NBA 2006-2007 Playoff Teams

Eastern Conference1. Pistons

Although they lost Ben Wallace, the rest of the core remains. They’re still the best defensive team in the Eastern Conference and although Nazr Mohammed isn’t as dominant a post defender as Wallace, he is a solid rebounder and a more proficient offensive player. The roster still lacks depth, but the starting five is talented and focused – sans Rasheed Wallace’s projected 104 technical fouls with the new “Don’t talk back” rule having been implemented – enough to breeze through the East.

2. NetsThe up-tempo offense remains, Vince Carter is a great scorer, Richard Jefferson is among the elite small forwards and Jason Kidd, although he’s lost a step, is still the consummate point guard. Barring injury, he will move ahead of Rod Strickland for 7th all-time in assists. They lack inside presence – Kidd led the team in rebounding – but Nenad Krstic, 23, should take on a greater role in the offense and become a better rebounder. Marcus Williams, Eddie House and Clifford Robinson will provide a great offensive spark off the bench.

3. BullsAfter winning a total of 119 games in the first five years of the post-Jordan era, Chicago has become a playoff team. Already a strong defensive squad, they signed Ben Wallace and drafted Tyrus Thomas to sure up the interior defense. Their problem though is a lack of inside scoring. Neither big man can consistently put the ball in the hole and P.J. Brown, at this stage of his career, doesn‘t have much offense outside of the 12-foot jumper. Michael Sweetney, who is capable of scoring, won’t play enough minutes because he lacks conditioning and has trouble avoiding fouls (and fowl). They rely heavily on their perimeter players – namely Kirk Hinrich and Ben Gordon – for points, but those two combine to shoot just 42 percent from the field. Considering Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler are no longer with the team, that trade of Elton Brand isn’t looking too good now – not that it ever did.

4. CavaliersLeBron James (can‘t talk Cavs without starting the sentence with his name), in each of his three seasons has improved greatly. He’s gone from good to great to arguably the best player in the NBA, and at 21, he most likely isn’t a finished product yet. He might not get past Detroit working out in a pool or playing pickup games with the old man and pretty boy versions of himself, but with a healthy Larry Hughes (hand), Zydrunas Illgauskas and Drew Gooden, who should have a bounce-back season, he should lead his team to the fourth seed.

5. HeatTalented, but some of their key players are nearing the twilight of their careers, most notably (and importantly) Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq, who turns 35 during the season, has been on the decline for three years and it’s reflected in his production and minutes. No longer can he be counted on to shoulder the load on offense, and the big games will be fewer and farther between. Dwyane Wade will have carry them. However, they do play tough defense, rebound well and have quality depth along with a great coach.

6. WizardsUnder Eddie Jordan, a former Nets assistant, they use a run ‘n shoot offense similar to New Jersey. The difference is that the Wizards are more perimeter-oriented. And because the team relies so heavily on the jump shot – from Gilbert Arenas, Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison – they will be inconsistent. Also, the team considers defense the period of dormancy during which they wait to get the ball back. Although they shoot well from the field, the Wizards allow opponents to shoot 46.5 percent and 36 percent from 3-point range.

7. KnicksFew teams, if any, have as much offensive firepower. The Knicks have six players capable of scoring over 15 points per game. However, they lack defensive talent (and effort, in some cases), are undersized in the backcourt, don’t have a consistent shooter or a dominant rebounder and might turn the ball over more often than they did last season. But Isiah Thomas’ system will take advantage of the talent on offense, Eddy Curry will “man up” some, and they’ll outscore enough opponents to finish around .500. Plus it’s the Eastern Conference, where mediocre means “good enough.”

8. MagicThey aren’t a high-scoring team and Jameer Nelson, whose strength is not ball distribution, is unproven as a starter, but Dwight Howard might be one of the three best centers in the league. The 21-year-old is already one of the top rebounders (led the NBA in total rebounds) and is quickly developing a low-post game. Grant Hill, for as many games as he can play, and Hedo Turkoglu will be scorers on the wing. Also, youngsters Trevor Ariza, Darko Milicic and J.J. Redick will contribute off the bench.

Western Conference1. Mavericks

They were the best team in the NBA last year – though they have nothing to show for it – having improved defensively and found secondary (Jason Terry) and tertiary (Josh Howard) scorers to compliment Dirk Nowitzki. DeSagana Diop also emerged late in the season and during the playoffs as a rebounder and shot-blocker, giving them an inside toughness they’ve lacked. After watching his team choke a way a championship, Avery Johnson will have his foot on the throttle. And they’ll play hard, if for no other reason than to avoid hearing the coach’s banshee-like screaming.

2. SpursThe best defensive team in the league (although Memphis held opponents to 0.3 fewer points per game), they didn’t add many players, but they will have Tim Duncan (plantar fasciitis) and Manu Ginobili (various leg injuries) back healthy. With Duncan dominating the paint, if Tony Parker is as proficient at slashing to the basket as he was last season, they could be one of the higher scoring teams. That in addition to the defense will make them title contenders again.

3. SunsPhoenix was the best offensive team (scoring and field goal percentage) in 2005, and they did it with Amare Stoudemire (26 points per game) on the bench in button-down shirts and Joe Johnson (20.2) in a Hawks uniform. Boris Diaw and Raja Bell emerged as scorers while Shawn Marion and Steve Nash had their best seasons. This year, Stoudemire is back. After having undergone microfracture knee surgery, he may no longer be “The Dunk Monster,” but he is still athletic and skilled enough to be a threat in the post. Their weakness, as it was a year ago, is defense (ranked 28th) and rebounding.

4. NuggetsAll the team is lacks is consistent outside shooting and a low-post banger. Carmelo Anthony, after a tumultuous sophomore season (marijuana arrest, an alleged saliva-sparked scuffle and a “Stop Snitching” DVD), had his breakout last year, averaging over 26 points. Andre Miller is one of the better assist men in the NBA, Kenyon Martin, when healthy, gives them a fiery and athletic defender at power forward and the ever-injured Marcus Camby seems to have found panacea in the Denver water.

5. ClippersAfter winning 47 games and taking the fifth seed last season, they’re no longer the punch line of jokes. Elton Brand, though undersized for his position, has become even more of a scorer in the paint and Cuttino Mobley gives them a mid-range game. Sam Cassell, who provides leadership and a consistent jumper, and Chris Kaman (12 points, 9 rebounds) give the Clippers the two of the scariest faces in professional sports. Tim Thomas will be a scorer off the bench and if Corey Maggette can return to form, he’s another guard capable of putting up 20 points. They were ranked 11th defensively last season.

6. GrizzliesMemphis was statistically the best shut-down defense in the league and this year, they should be more potent offensively. The return of Damon Stoudamire (knee) gives them veteran leadership at point guard, Mike Miller is one of the best 3-point sharpshooters in the league and when at full strength, their frontcourt of Pau Gasol (foot), Rudy Gay (8th pick in the draft), Stromile Swift and Hakim Warrick is one of the most athletic.

7. RocketsLast season, though battling foot injuries, Yao Ming took that step from “good” to “very good,” asserting himself more in the post and averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds for the first time. If he can continue to play at that level and Tracy McGrady’s back holds up (and he stops settling for 20-foot fadeaways), the two could be the most dynamic duo in the NBA. Their supporting cast hasn’t improved much though. Shane Battier, whom Houston traded Rudy Gay for (why?), will give them solid defense at the small forward, but he is limited offensively. They were the fourth best defensive team a year ago, but they continue to lack the scoring (second worst) needed to elevate themselves amongst the top teams.

8. LakersThey’ll once again be the Los Angeles Kobes, but Bryant, wearing No. 24 this season, will get more help from his teammates. Lamar Odom’s scoring should improve, the super-talented 19-year-old Andrew Bynum has supplanted Kwame Brown at center (what was worse, Michael Jordan’s decision to draft Brown first overall or his acting in Space Jam?), and on the bench, Ronny Turiaf, Vladimir Radmanovic and Chris Mihm will add solid depth. Phil Jackson’s hip replacement will have no bearing on the season. He’ll still be able to waddle up the sidelines with pomposity, whistle to his players and yell, “Stop being selfish…give the damn ball to be Kobe!”


2 comments so far

  1. Adam on

    Are you going to address leaving the Eastern Conference favorite Boston Celtics off your playoff list completely?

  2. zit on

    Zit says : I absolutely agree with this !

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