A look ahead at the second round of the NBA playoffs:
EASTERN CONFERENCE No. 1 NEW JERSEY (52-30, 3-2) vs. No. 4 CHARLOTTE (44-38, 3-1)
Probable starters: Nets - Kenyon Martin (14.9 pts, 5.3 reb), Keith Van Horn (14.8 pts, 7.5 reb), Todd MacCulloch (9.7 pts, 6.1 reb), Jason Kidd (14.7 pts, 9.9 ast, 7.3 reb), Kerry Kittles (13.4 pts). Hornets - Lee Nailon (10.8 pts, 3.7 reb), P.J. Brown (8.4 pts, 9.8 reb), Elden Campbell (13.9 pts, 6.9 reb), Baron Davis (18.1 pts, 8.5 ast), David Wesley (14.2 pts, 3.5 ast).
Key reserves: Nets - Richard Jefferson (9.4 pts, 3.7 reb), Lucious Harris (9.1 pts), Aaron Williams (7.2 pts, 4.1 reb), Jason Collins (4.5 pts, 3.9 ast). Hornets - Jamal Mashburn (21.5 pts, 6.1 reb, 4.3 ast), Jamaal Magliore (8.5 pts, 5.6 reb), Stacey Augmon (4.6 pts), George Lynch (3.8 pts).
Season series: Nets won 3-1, gaining an odd victory Feb. 24 when Charlotte blew a 23-point second-half lead. The Hornets missed an opportunity to send it into overtime when Campbell failed to take a wide-open jumper because he thought the Hornets needed a 3 to tie it.
Nets edge: Didn't let the Hornets' big men dominate during their regular-season meetings. Based on what's happened this season, Kidd is the best clutch player in this series. If Mashburn's mysterious ailment continues to keep him sidelined, the Hornets will sorely miss him. Martin has a big offensive edge over Brown.
Hornets edge: Davis might be the best point guard in the East. And yes, that includes Kidd - one of the leading candidates for MVP. Charlotte has a pair of defensive specialists in Augmon and Lynch who can key on Kidd and Van Horn, and the Hornets' depth along the front line is superior.
Storyline: With their move to New Orleans pending a May 10 owners vote, the Hornets could be lame ducks before Game 4.
Prediction: Hornets in 6.
--- No. 2 DETROIT (50-32, 3-2) vs. No. 3 BOSTON (49-33, 3-2)
Probable starters: Pistons - Jerry Stackhouse (21.4 pts, 5.3 ast), Chucky Atkins (12.1 pts, 3.3 ast), Cliff Robinson (14.6 pts, 4.8 reb), Ben Wallace (7.6 pts, 13.0 reb), Michael Curry (4.0 pts). Boston - Antoine Walker (22.1 pts, 8.8 reb, 5.0 ast), Eric Williams (6.4 pts, 3.0 reb), Tony Battie (6.9 pts, 6.5 reb), Paul Pierce (26.1 pts, 6.9 reb), Kenny Anderson (9.6 pts, 5.3 ast).
Key reserves: Pistons - Corliss Williamson (13.6 pts, 4.1 reb), Jon Barry (9.0 pts, 3.3 ast), Zeljko Rebraca (6.9 pts, 3.9 reb). Key reserves: Celtics: Rodney Rogers (11.9 pts, 4.5 reb), Tony Delk (9.5 pts), Erick Strickland (7.7 pts, 2.7 ast).
Season series: Tied 2-2, with the home team winning each time. Boston's wins were decisive (by 14 and 25), while Detroit came back from a late 17-point deficit in one victory and got 28 rebounds and six alley-oop dunks from Wallace in the other.
Pistons edge: Wallace should be more dominant on the boards than he was in the Toronto series when he was matched against taller, stronger players than Boston has. Williamson's post-up game will be tough for the Celtics to defend, and Chucky Atkins and Jon Barry can help the Pistons try to keep pace from the 3-point line.
Celtics edge: Have the ability to run up the score and bury their opponents with 3-point shots. Detroit will have a difficult time keeping up on offense - especially if Jerry Stackhouse continues to tail off as he did in the first round.
Storyline: Another old Eastern Conference rivalry is renewed.
Prediction: Celtics in 4.
--- WESTERN CONFERENCE:
No. 1 SACRAMENTO KINGS (61-21, 3-1) vs. No. 4 DALLAS MAVERICKS (57-25, 3-0)
Probable starters: Kings - Chris Webber (24.5, 10.1 reb, 4.8 ast), Peja Stojakovic (21.2 pts, 5.3 reb), Vlade Divac (11.1 pts, 8.4 reb, 3.7 ast), Mike Bibby (13.7 pts, 5.0 ast), Doug Christie (12.0 pts, 4.6 reb, 4.2 ast). Mavericks - Dirk Nowitzki (23.4 pts, 9.9 reb), Eduardo Najera (6.5 pts, 5.5 ast), Raef LaFrentz (13.5 pts, 7.4 reb), Steve Nash (17.9 pts, 7.7 ast), Michael Finley (20.6 pts, 5.2 reb).
Key reserves: Kings - Bobby Jackson (11.1 pts, 3.1 ast), Hedo Turkoglu (10.1, 4.5 reb), Scot Pollard (6.4 points, 7.1 reb). Mavericks - Nick Van Exel (18.4 pts, 6.6 ast), Adrian Griffin (7.2 pts, 3.9 reb), Greg Buckner (5.8 pts, 3.9 reb).
Season series: Mavericks won 3-1, winning twice at Arco Arena. One of those victories came after the Kings had already clinched the No. 1 seed, and the teams split a pair of games in the first five weeks of the season - long before the trade that brought Van Exel and LaFrentz to Dallas.
Kings edge: Webber should be able to score at will if he is guarded by Irk Nowitzki (No D - get it?) rather than Najera, and Divac gets a slight nod over LaFrentz at center. Christie provides Sacramento with a tough defender against Finley. Bobby Jackson can play some D, too - whether against Van Exel or Nash.
Mavericks edge: They are the only team in the NBA that scored more points than the Kings during the regular season, and they also had the best road record in the league. That should help negate two of Sacramento's biggest strengths, and Dallas' deep roster and unorthodox coaching give the Mavs plenty of options.
Storyline: Shapes up as a great matchup: high octane vs. higher octane.
Prediction: Mavericks in 6.
--- No. 2 SAN ANTONIO SPURS (58-24) vs. No. 3 LOS ANGELES LAKERS (58-24)
Probable starters: Spurs - Tim Duncan (25.5 pts, 12.7 reb), Bruce Bowen (7.0 pts, 2.7 reb), Malik Rose (9.4 pts, 6.0 reb), Tony Parker (9.2 pts, 4.3 ast), Steve Smith (11.6 pts). Lakers - Shaquille O'Neal (27.2 pts, 10.7 reb), Kobe Bryant (25.2 pts, 5.5 reb, 5.5 ast), Derek Fisher (11.2 pts, 2.6 ast), Rick Fox (7.9 pts, 4.7 reb), Samaki Walker (6.7 pts, 7.0 reb).
Key reserves: Spurs - David Robinson (12.2 pts, 8.3 reb), Antonio Daniels (9.2 pts, 2.8 ast), Terry Porter (5.5 pts, 2.8 ast). Key reserves: Lakers - Robert Horry (6.8 pts, 5.9 ast), Devean George (7.1 pts, 3.7 reb), Lindsey Hunter (6.8 pts).
Season series: Lakers won 3-1, with O'Neal being held to just four points from the field in L.A.'s only loss. Duncan had a poor fourth quarter in a one-point loss on March 31, and the Spurs were collectively awful in the final quarter of a Jan. 19 loss.
Spurs edge: Parker has turned his game up a notch in the playoffs, showing the ability to score and break down defenses. If he can keep it up against the Lakers, it will make things much easier for his teammates. Rose is a capable replacement on offense if Robinson's bad back continues to sideline him. Smith and Porter add a valuable veteran presence.
Lakers edge: Have won seven of the last eight games between the teams, and still hold a huge psychological edge over the Spurs after dismantling them in the Western Conference finals a year ago. Kobe Bryant is facing another so-called Kobestopper in Bowen, and the smart money is on Bryant.
Storyline: Have the Spurs forgotten about last year, and will they let it affect them?
Prediction: Lakers in 4.
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