Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


NBA playoff preview

We have reached a glorious point in the NBA season, a time when every game counts and anyone can be a hero, when the analysts stop debating whether Lebron means more to the game than James Naismith and the Kobe trial finally takes a backseat to the action in the arena. That’s right, it’s playoff time.

When the NBA playoffs get underway this weekend, many questions will be answered. Is there any hope for the Eastern Conference? Can anyone stop the Lakers? Will Garnett and company finally make it out of the first round? Let’s take a look.

West goes for six straight: Since Michael Jordan’s most recent retirement, the Western conference has dominated the NBA. The last five NBA champions have come from the West, and this season should produce No. 6.


Only four of the eight teams representing the Eastern Conference finished over .500 in the regular season. Ten teams eclipsed the .500 mark in the West. The Boston Celtics earned the eighth playoff spot in the East with a 36-46 record. You have to go 13 teams deep to find a team with an equally poor record out west.

The only teams with a legitimate shot at competing with the West this season are Indiana and Detroit (Sorry Jason, but the Nets just don’t have the talent this year), and both teams will be overmatched by their Western conference counterparts.

With Rasheed and Ben Wallace playing alongside Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups, the Pistons have assembled a very impressive lineup. Known as a defensive team, Deteroit has plenty of offensive firepower. However, the Pistons are not even the best team in the consolation round that is the Eastern conference. That distinction belongs to Indiana.

Led by Jermaine O’Neal, the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the NBA. With O’Neal dominating in the post, Ron Artest locking down on defense and pouring in 18 points a game, and Reggie Miller still capable of knocking down a game-winner from the perimeter, the Pacers have all the makings of a dominant team.

However, the Western conference is too strong for even the Pacers to overcome. When it comes down to it, Shaq is a far superior O’Neal in the post, Kobe is significantly more talented than Artest, and as far as aging All-Stars go, I’ll take both Payton and Malone over Reggie.

If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a look at the other teams the West has to offer. Sacramento features Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Chris Webber, and Vlade Divac along with former Pacer Brad Miller, who averaged 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds for Indiana last season.

San Antonio, the reigning NBA champion, is led by two-time MVP Tim Duncan, who is more than capable of outplaying Jermaine O’Neal in the post. The Spurs also feature a capable point guard in Tony Parker, and best of all, Gregg Popovich’s squad actually plays defense.

Then there’s Dallas, who added Antoine Walker and Antawn Jamison to a team that already included Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki and former Badger Michael Finley. Even the Lakers don’t have a sixth man like Jamison, who averaged 22.2 points for Golden State last season. If the Mavs played defense, Don Nelson’s squad would be a championship caliber group. At any rate, they’re not bad for a No. 5 seed.

Finally, we come to the No. 1 seed and another terrifying thought for the Eastern conference: Kevin Garnett finally has some help in Minnesota. With Sprewell, Szczerbiak, Cassell, Hudson and Olowakandi making up the supporting cast, KG and the Timberwolves are yet another team that make the Pacers and Pistons look like exactly what they are: the most recent in a long chain of Eastern Conference standouts that don’t stand a chance against the elite teams in the West.

Timberwolves may see second round: After seven-consecutive first-round exits, the Minnesota Timberwolves are poised to reach the second round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Garnett is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging career-highs in points (24.2), rebounds (13.9) and blocks (2.2), and the Wolves have finally assembled a solid supporting cast.

Minnesota has had talent in the past, but this year’s group also has experience and leadership, something that was lacking in the Stephon Marbury era. Veterans Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell have each been in the league for more than ten years and both have significant playoff experience.

With Sprewell pouring in 16.7 points a game and Cassell adding 19.8 points and 7.3 assists, Garnett has led Minnesota to the best record in the Western Conference and a first-round date with the Denver Nuggets.

The Nuggets are a talented group with Andre Miller, Marcus Camby and Carmelo Anthony, but they do not have a dominant player to match Garnett or a savvy veteran floor general like Sam Cassell. The future looks promising in Denver, but the young squad is simply overmatched against the Timberwolves this year.

Garnett is hungrier than ever and he finally has the help he needs to break Minnesota’s playoff draught. With only the No. 8-seeded Nuggets standing in his way, KG should finally learn how it feels to win a playoff series.

Too much talent in LA: The Lakers have it all this year: talent, experience, leadership, desire, offensive firepower, and defense. With Gary Payton and Karl Malone joining Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, the team features four future Hall of Famers. This team has Olympians, MVPs, and all-defensive team selections. An all-star team would have trouble matching up against the Lakers this year.

Sure, the Lakers had some turbulent times in the regular season, but when a title is on the line it won’t really matter whether it’s Kobe’s team or Shaq’s team. It won’t matter how many shots Kobe takes as long as he knocks them down, and no one will worry about whether or not he will wind up with the Clippers next season. Malone’s ankle, Kobe’s shoulder and Payton’s age will not keep the Lakers from a title run. Even the media circus surrounding Kobe’s trial will not disrupt the Lakers’ focus with a title on the line.

The fact is no team in the league has the talent and experience to take down the Lakers. LA has won three of the last four NBA titles and coach Phil Jackson has won nine in his illustrious career. Payton and Malone came to LA for one reason: to win a championship. They each took a huge pay cut to play for the Lakers because they knew that this team could take home the title.

Two of the greatest players of our generation, Payton and Malone do not want to retire without a championship ring and they are willing to do whatever it takes to win that elusive prize. As hungry as KG may be to finally reach the second round, no one can match the hunger of Payton and Malone.

Their hunger comes from watching Michael Jordan dash their championship dreams year after year, from watching youngsters like Kobe and Shaq take three straight, from watching Phil Jackson lead two dynasties to three separate three-peats, and from facing the annual question: how does it feel to be one of the greatest living players without a championship ring? After all the adversity, the time has finally come for Payton and Malone, and they will not let it slip away this time.

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