The 2006-07 NBA season is coming to an end and I am extremely excited for this postseason more than any in quite a long time. Taking a quick look at some possible matchups would get anyone excited.
The best matchup scenario if it could happen would be Golden State playing the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.
Why? The Warriors have beaten the Mavericks twice this year and five out of the last six times they have played. Don Nelson also knows Maverick personnel inside out and will force Dirk Nowitzki and Josh Howard to be involved defensively on every play. The Warriors also have the best combination of scorers in the NBA. They will make life difficult for the top seed.
Miami against Cleveland or Chicago will be a great series. Either one of these teams could win the East. How many times have we seen a matchup of potential conference champions in the first round?
San Antonio or Phoenix facing a rejuvenated Denver team that has hit the stride everyone thought they would when they acquired Allen Iverson... That would also be a great series.
This is why every round will have intrigue and surprises and whatever team can make quick work of its first round opponent will greatly enhance its ability to move on to the Finals – especially if you are Dallas, Phoenix or San Antonio.
The Suns could have the best matchup of the three playing the struggling Los Angeles Lakers.
MY SURPRISES AND DISAPPOINTMENTS DURING THE 2006-07 SEASON
This season has given us a number of surprises that warm our hearts and a few of them will continue into the postseason.
The Toronto Raptors, led by Chris Bosh, have developed into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. They were on no one's radar before the season started. Head coach Sam Mitchell has brought a no non-sense approach to his team and it has paid dividends. Mitchell was on the hot seat before the season and now he's in the catbird’s seat as the Raptors enter the playoffs with the Atlantic Division championship and the third seed in the upcoming playoffs.
The Utah Jazz led by Carlos Boozer, Deron Williams and Mehmet Okur won the Northwest Division and placed Boozer and Okur in the All-Star game. Williams is fast becoming one of the top point guards in the league, but a lot of the credit should go to Jerry Sloan, my pick for Coach of the Year. He has continued his old-school approach to the Jazz despite having one of the youngest teams in the league and it has paid off fast. The Jazz are still fighting for playoff positioning with the Rockets and have a great chance to make it to the second round and a possible date with the Dallas Mavericks.
When I first saw Kevin Martin shoot his jumpshot, I cringed. But when I saw the result and the high percentage of his makes, I said 'OK.' Martin is the poster child for my JumpShotClub DVD. I am a firm believer that the result is more important than the mechanics. Martin, like Reggie Miller and Michael Redd, has taken a different shooting form and created a positive result. Martin is the shining light for a Sacramento ball club that has underachieved all season long with a multitude of veterans, led by Ron Artest and Mike Bibby. Martin should get the Most Improved Player award this season after averaging a career-high 20 points this year.
Amare Stoudemire is two games away from playing in all 82 games for the Phoenix Suns. If you saw Amare during the preseason or read quotes coming from the Suns organization concerning his health, no way would you have thought this would be possible. Amare not only has a chance to play all 82 games, but he also promised that he would become an All Star – which he did – and should be at least a 2nd Team All-NBA selection. How important is Amare? In the games he's played the last two seasons, the Suns are 123-39.
How would Eddy Curry and Tyson Chandler look in a Chicago uniform now? The Bulls are 49-32 and have one of the most talented young rosters in the league, but they let go the low-post presence of emerging stars Curry and Chandler – who looks like a better and cheaper version of Ben Wallace. There is something to say for teams that drafted high school players and did not practice what they preached in the patience department.
Leandro Barbosa is not only the best sixth man this season, but he has become maybe its most unguardable player. Teams have changed their defenses to stop not just Steve Nash and Amare, but to negate the quickness of Leandro in the open court. Barbosa is the fastest player in the NBA. I don’t know the stats, but he has to lead or be near the top in fast-break layups. He just outruns his opponents. Then add the lethal high percentage shooting from everywhere else. Barbosa clearly will play a significant role in the Suns quest for a championship.
Hey Mikki! I love watching Mikki Moore play. He reminds me of a kid that just watched his favorite player play on TV and runs out to emulate him. He has this scowl that to him might intimidate, but it makes me laugh. Moore has taken advantage of the injury to Nenad Krstic and has evolved into a very important part of the New Jersey Nets playoff run. He has played on seven teams and has finally found a home with his constant hard work and energy.
With surprises, there are always disappointments and here are the ones that stand out like a sore thumb...
The Miami Heat leads the way as the biggest failure this season. They showed up this season not ready to defend their NBA championship. They looked unorganized and disinterested in competing for the best record and home-court advantage in a weak Eastern Conference. Dwyane Wade was given most of the credit for the Heat's accomplishments, but this team did not start winning until Shaquille O'Neal came back from injury – something Wade couldn’t do early in the season. They could be eliminated in the first round if they face Cleveland.
New York should have been a playoff team this season and had a chance until the mental toughness of having to win home games took over. 19-21 at home in one of the most energized arenas is a major disappointment for a team that talked about showing they were a playoff team last year under Larry Brown. This talented underachieving team should at least have secured the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the injuries to Jamal Crawford and Quentin Richardson hurt, but going 2-8 with a berth on the line is a major disappointment.
The Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers are in the same boat. They have underachieved together. Both teams stretched the Phoenix Suns to seven games last year in back-to-back series and came into this season with high hopes. The Lakers were thought to make a run at the Pacific Division crown and now face the chance of not even making the postseason.
The Clippers are battling for the eighth and final spot with a team that was upgraded with addition of Tim Thomas and went backwards. The Clippers look like a team that was happy with success and new contracts and played this year with no focus and not understanding that teams would attack them with respect this year. Elton Brand and Sam Cassell have not had the kind of year this team needed to excel and now we have re-entered the Clipper zone.
Ben Wallace has definitely helped the Bulls this season. But the question is... To what extent? And was it worth $16 million a year? Wallace is arguably the fifth or sixth best player on the Bulls, so Chicago may start to wonder if they gave up too soon on Chandler to get a player that averages 10 rebounds and 2 blocks, but shoots 41 percent from the free throw line. Wallace is a good and serviceable addition to any team. But when you are paying him all that money, he becomes a serious disappointment with his stats.
Antoine Walker has fallen and can't get up. Players at the end of their career tend to go out in two different ways: gradually or they just fall off the table like a rock. Walker is a boulder right now. He looked at times on the court like a rookie for the Heat this year. Here is a player that seemed to have the most confidence of any player in the league. He is now hesitant and extremely low on ability and confidence.
Why does this seem to happen to certain players? Well, the major cause with most players is lost of athletic ability, which takes away their ability to create opportunities with the ball. Walker was a player that needed the ball. His fundamental skills of posting up and shooting have always been substandard. So now that Wade and Shaq dominate possessions, he has been exposed. 40 percent from the field, 27 percent from the three-point line and an embarrassing 43 percent from the free throw line... Walker is probably hoping the Heat stop playing him and subjecting him to constant booing from Heat fans.
Danny Ferry, I hope you read HoopsHype's articles? Here is some advice... Go get some catch-and-shoot players for LeBron James, arguably the most talented player in the game.
I wrote an article when you acquired Larry Hughes a couple of years ago. I said it was a mistake then and it still is now. Joe Johnson could have been had from the Phoenix Suns, but you were so desperate to get someone after missing out on Michael Redd and Ray Allen that you chose a guy that was the opposite. Larry Hughes is on this list because of you. He can’t relate to LeBron on the court. Look at his numbers: 39 percent from the field, 31 percent from beyond the three-point line and a horrible 68 percent from the free throw line. Terrible for a shooting guard. Hughes will be the reason the Cavaliers don’t reach the Conference Finals again this year and it’s not all his fault.
Every time I look at Mike Dunleavy, I shake my head. Just look. He is 6-foot-9, athletic, can shoot, pass and defend. So what is the problem? He has no desire to excel. He has a laziness about him that drives me crazy. He is Darius Miles without the scrutiny. This guy should have been an All-Star a couple of times already. I watch him make two great moves and then pass the ball six straight times without even trying to build on the rhythm of the game. He has failed to realize that being selfish can go two ways. When you pass open good offensive opportunities, it hurts your team. The Pacers are seeing why the Warriors grew tired and shipped him out quickly after Don Nelson took over coaching the team. Dunleavy’s numbers are good for an average player (12.7 and 5 rebounds a game). But really, who is he kidding? I know not Larry Bird, who has to watch the meekness of his game daily.
Isiah, why didn’t you call me before you signed Jared Jeffries? I know it wasn’t an Indiana thing, was it? Zeke, Dennis Rodman was a freak of nature. Just like you might not ever find a point guard with your mental toughness, I don’t think you will ever find a Dennis either. Jeffries probably is the biggest free agent bust this season. He has never held up physically since he's been in the league and his offensive skills are at NBADL levels for a player making 5.2 million a year. He shoots an astounding 44 percent from the free throw line for a small forward. How can he be aggressive offensively when he fears two free throws? Renaldo Balkman, a rookie, outplayed him for most of the year and finally took his playing time.
How can you pass up a multi year contract that would have paid you millions, sign with a contending team and then show up out of shape and eventually get suspended for the remainder of the year. Well, if you are Bonzi Wells, it can happen.
Chris Kaman, I want to congratulate you on getting paid and then taking the year off. This is the same guy that looked like a wild man with his hair swinging and physical presence. Now he is a movie star and realizes it’s not cool to be the wild man anymore.
Andrei Kirilenko and Boris Diaw would make this list, but if you dig deeper you will see why these two players have struggled this season to live up to expectations. Kirilenko has taken a back seat to Mehmet Okur, Boozer and Deron Williams and has struggled mightily. Diaw is a victim of Amare Stoudemire returning and taking back the position Diaw played last year within the Suns offense. Although the Suns would like Diaw to up his intensity level on the offensive end, he should have a major impact once the playoffs start.