by user Davis21wylie

It's our favorite time of year. No, not National Oatmeal Month -- the NBA Playoffs are here! After a grueling 82-game sojourn with more highs and lows than Ron Artest when he doesn't take his lithium, we've finally arrived at the "second season". Over the next two-odd months, we'll find out who the true contenders are, finally culminating with the 2006 NBA Champions. Will San Antonio defend? Will Detroit keep dominating? Will Dallas break through? Only time will tell, but we'd like to be able to tell you a little early...

(Each team capsule contains the key info about their chances in the postseason. The depth charts feature the Player Efficiency Rating, John Hollinger's all-in-one method of player evaluation. More info on PER is available here, but suffice to say that anything above 20.00 means you're doing very well, 15.00 is average, and anything under 10.00 means you're clinging to a spot in the league. "Rk" is the player's rank at their primary position; only players who played at least 500 min. were ranked. Coach ranks are according to my methodology discussed here. Any other questions about the statistical methods in the preview are addressed here.)

1. Detroit Pistons (64-18)

The Vitals:
Coach: Flip Saunders (1st)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 60-22
Offensive Rating: 108.4 (3rd in NBA)
Defensive Rating: 100.9 (5th)
Pace Factor: 88.7 (29th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Chauncey Billups     23.37    3
SG  Rip Hamilton         18.14   10
SF  Tayshaun Prince      14.80   26
PF  Rasheed Wallace      17.65   14
C   Ben Wallace          17.60    7
PF  Antonio McDyess      15.51   26
SG  Maurice Evans        14.07   28
SG  Carlos Delfino       10.58   48
PG  Lindsey Hunter       10.52
PG  Tony Delk            16.17

Why They Can Win:
The Pistons have been riding a wave of unprecedented (if not exactly unexpected) success all year long, and have been to the NBA Finals in each of the last two seasons, winning once (2004) and taking the champion Spurs to seven games a year ago. They may be the most complete team in the NBA, boasting balance on a much-improved offense while maintaining a dominant defense. Detroit claims what may be the best frontcourt in the NBA at the defensive end, and Billups has truly emerged as a star this season. In short, the Pistons are the frontrunners to win it all this season.
Why They Can't Win:
In a word: depth. They've improved in this area since last season, adding Tony Delk and getting more key minutes out of Maurice Evans, but the bench consists of more than a few creaky vets and defensive specialists. They got away with it during the regular season, thanks to a remarkable lack of injuries, but Detroit may be one hurt starter away from trouble.
Where They'll End Up: NBA Finals, most likely.

2. Miami Heat (52-30)

The Vitals:
Coach: Pat Riley (not ranked)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 52-30
Offensive Rating: 107.0 (6th)
Defensive Rating: 102.5 (9th)
Pace Factor: 93.1 (13th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Jason Williams       15.01   27
SG  Dwyane Wade          27.65    2
SF  James Posey           9.89   53
PF  Udonis Haslem        13.71   38
C   Shaquille O'Neal     24.43    2
C   Alonzo Mourning      19.50    5
PF  Antoine Walker       14.38   33
PG  Gary Payton          10.76   59
SG  Derek Anderson       10.60   47
PF  Wayne Simien         11.43

Why They Can Win:
Miami's got Shaq, for one thing. As long as the big guy is in the lineup and combined with Dwyane Wade, the Heat will have a chance to go very far. What's more, they've got another top-tier center on the bench behind him: Alonzo Mourning. Those two will give opponents all they can handle and more down low, and the Heat have shown that, using their superior inside strength, they can favor the kind of pace the playoffs often demand. Mourning and Antoine Walker give Miami a solid bench as well, to go with their two-star starting lineup.
Why They Can't Win:
This remains a more flawed team than Detroit. James Posey is in the starting lineup for shooting and defense, but they may want to start Walker more often, as he brings more to the table. Another issue is Shaq's health; the Heat rested him often during the season, in preparation for the playoffs, but he is still an injury-prone player. If Shaq goes down, Mourning can step in, but behind him are flotsam like Michael Doleac and the inexperienced Wayne Simien. Backcourt depth is nearly nonexistent, thanks to Gary Payton's profound drop-off in production.
Where They'll End Up: Probably a loss in the Conference Finals to Detroit, but I wouldn't rule out a second-round exit.

3. New Jersey Nets (49-33)

The Vitals:
Coach: Lawrence Frank (3rd)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 45-37
Offensive Rating: 102.2 (22nd)
Defensive Rating: 100.6 (4th)
Pace Factor: 91.3 (20th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Jason Kidd           19.19    9
SG  Vince Carter         21.57    6
SF  Richard Jefferson    18.96   10
PF  Jason Collins         5.51   51
C   Nenad Krstic         14.44   21
PF  Scott Padgett        12.51   49
SF  Lamond Murray        10.76   56
PF  Clifford Robinson     9.58   60
PG  Jacque Vaughn         7.56   70
PG  Zoran Planinic        6.87   73

Why They Can Win:
Best ... Backcourt ... Ever! Okay, so maybe that's hyperbole, but they are really good. Jason Kidd is -- well, Jason Kidd, and Vince Carter/Richard Jefferson are a devastating duo. Too bad this triad can't take all the shots... New Jersey has the kind of hard-nosed defense that can steal games in the playoffs. They play a playoff-ready pace. They can get hot, also -- these Nets won 14 in a row earlier this season.
Why They Can't Win:
Worst ... Frontcourt ... Ever! Again, exaggerating, but they're not very good, especially on offense. Krstic has been solid at both ends, and Scott Padgett has been a pleasant surprise, but Collins/Robinson/Murray are going to have to contribute an awful lot of defense to make up for their wretched "O". Depth is an issue as well, as New Jersey will have to rely heavily on their starters for points. Detroit showed a year ago that you could be successful without much of a bench, but their starters were good enough, especially in the frontcourt, to overcome the lack of depth. Are New Jersey's?
Where They'll End Up: Second round, they hope. Indiana could be a tough matchup in the first round, though.

4. Cleveland Cavaliers (50-32)

The Vitals:
Coach: Mike Brown (6th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 48-34
Offensive Rating: 105.7 (10th)
Defensive Rating: 103.2 (14th)
Pace Factor: 91.6 (18th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Eric Snow             8.07   67
SG  Ronald Murray        11.71   40
SF  LeBron James         28.01    1
PF  Drew Gooden          17.63   15
C   Zydrunas Ilgauskas   21.88    3
SF  Anderson Varejao     14.83   25
SG  Larry Hughes         14.01   29
PF  Donyell Marshall     13.44   43
PF  Alan Henderson       12.34   50
PG  Damon Jones           9.25   64

Why They Can Win:
LeBron, LeBron, LeBron. Already the game's best player at age 21, King James can take the Cavs on his back and carry them as far as they will go. Additionally, Gooden/Ilgauskas is a great frontcourt combo, and the bench is among the best in the league. With their depth, firepower, and penchant for offensive rebounding, Cleveland could be scary in the playoffs.
Why They Can't Win:
You don't see point guard play like this much, and that's not meant in a good way; combine Snow's brutal shooting with Jones' brutal everything else, and you've got a crappy situation at PG. Also, James will likely face more defensive attention than ever, begging the question if the others can pitch in without The King's help. This defense was never the greatest, either, so scoring will have to be their ticket. Will we see the "James Rules" soon? Also, don't forget that Mike Brown is still inexperienced; for all his regular-season successes, coaching may very well be a weakness here.
Where They'll End Up: Washington is no cupcake, and all roads lead through Motown anyway. Sadly, I see the second round as their ceiling, with the distinct possibility of a first-round exit.

5. Washington Wizards (42-40)

The Vitals:
Coach: Eddie Jordan (14th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 46-36
Offensive Rating: 106.6 (7th)
Defensive Rating: 105.4 (23rd)
Pace Factor: 94.3 (7th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Gilbert Arenas       23.74    2
SG  Caron Butler         17.02   14
SF  Jared Jeffries       11.61   51
PF  Antawn Jamison       17.68   13
C   Brendan Haywood      13.81   26
PG  Antonio Daniels      13.71   39
PF  Etan Thomas          13.44   42
PF  Michael Ruffin        8.14   63
SG  Donell Taylor        10.16
SG  Awvee Storey          9.07

Why They Can Win:
The Wiz boast more than a few dynamic players, starting with Arenas, one of the NBA's best players. The rest of the backcourt is quite good as well: Butler is an effective scorer with his aggressive style, and Daniels has played very well in the second half after a horrid start. Jamison and Haywood are a potent frontcourt duo (although Jamison strays outside often on offense), and Etan Thomas is a quality reserve. Washington's athleticism is hard to match, and it could steal them a series.
Why They Can't Win:
Um... defense? Maybe you've heard of it? Washington hasn't, allowing over 105 points per 100 possessions on the season. In other words, they're going to have to score to contend, and since they rely so heavily on getting to the line, officiating could be a factor for them. Washington is not a great shooting team, either, with Arenas and Daniels being their only high-efficiency shooters. Strong offensive rebounding teams can abuse the Wizards as well.
Where They'll End Up: Beating Cleveland would be a feat, but it's doable. Going further than that, though...

6. Indiana Pacers (41-41)

The Vitals:
Coach: Rick Carlisle (22nd)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 47-35
Offensive Rating: 102.3 (21st)
Defensive Rating: 100.5 (3rd)
Pace Factor: 91.4 (19th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Jamaal Tinsley       12.08   54
SG  Stephen Jackson      13.57   31
SF  Peja Stojakovic      16.86   16
PF  Jermaine O'Neal      20.44    8
C   Jeff Foster          15.15   17
PF  Austin Croshere      15.28   28
SF  Danny Granger        14.76   28
PG  Anthony Johnson      14.23   37
SG  Sarunas Jasikevicius 12.85   34
C   David Harrison       11.86   37

Why They Can Win:
Indy was regarded as one of the most talented teams around going into the season, but several injuries and a season-long slump by Tinsley contributed to a disappointing regular season. Still, the talent is there, and now is the time if they want to turn it on. They have superior depth and an outstanding defense, two keys to playoff success. Of all the lower seeds in the East, Indiana is the one that could do the most damage.
Why They Can't Win:
Scoring continues to be an issue to the Pacers, thanks to poor shooting and rampant turnovers. Tinsley and Jackson need to regain their 2004-05 form for this team to succeed in the playoffs, and Jasikevicius needs to cut back on the turnovers. Teams that crash the offensive boards can get garbage points against Indiana.
Where They'll End Up: They can beat New Jersey if they match the Nets' defensive effort. If Miami suffers an injury, they may even squeak into the Conference Finals, but I wouldn't count on it. More likely, they'll bow out in round one and be left searching for answers after a frustrating season.

7. Chicago Bulls (41-41)

The Vitals:
Coach: Scott Skiles (18th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 43-39
Offensive Rating: 101.6 (25th)
Defensive Rating: 101.0 (6th)
Pace Factor: 95.1 (5th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  Kirk Hinrich         15.48   23
SG  Ben Gordon           14.46   26
SF  Luol Deng            15.77   21
PF  Othella Harrington   11.04   55
C   Tyson Chandler       12.24   34
SF  Andres Nocioni       16.04   18
PF  Mike Sweetney        13.85   36
PG  Chris Duhon          12.91   45
PF  Malik Allen          11.50   54
C   Luke Schenscher       9.37

Why They Can Win:
Skiles has really gotten his players to buy into his defensive scheme. Once again, Chicago was one of the top defensive squads in the NBA, thanks to forcing misses at a great rate (they allowed the second-lowest true shooting % of any team) and not affording opponents many second chances on said misses. When they are forcing opponents to play their pace and fire off quick shots, they are a dangerous team.
Why They Can't Win:
They can't score. They can't shoot. They can't get to the line. They commit too many turnovers. It's a recipe for offensive misery, and that's just what they've got in ChiTown. Gordon is a one-dimensional shooter, and Hinrich/Nocioni/Deng are decent-but-not-great offensive players. The Bulls will have to go beyond mere adequacy if they want to advance in the playoffs; their defense has taken it to the next level, but where's the offense?
Where They'll End Up: Barring some miracle, they'll watch the second round at home, on TV.

8. Milwaukee Bucks (40-42)

The Vitals:
Coach: Terry Stotts (10th)
05-06 Pythagorean Record: 38-44
Offensive Rating: 103.9 (16th)
Defensive Rating: 105.4 (24th)
Pace Factor: 93.1 (12th)

    Rotation               PER   Rk
PG  T.J. Ford            13.08   43
SG  Michael Redd         21.19    7
SF  Bobby Simmons        13.80   31
PF  Jamaal Magliore      11.12   41
C   Andrew Bogut         15.17   16
C   Dan Gadzuric         17.25   10
PF  Joe Smith            16.06   22
PG  Maurice Williams     14.97   28
PG  Charlie Bell         14.65   32
SF  Toni Kukoc           11.82   47

Why They Can Win:
They've built a nice little team. Good depth, a great frontcourt, some good PG's (none of whom start)... They're definitely a team on the rise.
Why They Can't Win:
They're playing Detroit in round one, for one thing. Also, they're no good defensively. And they're kind of mediocre on offense. They play Magliore too much, and don't play Gadzuric anywhere near as much as they should. They foul too much. And, consequently, they're in way over their heads here.
Where They'll End Up: Not in Round Two, I'll tell you that much.

(Click here to go to the Western Conference preview)


Fri 04/21/06, 4:59 am EST

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