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Fan-tastic 2005.

With the Knicks stinking up the joint even worse than usual, the NBA posts have been few and far between this season, despite the league having a banner year. But that doesn’t mean I’m not greatly enthused about the NBA playoffs beginning this weekend. So, in keeping with GitM tradition (2000/2001/2002/2003/2004), here are my picks for the 2005 postseason:

The East:

Miami Heat (1) v. New Jersey Nets (8): I think it’s safe to say most of the NBA fan base was looking forward to the Shaq/Flash v. King James matchup here. But, give ’em credit: Jason Kidd and Vince Carter — proving this season he flat-out gave up in Torontomade a run and knocked Cleveland out of contention. If Shaq stays gimpy, the Heat could be in a spot of trouble. But Dwyane Wade is one heck of a player and Stan Van Gundy is one of the league’s top coaches, and I’m willing to bet they and the Big Fundamental take care of business in the first round. Miami in Six.

Detroit Pistons (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): I love AI — the guy’s all heart. And, with his quickness and lethal shooting touch, he once again put a sub-par Sixers squad (even after picking up an underachieving C-Webb) on his back and carried them to the playoffs. But they’re running into the 2004 Champions here, and I just don’t see them getting past the precision team-basketball of Larry Brown & Ben Wallace’s crew. Detroit in Five.

Boston Celtics (3) v. Indiana Pacers (6): This one’s tough. To his credit, Reggie Miller helped right the ship after the Ron Artest fiasco and got Indiana back on pace for his final season. Meanwhile, the return of ‘Toine to Boston has given the Celts the much-needed fire they missed most of the year (and which the intermittently disappearing Paul Pierce seems unable to provide.) Jermaine O’Neal et al are a formidable bunch, and I’m willing to bet Reggie wins at least one game on his own for old time’s sake, but I think I’m going to go Boston here, particularly as Gary Payton, so terrible last year, should play better on a Kobe-less team where he’s allowed to touch the ball. Celtics in Seven.

Chicago Bulls (4) v. Washington Wizards (5): Bulls-Wizards? This is a playoff match-up? Apparently so — both teams have finally started to thrive after their respective post-Jordan eras. I haven’t seen much of either squad this year, although I’ve heard amazing things about Chicago’s Ben Gordon, and DC’s Gilbert Arenas was a stud in Golden State in 2004. I get the feeling this’ll be the NCAA-style match-up of the playoffs, and just for the heck of it I’ll take Washington in Seven.

The West:

Phoenix Suns (1) v. Memphis Grizzlies (8): With Steve Nash leading the break and Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudamire on the wings, the Suns are an extraordinarily fun team to watch. That being said, Phoenix’s type of speedy O-first play generally ends up looking suspect in the D-oriented playoffs — just look at Nash’s old Mavs teams. But, Memphis doesn’t have the talent or the firepower to expose the Suns — if Minnesota had gotten their act together a few games earlier, this could have been a great first-round matchup. As it is, Phoenix in Four.

San Antonio Spurs (2) v. Denver Nuggets (7): The Spurs are as dull as Phoenix is exciting, but you have to hand it to them — they win games. Denver is loaded with talent and players I tend to root for: Carmelo, K-Mart, Andre Miller, Marcus Camby, the 5’5″ hellion Earl Boykins. But, with notorious playoff choke artist George Karl at the helm, I just don’t see Denver getting by the Spurs…unless more trouble befalls Duncan’s ankles. San Antonio in Six.

Seattle SuperSonics (3) v. Sacramento Kings (6): Just as Seattle’s star is rising this season under Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, the much-loved Sacramento team of the early ’00’s has been dismantled, with Vlade in LA, Christie in Orlando, and Webber in Philly. Sacramento still has a lot of playoff experience on this outfit, and Mike Bibby is remorseless come the post-season, but I’ll wager the Sonics get by Sactown with relatively little furor. Seattle in Six.

Dallas Mavericks (4) v. Houston Rockets (5): This one should be interesting. Dirk Nowitzki’s been having a banner year, but the Mavs are still too soft on D, and picking up the likes of Keith Van Horn doesn’t help in that regard. On the other hand, Jeff Van Gundy teams specialize in D, but will Yao and T-Mac be able to score enough to get past the Mavs? I for one hope so. Rockets in Seven.

The Rest:

Miami Heat (1) v. Washington Wizards (5): After slogging past the Nets in a tough first-rounder, the Heat’s series against the inexperienced Wizards should be relatively simple. Miami in four.

Detroit Pistons (2) v. Boston Celtics (3): Boston overperformed to beat Indiana, while Detroit justs keep doing what they do. Advantage: Pistons. Detroit in Six.

Phoenix Suns (1) v. Houston Rockets (5): I still think Phoenix is flash over substance for the most part, but they’re probably too quick for the aging, offense-limited Rockets. I want to pick Houston here, but my head says Phoenix in Six.

San Antonio Spurs (2) v. Seattle Supersonics (3): Not a very TV-friendly match-up here…but, despite their being my least-favorite team in the playoffs, I’ll go with the Spurs. San Antonio in Five.

EAST FINALS: Miami Heat (1) v. Detroit Pistons (2): Shaq’s been waiting for this match-up all year, and if he’s healthy I see him having a monster series. And I’d also expect a ‘Zo sighting or two — they’ll need him to bang under the boards against the Wallaces. Still, it’ll be tough. Miami in Seven.

WEST FINALS: Phoenix Suns (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (2): Having hated on them somewhat in the past two rounds, I’d really like to see Phoenix get past Team Duncan. But, I’m just not sold — perhaps they’ll prove me wrong beginning this weekend. San Antonio in Six.

NBA FINALS: Miami Heat (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (2): It’s Shaq v. Duncan all over again (provided they can both stay off the IR), with Dwyane Wade and Manu Ginobli providing the speed and flash we’ve come to expect from the Finals. And, what with Shaq’s renaissance, the prospects of a Van Gundy title, and the sheer Kobe schadenfreude of it all, I pretty much have to go Miami in Seven.

So, that’s that, then: The East celebrates its second title in two years, with a little help from Finals MVP Shaq. Either way, with all the new faces and teams around in this transitional year — Miami, Phoenix, Seattle, Washington, Chicago, etc. — it should make for a very enjoyable postseason. Let the games begin!

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