The road ahead
A look ahead at the midway point from the uncertain seer who in the preseason predicted a hot start by the Celtics (excellent vision there!) and a playoff spot for the Knicks (not so excellent) ...
Most sane people would insist that the Spurs will peak in May and June, as is their custom. They have 10 players who are at least 30, which makes wisdom their ally and old age their enemy. They naturally are more vulnerable than ever to injury as well as to younger, livelier opponents. Since I've been picking Dallas all along, I'll stick with the Mavericks (based on their blend of young legs, depth and painful learning experiences over the last two years) to upset San Antonio in the conference finals ... while admitting that I don't feel good about picking against the Spurs, who were an old team last year but didn't look it in the playoffs.
Many reasonable people believe they will. I again am going to stick with my preseason pick that the Pistons will overtake Boston in the conference finals. How often do you see a newly assembled team like the Celtics running the table? I'm not referring to the fringe alterations the Heat made by acquiring the likes of
A midseason trade helped the 2003-04 Pistons and the 1994-95 Rockets win championships, but the arrivals of
Boston's makeover is far more radical. Not only have the Celtics rewritten their own DNA, but they're also asking
The key here is to watch the Pistons, who have run low on energy over the last two postseasons. They have the lineup to exploit the Celtics' weaknesses, but matchups will mean little unless Detroit follows the example of the Spurs by peaking in the spring.
There are 10 teams in the West with 23 wins or more, as opposed to the six winning franchises in the (much) weaker conference. New Orleans, Denver, the Lakers, Portland, Golden State, Utah and Houston all have reason to believe that they can challenge the establishment (San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas), but in the end only one or two of those outsiders will make an impact.
Let's assume that the amazing Trail Blazers are too young to survive in the playoffs, that the Rockets lack the necessary cohesion, and that the eccentric Warriors can't go far while yielding a catastrophic 107.1 points per game as they've done through 43 games.
It's hard to choose between the remaining candidates. The bench-thin Hornets are asking a lot of
But the most likely outsider has to be the Jazz, who reached the conference finals last season and have improved by picking up