- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 23, 2006

When I come back like Jordan, wearing the four-five

It ain’t to play games with you

It’s to aim at you, probably to maim you

If I owe you, I’m blowing you to smithereens

— Jay-Z, The Black Album

Eastern Conference

Roc-a-fella Nets vs. Indiana Pacers

Average margin of victory: Nets +1.4, Pacers +1.9

Points per 100 possessions: Nets 101.5, Pacers 101.6

Points allowed per 100 possessions: Nets 99.8, Pacers 99.9

The Nets trio of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson isn’t as good as Golden State’s Run TMC (Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond and Chris Mullin) from the late 1980s, as Kidd suggested earlier this season — at least offensively.

But Jay-Z’s Nets are the third best defensive team in the league. The Pacers are the fourth best defensive team.

Indiana finished the season by winning five of its last six, and Jermaine O’Neal and Peja Stojakovic played together only the last 17 games of the season.

The pick: Nets in seven

Detroit Pistons vs. Milwaukee Bucks

Average margin of victory: Pistons +6.7, Bucks -1.0

Points per 100 possessions: Pistons 107.7, Bucks 103.3

Points allowed per 100 possessions: Pistons 100.2, Bucks 105.0

Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons have waited 82 games for these playoffs, ever since Game7 of last season’s NBA Finals.

They wanted homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, and they have it.

The Bucks are the worst team in the playoffs, so the Pistons can approach this series with a pair of simple goals: Sweep and avoid injuries.

The pick: Pistons in four

Western Conference

Phoenix Suns vs. Los Angeles Lakers

Average margin of victory: Suns +5.5, Lakers +2.5

Points per 100 possessions: Suns 109.4, Lakers 105.4

Points allowed per 100 possessions: Suns 102.9, Lakers 102.6

The Suns have been a different team — a poor defensive team — without Kurt Thomas, who has been out with a stress fracture in his right foot since Feb. 25.

They were 36-17 with him, 18-11 without him. The Suns expect Thomas back at some point in the playoffs.

Until then, this will be a fun series to watch: Steve Nash, Shawn Marion, Kobe Bryant and little defense.

The pick: Suns in five

Dallas Mavericks vs. Memphis Grizzlies

Average margin of victory: Mavericks +6.1, Grizzlies +3.7

Points per 100 possessions: Mavericks 108.7, Grizzlies 103.0

Points allowed per 100 possessions: Mavericks 101.9, Grizzlies 99.2

The Mavericks are the second-best offensive team in the league and the 11th best on defense, not a significantly different team than they were under Don Nelson. Avery Johnson just plays a more deliberate pace.

Dirk Nowtizki vs. Apostle Pau Gasol is the best one-one-one matchup of the first round.

The Grizzlies will win the first playoff games in their history, but it won’t be enough.

The pick: Mavericks in seven

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