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The East playoffs will have three heavy favorites -- Detroit over Milwaukee, Miami over Chicago and New Jersey over Indiana -- along with one series that should be more of a toss-up: the playoff-tested Washington Wizards vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first postseason game of LeBron James' NBA career.
The West offers slightly more intrigue, at least on paper. The Spurs will be solid favorites over the Kings, and the same goes for Dallas over Memphis, but the Phoenix-L.A. Lakers series has the Kobe Bryant factor at play, and the Los Angeles Clippers-Denver series offers the oddity of the sixth seed, the Clips, having home-court advantage over the third seed by virtue of having a better regular-season record.
"This is the most wide-open I've ever seen the NBA playoffs," TNT analyst Charles Barkley said. "If the Clippers make it to the Western Conference finals, I wouldn't be shocked -- and if Denver makes it to the Western Conference finals, I wouldn't be shocked."
ABC, the league's network rights holder, got first choice of which games to televise and selected Wizards-Cavs for the Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET time slot and Lakers-Suns for the same slot on Sunday.The playoffs begin Saturday with Wizards-Cavs at 3:30 p.m. ET, Sacramento-San Antonio at 5:30 p.m., Bulls-Heat at 8 p.m. and Nuggets-Clippers in the uncoveted 10:30 p.m. slot.
Sunday's games are Pacers-Nets at 1 p.m. ET, Lakers-Suns at 3:30, Bucks-Pistons at 7 and Grizzlies-Mavericks at 9:30.
Here's the briefest of looks at each series, along with the Sheridan picks (I went chalk, big-time).
EAST:Bucks-Pistons: Detroit's experience will be the determining factor in each fourth quarter, but the Bucks have the right combination of size, speed and shooting to keep up with the Pistons. Detroit in 4. Heat-Bulls: Miami has too much size and too good a player, Dwyane Wade, to be threatened much. But Chicago has been playing playoff-type games for two weeks. Heat in 5. Pacers-Nets: The Nets are pretty high on themselves these days, but Indiana never goes down easy in the playoffs. We'll tab Jason Kidd as the difference-maker here. Nets in 7. Wizards-Cavaliers: LeBron takes the big stage for the first time, but is everyone going to underestimate Gilbert Arenas again? Cavaliers in 7. WEST: Spurs-Kings: Two of the game's best defenders and loosest cannons, Bruce Bowen and Artest, could make this a combustible series, and the Mike Bibby-Tony Parker point guard matchup is nifty. Spurs in 5. Suns-Lakers: Kobe Bryant scored 39, 37, 51 and 43 in the Lakers' four games against Phoenix, three of which were losses. If you had to pick only one series to watch, this would be it. Suns in 7. Nuggets-Clippers: Anyone who bets against Sam Cassell will eventually part ways with his money, although the Clips haven't been in the second round since 1976. Clippers in 7. Grizzlies-Mavericks: There is no one on Memphis who can defend Dirk Nowitzki, and the Grizz still have zero career playoff W's. Mavs in 6.
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-- Marc Stein
LeBron James didn't play in the final game, but his team's 100-99 win over the Hawks may have boosted his MVP candidacy by meeting a threshold of 50 wins.With the one-point victory, the Cavs improved to 50-32 -- only the fourth time in franchise history they've won 50 games in a season and the first time since 1992-93. Also, Cleveland's Mike Brown became the first rookie coach to win 50 games since Rick Carlisle did it for Detroit in 2001-02.
• Detroit's 64 wins were the most in the NBA since the Lakers went 67-15 in 1999-2000.
-- The Associated Press
The Wizards got the highly coveted No. 5 spot in the playoffs by downing the Pistons.
Wizards forward Caron Butler: In his third game back from a thumb injury, scored 33 points and pulled down 12 rebounds as the Wiz clinched a playoff date with the Cavs by beating Detroit. The Pistons, it should be noted, were so unconcerned about winning that 'Sheed was chucking T-shirts into the crowd in the fourth quarter.
Chris Broussard: Well, Miles has been one headache after another there. He feels like he's a superstar already, even though he hasn't performed to that level. This year when he was putting up some decent numbers, that went to his head even more. He's not a good influence on the younger players. He hasn't bought into what the coach is trying to good. As far as Zach, they feel like he's had his issues, but if they can get him away from some of the negative influences, he'll be a team guy. He's kind of a follower, if he's with a negative team he'll go that way. I think they'll try to stay with Zach and try to move Darius.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Travis (MI): So what about playing basketball again ... anywhere?Paul Shirley: I'm thinking about changing direction and entering the priesthood. I feel like a nice vow of celibacy is what I need right now ... actually, basketball is on my mind right now. When we finish editing the show, I'm back to it. It just pays too well. And since I'm a greedy bastard...
Jim (MD): Do any basketball players smoke cigarettes or cigars regularly?Paul Shirley: The European ones. Like it's their job. Mary (Los Angeles): Back in November, I bet my co-worker lunch at Wahoo's that you would get picked up for at least one 10-day contract at some point this season. Since this is the last day of NBA regular season play, I think I lose. Can you please make this up to me? Paul Shirley: First, it's amazing that I was the subject of a bet. (Had to get this one posted so that it will go down in evidence.) Second, it was a pretty good bet on your part -- it's happened the last three years. If my descent into Hollywood self-parody had not happened, I think a 10-day might have.