Volume 96, Issue 99
Friday, April 4, 2003

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Shaq attack might get wacked

Beyond the arc
Mark Behar
Gazette Staff

The NBA playoffs are on the horizon and they are as predictable as a Vince Carter knee injury. The Eastern Conference teams will fight tooth-and-nail to get to the finals, only to get wasted by the powers out west.

Eastern Conference

The Boston Celtics lack depth behind their two stars, Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce. Tony Delk and J.R. Bremer can score a few points, but they're not the floor generals the Celtics need running the show during crunch time.

The Indiana Pacers were smart to pick up greying point guard Tim Hardaway, but the young guns of this team – Ron Artest, Al Harrington, Jermaine O'Neal and Jamaal Tinsley – are at least a year away from realizing playoff glory, and it's a pity. These guys will really start to blossom as a squad just as Reggie Miller is on his way out. That said, don't be surprised if the Pacers win in the first round of the playoffs, especially if they end up facing the New Orleans Hornets. If Baron Davis isn't at 100 per cent, New Orleans will be in serious trouble.

Don't look now, but the Philadelphia 76ers are the only team in the East with a winning record on the road (20-16). The 76ers play solid team defense and in Allen Iverson they have a rare commodity in the East – a proven superstar who wants the ball when everyone's watching.

It's generally the defensive teams that thrive in the NBA playoffs, but I'm inclined to think that the first place Detroit Pistons are so defensive-minded that nobody will want the rock at the end of the fourth quarter. Chauncey Billups may be hot right now, but Richard Hamilton leads the team with just 20.2 points per game.

Jason Kidd and the New Jersey Nets, on the other hand, have the offensive depth that should see them through to the Eastern Conference finals. Throw a healthy Dikembe Mutombo into the mix and you've got an impressive two-way team with a wealth of playoff experience.

The 76ers and the Nets are the two standout squads from the East.

Western Conference

Portland and Minnesota appear destined to meet each other at the start of the playoffs. Kevin Garnett may be the front-runner for MVP, but one thing remains certain – neither the Trailblazers nor the T-Wolves will emerge from the second round.

Also, expect the San Antonio Spurs to fizzle by round two. Notwithstanding their lockout-year championship, Tim Duncan and his supporting cast have a knack for looking mediocre when it matters most.

The Dallas Mavericks might be the most talented team in the NBA, but they lack defensive depth. The Mavs are built for the 82-game season, not the month-long run-up to the championship. Expect high scores and close games from Mark Cuban's run-and-gun squad.

Despite what anyone else would have you believe, Sacramento is the real team to watch for come playoff time. For the first time in years, the Los Angeles Lakers look mortal. The Lakers aren't playing as cohesively as they have in past seasons – despite the fact that Kobe Bryant is performing at an inhuman level. It's one year later and nothing's changed – Sacramento poses the only real threat to the Lakers' post-season supremacy.

If the Utah Jazz hold on to their half-game lead over Shaq and Co. for the sixth playoff spot, the Lakers will face number 2 seed Sacramento in the first round. In the case of such an event, stay glued to your TV; the winner of that series will win the NBA championship.

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