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Which Texas Team Will Take Home the Title?

Finally. After 2,460 regular season games, the NBA playoffs are here. We were treated to a ridiculously entertaining postseason last year (ten overtime contests and four Game Sevens), so it will be interesting to see if we’ll be similarly spoiled this time around. At the very least, we know Rockets’ fans will enjoy it more since Houston was merely a beaten-down and beleaguered outsider in 2006. So what do the next two months have in store? I’m glad you asked. Thanks to the power bestowed upon me by Miss Cleo and an exhausting amount of research conducted via NBA 2K7 (who knew my PS2 was good for something besides Madden?), I present to you the definitive guide to the 2007 NBA playoffs.

We start, of course, with the Rockets and their match-up with Utah. Talent-wise, Houston should be able to wrap this series up in six games. But we’re talking about a Rockets squad that hasn’t seen the second round in a decade and their enigmatic superstars who haven’t seen the second round since, well… ever. Also working against the Rockets: their season-long inability to put teams away. I suspect this nauseating characteristic will rear its ugly head more than once during the postseason. But at the end of the day, the Rockets possess the two best players in this showdown, so let’s say Houston in 7. And if the Rockets don’t win this series, I hope and pray that all of you start seriously studying my T-Mac trade proposals.

A couple other notes before we move on:

1.) Tracy McGrady better average at least 30 points a game against Utah. The Jazz haven’t been able to slow down two guards all year so Tracy should be able to dominate every second of the series. Make no mistake, round one is all about T-Mac. This is his series to own and these are his demons to exorcise. His path to reputation redemption starts here.

2.) Get ready to cower in fear at the sight of Deron Williams (if you don’t already). It’s no secret that the Rockets will lose the point guard battle against nearly every team in the Western Conference and that they can’t defend the pick-and-roll. Considering Utah runs that play to perfection and Williams is one of the league’s up and coming young stars, Houston’s love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with Rafer Alston isn’t likely to end any time soon.

As for the Western Conference’s other match-ups:

Dallas over Golden State in 6: When all is said and done, this will turn out to be the most aesthetically pleasing first round series. There are storylines (Don Nelson against his old team; Golden State’s inexplicable dominance of Dallas the last two years) and playmakers galore, so I intend to tune in every time these two clubs hit the floor. I’d love to pick a monumental upset but, come on, there was a reason the Mavs won 67 games this year.

San Antonio over Denver in 6: For the third year in a row, San Antonio finds itself facing the proverbial team “Nobody wants to face” in round one. And for the third year in a row, the Spurs will prevail. NBA 2K7 taught me that Allen Iverson is an unstoppable, cold-blooded killer, but it doesn’t take into account the fact that this San Antonio team has played together since the Jurassic, while Denver’s chemistry is still in the embryonic stage. No, Tony Parker’s frightening rap video does not engender confidence, but Tim Duncan’s return to MVP form does.

Phoenix over Los Angeles in 5: Speaking of MVPs, Dirk Nowitzki is going to take home the award this year and it makes me sick. Anyone who saw the classic Mavs-Suns double overtime thriller knows Steve Nash is still the Man. I realize the voters are tired of him and I understand he has yet to lead his team to the NBA Finals. But he remains the most indispensable player in the league, while Dirk continues to invite questions regarding his penchant for disappearing down the stretch of the biggest games. I could go off on this subject for the next thousand words, but this is a playoff preview column, not an MVP debate. As for the other MVP candidate, Kobe Bryant, he is a destructive one man wrecking crew, no doubt. But when your team suffers two major losing streaks en route to finishing 42-40, I just can’t give you the award over Nash.

Okay, time for the Eastern Conference:

Detroit over Orlando in 4: Yawn. I love Dwight Howard and respect Mr. Glass (AKA Grant Hill), but hate pretty much everything else about this Magic team. This series can’t end fast enough.

Cleveland over Washington in 4: Ditto. If Cleveland allows the injury-riddled Wizards to win even one game they should automatically be banished from the playoffs.

Toronto over New Jersey in 7: Finally, a real series out East. On the one hand, I feel bad for Toronto because, for the longest time, it looked like they were going to play Washington. But as a fan, it doesn’t get any better than witnessing the hatred that is sure to spew forth from every Torontonian the second former Raptor (and current pansy), Vince Carter steps on the court. Many will get duped into picking New Jersey because they have the more recognizable names in Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson. But don’t sleep on the Raptors. Two Texas products (Chris Bosh from Dallas and T.J. Ford from Houston) will lead Toronto to the second round.

Chicago over Miami in 7: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone back and forth with this pick. I mean, how on earth could I pick against the defending champs (and Dwyane Wade) in a game seven? Thing is, nobody in the Eastern Conference plays Miami tougher than the Bulls and nobody gets under Wade’s skin quite like Kirk Hinrich. Making matters worse for Miami: Flash is already nursing a bum shoulder and knee. Chicago gave the Heat all they could handle in the first round last year and I think the Bulls are ready to make the leap this time around. By the way, I fully realize this pick could come back and bite me on the rump. Because if Miami wins this series, I expect them to make a return trip to the Finals.

Western Conference 2nd Round

Dallas over Houston in 7: Yep, it’s 2005 all over again (except this time, you won’t have to suffer through a 40 point embarrassment in Game 7). And come on, fans, if the Rockets’ season ends this way, you can’t truly be too disappointed. You have to remember this was a Houston team that was getting ready for the lottery at this time last year. Fact is, Dallas is the better, deeper team. The Rockets can (and will) compete. And whereas round one was Tracy’s, Yao will steal the spotlight this time. But a valiant effort falls short when Houston can’t come up with an answer for either Jason Terry or Devin Harris. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that somehow, someway Acie Law IV falls into our laps on draft day. It’s a longshot, I know. But a fan’s gotta dream.

San Antonio over Phoenix in 7: I know, I know. One minute I’m touting Nash for his third straight MVP trophy and the next I’m voting his team off the island in round two? More than anything, Phoenix fell victim to the luck of the draw. I happen to believe the Suns are the second best team in the league. Unfortunately for them, they’re destined to face the top team in the second round. Nobody is talking about this right now, but Tim Duncan reverted back to MVP form in the second half of the season. Remember, he played through pain last year, yet still nearly led his club past Dallas. What will a healthy Duncan do? We’re about to find out. And, yes, if Phoenix somehow survives, I expect them to be lifting the O’Brien trophy in June.

Eastern Conference 2nd Round

Detroit over Chicago in 6: No, I don’t trust Flip Saunders in the playoffs. But Chicago’s over-reliance on the perimeter game will really haunt them in this series. The Bulls are on the threshold of something special. But they’re not there just yet.

Cleveland over Toronto in 7: Make no mistake, the Raptors are the better team. But they are going to get LeBroned in this series; both by James and the referees. I expect the conspiracy theorists to really find their voice once all is said and done in this one.

Western Conference Finals

San Antonio over Dallas in 7: Forget about the NBA Finals, this is your title tilt right here. Last year, these two clubs put on an amazing show and I expect nothing less this time around. Is Dirk the real MVP? Here’s his chance to prove it. It says here that he won’t.

Eastern Conference Finals

Detroit over Cleveland in 6: Detroit is a very good team, but not a great one. Cleveland is merely good. Unfortunately for those of us tuning in to watch, I suspect that description will apply to this series as well.

NBA Finals

San Antonio over Detroit in 6: I know, absolutely NO ONE outside of San Antonio or Detroit wants to watch this re-match of the 2005 Finals. And to be perfectly honest, even my pre-season pick (Spurs vs. Heat) seems more plausible (not to mention, more palatable). But it’s not my job to tell you what you want to hear, it’s my job to tell you what you need to hear. And what you need is the truth. Timmy D already pulled off one great deed this season (ridding the league of Joey Crawford). Now, he’s on the verge of completing another. Duncan solidifies his standing as one of the all-time greats, as he and the Spurs bring home title number four. Houston, we’ve got some catching-up to do. -- Jason Friedman

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