It's hardly news to anyone who follows the NBA with a modicum of interest that the talent gap between the East and the West is canyon-sized. While the East has shown over the last 3 years that it is top-heavy (read: Detroit and Miami playing the big kid role in a field of oblivious 1st graders that is the rest of the East), there has been little depth to the conference. The same is true this year. Arguably, the top three teams in the West are all better than any team in the East. And while we shouldn't hold our breath expecting David Stern to re-seed the playoffs regardless of conference affiliation, that doesn't mean we can't fantasize about the possibility in this space. So here's how I would re-seed the entire playoff field if I were doing it NCAA Tournament style:
12 LA Lakers
4 San Antonio
13 New Jersey
14 Golden State
A few notes on this seeding. First off, let's start with the bottom-feeders of this field. Even though Washington is seeded as a #7 in the East in reality, I'm putting them as the #16 seed in my field because they have absolutely no momentum going into the playoffs. (Remember, I'm doing this NCAA Tournament style.) This is the team that is most likely to get swept in the actual 2007 Playoffs, and that's why I'm putting them as the sacrificial lamb against the mighty Mavericks.
And who wouldn't want to see some of these matchups? A first-round series between Miami and Los Angeles would be the prime-time series of the first round for television purposes, guaranteed. Even if the Kobe-Shaq feud is officially over, you know TV execs would be salivating all over themselves to get that matchup in te premier time slot.
Houston and Denver stands out to me as another first-round matchup that you'd stop what you're doing to watch. Imagine the high-scoring theatrics possible when Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony go against Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, with each of the teams bearing the burden of past failures to get past the first round at stake.
Here's how I would see my second round shaping up:
4 San Antonio
No shortage of outstanding series here. Dallas-Cleveland stands out as the most one-sided series here. The Cavs have shown over the past year that they really can't count on anyone consistently other than LeBron James. In the West, the Cavs would probably be a #7 seed.
Detroit and Chicago is probably the most intriguing series in this second round. The young up and comers in the Bulls vs. the East's grizzled stalwart of the past 5 years in the Pistons. Ben Wallace against his former team. The geographic proximity of the two cities. This is a series that I would see going 7, with the Bulls coming out on top. The Pistons escaped a dangerous Cavs team in 7 last season, but this year's Chicago edition is better than last year's Cavs and hitting their peak at the right time.
By the way, you'll notice that I'm not picking many upsets here so far. That's the way the NBA works for the most part. You'll get a series or two where some favored teams go down. But a complete shocker like Denver beating Seattle in the first round in 1994 is rare. For the most part the favorites win.
My conference finals:
4 San Antonio
Let's start with the easier of the two picks here. Chicago is capable of making it to the finals in this bracket, and could match the Suns' athleticism in addition to having a banger in Wallace that could go up against Amare Stoudemire. But Chicago's probably a year away from taking that last step into true elite status. So I pick the Suns in 6 in this series.
Dallas and San Antonio. Wow, talk about clash of the titans. For the first time in a while, the Spurs are heading into the playoffs not regarded as either the favorite or co-favorite not only to win the West, but to win it all. But they're hitting their peak and still have Tim Duncan, who's still one of the top 5 players in the game. But Dallas, which had 3 separate win streaks of at least 10 games this season, showed me last year that they are championship caliber on the defensive end while breaking their hex against the Spurs. This will be a battle to the end, but I see the Mavs advancing to the finals in 7.
Phoenix vs. Dallas. The finals series that everyone wants to see, but won't be able to in the traditional playoff format. The two teams produced a couple of classics this year, including the game of the year, a 2OT Suns win a few weeks back. Steve Nash is the best player in this series, but Dallas is the more complete team and has Finals experience from last year. They've had the benefit of a year to learn from their mistakes against Miami and will have the home court advantage, a huge plus for the Mavs, who are nearly unbeatable at home. This is another series I see going 7 with Dallas finally earning their coronation as the league's best team.
Would you re-seed the playoffs differently? Do you think the results would be different? Let me know what you think.