Calling all fans of lost causes, all advocates of the browbeaten and undistinguished. There's plenty of room on this bandwagon. The NBA playoffs start this week and the Golden State Warriors' invitation didn't get lost in the mail.
That's like entering Shaquille O'Neal in a free-throw shooting contest. Or Rob Johnson starting in the Super Bowl. So let's offer congratulations to the Warriors, who last won a playoff series when Tim Hardaway was in his second season in the league. That would be 1991. Since then they've had enough losses to fill Michigan Stadium.
The Warriors are one of several promising postseason story lines. Like the Heat trying to repeat. The Mavs as favorites. Dwight Howard's playoff unveiling. The Raptors back in the postseason with Vince Carter standing in their way. The Bulls as dark horses. Or the Rockets. Or the Spurs. Here's a quick glance at the first round:
No. 1 Detroit versus No. 8 Orlando: The Magic, a surprise playoff participant, was swept by the Pistons in four games. That figure will likely climb to eight straight after this series. But there always is a chance Orlando will make it interesting. Dwight Howard averages 17.7 points and 12.3 rebounds and is already one of the top big men in the league. But he'll have a hard time with Detroit's powerful front line of Rasheed Wallace, Chris Webber and Antonio McDyess.
No. 2 Cleveland versus No. 7 Washington: No mas. With Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler both out the Wizards have no chance at beating the Cavs. The only thing redeeming about this series is LeBron James has a good chance of averaging a triple double.
No. 3 Toronto versus No. 6 New Jersey: The Raptors qualify for the playoffs for the first time in five years and look who's standing in their path: Vince Carter, their former franchise star. Time apparently doesn't heal old wounds up North -- fans still boo Tracy McGrady -- so watch for Carter to receive an equally warm welcome. But while Toronto plays an engaging brand of basketball and Sam Mitchell is the league's Coach of the Year, the Nets' trio of Carter, Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson is too much for the Raptors.
No. 4 Miami versus No. 5 Chicago: This could be the first round's most interesting and entertaining series. It all depends on the effectiveness of Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who is coming off a shoulder injury. Chicago's opportunity to advance was ruined when it lost the No. 2 seed on the final night of the regular season. Although Ben Wallace will give Shaquille O'Neal some trouble with his defense and Luol Deng is playing at a high level, the Bulls lack a low-post scoring presence to make much noise. Besides, with Wade and O'Neal healthy and playing together, Miami will always be difficult to beat.
No. 1 Dallas versus No. 8 Golden State: The Warriors are in the playoffs for the first time in 13 years and while their ability to score gives them a puncher's chance, the Mavs are too hungry and playoff tested to allow an upset. Jason Terry will probably draw Golden State point guard Baron Davis. Devin Harris, who gives most guards problems, also might be matched against Davis. And if Davis is hindered, so is Golden State.
No. 2 Phoenix versus No. 7 Los Angeles Lakers: Much like the Cavs-Wizards, this is a paper-thin rematch from a year ago. Sure the Lakers took the Suns to the brink, but Phoenix was not as good with Amare Stoudemire on the shelf. Aside from Kobe Bryant and an inconsistent Lamar Odom, the Lakers are a mess and finished 12-16 down the stretch. Smush Parker was a better playmaker last year and Kwame Brown will never live up to being the No. 1 pick overall. There isn't enough pixie dust in the world for Phil Jackson to pull off an upset in this one.
No. 3 San Antonio versus No. 6 Denver: As expected, there weren't enough basketballs to go around for Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson so Denver didn't become a contender in the West. Now they have to take on the playoff-sturdy Spurs, whom no one wants to meet in the first round. An entertaining subplot is how Anthony will react when the Spurs throw Bruce Bowen, Manu Ginobili and perhaps Michael Finley at him.
No. 4 Utah versus No. 5 Houston: This figures to be the most closely contested series in the West and a marquee matchup of big men Yao Ming and Carlos Boozer and the perimeter talents of Tracy McGrady and Deron Williams. McGrady may finally get out of the first round for the first time in his career.