The NBA Playoffs start next Saturday, though the Detroit Pistons have already clinched the #2 seed. Boston will be the #1 and Orlando slots in at #3. Only the 8th seed is up in the air, but the Hawks have all but locked it up, leading New Jersey by 2 games with 4 to play. While the teams in the playoffs may be set, seeds 4 through 8 are still in doubt. I bring this up because we Pistons fans need something to root for as the season comes to a close.
Cleveland will more than likely capture the #4 seed, needing just a win tonight against Chicago. Atlanta should also stay at #8 because it is 3 games behind current 7th seed Toronto.
Those Raptors are vying with Washington and Philadelphia for the 5th, 6th, and 7th seeds. The Wizards are 5th as of now, leading by 1 over the Sixers, who are also 1 up on Toronto. Let's take a look at these teams to see who Detroit will likely play, or, rather, who we want to play. Interestingly, we will see both Washington and Toronto this weekend.
41-37, 5th seed
The Pistons will be resting their starters, and probably sitting Hamilton, yet again tonight. Orlando will also be resting it starters in its final game. Those two expected wins should assure Washington of a 5 seed. Games at home against the Sixers and Pacers will be tougher, since both are fighting for playoff positioning. Still, the games are in D.C. On paper, Washington should win all four games, but games are played on the court and anything can happen.
If the Wizards do somehow collapse and fall to the 7th seed, they will be an extremely tough matchup for Detroit. With Gilbert Arenas back, Washington is a much more dangerous team Agent Zero is fully healthy yet, but he is still a better player than someone like Roger Mason or Antonio Daniels. The teams have split the season series, but Arenas was out for both contests. Last year, when Washington had largely the same squad, the teams also split the series. So, I have no doubt that this would be a killer matchup for us. The Wizards' trio of Antawn Jamison, Caron Butler, and Arenas are hard to guard simply because it's difficult to put 3 great defenders on the court at once. Chauncey Billups can guard Arenas well because he has the size and quickness to stay in front of Gilbert. With his length and agility, Tayshaun Prince is certainly capable of shutting down Butler. But, it's Jamison that may be a tougher battle. It will probably be Rasheed Wallace on Jamison initially. The former Tar Heels matchup well height-wise, but Jamison is quicker and can drive past Wallace. We would likely have to double off someone like DeShawn Stevenson or Brendan Haywood, and that's not a problem.
The Wizards also have a very athletic bench, something Detroit can matchup well with. Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Antonio Daniels, Roger Mason, and Darius Songaila can all the run the floor and play above the rim. This is where I hope to see Amir Johnson get quality playoff time. I have a sneaking feeling Flip will go with Lindsey and Theo Ratliff far too often. But, it's Maxiell and Amir that have the athleticism to defend Blatche and Songaila. Same with Stuckey and Afflalo against Young and Daniels.
Possibility of seeing Wizards in Rd. 1: Slim
Desire to see Wizards in Rd. 1: Very Slim
40-38, 6th seed
Like Washington, Philly has two games against teams still in the hunt and two against teams who have already set their playoff spots. The Sixers-Wizards game will go a long way in determining who gets the higher seed. Both Philly and Washington are on a roll; Philly has won 3 of 4, while Washington has won 3 straight. In fact, if these teams continue their recent play, the Raptors will be left in the 7th seed by default. Toronto has already lost 3 of 4, but has the easiest schedule of the 3.
If Detroit plays Philadelphia in Round 1, I'd be much happier. Yes, Philly has an athletic core led by Andre Iguodala. They have a steady point guard in Andre Miller. And, Samuel Dalembert always seems to give us fits. But, they don't have nearly the same experience or bench that Washington does. Their bench consists of second-year guys and rookies like Louis Williams, Thaddeus Young, Rodney Carney, and Jason Smith. Williams, Young, and Carney are largely one-dimensional athletes that have yet to round out their games. We split the season series, but Philly's last win came with much of Detroit's starters on the pine. And Detroit has beaten Philly in the first round two of the last five years. If Prince can contain Iguodala, there are no real tough defensive assignments on this squad. There is no Arenas or Butler here, and for that, I hope we get Philly on Saturday.
Possibility of seeing 76ers in Rd. 1: Moderate
Desire to see 76ers in Rd. 1: High
39-39, 7th seed
As I said earlier, the Raptors look to have the easiest remaining schedule of the 3 teams. Whether that helps them is something only Toronto can control. Detroit and Chicago have nothing to play for anymore, Miami should be in the D-League right now. Only New Jersey will present a tough game, and even that depends on Vince Carter's health. If he's out or has to miss more time than usual, Toronto wins going away.
But, Toronto is still the 7th seed and needs help to move up. For that reason, Toronto may still be the team we see in Round 1. Thus far, Detroit has taken 2 of 3 in the series. The Pistons' only loss came without Hamilton, though.
The Raptors are a solid 10-deep, with nine of the players between 5.7 and 12.7 points per game. Chris Bosh is the true star here, but his rebounds and blocks are down this season. I don't see any reason why he can be quieted by the Pistons' deep frontcourt. However, Detroit shouldn't forget Rasho Nesterovic. I can't believe I just wrote that, but seriously, Nesterovic has become an offensive juggernaut. A career 7 pts/gm scorer, Rasho has averaged about 15 per game since February. With a second low-post scorer, Toronto would be the only team among the 3 to have such a combo.
Another area of concern would be Toronto's two-headed point guard duo of T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon. Both players shoot well and rarely turn the ball over. This might be one team where Lindsey Hunter would come in handy. Ford and Calderon are both small, giving Hunter a good matchup. On offense, Billups and Stuckey are stronger and bigger than both, creating easy opportunities for post-ups and penetration.
Possibility of seeing Toronto in Rd. 1: Pretty Good
Desire to see Toronto in Rd. 1: Very High