Posted: Monday May 15, 2006 2:46PM; Updated: Monday May 15, 2006 4:03PM
Looking Ahead It's obvious that the Mavericks have San Antonio's number. They have quickness at every position, length to spare, a much deeper bench and an all-around mind-set that, when you consider their offensive efficiency, remains unrivaled around the league. That said, the Spurs are the defending champs, and they've forgotten more about winning in the postseason than most teams will ever know. In other words, there's no way Dallas wins out. This series is still going six or seven tight games. I wish it could go eight.
Miami Heat-New Jersey Nets
Champ: Dwyane Wade How this guy didn't get one first-place vote for MVP blows my mind. Wade has been an efficient, slippery dude in Miami's first four games against New Jersey, easing his way around what was (from February to April) a dominant Nets perimeter defense. There's little to add beyond his numbers: 29.3 points on 52 percent shooting, six rebounds, 6.8 assists and 2.8 steals, all while sizzling like an isotope.
Chumps: Vince Carter and Nenad Krstic I'd pick on Clifford Robinson for his suspension, but he's too easy a target. Carter has had a fantastic postseason, so it's hard to nitpick here, but missing all seven of his three-point tries on Sunday killed the Nets in Game 4. At some point, you have to learn to pick your spots, even if you are averaging close to 30 points for the series. You could knock Carter for pulling down just two rebounds in 45 minutes, but New Jersey otherwise dominated Miami on the boards.
Krstic has had a solid series, making nearly half of his shots and contributing numbers near his regular-season averages (13.3 points and 7.5 boards in four games), but he was a ghost on Friday night, barely making a dent on offense (4 of 14, no free throws) as Miami stole the home court advantage back.
Looking Ahead Yes, Miami had won five of its last six games as of Sunday, and the role players came alive in Game 4, but I'm still not buying the Heat as anything you can rely on. Miami has burned us too much in the past. Still, if any team rivals the Heat for inconsistency and an annoying sense of entitlement, it's the Nets. You'd have to think the Nets will get their act together long enough to pull out Game 5 on the road, but beyond that, it's anyone's guess.
Los Angeles Clippers-Phoenix Suns
Champ: Mike D'Antoni Elton Brand would seem the logical fit here, but I can't get away from the fact that D'Antoni has his team in a best-of-three for a trip to the Western Conference finals, with two games at home. Yes, the Suns should be playing against the Mavericks, and yes, the Clippers have already proven they can win in Phoenix, but D'Antoni deserves kudos for two seasons of masterful coaching. While Larry Brown throws his hands up in the air and says, "This is what I have," while moaning his way to 23 wins, D'Antoni shrugs his shoulders and smiles when telling us, "This is who we are."
He turns Tim Thomas, the most pathetic rebounder of the 2004-05 season, into his designated glass man. He makes Boris Diaw his mini-Magic. He tells Eddie House, who averages something like nine shots per minute for his career, that he's not shooting enough. He makes the game fun, he engenders faith and fun in his players, and he won Steve Nash two -- two! -- MVP awards.
Chumps: None No chumps in this series. The Suns have obvious shortcomings on the glass, they can barely get to the line, and even Nash has missed 14 of his last 20 shots. And yet they've split the series and stayed close in the Game 4 loss. The Clippers are thinking on their feet, beating the Suns with their usual defensive touch (allowing a stingy 103 points per 100 possessions at home) and receiving contributions from all over the bench. Mike Dunleavy has made some curious moves with Sam Cassell in the playoffs, but he's still done a brilliant job. And Brand is playing out of his mind, averaging 29.3 points on 61 percent shooting from the floor, with 9.3 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 2.8 blocks per game. Credit Dunleavy for the spacing that allows Brand to thrive.
Looking Ahead The most unorthodox of series should go according to plan -- Suns in seven.