Watching some of the second round, I'm struck by one thing - these are better teams then we've seen in a while. For too many years, the NBA was all about finding about 3.5 guys who could score, filling the rest of the lineup with athletic defenders/interior bangers and hoping that your "Dude" outplays there's at the end of the game. See
Somehow, that's changed a little. Of the remaining teams, at least 6 have a lot of guys who can play, there are more 'dudes' on the court then I'm used to seeing. At the end of the previous NBA golden Era (which roughly coincides with the Lakers/Celtics/Pistons championship years), this was not uncommon - the last good Celtics team of that period had about 7 'dudes' (Bird, McHale, Parish, Lewis, Shaw, Dee Brown, Kevin Gamble), other teams had even more, the Trail Blazers team had so many dudes, that a future 'super-dude,' Drazen Petrovic, barely got any run.
However, the thugball Knicks and Heat of the mid to late 90's put an end to this - guys like Gamble got bullied out of the league, replaced by Mario Elie or Darvin Ham or (shudder) Bruce Bowen. So teams went with variations upon the "Big Three" theme, with the archetype being the George Karl coached Milwaukee Bucks of Cassel, Allen and Big Fraud Robinson.
Somehow, in the last two years, things have come, if not full-circle, then 270 degrees - the combination of the several things has brought about deeper teams than we've recently seen: The stellar 2003 Draft class maturing; some quality Europeans improving (Tony Parker, Boris Diaw, etc.;) this year's 'amnesty' rule which allowed teams not run by Isiah Thomas to cut some dead wood (and thus for Thomas to acquire said kindling...) and the continued willingness of certain teams to remain crappy by giving up quality parts for spares (the Hawks...well yes, the Knicks as well. Remember he's assembling the headcase point guards over there, so we don't have to over here...)
Thus, the top echelon teams are deeper then they have been in years, at least by my completely unscientific couting mechanism - how many "dudes" does each team have? Without getting overly (or at all) technical, a 'dude' is a player who, if you're a fan of the opposing team you are worried about. (Ergo, the Wizards got beat by a non-dude. Oh, the ignominy...)
Consider for example the Spurs-Mavs series (another stupendously good game tonight), the Mavs have 6 legit dudes (Dirk, Terry, Stackhouse, Josh Howard, Daniels and the electric Devin Harris - where has this guy been?) while the Spurs have about 7 (Duncan, Parker, Manu, Big Shot Bob, Barry, Finley and Nicky the Gangster.)* Pretty much any of those guys can take over a game, which makes for excitement.
Now, I'm not saying that picking winners necessarily comes down to simply counting dudes, but it provides a useful guide as to which teams will be succesful. As a rule of thumb, any team that routinely has two or more non-dudes on the floor = done.
*One of the great difficulties of this theory is deciphering when someone no longe warrants "dude" status. Given Steve Kerr's out of mothball performance for the Spurs a couple years back, I'm willing to give Nicky a little benefit of the doubt.