problem. But Dallas was the third-best team in the league this season and, at times, put the clamps on the opposition. But as I traveled around the league this season, I heard whispers that Dallas still isn't tough enough to get to the Finals. I don't buy it. But even the first-round matchup against Memphis is no lock, and then it's on -- probably -- to San Antonio.