Pressure? What pressure could there be for a team that hasn't reached the playoffs since 1994 and at one point this season was 26-35. It's all gravy from here on out for Don Nelson's crew.
2 of 16John W. McDonough/SI
With scoring option A (Gilbert Arenas) out for the playoffs and option C (Caron Butler) out for at least the first round, Jamison has become options A, B and C for the sliding Wizards. For a team that pays only lip service to the idea of playing defense, the loss of two-thirds of its offensive heart will likely be too much for one man to overcome.
3 of 16Bill Frakes/SI
It's one thing to admit a draft pick is a bust; it's another to trade him away for peanuts, which is what the Pistons did when they sent the No. 2 pick of the 2003 draft to Orlando last year for Kelvin Cato and a future first-round pick. But lo and behold, there was a potentially productive post player in those 21-year-old bones. And while Darko has not blossomed quite as fully as many predicted, he has played well enough to stir some bidding for his free-agent services this summer. A strong payback series against the Pistons could raise his price beyond Jerome James levels; a poor one may just confirm what the Pistons suggested in last year's deal.
4 of 16Manny Millan/SI
New Jersey Nets
As poorly as the Nets have played, they still have the talent to win any series in the East. And that isn't because of Jason Kidd's passing or Vince Carter's scoring, but because Jefferson has the ability to keep defenses off Carter and provide a target for Kidd's passes. Ability hasn't necessarily translated into performance, though, as RJ has seemed to play well one month and poorly the next. He won't have the luxury of time in the playoffs.
5 of 16John W. McDonough/SI
As impressive as the Raptors' unexpected run to the postseason has been, Toronto's young upstarts are about to get their first lessons in playoff basketball: whistles get swallowed, defenses get tighter, paces become slower. If Toronto hopes to keep the good karma flowing it will need a steadying hand running the team. Ford was up to the task in the regular season; if he is equally smooth in the spring, Toronto could surprise some people.
6 of 16Robert Beck/SI
Utah Jazz: Carlos BoozerNo one is expecting Boozer to beat the likes of Dirk Nowitzki or Tim Duncan. But for $11 million this season, he has to at least keep pace with them. That is, of course, assuming he can take advantage of Houston's relative weakness at power forward in Round 1.
7 of 16Greg Nelson/SI
The Nuggets didn't trade Andre Miller and two first-round picks in the June draft to merely qualify for the postseason. Teamed with Carmelo Anthony, AI offers Denver the promise that it can beat any team on any night if enough shots fall. That won't makeup for the Nuggets' unwillingness to play defense, but it should be enough to get the Spurs' attention in Round 1.
8 of 16John W. McDonough/SI
Mr. Big Shot doesn't have much to prove in the postseason with a Finals MVP trophy already on his mantle, but with free agency looming this summer for Billups, the 30-year-old point guard could lose plenty of negotiating stroke should the Pistons crumble early this spring. While plenty of research indicates point guards who shoot well age well, try convincing an owner being asked to pony up $10 million per of that when younger, and cheaper options will be available.
9 of 16Greg Nelson/SI(2), John W. McDonough/SI, AP
With Dwayne Wade looking mortal after gamely returning from a separated shoulder, Miami will need someone from its supporting cast to take the pressure off of Shaquille O'Neal in the low post. In other words, somebody has to hit some 3s. For most of this season, that load has been carried by Kapono, who's shooting an eye-opening 52 percent from long range. With Kapono likely to get a bit more attention in the playoffs, he'll need some help from the Heat's inconsistent veterans. If Pat Riley can get at least one of them going each night, Miami will be tough to beat for any team.
10 of 16Greg Nelson/SI
Yao Ming may be the Rockets' most reliable option, but McGrady will have to shoulder the weight of being the final option. As defenses stiffen and flood the paint in the playoffs, McGrady's ability to create, no matter the defense, will be crucial in generating a shot when none seems available. After carrying Houston to a 20-12 mark without an injured Yao over the winter, T-Mac may finally be ready to win his first playoff series.
11 of 16Greg Nelson/SI
San Antonio Spurs
With Robert Horry a postseason away from retirement -- and playing like it -- Finley will be expected to offer that unaccounted for option in the Spurs' attack. While averaging eight points and shooting 38 percent before the All-Star break suggested Finley might not be up for the task, his 11 points per game and 45 percent mark after the break indicates otherwise, as did San Antonio's 23-6 mark since the break.
12 of 16John Biever/SI
The Bulls didn't cough up $60 million for the next four years to win 50 games and qualify for the playoffs; they've been there, done that. Big Ben was recruited from Detroit to make a difference in money season (i.e. the playoffs). And while Wallace shrunk from the challenge last season amid his power struggle with Pistons coach Flip Saunders, the Bulls have to hope $16 million this season spurs him to play like he did after the All-Star break and not revert to his uninspired play of the season's first half.
13 of 16John W. McDonough/SI
He tried so hard to be the good teammate, the type of player who could inspire his teammates to better performances. But when injuries tripped up the Lakers at midseason, Kobe reverted to form, carrying the Lakers' scoring chores almost single-handedly while making bystanders of his teammates. That may have gotten L.A. to the playoffs, but it won't carry it far in the postseason.
14 of 16Greg Nelson/SI
It's the most basic of basketball tenets: when you drive to the basket, good things happen. Yet losses to the likes of Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta and other seemingly lesser teams prove the Cavs forget this with alarming regularity. And while it is easy to blame the Larry Hughes and Eric Snows for the team breakdowns, this team follows its cues from LeBron. When James drives, the Cavs drive, pass and force opponents to react. When James dribbles for 10 seconds and hoists up a bad 3, the Cavs stand around, wait for defenses to crowd LeBron and then hoist up equally bad jumpers when he kicks the ball to them. As his 0-for-10 mark on game-ending 3s indicates, LeBron, at this point in his young career, needs to stick with option 1.
15 of 16John W. McDonough/SI
From the "Eyes on the Prize" slogan running through every page of the team media guide to the team's almost defensive attitude in answering questions about whether the run-and-gun style can win it all, the Suns' season has been dedicated to validating D'Antoni's vision. Can a team win by shooting within seven seconds of gaining possession? Can the Suns keep running when the Spurs and Rockets slow down games? Do the Suns play enough defense to win when their shots don't fall? With a healthy team, homecourt in the West against everybody but Dallas and three years under D'Antoni, the Suns won't be able to chalk up their playoff failures to injury or inexperience this time.
16 of 16John W. McDonough/SI
He may be the MVP, but Nowitzki's proving ground -- the Mavericks' proving ground -- is the playoffs. And after winning more than 60 games after blowing a 2-0 series lead in last year's Finals, anything less than a title will be disappointing. That's where Nowitzki comes in, who obviously has the skills to win it all but has to prove he can lead his teammates mentally through the bad calls, varying strategies and coaching mind games that come into play in the postseason. That may be a taller order than many think for a player who recently told the Washington Post's Michael Lee, "I think everybody who says they don't get tense, they're lying."
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