(1) San Antonio Spurs vs. (8) Sacramento Kings - In addition to the Kings, the Maloof brothers own a Las Vegas casino and love to gamble. Their latest gamble has paid off handsomely in the form of the Tru Warier. Ron Artest's defensive presence helped the Kings rally from a disappointing start but it won't be enough to top the Spurs in a 7 game series. While we fully expect Mike Bibby to have a couple 25 point games, the Kings have no answer for Tim Duncan. Congratulations are in order for Shareef Abdur Rahim who makes the playoffs for the first time in his 10 year career.
The Pick: Spurs in 6
(2) Phoenix Suns vs. (7) Los Angeles Lakers - It's impossible not to admire what Steve Nash has done for Phoenix in the last 2 seasons. It would be crazy not to mention Shawn Marion in any discussion about the most well rounded players in the NBA. Boris Diaw came to Phoenix in the Joe Johnson deal (along with 2 first round picks) and might have improved more than any player in the league. The coaching style of Mike D'Antoni can't be praised enough, and the job he has done this year without Joe Johnson and Amare Stoudamire is especially impressive. Guess what? Kobe Bryant doesn't give a shit.
The Pick: Lakers in 7
(3) Denver Nuggets vs. (6) Los Angeles Clippers - Despite the seeding, the Clippers are the better team. They even tanked a regular season game so that they could avoid the Mavericks and face Denver, who they beat 3 out of 4 times during the regular season. Elton Brand is now a dominant player and he is surrounded by effective role players (Cassell, Kaman, Mobley, Livingston, Radmanovic). Mike Dunleavy will need a healthy Corey Maggette make Carmelo Anthony work harder than he wants to. This is 'Melo's chance to show the world that he is a superstar and premier clutch player, but it won't happen. If the Clips can limit the Denver fast break, look for another Los Angeles upset.
The Pick: Clippers in 6
(4) Dallas Mavericks vs. (5) Memphis Grizzlies - Would you bet on a team that starts Chucky Atkins and Jake Tsakalidis? Me neither. Dallas is the heavy, heavy favorite in this matchup and should cruise to the second round. Having said that, it will be interesting to see if Pau Gasol can carry over the aggresiveness he has shown this year into the postseason. If he does, and Shane Battier can slow Dirk Nowitzki, the Grizz have a chance to make the series closer than I expect it will be.
The Pick: Mavericks in 5