NBA Playoff Predictions: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Duos Everyone Wants To Avoid

Will Leivenberg@@will_leivenbergFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2011

NBA Playoff Predictions: Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Duos Everyone Wants To Avoid

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    Whether it’s the classic intimidation of a big man and little man tandem, like the Shaquille O’Neal-Kobe Bryant storybook saga, or a pair of versatile, aggressive scorers, like the Dwyane Wade-LeBron James fairytale on the verge of reality, there are a handful of duos spread throughout the NBA that everyone wants to avoid when the playoffs officially begin April 16, 2011.

    Coming off two consecutive championships, the Los Angeles Lakers have an indisputable edge. Yet, this season has been defined by basketball squads revamping their lineup to match up with the reigning powerhouse. 

    Now, from Amar'e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony to Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, there is a plethora of renewed tandem talent fighting for the top honors. 

Carmelo Anthony and Amar'e Stoudemire

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    When Amar’e Stoudemire came to the Big Apple, he reawakened a depressed New York Knicks fanbase with his tenacious defense and dynamic presence in the key. Since being reunited with coach Mike D’Antoni, Stoudemire has brought an electricity into the arena, averaging 25 PPG, ranking him fourth among the league’s leaders.

    The player who is currently tied with Stoudemire in points per game wears the same uniform and is also thriving in the Empire State: Carmelo Anthony.

    Both players are dominant scores, but in very distinct ways. Anthony’s versatility has improved with his experience in the NBA, adding an array of difficult-to-defend moves to his repertoire, like the fadeaway jumper from the wing and post-up moves with his left and right hands. Though the Knicks are a lousy 39-38 this season, when Stoudemire and Anthony find a way to fuse their individual rhythms with cohesive team production, there are few that can legitimately pose a threat.

Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah

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    After beating playoff powerhouse teams like the Celtics, Heat and Lakers at least one time each this season, the Chicago Bulls have proven they have the physical and mental capacity to compete against the league’s best.

    At the helm is Derrick Rose, who has the best chance of anybody for the MVP honor this season. He bolts past his opponents for reverse layups, sinks jump shots over the gargantuan arms of seven-foot defenders, splits zone defenses to create passing lanes and contorts with the flexibility of an acrobat to make the impossible shots come to life.

    Rose’s stoic nature is complemented by teammate Joakim Noah, a brute defensive enforcer who has, like his copilot, been a key ingredient to the team’s exceptional season thus far. The Bulls are currently atop the East standings at 57-20 and are undeniably one of the most competitive teams in the NBA. Rose and Noah need to make sure not to let up, but continue pushing their teammates and themselves to capture the title.  

Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant

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    To say the Oklahoma City Thunder are young is an understatement. The 14-man roster features only three players over the age of 26 and seven others that are either 21 or 22 years old.

    Yet, it’s not the experienced vets that are leading the pack, but instead Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, each of whom are 22 and have become two of the most reliable, forceful scorers among their competition.

    Durant has been simply phenomenal this season, leading the NBA with 27.8 PPG alongside 2.8 assists and 6.9 rebounds. Westbrook is fulfilling more of his point guard role as the quarterback of the court, currently ranked ninth in assists per game with 8.2 and averaging 21 PPG.

    Both players have made palpable strides in their games this season. Westbrook’s ability to spread the floor and find open passing lanes represents his rapidly improving court vision. Durant’s unrivaled scoring this season is a product of his consistency with his pure, pull-up jump shot, where he’s deadly from along the sidelines to behind the three-point arc.

    These two are such a threat to their competitors because each is learning to utilize the "Kobe Bryant formula," which represents the understanding of when to integrate the team and when to totally take over the game. 

LeBron James and Dwyane Wade

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    At the beginning of the season, the LeBron James and Dwayne Wade duo caused a great deal of havoc for Miami Heat fans. While there was no question that both were dominant scorers, terrific passers and fierce defenders, they were both also used to be the center of attention—the go-to player...No. 1.

    The power struggle, however, didn’t last.

    Both James and Wade began to settle into their roles, and in doing so have propelled the Heat to compete for the top spot in the East and are considered one of the likely championship contenders.

    James has more sheer athleticism—driving past defenders, racing to catch an opponent on a fast break for the block, crossing over a defender for a fadeaway jumper—than any other player in the game today. There are certain points in the game when he will set up the offense, and if none of his teammates get open and the time is winding down, James can, without fail, motor down the lane, split the sea of defenders and go up for the basket, either converting or getting fouled.

    Wade is another story, but with a similar plot. While he can overpower defenses, his game is not as physical. Instead, he utilizes his astute court vision to find viable opportunities on offense, from rolling off screens for the open shot to driving down the lane and dishing to an open man. 

    The real test will come in the playoffs, when they have the potential to lead their team to the championship they predicted months ago.

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan

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    Unlike the Oklahoma City Thunder, veterans Tony Parker and Tim Duncan are paving the way for a trip back to the NBA Finals for the San Antonio Spurs. Both players practice a “Hoosiers-esque” kind of basketball, which, paired with their almost unrivaled experience, deems them a serious threat.

    Parker is the quintessential point guard, playing the role of facilitator as much as scorer with the game on the line. Similarly, Duncan is one of the all-time great power forwards in the history of basketball. Other than Pau Gasol, he’s the only other big man in the league today who can execute a pull-up jump shot, which, in classic Duncan form, banks off the backboard and crashes through hoop.

    Both Parker and Duncan share a relentlessness that has fueled their success throughout each of their individual careers. Parker uses his speed to frustrate his opponents on both defense and offense, never giving up on a play. Duncan utilizes his extensive reach to put back any and every rebound he can get his hands on, which is why he averages almost a double-double per game. Next to Kobe and Gasol, this tandem has the most to gain in the playoffs. 

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol

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    Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol have developed a level of trust far beyond any other NBA duo because their partnership has produced the pinnacle of success: back-to-back championships.

    There's no doubt that Bryant is extremely fortunate to have Gasol and vice versa. Gasol is the most versatile big man in the game today. Unlike other centers who quickly body up against their defenders, when Gasol is fed the ball in the post he takes his time to assess his options. He has the capacity to not only post up and execute a hook shot with his left and right hands, but he can also face the defender head on and pull up for a dependable jump shot. Though some critics consider Gasol to be a "feel" player, which often holds a negative connotation for a big man, in actuality, it’s the point of difference between Gasol and every other center in the league.

    When it comes to Bryant is there anyone you trust more with the game on the line? He’s a blueprint for reliability, but not just when it comes to hitting that buzzer-beating, game-winning shot. Kobe also knows the strengths and weaknesses of all of his teammates—most of all Gasol. The two have established a relationship on the court that leaves no room for questioning because they have that much trust in one another. That is why they are the model for emulation among the rest of the league and also why they are the superior threat headed into the playoffs. 

Who Do You Think Was Left Out of the Mix?

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    Do Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce pose a threat?

    What about Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd?

    Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge?

    Dwight Howard and Jameer Nelson?