Motown's big mo

Motown's big mo
By Steve Kerr, Yahoo Sports
April 22, 2006

Steve Kerr
Yahoo Sports
Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst Steve Kerr predicts how far each team will go in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

More Kerr: Western Conference predictions

CHICAGO BULLS
Give the Bulls credit – they get after it.

For the second straight season, Chicago led the NBA in field-goal percentage defense. Tyson Chandler is doing a pretty good Ben Wallace impersonation on the boards, Kirk Hinrich is a future star and Ben Gordon can light it up with the best of them. Also, Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni form a terrific small forward tandem. This is a team without a marquee player, but with a deep roster and a bright coach like Scott Skiles, the Bulls will be ready.

Chicago finished the season on fire just to make it into the playoffs. Can the Bulls keep up their fantastic play, or does the run end early? I believe they have nothing to lose and will come out and do what they do: defend and run a ton of screen and rolls and try to find hot hands. If they shoot it well, look out. But it'll take a huge effort to beat the Heat four times.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Heat in the first round.

INDIANA PACERS
The worst thing that can happen for a playoff team is to enter the postseason with chemistry issues. That's what's happening with the Pacers.

There are rumors that Jermaine O'Neal will be dealt this summer and that Rick Carlisle might not return. This team has always been volatile in nature and nothing has changed. There just doesn't seem to be any positive momentum going for Indiana, even with O'Neal healthy and ready to go in the first round.

But you never know – there's a chance the Pacers could get hot because they do have some firepower. Stephen Jackson hit huge shots for the Spurs in their 2003 title run, Peja Stojakovic is one of the best shooters in the league, and Jeff Foster can control the glass. My guess, though, is that Indiana isn't going very far, and that the team will be broken up this summer.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Nets in the first round.

MILWAUKEE BUCKS
Getting to the playoffs was a nice achievement for the Bucks. Every headline after Milwaukee loses in the first round will be "The Buck(s) stop here."

The Bucks took a blow by falling to the eighth spot on the last day of the regular season, and their penalty is facing the best team in the NBA – Detroit. Still, for a young team like Milwaukee, this will be a great experience. T.J. Ford and Andrew Bogut are part of the foundation in Milwaukee and they're going to see what this league is all about. Bobby Simmons will get his first taste of playoff action. And even though Michael Redd has been there before, he's not exactly a crusty veteran.

The best-case scenario for Milwaukee is for Redd to go nuts, score about 40 a game and the Bucks control the glass with their big frontline. Maybe they can do that once in the series. Four times? I don't think so.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Pistons in the first round.

WASHINGTON WIZARDS
Question: If Gilbert Arenas plays video poker at halftime of games, do you think he's going to be overwhelmed by playoff pressure? I believe that some of the best players in the clutch are the ones who don't seem aware of the repercussions of losing. Arenas is one of those guys. He just plays, and he plays awfully well. If Arenas can penetrate and get to the rim and not only score but find open teammates, the Wizards can advance.

Caron Butler missed five games late in the season but is back, Antonio Daniels came on strong in the second half, and Antawn Jamison quietly put together another terrific year. Does Washington have enough inside, though? That always seems to be the question. Solid play from Brendan Haywood would go a long way toward helping the Wizards' cause.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Cavaliers in the first round.

CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
This is what we've all been waiting for: LeBron James' playoff debut. He's been phenomenal all season and very well may win the MVP award at just 21 years old.

There have been suggestions that he may fade under the spotlight of the NBA playoffs, but don't count on it. He's been in the limelight since his freshman year of high school, and he's never shied away before. I believe he'll lift the level of his play.

The key for Cleveland is how well his teammates play. Can Zydrunas Ilgauskas be a potent threat on the block? Can Larry Hughes find his form after missing 45 games with a finger injury? Can Donyell Marshall and Damon Jones make shots? If they can all come through, the Cavaliers have a chance to make a run. If not, we may not get to see much of LeBron in his first postseason.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Pistons in the East semifinals.

MIAMI HEAT
If Miami is supposed to be a championship contender, how did it go 2-12 against the other division winners this season (2-14 if you throw Dallas into the mix). The Heat have beaten up on bad teams but haven't really shown much substance. They don't defend anyone and they're erratic from the perimeter.

The big question for Miami is how good Shaquille O'Neal looks. If he truly has been saving up for the playoffs and has an extra gear, it changes everything. He and Dwyane Wade can be the scary one-two punch everyone else is worried about. But if Shaq plays the same way he played in the regular season – which was just OK, for him – the Heat could be in trouble.

Miami just doesn't defend well enough to grind games out, and it has injury woes with Jason Williams and Alonzo Mourning. Still, the Heat are in the East and on the opposite side of the bracket from Detroit, so they could play poorly and still end up in the Eastern Conference finals.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Nets in the East semifinals.

NEW JERSEY NETS
The Nets won 14 straight games at one point late in the season and shut down some of the league's best teams, including Detroit and Phoenix. With the division wrapped up, they relaxed and lost five of their last eight, including a 20-point pasting by Philadelphia. So which team will show up in the postseason? We'll see.

I'm not sold on the Nets, but I do like the way they defend. Jason Kidd is suddenly an underrated point guard – he had a terrific season – and Vince Carter had his best campaign in years. The question with Carter, though, is will he settle for fadeaway 25-foot jump shots, or will he attack the rim like his team needs him to? You never know with Vince.

Fortunately, Carter has help in Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic. Each is capable of scoring 20 points on any given night. I think the combination of solid defense and good scorers gives the Nets a chance to go deep into the postseason. But they have to go out and prove it.

Prediction: Eliminated by the Pistons in the East finals.

DETROIT PISTONS
This team has it all. Great shooters … a deep, quick front line … several go-to guys in the clutch, terrific defense. They're the team to beat in the NBA after dominating the regular season. Flip Saunders has made the Pistons better offensively, and they're playing with a swagger that says, "We're the best team in the league."

The only concern for Detroit is a relatively short bench. Lindsey Hunter may play a big role, as he did last year in the postseason. Antonio McDyess will be key, too, as he rotates in and out of a ridiculously good front line. But there's not much else there. Saunders is likely to play seven guys, so if they suffer a key injury, all bets are off. But if they stay healthy, the Pistons will be celebrating a second NBA title in three years in Motown.

Prediction: Beat Spurs for NBA championship.

Steve Kerr is Yahoo! Sports' NBA analyst. Send Steve a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Saturday, Apr 22, 2006 5:50 pm, EDT

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