1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 8. Denver Nuggets
Match-up to Watch: Ronny Turiaf and Ed Najera
Enough talk about Pau Gasol and Marcus Camby. Wanna see what happens when two balls of hustle and energy slam into each other? When they’re on the court together, Turiaf and Najera are going to meet at every loose ball and rebound. I give the edge to Najera because he’s been around the block and back. Turiaf’s probably just happy to be here. He’ll be wigging out like he did when Kobe “jumped” that Astin Martin.
The Lakers need to slow it down
LA can try to run with the Nuggets. The Lakers are averaging 108.6 points on the season compared to the Nuggets’ 110.7, so they can get their share of buckets. But they went out and got Pau Gasol so use him. After all this hype about Gasol bolstering their half court sets, it’d be plain stupid not to use him now.
Anyway, the Lakers’ second unit loves to run. Phil Jax likes to put Jordan Farmar, Sashsa Vujacic and Vlade Radmanovic out there and run them. So loosen the reins on the second unit for a change-up. Maybe, just maybe, it’ll piss George Karl off even more.
The Nuggets need to feed Carmelo early
Carmelo Anthony needs a good game out of the blocks. Melo needs to get his mind off his legal trouble and focus on the game. This man needs to establish himself as the go-to guy on the Nuggets early. There are lots of questions swirling about who their go-to guy is. Melo needs to come out and ball because otherwise Allen Iverson will need/try to do too much.
Pick: Lakers in 6
2. New Orleans Hornets vs. 7. Dallas Mavericks
Match-up to Watch: Peja Stojakovic and Josh Howard
Even though Dirk Nowitzki isn’t quite 100%, his return takes a lot of offensive pressure away from Josh Howard. It will be interesting to see how Howard D’s up Peja. Given that Peja’s reputation of pulling a Chris Webber and choking in the playoffs may be a little harsh, he isn’t exactly Michael Jordan either.
Chris Paul’s orchestration will give him enough looks, especially in transition. Does Howard step down to help Jason Kidd on penetration? Or does he glue himself to the sharpshooting Serbian?
The Hornets need to work inside-out
Erick Dampier, Bulls cast-off Malik Allen and Dirk Nowitzki need to be taken down low and challenged. This is when Bryon Scott tells David West to make a name for himself. West needs to get his confidence up before a potential second-round match-up against Timmy Duncan or Amare Stoudamire. We’ll find out if West’s 20 points per game is due to Chris Paul’s inflation.
The Mavericks need to get back on D
Stopping penetration and fast-breaks are key here. As soon as the ball hits the rim, Mavericks defenders need to sprint back to get on D. You look up and down the Hornets roster and each person shoots a respectable percentage. Absolutely no one on that team is an established jump shooter. So how are they getting their points? Chris Paul? Of course. Easy run-outs and outlet passes behind the defense? Hell yes.
Pick: Hornets in 5
3. San Antonio Spurs vs. 6. Phoenix Suns
Match-up to Watch: Fabricio Oberto/Kurt Thomas and Amare Stoudemire
I am guessing that they’ll put Tim Duncan on Shaquille O’Neal. This will leave Oberto and the Big Dirty on Amare. Dirt’s always been a good defender and Oberto has that Argentinian awareness so you can never count them out. Has Amare matured enough to realize he shouldn’t rely on his athleticism against the Spurs?
The Spurs need to be quick with rotations
San Antonio’s going to challenge the outside shot. They have to; the Suns are shooting 39.3% from outside. Where they’ll get into trouble is if their bigs slide too late in the paint. Because you know Joey Crawford’s going to call blocking any time there’s contact.
The Suns need to keep Amare out of foul trouble
I can hear Mike D’antoni now: “Damn boy, quit reaching!” Amare Stoudemire owns a 3.7 foul average for the year. This is rivaled only by Shaq’s 3.4 with the Suns. What’s it with big men and reaching? Compare that number with Timmy D’s 2.4 fouls, Dirty’s 2 and Oberto’s 2.5. Just stop reaching, man. Don’t do it.
Pick: Spurs in 7
4. Utah Jazz vs. 5. Houston Rockets
Match-up to Watch: Carlos Boozer and Dikembe Mutombo
Boozer is a beast. Deke eats beasts. It’ll just be funny to see Boozer’s rainbow shot over Dikembe’s out-stretched arms. I think the Rockets will start Luis Scola on Mehmet Okur. They may have Chuck Hayes stick Okur but that’s probably an adjustment for the second or third game. Tracy McGrady needs quality minutes out of Dikembe in order to advance.
The Jazz need to run, run and then run again
Houston shoots 44.8% from the field as a team. The Jazz shoot 49.7%. If the Jazz push the ball and turn this into a track meet, they’ll have a chance. This is important especially because Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko aren’t exactly marksmen from outside.
The Rockets need to get a good floor game out of Rafer Alston
Deron Williams is bigger, better and tougher than Rafer Alston. Skip to my Lou has no chance against Williams on the defensive end. So he needs to play extremely well offensively to off-set this. Otherwise, T-Mac’s going home crying again.
Pick: Rockets in 7