As the NBA season winds down the focus now shifts on the playoffs and the MVP race. The seedings for each conference are essentially set so now we can focus on the matchups.
Out west the Lakers easily earned the top seed as they finished 10 games above the second seed Denver Nuggets. In the first round the Lakers would play the Utah Jazz, who they are 1-1 against this season so far. The Jazz are a scary team with the all-star tandem of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Along with Boozer they have great shooters like Mehmet Okur and Kyle Korver. They also have athletic wing players in C.J. Miles, Ronnie Brewer and Andrei Kirilenko. The Jazz are a great rebounding team largely due to the abilities of Boozer and Paul Millsap and the athleticism they have on the wings. Despite their rebounding abilities and talent, the Lakers are too much for them. No one on the team can match up with Kobe Bryant. The Lakers are more talented at every other position besides point guard and the return of Andrew Bynum greatly strengthens their frontcourt and starting line-up. They also have the best bench in the league led by Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic. I see the Lakers wining in 5 games.
In the seven versus two matchup the Denver Nuggets will play the Dallas Mavericks. Although the Mavericks have played well lately, they are an inconsistent team, especially on defense. The Nuggets have been on fire since they acquired Chauncey Billups, who has solidified their defense and offense while adding a much needed veteran leader. The Nuggets impress me and I think they will win this matchup because of their offensive firepower with Carmelo Anthony, Billups and J.R. Smith. They are just too good for the Mavericks. Nuggets will win the series in five. Now in the six versus three matchup between the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Hornets I see the Hornets winning this series. Although the Hornets are the sixth seed, they are the better team. The injury to Manu Ginobili is really going to hurt the Spurs and without him they are a different team. The Hornets are going to run all over the old Spurs, and win the series in six games. I think the Spurs will win two just because they are experienced and know how to win in the playoffs.
The Portland Trailblazers and Houston Rockets will battle in the four versus five matchup. This series is really a toss-up because both teams have a lot of talent and they matchup well against each other. During the season the Rockets won the series 2-1 but every game was fairly close. If the young Blazers are going to win then they have to control Yao Ming down low. Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla have to do a solid job defending Yao Ming or else the Blazers will lose this series. The Blazers are young and inexperienced but the Rockets always have trouble coming out of the first round. With that said, I think Houston’s defense will be too much for the Blazers and the Rockets will advance in seven games.
In the championship game the Lakers should beat the Nuggets in six games. Although the Nuggets have been great this season, the Lakers have played the best basketball all year out West. Kobe and company are determined to win the championship after last years embarrassing loss to the Celtics. They will reach the finals for the second straight year.
In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers should easily win their first round matchup against the Detroit Pistons. MVP to be LeBron James will lead his team to the sweep. The Cavs have been one of the best teams all year and they will dominate the Pistons on both sides of the ball. LeBron James is too much to contain, especially with all the shooters the Cavs have for him to pass to. Mo Williams has been on fire all year and he will continue it in the playoffs. The Cavs are too good especially for the Pistons, who have struggled since trading Billups.
The Celtics versus Bulls series could be the series to watch for an upset. With Kevin Garnett banged up the Celtics are vulnerable. He is their leader and best defensive player and without him they are a different team. The Bulls are young and athletic just like the Hawks were last year. And last year the Hawks took the Celtics to seven games, so don’t think the Bulls can’t do the same. Although the Bulls are dangerous I still think the Celtics experience and defense will win them the series in six games.
The Magic shouldn’t have any trouble against the 76ers especially after the loss of Thadeus Young. Young is a dangerous player and the 76ers will miss his athleticism and scoring ability. The Magic are very dangerous, especially because they shoot the three ball so well. Dwight Howard commands a lot of attention down low, which opens up room for their shooters to make wide-open shots. Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis and company will dominate the 76ers and they will sweep the series.
With Dwayne Wade playing like a MVP, the Heat are a dangerous team. Although the Heat don’t have much talent around Wade, he has led this team back to the playoffs after winning only 15 games last year. He makes everyone better and has the skills to take over any game. The Hawks have played very well all year and have talent at every position but they lack depth, which is important in the playoffs. The Heat on the other hand are young, athletic and explosive plus D-Wade is unstoppable. Because of this I like the Heat to win in six games.
In the championship game the Cavaliers will take on the Magic with the chance to advance to the finals. I really like both of these teams but the Cavs seemed destined to make it to the finals. LeBron James is having a historic season and he is playing better basketball than anybody. Along with all those shooters and the size of Ilgauskas, the Cavs should be able to pull out the victory but it won’t be easy. The Magic have played great all season and they are championship caliber. But the Cavs play great defense and they will do a god job of containing the three point shots of the Magic. Dwight Howard will dominate down low but for the Magic to be successful they have to make threes. Relying on the threes is dangerous and against a team like the Cavaliers, it will be tough to get off open shots. The Cavaliers will win in seven games and play the Lakers in the final.
In the beginning of the year I predicted the Lakers to play the Cavaliers in the finals and they have been the two best teams in the league all year. Although the Cavaliers have the best record and home court advantage, the Lakers will win the series. Bynum should be fully healthy by then and his size will be the difference in this series. With Bynum, Odom and Gasol, the Lakers should dominate the rebounding battle. During the season the Lakers swept the Cavaliers, winning both games by at least 10 points. In both those games the Lakers did a great job of containing LeBron. The Lakers have to play great defense or else they will lose. But I think they are hungry after getting to the finals last year. With Bynum back, the great bench play and Kobe’s leadership they should win in seven games.