Ladies and Gentlemen, “Lets get ready to rumble!” But in all seriousness, strap in for a very exciting playoff stretch. The magic begins tomorrow and though it has a slim to none chance of living up to the bar that the NCAA March Madness set this year, it will be a phenomenally entertaining month and a half plus stretch. You will finally get to really see these so-called “prima dona” pros exert maximum effort for entire games. This is what they wait for all year. All the guys in the League love to win. You do not get to this level without being a fierce competitor. So people who say they do not like to watch the NBA because they think it is boring and they feel like the players do not exert full effort will not have to So take it in, because you will not have to worry about either of those issues from here on out. Also take note that this is the last playoffs with the League as we know it. The most intriguing off-season of our generation is rapidly approaching. The power of the League could be completely altered in a couple of months.
So the intriguing storylines. First off, can LBJ capture that first ring? Also, can Kobe capture his 5th and come within one of Jordan? Who will survive the Wild Wild West? All 8 teams have 50 or more wins. And then finally, will America finally get the Kobe/Lebron matchup they have been yearning for the past few years?
Obviously the heavy favorite has to be the Cavaliers. These guys really took control about a month into the season and have really never looked back. Not to mention they swept the Lakers this year and embarrassed them on Christmas Day. I have the Cavs beating the Magic in a rematch of last years conference finals. The additions of Antawn Jamison and Shaquille O’Neal will be the difference and provide the Cavs the overall length needed to contain a very tough Magic squad. Also I think the Magic will miss the clutch play of Hedo Turkoglu in big games. My sleepers are the Celtic and Hawks. I think either of these teams could get hot and make their way into the Finals. But my conventional wisdom says to pick the Cavs as LBJ puts on an outstanding postseason performance.
Cavs vs Bulls: I got the Cavs taking out the Bulls in 5 or less games in round 1. The Bulls are young and continue to have off court issues between their coach and management. Not to mention they have no way to contain Lebron and Co over the course of a 7 game series. The Bulls would have to play 4 perfect games to take down the mighty Cavs. This will not happen.
Magic vs Bobcats: In the 2 vs 7 matchup, I have the Magic winning in 6 over the Bobcats. Many feel like the Magic are going to run over Charlotte. Not so fast. Charlotte is a solid team that played well down the stretch. The Magic are very good and will prevail, but they will not dominate the Bobcats like many expect. Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace are both having career years for the Bobcats and will not go down without a fight.
Hawks vs Bucks: Brandon Jennings has had a phenomenal year for the Bucks and has shown glimpses of being a future superstar. But without the solid play of Andrew Bogut, who has been their heart and soul in the paint this year, they will not be able to upset this outstandingly talented Hawks team. The Hawks have been my sleeper pick all year due to their plethora of talent. They will win this series in 5 games and cruise into the 2nd round. Look for the Bucks to keep getting better though, especially with the return of Andrew Bogut, the former Utah Utes star next season.
Celtics vs Heat: This is the best first round matchup the East has by far. You have two teams heading in different directions. You got a superstar in Dwayne Wade, going up against the aging 3-headed monster that is the Celtics. General logic says to pick the hotter team heading into the playoffs if the teams are somewhat evenly matched. So general logic would tell me to go with the Heat. But, I feel like the Celtics can get it together and at least advance to the 2nd round and maybe farther. I got the Celtics in 7, in a very hard-fought series. I am very curious to see where Dwayne Wade will end up next year. He will wow fans in this series, but I do not think it will be enough to take down the Celtics, who were my preseason pick to represent the East in the Finals.
I will provide matchup previews for each round as the playoffs continue, but at this point I have the Cavaliers defeating the Magic and representing the East as I stated earlier.
This is a much harder conference to predict. And for obvious reasons. All 8 teams won 50 or more games. They are all very talented and deep. Whoever comes out of this rugged conference will be reeling for air entering the Finals. The winner of the West will truly have to exhibit the “Heart of a Champion.” That is why I am going with my preseason pick of the Lakers. Kobe Bryant has the “Heart of a Champion,” and has a greater will to win than anybody in the League. He is the man I want on my team come crunch time (even if he is beat up right now). So at this time I have the Lakers defeating the Mavericks in the conference finals, but I could see the Suns or Nuggets sneaking into the conference finals as well. Many are saying that the Lakers do not have it this year, and they may be right. But I would never pick against Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant in the playoffs regardless if they struggled at the end of the regular season.
Lakers vs Thunder: Welcome to playoff basketball Kevin Durant. Durant has had an amazing year and truly is a superstar and one of the game’s elite. This is just a very tough draw. Whether the Lakers have been struggling or not of late, they will be ready to go for these playoffs. The Thunder are a very dangerous team, but they do not have the experience to match up with the Lakers in crunch time. I got the Lakers in 6 in a series that has a number of games that will come down to the final possession. Do not be surprised if the Thunder are leading this series at one point. Lets see what the Lakers are made of.
Mavericks vs Spurs: This is a very tough draw for Mark Cuban, Dirk Nowitzki, and Co. Popo is one of the greatest coaches ever in this League and guys like Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobli, and Tony Parker flat-out know how to win in the playoffs. I just think that Duncan’s game is finally showing signs of age and Dirk Nowitzki will be the best player on the floor. I think the home court will be the differentiating factor as the Mavericks escape in 7.
Suns vs Trailblazers: This will be an up and down series. Hopefully the spectators can catch their breath after this one. The Trailblazers are a great team and definitely a future threat in the West in the upcoming years. But without Brandon Roy in this series, they will not be able to keep up from a scoring standpoint with the fast paced attack of the Suns. If Brandon Roy was out there, I may have picked the Trailblazers. But without their superstar, do not expect Portland to pull of the upset. I got the Suns in 6.
Jazz vs Nuggets: This is another one of those 4 vs 5 series and probably the most highly debated first round matchup in the West. These are both very good teams. They both have great coaches in Jerry Sloan and George Karl. Due to the recent health issues of Coach Karl, he has been absent from the sideline frequently down the stretch. As a result, the play of the Nuggets has been mediocre at best. They truly do miss their general. Also people will really enjoy the guard matchup of Chauncey Billups vs Deron Williams. These are two real gamers that will provide great excitement. Utah has a history of being outstanding at home in the playoffs. I feel like the Jazz are more of a consistent team, but the Nuggets can really roll at times. Also it should be noted that the Nuggets won the regular season series 3 to 1 over the Jazz. But I got the Jazz winning this series in 7. The Nuggets are shaky without Karl on the sideline and have struggled due to forwards Kenyon Martin and Chris “Birdman” Anderson struggling with the injury bug.
So as I said earlier, I got the Lakers defeating the Mavericks in the Conference Finals.
Finally, I got the Lakers winning the title over the Cavaliers in 7. America will finally get the Kobe/Lebron matchup that they have been waiting for. Should provide for some stellar entertainment and some very high level play. It will be good for the NBA as a whole.
It should be an amazing playoffs. Enjoy..
Stay tuned for the next edition of Sportskraze.