- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Dallas Mavericks are the favorites to win the NBA championship.

The Mavericks (63-13) are expected to be the top seed in the varsity Western Conference. The only thing left to negotiate is whether they will win 67, 68 or 69 games.

Their season has been motivated by their collapse last season in the NBA Finals, losing the last four games of the series to the Miami Heat after holding a 2-0 lead.

The Mavericks aren’t decidedly better than the Phoenix Suns (58-19) or San Antonio Spurs (55-21), but the Suns and Spurs are scheduled to meet in the second round.

They will have to get by two dominant teams on their way to the NBA Finals, while Dallas will play just one.

Each team features an elite talent — Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas, Steve Nash of Phoenix and Tim Duncan of San Antonio — prepared to burnish his Hall of Fame resume.

The list of title contenders in the Eastern Conference is a short one: the Detroit Pistons.

With a starting lineup of Chauncey Billups, Rip Hamilton, Chris Webber, Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince, they are the only team good enough and savvy enough to escape the junior varsity conference.

Webber (12.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.0 assists with the Pistons) has been valuable. Detroit is 28-12 since signing him.

Then there are the NBA champion Heat, currently the fourth seed in the conference. They have been without at least one of their franchise players for extended periods.

Dwyane Wade and Shaquille O’Neal have played together in just 15 games, and Miami is 8-7 in those games. With only Wade, the Heat are 17-15. With only O’Neal, they are 16-7. With neither, they are 1-6.

Both players are a fraction of their All-NBA selves, which makes the Heat’s chances of repeating almost nonexistent.

The Chicago Bulls traded 24-year-old Tyson Chandler and signed 32-year-old Ben Wallace to a four-year, $60 million contract.

Wallace is averaging 6.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. Chandler is averaging 9.5 points, 12.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks with the Hornets.

The LeBrons don’t have a consistent player outside of LeBron James, and he has a penchant for missing free throws in the closing minutes.

The Washington Wizards will enter the playoffs without both of their All-Stars — Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler. Their only hope is more 29-point games from Jarvis Hayes.

The pairing of Allen Iverson with Carmelo Anthony hasn’t made the Denver Nuggets an elite team. The Nuggets are 22-23 with Iverson and 18-13 without him.

Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the 76ers are making a faint playoff run without Iverson. The 76ers were 5-10 with him and now 26-35 without him.

That qualifies as a playoff run in the Eastern Conference, where the Orlando Magic (35-41) are the eighth seed, and coach Brian Hill could be fired by the time this is read.

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