NBA Playoffs: The Coin Flipping Preview

The NBA playoffs begin on Saturday with several marquee matchups: Don Nelson and his Warriors are squaring off with his old squad, the Mavericks; Vince Carter is going up against the team he practically built, the Toronto Raptors; and the Lakers enter into a rematch of last year's thrilling series against Suns.

While the NBA playoffs are, indeed, considered much more predictable than the NHL; I have decided to measure my well-researched and somewhat opinionated predictions against those of a mindless 2001 Canadian quarter. I do, agreeably, take risks with a few of my picks, but I'm hoping that I can still come up on top against the heads or tails approach.

Note:the higher seed was always "heads" and the lower seed was always "tails." The coin was flipped until one side achieved a total of four wins — each win counting as one symbolic and predictive win for the team it represented.

Eastern Conference

(1) Detroit vs. (8) Orlando

This is a David and Goliath battle that David won't win. The Pistons are simply too good and too experienced to not dominate the Orlando Magic.

A minor subplot might be the fact that Grant Hill is going up against his former team; you know, the one that he could actually put up 20 ppg for while also playing more than 70 games a season. However, this plot and story will end rather quickly as Orlando's inexperience will shine through.

The Pistons were able to sweep the season series 4-0; and should do so in this series in an even more convincing manner. The Pistons are quite simply favored in nearly every position on the court, with the possible exception of youngster Dwight Howard. Howard will do his best He-man impersonation, but will be thoroughly harassed by Rasheed Wallace all series long. He'll probably even be able to put up good numbers against Detroit, but it still doesn't matter. They still won't come close in this series.

Chad says: Detroit in 4.
Coin says: Detroit in 5.

(2) Cleveland vs. (7) Washington

In last year's first round matchup, the Cavaliers were able to beat the Wizards in six games. That was with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler.

This year, the Wizards are literally limping their way into the playoffs and will be literally limping out almost as fast. Antawn Jamison has to absolutely dominate if his team wants a chance at taking the series to the length it went last year.

LeBron James will be looking to build on his resume and the Cavaliers will be looking to do a bit more damage this year than they did in the 2006 playoffs, where they came up 18 points short in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals against the Detroit Pistons.

This year, the Cavaliers will have lots of time to prepare for that second round and the Wizards will have lots of time to heal.

Chad says: Cleveland in 5.
Coin says: Cleveland in 6.

(3) Toronto vs. (6) New Jersey

The last time the Raptors made the playoffs, Vince Carter had knee pains that kept him out of their first round loss to the Pistons. This time, his knees are just fine, but he's on the opposing bench looking to keep the Raptors out of the second round again.

Christ Bosh and the reconstructed Raptors have put together a remarkable season, putting together the most improved record and winning their division title under the guidance of Bryan Colangelo. The Raptors, however, received late-season scares with a season-ending injury to Jorge Garbajosa and appendix surgery for Andrea Bargnani. Bargnani, however, returned in the final game of the season, putting up 17 points in 27 minutes and declaring himself ready for the playoffs. The Raptors will be relying on the rookie to keep the pressure off of Bosh. They'll need multiple scoring options if they are going to dismantle the Nets.

The Nets are led in scoring by Carter, but have Richard Jefferson and Jason Kidd providing experienced scoring options to help balance their attack. Carter, though, will be looking to be the main man most of the way as he makes it his personal mission to beat his former team. If Carter hogs the ball, the Nets will fall. If they spread the ball around, however, they have a good chance of taking the series. At least that's what the coin thinks.

Chad says: Toronto in 6.
Coin says: New Jersey in 7.

(4) Miami vs. (5) Chicago

Miami might be the higher seed, but the Bulls have the home-court advantage.

Chicago will be looking for revenge after falling to the eventual champs in six games last year. This year, however, the Bulls find themselves much more ready for the task. The offseason signing of Ben Wallace was meant to help the Bulls beat Shaq and the Heat; and beat them they have. The Bulls have taken three of four games during the season, but one must remember that the playoffs is a completely different beast. Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, and Ben Gordon will have to provide much of the scoring punch for these Bulls; and they'll have to figure out a way to stop Dwyane Wade, a threat that caused many problems in the series last year.

Wade, however, doesn't seem ready to pose as many problems for the Bulls this time around. Coming off a serious shoulder injury, Wade has only been able to put up 14.6 ppg in the five games since his return. It's hard, however, to measure the will of a champion; and these Heat are the reigning champions of the NBA. Don't expect them to go down without a fight, but expect them to go down nonetheless.

Chad says: Chicago in 7.
Coin says: Chicago in 6.

Western Conference

(1) Dallas vs. (8) Golden State

The Mavericks have put up one of the greatest regular-season records in NBA history, winning 65 of their 82 games. They could have had 68, however, if they knew how to beat the Golden State Warriors.

The Mavericks are led by MVP candidate Dirk Nowitzki and his experienced sidekicks: Josh Howard, Jason Terry, and Jerry Stackhouse. These (almost) same Mavericks have proven that they can dominate in the playoffs by sweeping Memphis, knocking down the Spurs in seven, and pushing through the Suns in six last year. They came up short against the Heat, however, when it mattered most. This year Cuban will be expecting even more, and more he will get.

More competition, that is.

If the Mavericks are the Superman of the Western Conference, then the Golden State Warriors can be labeled as Kryptonite.

The Warriors have won all three games against the Mavericks this season: a three-point victory in Dallas and two blowout wins at home (one coming while the Mavericks rested their starters). They also took three of four last against the Mavs last season, without the genius of Don Nelson behind the bench. If anybody knows how to solve Dallas, it is Nelson, the man who practically invented the Mavericks success. Baron Davis and Jason Richardson will be relied on heavily. Stephen Jackson, Monta Ellis, and Al Harrington will also need to step up, however, if the Warriors want a chance to pull off the first-round shocker. I think they will.

Chad says: Golden State in 6.
Coin says: Golden State in 6.

(2) Phoenix vs. (7) L.A. Lakers

Last year, the Lakers gave the Suns quite a scare, going up 3-1 in the first round series before eventually folding to Steve Nash and company in seven. This year, they'll also have to deal with Amare Stoudemire, as well.

The Lakers were led, as always, by the all-around efforts of Kobe Bryant. Bryant accomplished one of the most amazing feats in NBA history by scoring at least 50 points in four straight games (225 combined). He does have a decent supporting cast of Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and the promising Andrew Bynum. However, everybody knows that Kobe is the only factor that matters for the Lakers' success.

The strange thing, however, is that the Lakers' only win against the Suns this season came with Bryant nursing a knee injury.

The Suns have dominated the season series with Kobe in the lineup, winning all three games by an average of seven points per contest. They, of course, are led by two-time MVP Steve Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion, and the ever difficult defense of Raja Bell. Leandro Barbosa also stepped up his game this season, chipping in 18.1 ppg.

The Lakers will fight, much like they did last year, but the Suns will prevail.

Chad says: Phoenix in 6
Coin says: Phoenix in 4

(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Denver

When the Nuggets traded for Allen Iverson, they were thinking about success. The Spurs, however, didn't need to make any changes to an already proven core.

Last year, Carmelo was unable to lead the Nuggets through the first round matchup against the L.A. Clippers. This year, he faces a much more difficult task, the San Antonio Spurs, but he has the help of Allen Iverson. Since becoming a Nugget, Iverson has had to adapt his game to suit the Nuggets needs. Many see a potential alpha-dog struggle between 'Melo and Iverson as unavoidable, I see it as acceptable. When the game is on the line, who do you guard? Carmelo is one of the most proven clutch scorers in the game while Allen Iverson is one of the most dominant scorers, period. The only difficulty for the Nuggets, however, will be getting the "game on the line" against these Spurs.

The Spurs won the season series 2-1, with the only loss coming in a meaningless battle of the reserves on the final day of the NBA season. In their previous meeting, they were able to hold A.I. to 9 points and 'Melo a mere 15 and in the game before that they held off the valiant 33-point effort by Iverson to still win 92-83 (though Anthony was not in the lineup). The Spurs, to say the least, are playoff proven.

San Antonio has won the NBA championship three times since 1999 (1999, 2003, 2005) and since then, only one series was lost to a non-eventual Western Conference champ (2000). Because of their experience, they will be able to overcome the Nuggets, albeit in a very difficult series.

Chad says: San Antonio in 6.
Coin says: Denver in 5.

(4) Utah vs. (5) Houston

The last time the Utah Jazz had such a high seed for the playoffs, they were led by John Stockton and the Mailman, Karl Malone (2001). This time, however, they'll be looking for the combo of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer to deliver.

The Utah Jazz are coming off their best season in recent years and have plenty of hope for the playoffs. Boozer emerged as a dominant force in the Western Conference, while Mehmet Okur has been able to hold his own down low, as well (17.6 ppg, 7.2 rpg). The Jazz won 51 games without much contribution from marquee player, Andrei Kirilenko. They'll need Kirilenko to step up, however, if they are going to be able to stop T-Mac and the Rockets.

Utah has the higher seed and won the season series 3-1, but the Houston Rockets were able to pull off home-court advantage.

With 52 wins, the Houston Rockets were able to put together their best season since drafting Yao Ming in 2002. Either Yao Ming or Tracy McGrady could have emerged as MVP candidates if it weren't for injuries. Yao averaged 25 ppg, 9. 4rpg, and 2 blocks over 48 games. Tracy McGrady, however, was the bigger contributor to the Rockets season, averaging 24.6 ppg, 6.5 apg, and 5.3 rpg, while carrying the Rockets on his back (which is susceptible to injury) with Yao out of the lineup.

With both Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming healthy, the Utah Jazz have their work cut out for them. They will fight hard, but come up short in the closest series of the first round.

Chad says: Houston in 7.
Coin says: Houston in 7.

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