Let’s hit the alphabet to tip off the quest by 16 teams for the NBA championship.
A is for Orlando point guard Rafer Alston, who has filled a desperate need for the Magic after starter and All-Star Jameer Nelson was lost for the season on Feb.1 with a torn labrum. While Alston’s greatest weakness is his shooting, he’s got plenty of positives. His ability to push the pace and create easy baskets has kept Orlando from barely missing a beat since Nelson went out.
B is for Denver point guard Chauncey Billups, the veteran leader acquired from Detroit in early November. Billups has passed the sternest of playoff tests as he has a championship ring, and has been the MVP of the NBA Finals. He brought a lot to the Nuggets during the regular season, and he will bring even more in the postseason.
C is for the return of New Orleans center Tyson Chandler from a long-standing ankle injury. Before getting back into action in the last game before the playoffs, Chandler had not played since March 16. That hurt the Hornets, who in the regular season were 19-18 in games Chandler missed, and 31-14 when he was on the floor.
D is for Chicago forward Luol Deng, who due to a right tibia contusion has been out since Feb. 28. The Bulls won’t play him in their first round series against the Celtics, but general manager John Paxson said they would revisit the decision if Chicago advances to the second round. They can revisit it, but it certainly looks as if Deng is done for the season – if only for precautionary measures.
E is for the consistent effort the Lakers will need from Lamar Odom, who while recognized for his talent, is also known not to play at his best some games. Said Mr. Jackson to Mr. Odom, “The playoffs are a full-time job.”
F is for Atlanta reserve guard Flip Murray, who nearly headed to Russia to play after finishing out last season with Indiana. He even had a plane ticket. But the Hawks called in the nick of time, and got themselves a steady performer off the bench, who can break defenses down off the dribble, and create his own shot.
G is for San Antonio shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who will miss the playoffs with an ankle injury. The understatement of the season came from Spurs’ coach Gregg Popovich commenting on the loss of Ginoboli, “Well, gosh, without Manu, it's going to be really difficult to reach our goals.” Try impossible, Pops.
H is for the health of the right foot of Houston’s Yao Ming, who recently missed a game because of soreness in the foot. An MRI and bone scan came up clean so the big man returned to action and reported no pain. With no Tracy McGrady for the playoffs, the Rockets hopes of winning a first-round series for the first time since 1997 rest squarely on Yao. He can’t have feet or more specifically, a foot of clay.
I is for free-agent-to-be Allen Iverson, who earlier this month announced he would sit out the rest of the season and the playoffs with a back injury. Curious isn’t it, that A.I. took himself out of Detroit’s postseason shortly after being relegated to the bench.
J is for the Jazz, but don’t blink because you’ll miss them in the postseason. They enter the playoffs having dropped seven of their final nine games, and get the torturous task of facing the Lakers in the first round. Utah coach Jerry Sloan is a realist, saying the Lakers look at the Jazz as "a little dent in the road."
K is for Boston’s Kevin Garnett, who might very well be wearing suits instead of suiting up in the playoffs. He injured his right knee Feb. 19, and there's a strong possibility that he will miss the entire postseason. Celtics coach Doc Rivers says the team is going to move on without Garnett. No doubt they’ll be moving on — to the first tee a lot sooner than expected if there’s no KG.
L is for Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, a rising star who gets overshadowed somewhat by Brandon Roy. At 6-foot-11, and long and athletic, Aldridge poses match-up problems. Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan gives fair warning to opponents when he says Aldridge is just scratching the surface of what he can do. He should dominate in the years to come.
M is for Cleveland point guard Mo Williams, who might very well be the final piece needed to get LeBron James and his teammates championship rings. Williams, who was dealt to the Cavs by the Bucks in August, has developed into a well-rounded point guard. He’s really upgraded that position for Cleveland. He can score and distribute, and is an excellent free-throw shooter while also defending very well on the ball.
PBT: LeBron James took over the 4th quarter, Ray Allen hit a huge three to force OT and the Heat survived to force a Game 7.
The NBA finals
L.A. Lakers defeat Orlando Magic 4-1
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
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