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Commentary, news, analysis and reader-driven discussions focusing on this year's NBA playoffs.
5 p.m. ET, 4/19/07

The Long Road Ahead

Posted by Paul Forrester
Maybe if Jason Kidd and Scott Skiles had spent more quality time in Phoenix, Kidd may not have been so motivated to put a major dent in the Bulls' playoff plans.
AP
Maybe now Bulls coach Scott Skiles will learn to get along with his star players. After verbally -- but harmlessly -- sparring with former Bulls Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry this season, Skiles and his current Bulls were clocked square on the jaw in the regular-season finale by Jason Kidd and the Nets.

Kidd emerged from the almost two seasons he spent under Skiles in Phoenix at the start of this decade with nary a positive word to say about his former coach. Kidd may have made the final installment on his payback in dropping the Bulls out of the East's No. 2 seed into a first-round showdown with the defending NBA champs from Miami.

That sets up a most arduous road to the Finals for Chicago, which, if it squeaks by the Heat, will likely have the top-seeded Pistons in the second round before it can even entertain thoughts of what to do in the conference finals.

As difficult as the Bulls' path appears, it may not be as difficult as the journey facing Houston or Utah out West. After tussling for what promises to be a physical, seven-game affair, the Jazz or Rockets will be rewarded with an engagement with the Mavericks. And should either team somehow sneak past the team that won 67 games this season, the Suns or Spurs are likely to be waiting in the conference finals. Ugh.

If the Bulls, Jazz and Rockets appear to have the hardest road to the Finals, which team do you think has the easiest path to June? Let's hear it ...

posted by SI.com | View comments |  

Comments:

Posted: 6:21 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
The Cavs, obviously, are set up well because they don't have to see the Pistons, Bulls or Heat until the conference finals. And, of course, they get to open against Antawn Jamison and whatever else the Wizards throw out there.
Dallas. Depth, history, health, and the time has come.
Old Jake, Arcata, CA
The Spurs. Denver is a thin and rather weak club, and as much as I hate to admit it, they're much more comfortable playing Phoenix over Dallas in the second round, especially after the fits the Mavs gave them last year. Plus Phoenix has been sliding these last few games.
Posted: 6:58 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
If Cleveland doesn't make to the conference finals, that would be considered a huge flop.
Posted: 7:01 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
Cavs Baby! Good thing too because Shaq would've given them the beat down!
Posted: 8:43 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
Good one morgan "Denver is a thin and rather weak club" I'm not sure what alternate universe your living in. But um last time I checked having 2 of the top 3 scorers in Melo and A.I., and the center (Camby) who should win the DOTY, unless he get's cheated. Than one of the strongest big men in the league in Nene, that man is a force under the basket, their is no stopping him. Than you can throw in up and comers J.R. Smith and Linas Kleiza, and a great defensive player in Najera and this team is anything but "weak." The Nuggets can beat any team on any given night and in any series, it's up to them how far they want to go. When they focus on both sides of the ball you know what you get? Denver 75 Dallas 71. I know they haven't proved anything yet, but this could be the year they actually do. Do me a favor, go research the 2005 playoffs Nuggets Vs. Spurs and watch how close every game was. That was a team Minus Kleiza, J.R. and A.I. You had Melo and broken-hand Boykins as the leading scorers. So give me a break the Nuggets CAN win this series, it's a big "CAN" but don't underestimate. Cavs got it easy AGAIN. The wizards are a joke without Arenas.
Posted: 8:47 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
I'm going to have to go with the Cavs, too. The Raps are a good team, but they're nothing like the Heat, Bulls, or Pistons that Cleveland is avoiding with the 2 seed.
Posted: 9:12 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
The Cleveland Cavaliers obviously have the easiest road to the Eastern Conference Finals, but they are a very streaky team, and they just happen to catch a little dose of fire right before the end of the regular season. As a long-time Cavs fan, I would be highly disappointed with anything short of an Eastern Conference Championship. After that, I truly believe that the Cavs can contend with any of the Western Conference big dogs. It's LEBRON'S YEAR BABY!
The Cavs do have a pretty easy road. There should be a rule that if your team loses their two best players, and thus half their nightly scoring, that you should give up your seed to someone else. Without Arenas and Butler, there's really no reason for the Cavs to even be forced to play the Wizards.

That being said, their road isn't -that- easy, because they'll still have to face the Raptors who are red hot, and often forgotten about. The Cavs will likely have a tough time trying to handle the Raptors.

Thus I agree with Morgan, the Spurs should be alright with their path. The Spurs won't get baited into the run and gun offense like so many other teams do. They'll continue their slow, boring, methodical pacing no matter how fast Phoenix runs the ball. Plus Tony Parker will exploit Nash's lack of defensive abilities. Sure, they're going to have to play the Mavs (or Rockets!) in the finals, but I definitely think they can sweep the Nuggets, and send the Suns packing. Besides, playing the Nuggets should be some half-decent practice for playing the Suns.
Posted: 9:29 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
Wow. I can just imagine all the announcers now. "King James has led his team to the conference finals." They'll say that but forget that this is the easiest road to the Conference Finals for any team this season by far. This is just great. More of this "KIng James" stuff rammed down our throats of how great he is because he's going to get to the Conference Finals by beating Washington (without its 2 best players) and either the Nets/Raptors. Wow. Now, if he got to the Conference Finals in the West, then I'd be impressed. But I can just hear it now. King James, King James, took his team to the Conference Finals. That's going to be so annoying.
The Raptors could have an easy go. If the get past the Nets, they have the LeBrons which I think is a good matchup for Toronto and would likely face either the Heat or the Pistons in the Eastern finals after they've beaten up on each other in the semis.
Posted: 10:48 PM, April 19, 2007   by Anonymous
The Spurs have the toughtest road. They have to go through Denver (who are winning lately after AI and Melo get used to each other), the Suns (2nd best team in NBA) and then the Dallas (best team in NBA) before facing the best team in finals.
I agree that the Cavs have the easiest road. No doubt.
Posted: 12:33 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Cavs. Avoiding the Miami Heat in the first round was big, and additionally they are set to face the injury-depleted Wizards. A second round date with either Toronto or New Jersey would certainly be easier than going up against Detroit, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Phoenix, or San Antonio.
The Raptors in my opnion will shock the world this year. No one is talking about them. No one knows anything about this team except the fact that they have an allstart in Chris Bosh and they are the ones north of the border. This team has a bunch of hardworking international players. The series with Nets should be an intense series but the Raps can take care of them in 6 or 7 games and I think that Toronto matches up with Cleveland very well. In the Conference Finals, they might have a chance at upsetting Detroit, Miami or Chicago, whoever makes it. Any of these teams who reaches the final will be beaten up and Toronto can take advantage of it. But Toronto does not have any chance against any of the Western powerhouses. They will probably be swept just like Philly did back in 2002.
Watch out for the Raptors (X-factor: Andrea Bargnani who should be the rookie of the year if it wasnt for his late season injury).
Posted: 12:49 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
spurs and cavs. nuggets and suns are very similiar, and the spurs match up with everybody except houston. dont expect a repeat of the mavs beating the spurs in 7 games, if the mavs get past houston
Posted: 1:20 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
The Cavs have by far the easiest schedule, without Gil or Butler the Wiz just dont have anyone who can really light up the Cavs. I would go as far as saying any team in the east has it alot easier then any team in the west. I'm a Cavs fan but any team 1-6 on the west could give the top 3 teams from the east all kinds of problems and probably beat them in the series.
It's obviously the Cavaliers. They have homecourt, the easiest first round draw and a second round matchup that's very winnable. The other half of the Eastern draw is brutal. Cleveland will be rested while two solid teams will be eliminated.

For those people saying the Spurs, you must think it's 2005. The Spurs may have shut down the Suns in their last meeting but they were blown out in the previous one on the road. The Suns have homecourt and speed to to burn. Plus the Spurs have to face Denver in the first round who boasts two elite scorers and plenty of athletic big men to throw at Tim Duncan. If they're lucky to win two series against two uptempo teams, are they going to win another series on the road against Dallas, who owns them now. I don't think so.
Posted: 7:18 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Houston will easily have the toughest road...just the way they like it. Think "clutch"!
Posted: 8:34 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
The Cavs probably own the easiest path to the NBA finals ever. a Depleted team in the first round, an inexperienced team in the second and a beat up team in the third. I dont think any other team can come close.
Posted: 9:44 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
"When they focus on both sides of the ball you know what you get? Denver 75 Dallas 71. "

That's your proof? An essentially meaningless game for the Mavs is proof of the ability of the Nuggets?
Posted: 10:21 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
No one talks about the Warriors they are the hottest team going into the playoffs they finished
16-5 and they beat Dallas, Detrout and other playoff caliber teams. Don't be suprise if the Worriors beat Dallas in their series opener.
Posted: 10:25 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Cleveland has the easiest road to the finals. Washington is just too beat up. In the 2nd round both Toronto/N.J. are beatable. The Bulls played the Cavs as hard as anyone in the East this year and the Cavs match up well against Detroit. Assuming the Bulls can't get past Miami AND Detroit, then the Cavs have a decent shot. In the Finals, the Cavs swept the Spurs this year and played Dallas tough both times in losses. They looked out-conditioned, outcoached, and out-everything against Phoenix. All that said, I just can't see the Cavs taking the crown. I'd lean toward Dallas/S.A./Phoenix/Detroit - in that order.
Posted: 10:48 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
The Mavericks should have a relatively easy path, considering the top 6 teams in the west are better than anybody in the east. Nellie's gimmicks are good for a game here or there but not a 7-game series. Whoever survives the Houston-Utah series will probably be too beaten up to offer a whole lot of resistance. Then the Mavs only have to contend with Phoenix or San Antonio instead of Phoenix and San Antonio like they did last year.
Posted: 11:07 AM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Obviously the Cavs are going to have a cake walk to the Conference Finals. But look out for that brick wall up ahead... What is that? DEEEETROIT BASKETBALL! Look for the Pistons to go to the Finals once again, and be bringing the championship home.
Posted: 12:07 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Why was the Denver 75 Dallas 71 game meaningless?? Denver can match up well with SA and I think Denver COULD upset them. It probably won't happen, but I think Denver presents a few match-up problems for SA. Camby has been playing like a man-on-a-mission and will "probably" D-up on Duncan. Nobody stops Duncan, but Camby can make it tough on him. The CAVS have the easiest run. Upset Special: Nets ALL OVER the Raptors in 5 games. Toronto is good, but they will falter under playoff pressure.
Posted: 12:20 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Obviously it's the Cavs in the east. It doesn't mean they'll get there but it is the easiest road. In the west, there's not an easy road at all but Dallas will probably only have to go through one of the big 3. Whereas SA/PHO will probably be playing each other & then have to go to Dallas. Just about every possible scenario in the west is brutal!
Posted: 12:46 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
the cavs of coursE!!!!
they could easily sweep wizards in the first round then will face the raptors or nets which is clearly easier to beat than miami, detroit or bulls.. they could also have longer rests than the other teams because of an easier road. they will reach the conference finals but i dont think they can go to the finals.
Posted: 1:13 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
everybody, its gonna be the Pistons and Phoenix Suns in 7 games.
Suns takes all.
Posted: 1:19 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
The Cavs, most definitely. I see people saying the Spurs, which is outrageous. Take the Spurs and switch them with the Cavs. Spurs/Wizards; forget about it. Spurs/Raptors-Nets; forget about it. Spurs/Pistons-Bulls-Heat; still the favorite. Take the Cavs and throw them out West. Cavs/Nuggets; toss up. If they should make it so far, Cavs/Suns, and then Cavs/Mavs. Yeah, I'm sure the Cavs want to switch places with the Spurs.
Posted: 1:29 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
UHHHHH.....Did I forget, or did the Pistons roll over the ENTIRE league LAST YEAR!!!(west included) Just because they CHOSE to fly under the radar this season(unlike Dallas) dosen't mean that they aint the same beast no more....hey, you don't win chips in the regular season, we learned that last year. One more point, to win in the playoffs, it is a MUST that you execute in the half court, and quite frankly there is only one other team(Spurs) that is as effective as Detroit in that catagory, and we'll see them in the Finals after the smoke clears.
Oh, I almost forgot, DEEEEEE-TROIT
BASKET-BAAAALLL!!!
Posted: 1:36 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
^It's not meaningless... Dallas played hard and played to win. They led almost all of entire fist half before Kleiza knocked down a 3 to put Denver up for good. Dallas wanted to win though, they played Nowitzki (his pass was intercepted by Melo in the closing secs) and their starters until the very end.
Posted: 1:43 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Golden State may have the easiest path. After exposing Dirk for the player he is, the fun will just begin.
Posted: 1:44 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
The Cav's 100%, any team in the West has a tough road regardless of their record.
Posted: 2:10 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
It is far fetched but it would be awesome if the Warriors won it all.

They are not the best team by any stretch of the imagination but they are a lot of fun to watch.
Posted: 2:52 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
Utah looks to have a tough road, and they will have to play their best basketball to compete.... but they split with Houston this year, and have won at the Rockets . . . and they were 2 minutes from sweeping the season series from Dallas (I think they match up well with Dallas) and they took 3 of 4 from Phoenix. And we really don't know yet if many players will be playoff - clutch, or playoff- chokers? Of course, if they played San Antonio . . . why bother to show up?
Posted: 2:56 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
I agree with everyone that Dever is going to be a very tough first round matchup. They remind me a little of the Pistons after they added Rasheed wallace. The Pistons initially weren't playing to their potential on defense and were turning the ball over, but you could tell they had the chemistry to click in the playoffs. If Dever comes together, they could be tough for the spurs assuming they figure out their assignments on Defense. Iverson is also a much better passer than he gets credit for, and Bowen seems to have started to slow down.
Posted: 3:11 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
"...To the FINALS" not the Conference finals - that was the question.

Which makes the correct answer: PISTONS
Posted: 5:59 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
I disagree w/ Forrester's assessment that the Rockets/Jazz have the toughest road to the finals. Please tell me how their road is more difficult than the Laker's who would have to go through the Suns, the Spurs, & then the Mavs. That is THE tallest order in the entire league, hands down. Also, a little side note regarding the Dalls/Denver game (for those that actually watched it), you need to note that absolutely no defense was played by either team. Just nobody could hit anything. It was a fluke game so don't try to compare their D to SA based on that night. That being said, Denver does cause match-up problems for SA.
Posted: 7:46 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
The Spurs have the most brutal schedule, in my opinion to go through. They'll have to go through Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas just to get to the Finals. Despite that, I think they'll reach the NBA Finals. I still believe they have the best player in the league in Tim Duncan, and they have the superior defense compared to anybody else out West (Dallas does play some defense, but its not as good as San Antonio). Out East, I think Detroit will make it to the Finals. I just believe that when it comes to crunch time, Detroit is the better team in the East. Then we'll have the series David Stern doesn't want, two small-market teams who have play slow, defensive-type games with a superstar in Duncan who isn't flashy and a team in Detroit. In my opinion, Spurs/Pistons rematch from 2 years ago.
Posted: 9:05 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
why isnt anyone talking about the nj nets?!?!?!?!? im saying here is a team that has made it to the playoffs six years in a row! The nets have a difficult task ahead of em by getting past the raptors and then eventually the cavs but take this in consideration... the nets have 3 allstar caliber players with 2 of those 3 with finals experience. The nets have Jason Kidd who in my opinion was the second best point guard in the league ( behind Steve Nash of course) They also have a go to scorer in Vince Carter and a very good defender in Richard Jefferson. Has anyone seen what the nets did to the bulls this past week?????? im goin with the nets to make it to the eastern conference finals then evenutally losing to the pistons in 6 games. i love lebron james but i think he is a fake. He is a great player dont get me wrong but he always chokes when the game is on the line and i dont see anyone outside of lebron making a major impact on the cavs. i might be a little to optimistic but the Nets have a great chance this year
Posted: 9:35 PM, April 20, 2007   by Anonymous
somebody in the east would have the easiest schedule. The two weakest teams in the west right now are lakers and the jazz, and either one of them could be dangerous
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