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Previewing the NBA playoffs

Rookie of the year

This one is a no-brainer. True, former Gator Al Horford had a splendid season with the surprisingly decent Hawks, outplaying college teammate Joakim Noah (Bulls) and ex-Seminole Al Thornton (Clippers) — though Noah and Thornton had nice seasons. But Seattle's Kevin Durant was, by far, the best rookie and he's only 19. It's not crazy to think he might be the best player in the game in just a couple of years.

He averaged 20 points on a team that has almost nothing around him and spent most of the season talking about moving to Oklahoma City.

1. Kevin Durant, Sonics

2. Al Horford, Hawks

3. Al Thornton, Clippers

Coach of the year

Plenty of candidates because so many teams had better-than-expected seasons. Most of the talk surrounds Byron Scott (Hornets) and Doc Rivers (Celtics) because their teams came out of nowhere to dominate the league. But what about Orlando's Stan Van Gundy, who took over the Magic after the whole Billy Donovan debacle and won the Southeast Division? And give Phil Jackson credit with the Lakers, who were supposed to be good but not No. 1-seed-in-the-really-tough-West good.

Rivers has done a solid job, but he has three superstars. Jackson has Kobe. The Magic has a dominant center, which always makes a coach's job a bit easier. But Scott built his team around a guard (Chris Paul) and that's tough to do.

1. Byron Scott, Hornets

2. Stan Van Gundy, Magic

3. Phil Jackson, Lakers

Defensive player of the year

Talk all you want about the offensive numbers the Celtics have put up this season, but the reason they win, especially against other good teams, is defense. And the unquestioned defensive leader is Kevin Garnett. His hard work at both ends of the floor is infectious and is the key reason for the Celtics' amazing turnaround.

1. Kevin Garnett, Celtics

2. Kobe Bryant, Lakers

3. Josh Smith, Hawks

Best sixth man

The easiest award to figure out. San Antonio's Manu Ginobili came off the bench to average more than 19 points, a career high. The guy is an all-star and is, really, a starter, but he comes off the bench in San Antonio's scheme. But check out the last five minutes of a game and Ginobili will not only be on the court, but often the Spurs' first option on the offensive end.

1. Manu Ginobili, Spurs

2. Josh Childress, Hawks

3. Leandro Barbosa, Suns

Best stories of the year

1. The resurgence of the Celtics.

2. The Hornets' amazing season.

3. The race in the ultracompetitive Western Conference.

Worst stories of the year

1. The train wreck that is the New York Knicks.

2. The Sonics, in all likelihood, moving to Oklahoma City.

3. Portland rookie Greg Oden misses the season with an injury.



One of the most exciting NBA regular seasons in recent memory came to a close Wednesday night. And the playoffs, which should be one of the most competitive in recent memory, tip off Saturday. ¶ So what a perfect time to take a look back and a look forward at the 2007-08 season.

TJ's predictions

Eastern Conference

This is a two-team race between the Celtics and Pistons. Boston won a league-best 66 games but don't ignore that the Pistons have the playoff experience. And Detroit guard Chauncey Billups creates matchup nightmares for the Celtics. In three games against Boston, Billups averaged 22 points (five above his season average) and went to the free-throw line 35 times. But the Celtics will have homecourt advantage and that will be the slight advantage they need to reach the NBA Finals.

Western Conference

Pick a team out of a hat and your chance is as good as any. It wouldn't be a shock to see a No. 7 seed playing a No. 8 in the West final. But let's start eliminating teams. Denver can't win without a dominant big man. How can Houston survive three rounds without Yao Ming? Shaq hasn't had quite the impact in Phoenix everyone thought he would. Dallas doesn't seem to step up at key times and Jason Kidd hasn't fit in well. That leaves San Antonio, the Lakers, Utah and New Orleans. It's a toss-up but go with the team that has been there before. That would be the defending champion Spurs.

NBA Finals

The Spurs will be going for a fifth title, but now they will play a team that can actually match up well against big man Tim Duncan. In what will be a thrilling final to watch, Kevin Garnett will out-duel Duncan and lead the storied Celtics to their 17th NBA title, but first since 1986.

MVP

All season long, the debate has been between the Lakers' Kobe Bryant and the Cavaliers' LeBron James. King LeBron has had an amazing season, averaging 30 points, nearly eight rebounds and more than seven assists. Kobe, meantime, has sick numbers, too: 28 points, six boards and five assists, and many feel he's the best defender in the game.

But three others played their way into the debate. Forward Kevin Garnett led Boston's incredible turnaround. Guard Chris Paul helped New Orleans — New Orleans! — to one of the best records in the NBA. And where in the world would Orlando be without Dwight Howard?

If I have to win just one game, my first pick would be Kobe, followed closely by LeBron, simply because each can dominate a game and are capable of going off for 60. But this award is to go to the most valuable player over a full season, the player who means the most to his team. And that's why I lean toward Garnett, Paul or Howard.

In the end, the vote here goes to Paul, who averaged 21 points and nearly 12 assists. There was a feeling that the Celtics, who also added Ray Allen to go along with Paul Pierce, would be really good. And the Magic seemed to be coming along for a couple of years now. But no one thought the Hornets would be as good as they are, and the chief reason is Paul.

1. Chris Paul, Hornets2. Kobe Bryant, Lakers3. Kevin Garnett, Celtics



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Previewing the NBA playoffs 04/17/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 17, 2008 8:34pm]

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