The following teams are still alive in the NBA Playoffs: Los Angeles Lakers, San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Hornets, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons. Of all those teams, Boston had the best regular-season record at 66-16, and yet I don't think anyone in the country would disagree that they look like the weakest of the five. Detroit might be old and creaky, but they've won a road game or two in the postseason and they're still the class of the Eastern Conference until someone supplants them by force. It ultimately won't matter, though, because the Western Conference representative (especially if it's LA or New Orleans) has a good chance to sweep the Larry O'Brien trophy away in the Finals.
But what's important is that the right teams are here. Boston-Detroit is the correct matchup in the Eastern Conference Finals and Los Angeles-New Orleans is the proper series in the West (which, I believe, will indeed be the case come Monday night). There have been no flukes, controversies, or crooked referees. Instead, we've been treated to two rounds of exceptional basketball.
Last year, we were entertained by the gloriousness of the Golden State Warriors chopping down the 1-seed Mavericks in the first round. It looked as though the NBA was about to deliver its finest production of the new century. But then Utah beat the Warriors in boring fashion and Steve Nash got slapped around like a dead fish against the Spurs with nary a foul called in his favor. The awesomeness of Golden State's first-round gem was immediately tarnished by the sullen and dreary play of the following rounds, which eventually culminated in a championship for the Spurs, who thrive in such conditions, what with the defense and the flopping and the Argentinians.
But now! Oh boy! Hundreds of points, last-possession victories, and seven-game battles in the most unpredictable of series. Who could have foreseen Atlanta locking down homecourt against the mighty Celtics? Or the kind-of-shitty 76ers winning in the Palace? Who could have predicted the testicle-smashing outcome of Game 1 between the Spurs and the Suns on April Fucking 19th? Remember that game? It certainly seems like three or four seasons ago, doesn't it? That's because the NBA Playoffs are absurdly long. Occasionally the format backfires, like last year, when an astounding April gives way to a forgettable May and June and people simply stop watching. But not this year. The Celtics-Hawks series is still fresh in basketball fans' minds even as they closed out the Cavaliers in the second round.
Nobody could have written these playoffs any better, especially considering the final game of the second round tomorrow night: Game 7, Hornets-Spurs, in New Orleans. And although the home team has won every game in this series by a pretty comfortable margin, you can never count the Spurs out. If you put money on them to lose a Game 7, no matter where it is, by double digits, you're going to lose.
Anyway, Ben and I both predicted a Hornets championship at the beginning of the playoffs, and I'm not about to change that assessment. In the West, I see New Orleans over Los Angeles in seven. I originally had Boston in the Finals, but, as much as I hate to waffle, I have to switch that pick to the Pistons in six. We could spend another article on the matchups and nuances favoring Detroit, but in my mind, Detroit's victory will be based on one very simple principle: Rasheed Wallace will eat Kevin Garnett's brain. KG is younger, hungrier, and more athletic, yes. But if anyone else watched Game 7 between the Celtics and the Cavaliers today you will have noticed that Boston and Cleveland were swapping baskets for the last 90 seconds of the game, alternating between a five- and a three-point lead for the Celtics. With about 18 seconds left, Boston perfectly executed a pick-and-roll that left Garnett wide open from 13 feet. He missed. If you don't bring the ice water against Anderson Varejao and Joe Smith, what in God's name do you think is going to happen to you when you look The Sheed in his face? Rashweed might not average more than eight or nine points in this series, but it won't matter. He is going to abuse Garnett, he is going to torture Garnett, and eventually, he is going to break Garnett.
And Hornets over Pistons in six.