As of Wednesday night, five NBA teams have moved on to the second round, with Dallas and Indiana trying to join them on Thursday. That's five cities -- San Antonio, Detroit, Phoenix, Miami and Seattle -- where hope still springs eternal.
As a public service, I'm here to throw water on all their chances.
For this week's five-pack, here are the fatal weaknesses of the second-rounders, allowing for the fact, of course, that I've already selected the Spurs to beat the Pistons in the Finals. I mean, somebody has to win. But in this most wide-open of seasons, let's pretend that's not the case.
Yes, the Spurs have two championship banners in the SBC Center but both were claimed with David Robinson anchoring the middle. Here are his replacements: Nazr Mohammad, who just a couple months ago was a Knick, and Rasho Nesterovic, who almost never gets to the foul line and doesn't convert when he does. Tim Duncan is still working his way back after an ankle injury. Point guard Tony Parker has traditionally been up-and-down in the playoffs. Bruce Bowen will so irritate an opponent with his in-your-face defense that somebody will pop him and put him out of commission. Manu Ginobili, nicknamed El Contusion by teammate Brent Barry, will injure himself on his way to the arena by trying to run through, rather than open, a door.
Yes, the Pistons have the same starting five they did last season when they won the title. But they will miss the contributions of three departed bench players -- Corliss Williamson, Mike James, Mehmet Okur and Elden Campbell. Rasheed Wallace -- who has been playing well but also has shown signs of the old Rasheed -- will get so steamed at a foul call that he will spontaneously combust at a key moment. Larry Brown will be distracted by possible offers to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, the New York Knicks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the NATO Joint Forces All-Stars. Richard Hamilton's overused mask will disintegrate as he goes up for a jumper. Backup guard Carlos Arroyo will get furious when backup-backup-backup center Darko Milicic continues to command all of the backup feature stories.
Yes, they compiled the NBA's best record and swept through the Memphis Grizzlies like a Panzer Division. But the Grizz were eminently sweepable. At some point, some team will stop the Suns' frenetic pace and force them to play half-court. (Have they heard that one before?) Joe Johnson and Shawn Marion will collapse from exhaustion after averaging 42 minutes a game all season. Amare Stoudemire will suffer a hyperextended shoulder when he tries to dunk 17 feet away from the basket. Steve Nash, in the midst of licking his fingers as he drives to the basket, will get them stuck to his lips and commit a key turnover. Quentin Richardson benches himself with a migraine he brought on by banging his fists against his head in that silly signal he flashes whenever he scores. Team friction is brought to light in one of 12th man Paul Shirley's celebrated blogs. Worse, five players foul out in a key game and Shirley actually has to play.
Yes, they rolled through the New Jersey Nets and have a center with three rings and one MVP award. But Alonzo Mourning will start demanding to take minutes away from Shaquille O'Neal, and power forward Udonis Haslem will go on strike because he's tired of covering his man and Shaq's. Delicate team chemistry will erode. Dwyane Wade will remember that his leap to the elite of NBA guards has defied belief and worry that he has sold his soul to the devil. Damon Jones will draw a technical foul at a key juncture for coming out of a timeout huddle wearing sunglasses. In a show of solidarity for his brother, Jeff, Stan Van Gundy will claim Shaq is refereed unfairly; in a show of solidarity with himself, commissioner David Stern will remove six figures from SVG's bank account.
Yes, they've been one of the surprise teams all season and did a nice job disposing of Sacramento. But the Kings, who love contact the way an owl loves the sun, were eminently disposable. Ray Allen will sue for non-offensive-support at some point in the playoffs. Point guard Luke Ridnour's 27 percent playoff field-goal percentage will sink lower; furthermore, he will miss a key game when a security guard, mistaking him for a kid trying to break in, throws him out of the arena. Danny Fortson checks into the game and fouls out before he reaches the lane. Vladimir Radmanovic actually passes three times in a row to three different Sonics, so shocking them that the passes break their noses.