By Bill Simmons
Page 2

• My predictions for the conference finals:

I have four questions. First, is Shaq healthy or not? They need a 22-11 from him to win the series. Anything less and they lose. Second, who guards Rip Hamilton in this series? If you put Wade on him and ask Wade to bring the ball up, he'll be dead by Game 4. If you put Eddie Jones on him, then there's a size mismatch with Wade guarding Tayshaun Prince – although that might not be a bad thing because Detroit could get out of their offense trying to feed the ball to Tayshaun. Third, can Wade control these games (like he did against Washington and New Jersey) against superior defensive players like Prince and the Wallaces? And fourth, can Detroit beat a quality team like the Heat when they're still stuck in that "We don't play hard every game, only when we have something to prove" mentality?

Here's how I think the series unfolds: Miami blows out Detroit in Game 1. The Pistons respond with the upset in Game 2, then handle Miami easily in Game 3. Satisfied, they relax a little and Wade ends up dropping a 45-10-12 on them in Game 4, followed by a nail-biting Miami win in Game 5 as the Heat have a 75-9 free throw advantage thanks to referees Bennett Salvatore, Dick Bavetta and Earl Hebner. Back in the Palace at Game 6, Detroit blows them out again. And that sets up a super Game 7 for all the marbles.

Before the playoffs, I picked the Pistons, but I hadn't seen enough of Miami and didn't realize how good their bench was. Maybe they don't look good on paper, but they play well together, and that's all that matters. Now I'm thinking they can wear down Detroit over seven games (remember, the Pistons are playing their starters 40 minutes a game) and win a Game 7 because they have the best player on the court. And if that's not enough, it just feels like this spring is Wade's coming-out party, doesn't it?

Prediction: Miami in 7

Phoenix-San Antonio
Without getting my hopes too high – I swear, I'm reining myself in – given the contrasting styles and the personalities involved, this could be the most compelling playoff series in three years (since the Kings-Lakers series) and the most aesthetically pleasing series since the Chicago-Phoenix Finals in '93 (which was wildly entertaining to watch). And not since the 1998 Finals has there been a series where every neutral basketball fan will be supporting one team (in this case, the Suns), partly because of the way they play, partly because people are tired of the Spurs, partly because of the Ginobili-Bowen factor. Throw in Nash and the outrageous Stoudemire-Duncan matchup and I couldn't be more excited about this series. It's not possible.

Unfortunately, it looks like Joe Johnson isn't coming back any time soon – he looks like somebody worked him over with a 2-by-4 and some brass knuckles – which means they need Jimmy Jackson to come through for an entire series like he played in Game 5 against the Mavs. I don't see that one happening – there's a reason he's been on 25 teams. I also think there's something to be said for the pedigree of each team. Only one Phoenix player has ever played in a series like this (Nash), whereas the Spurs are playoff-proven with everyone but Nazr Mohammed, Brent Barry, and that Beno guy who keeps bricking those 15-footers. Before the playoffs, I picked the Suns to make the Finals. Without Johnson, they don't have quite enough. I don't trust the Barbosas and McCartys in a series like this, and if they can't outshoot the Spurs, the Spurs will wear them down by doing the little things (offensive rebounds, flops for charges, back-breaking 3s and so on). Oh, well.

Prediction: San Antonio in 6

Posted: May 20, 2005, at 2:03 p.m. ET

More Cowbell – The Archive II
More Cowbell – The Archive I

Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.