By Andy Weise
1. Phoenix and San Antonio series â€“ Physical play. The image of Steve Nashâ€™s bloody nose will forever be locked into our brains. With guys like Bowen, Bell, Shaq and Duncan, this should be a classic physical playoff series.
2. Dirk Nowitzki â€“ Can he lead? Getting Jason Kidd was supposed to take a load off Dirkâ€™s shoulders. Dirk is definitely capable of leading a team but after a year of disappearing in the first round, the pressure is on the Mavericks to pull through. Avery Johnson wishes he had a more physical power forward (rumors had it last summer that Johnson would have loved to trade Dirk for KG). Like I said before, unless Dirk has a great series, the weight will fall on his shoulders again this year and that might be enough for Mark Cuban to sign off on a Dirk trade.
3. Orlando Magic and New Orleans Hornets â€“ Playoff inexperience. I like watching both of these teams so I wouldnâ€™t be disappointed if they went far in the playoffs, preferably to the conference finals. I donâ€™t think they would make a great championship series â€“ Iâ€™m holding out for a Lakers/Celtics. But these two teams feature two of the best young players in the league â€“ Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. Both are 22, going on 23 and among the best at their positions. It would be exciting to see these two teams do well with them in the driverâ€™s seats.
4.LeBron James â€“ How much can he do himself? LeBron might start looking at Kevin Garnettâ€™s time in Minnesotaâ€¦and ask how many times will management try to build and rebuild around its star player? James is a free agent two years from now, so Cleveland better be sure about the supporting cast or James will head elsewhere. Itâ€™s too bad Carlos Boozer took off â€“ he would be a great second option to pair with James. James had a taste of the finals last year, if the team gets bounced in the first or second round, James will consider that a failed year. That wonâ€™t sit well with the King because after all, itâ€™s not his shortcomings that will hold them back.
5. East â€“ Can anyone stop the Celtics? Detroit would be the best bet. I think the only other team capable would be the Magic. In the three games against the Magic, the Celtics lost two in Orlando but won at home. To get to the Celtics though, the Magic must get past the Pistons, no easy task. The Pistons took that season series including an early blowout in Orlando at the beginning of the season. The Magic backcourt of Nelson and Evans have nothing on Billups and Hamilton.