11. Chicago (voted off by Washington, 4-2)
The Bulls were lurking as a mild sleeper before the Deng-Curry injuries ... now they have a nine-man rotation that includes Chris Duhon, Jannero Pargo, the Artist Formerly Known as Antonio Davis, Othella Harrington, Eric Piatkowski and the first-ever Amish-Brazilian basketball player (Andres Nocioni). There's even a white guy named "Reiner" who plays 5 to 10 minutes a night for them -- I think they picked him up at a frat party. Too bad. It would have been fun to watch them advance a couple of series, leading to the inevitable Jim Gray interview with a morbidly depressed Jerry Krause trying to take credit for everything that was happening.

(On the bright side, Ben Gordon has two Andrew Toney throwback games in him this series. Those will be fun.)

10. New Jersey (voted off by Miami, 4-3)
You could make a solid case that Vince Carter is the most unstoppable player in the league right now, to the point that my buddy Gus asked the other day, "Has anyone ever won the Comeback Player of the Year award for their performance in the same season?" I say we give him that award, along with the "Most Sobering Reminder That We're Idiots for Caring About Professional Sports" Award. But seriously, I'm glad he's trying again. In fact, he hasn't announced it yet, but Marc Stein is reporting that Vince has decided to give his best effort through the 2005-06 season as well. So that's good news.

Here's the thing: Along with T-Mac, Iverson, Stoudemire and Nowitzki, Vince is one of five players who could score 200-plus points in a seven-game series. Throw in Jason Kidd (who only averaged a 19-10-9 for the month of April) and Richard Jefferson (even at 75 percent, a dramatic upgrade over Rodney Buford and Travis Best at the 2-spot) and I'm not exactly sure why the Nets are 7-1 underdogs in this series. Would you want to play these guys? Kidd and Vince are like two guys on a pickup court who were waiting for their three other buddies, then said, "Screw it, they're not showing up, let's grab those three dorks over there and see if they'll run with us," and proceeded to keep winners for the next two hours.

(This is going seven. I'm feeling it.)

9. Denver (voted off by San Antonio, 4-3)
A blueprint for beating San Antonio:

A. You need to get physical with them ... and Denver is the most physical team in the league. Guys like Nene and K-Mart will absolutely knock Mr. Eva Longoria (a k a Tony Parker) down the first time he comes cruising down the lane (like the Lakers did last year). Also, Duncan has always been one of the classiest players around -- what happens to him when K-Mart is throwing elbows around, or Nene starts swearing at him in Portuguese? You need to do this stuff against the Spurs; I'm not sure they like rolling up their sleeves and getting dirty, especially with Malik Rose gone. Who's sticking up for TD when Nene clotheslines him into the basket support?

B. You need to keep throwing big guys at Duncan ... and the Nuggets have three good ones (K-Mart, Nene and the wildly underrated Marcus Camby). I see him making the Sad Duncan Face a lot, the one where he stands next to Popovich and looks like a son who just let down his dad in Little League.



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