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Posted: Monday April 13, 2009 2:31PM; Updated: Monday April 13, 2009 6:50PM
Steve Aschburner Steve Aschburner >
INSIDE THE NBA

Dream matchups for the playoffs

Story Highlights

Perhaps no matchup could be better than Kobe vs. LeBron in the playoffs

A Lakers-Blazers series would have the potential to produce some fireworks

More potentially intriguing series: Celtics-Hawks; Lakers-Celtics; Magic-Nuggets

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Kobe Bryant, LeBron James
Kobe Bryant and LeBron James could end up meeting in what would be an intriguing Finals.
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Steve Nash is multinational, multicultural and more of a participant than a spectator. Which is going to make it tough on him this spring to be on the outside looking in at the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2000.

The Phoenix Suns' point guard and two-time NBA MVP was supposed to be chasing a championship again, rather than shutting down and giving his 35-year-old bones a premature rest. Would he have any interest in the postseason now, staring up from Phoenix's spot as the league's best lottery team?

"Yeah, I'll watch some,'' Nash said. "Casual observer. I'm not that big a watcher -- I haven't had the NBA [League Pass] package for five or six years now.''

Not a problem. Most of the playoff matchups we would love to see won't be available on the tube, even if you sat through 400 games in 400 nights. Until the brackets calcify and things commence this weekend, we still get to dream. Actual series are dictated by the bracket, which is determined by six months of sweat, toil, air travel and trainers' rooms. But the versions suggested here are cherry-picked for their intrigue, back stories and sheer entertainment value.

A year ago, we offered up a potential baker's dozen and were rewarded with three that actually happened. Phoenix-San Antonio, at least for Game 1, was everything we hoped for, though the Suns' hasty exit was a downer. Boston-Detroit in the Eastern Conference finals was a natural, and about as good as billed. And the Celtics-Lakers clash in the Finals woke up all the old warhorses and hunting dogs, bringing back not just memories of historic championship meetings but some of the actual icons.

Maybe we can improve on that 3-of-13 rate this spring. Here, for Nash's theoretical viewing pleasure, is another batch of 13:

Lakers vs. Cavaliers

Why? Because it would decide so much. We would find out whether LeBron James, at the tender age of 24, has reached the pinnacle of both individual and team success. We would learn whether Kobe Bryant, in his second try in two years, could achieve what he's been aching to do since 2004-05: win a title as his team's main guy (i.e., sans Shaquille O'Neal). And one side or the other, in one of the most polarizing arguments in sports today, would add compelling evidence to its case that their guy, at least for the next 12 months, gets the imaginary traveling trophy as the NBA's best player.

Lakers vs. Celtics

Yet another Finals clash of the storied franchises? With all the attendant history and hype and honor and, for some fans, hate? And with Andrew Bynum available this time, to give us a glimpse of what the 2008 Finals might have been like had he been healthy (though, please, Coach Jackson, no digs about an "asterisk'')? What's not to like?

Lakers vs. Heat

Where is it written that LeBron and Kobe get to duke it out for the unofficial title of "best player in the game'' without a proper bracket or qualifying rounds? Ignoring Dwyane Wade from that discussion is like gushing over Ali-Foreman and forgetting about Joe Frazier's portfolio in a barroom debate over the greatest heavyweights of the '70s.

Celtics vs. Cavaliers

No offense to Orlando, but this is the Eastern Conference finals that most folks want to see. Defending champs vs. the new-and-improved Cavaliers. The franchise with the most championships in league history versus a franchise whose solid tradition would desperately benefit from its first. Two teams whose fortunes could change dramatically in the near future, thanks to advancing years or looming free agency. A best-of-seven series of battles dictated, perhaps, entirely by home-court advantage.

Oh, and never mind the 107-76 spanking administered by the Cavaliers in their hometown on Sunday. Just remember that in the East semifinals last May, the Celtics won in seven games, but the Cavaliers outscored them overall 596-588. Also, this series would give us a chance to say, The kings are dead, long live the King! Unless, y'know, the kings aren't dead after all.

Celtics vs. Hawks

We got the home-court thing played out over seven games last year when the precocious Hawks nearly showed Kevin Garnett -- six weeks ahead of schedule -- that anything truly was possible. After so much talk that the 5-hole in the East is the most attractive for an under-seed, setting up a first-round matchup with the not-quite-ready Hawks, it would be nice to see Boston's old guys, a year older, try to fend off young guys who now have an extra season of experience and development behind them. If only we could plop down the seventh game in a neutral site this time around.

Hawks vs. Trail Blazers

These clubs pack intriguing young talent. Portland has a deeper bench, but in Mike Bibby, Atlanta has the sort of veteran leadership at a key position that the Blazers still crave. Al Horford against LaMarcus Aldridge, and Joe Johnson matched up with Brandon Roy, are the sort of individual showdowns that elevate both guys' games. In lieu of any remodeling of the NBA playoffs as an everybody-into-one-pool format, this would have to wait until the Finals, some way, some year. But Atlanta-Miami is pretty dreamy enough -- Wade vs. Johnson, Josh Smith vs. Michael Beasley for all the southpaws in the crowd -- and it's real, in the first round.

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