Posted: Thursday May 25, 2006 12:22PM; Updated: Thursday May 25, 2006 1:52PM
The familiarity Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash have with each other promises to make the West finals a testy test of wills.
Let me make this clear: Both the Miami Heat and the Detroit Pistons, who tangle Thursday night in a crucial (for the Pistons) Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, are eminently capable of winning this year's NBA championship. The Heat appear to be peaking at the right time, and the experienced Pistons, when they're clicking, can still grind any team into dust.
But if you're looking for an entertaining series, you have to go West, where the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks are locking up in true must-see TV. If Game 2 of the Western finals from Big D (or Big No-D, considering the offensive events that unfolded in Game 1) is half as entertaining as the opener (won by the Suns 121-118), comparing this series with the East is like comparing a season of 24 to the daily highlights on C-Span.
For this week's five-pack, here are the reasons the West is best.
1. Emerging new stars who guarantee a level of unpredictability
To a large extent, we know what we're getting from both the Heat and the Pistons, whose personnel are familiar to NBA fans. The Pistons, in particular, roll out a starting five that seems to have been playing together forever.
But despite the eternal verities in the Western showdown -- two-time MVP Steve Nash for Phoenix and Dirk Nowitzki for Dallas -- you can't be sure who will show up for these teams on a given night. The star of Game 1 was Phoenix's Boris Diaw, whose 34 points included the game-winner on an inbounds play with only seconds remaining. Dallas' best player was point guard Devin Harris (30 points), who went around and through the Suns (including Nash) like they were nailed down.
The unpredictability factor is only growing for Game 2 because of injuries to Dallas' Josh Howard (ankle; he may return) and Phoenix's Raja Bell (calf; he probably won't be ready). The Mavs are going to have to get some offense out of some other bench player besides Jerry Stackhouse (who may start if Howard can't go). Meanwhile the Suns, who aren't nearly as deep as the Mavs, are going to need solid backcourt play from Leandro Barbosa and possibly super-shooter Eddie House, who was pulled out of mothballs on Wednesday night for eight minutes of action.