LA Lakers (1) vs. Utah Jazz (8)
The Jazz had a strong second half of the season. Carlos Boozer's return was vital to Utah sneaking into the playoffs. Deron Williams had a good year, but I really expected the Jazz to win the Northwest division with something along the lines of 55 or more wins.
Andrew Bynum's return is incredibly important for L.A. In the Laker's victory over Utah on Tuesday, he dropped 22 points to go with four rebounds and three blocks. With Bynum healthy, the Lakers are probably the best team in the league.
When the two teams met this week, the Lakers had four guys in double figures, with both Bynum and Pau Gasol putting up 20 or more.
Williams had 25 points and 13 dimes for Utah, and if will have to be on fire if the Jazz want to have any shot at beating L.A.
In the end, Kobe Bryant will play like the reigning MVP that he is, and will move the Lakers into the semis.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Portland Trail Blazers (4) vs. Houston Rockets (5)
The Blazers are one of the hottest teams in the NBA heading into the playoffs. Brandon Roy had a phenomenal season, and he has led Portland back to the postseason for the first time since 2003.
Houston will, of course, be McGrady-less, which they've proved isn't exactly the end of the world. The Rockets have kept playing good basketball, and role players like Ron Artest, Shane Battier, and Aaron Brooks have all pitched in to help the Rockets' scoring effort.
The thing that scares people about the Blazers is their incredible depth. With players like Travis Outlaw (who is a Sixth Man candidate) and Rudy Fernandez coming off the bench, Portland could pose a threat to a team like the Lakers, if they can get past Houston.
Yao Ming will create problems for both Greg Oden and Joel Przybilla on both sides of the ball, but I think that Portland's home field advantage and the play of Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge should be enough to get them by.
Prediction: Blazers in seven.
Denver Nuggets (2) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7)
Chauncey Billups has been the man this year for the Nuggets. He meshes with Carmelo Anthony far better than Allen Iverson ever did. And now that Kenyon Martin is finally healthy again, Denver looks to finally get past the first round.
The Hornets are still a talented team. Chris Paul is the premier point guard in the league, and averaged a double-double this season. But a tough April schedule knocked New Orleans into the bottom part of the Western Conference playoff picture.
A special player for the Nuggets is Chris Andersen, who has been a monster on the boards and on defense this year. He was a great pick-up replacement for Marcus Camby this offseason, and adds to the arsenal that is the Denver Nuggets.
I think the Hornets are pretty burned out, but could still give Denver a run. However, it won't be enough to stop a Nuggets team that could go pretty far this postseason.
Prediction: Nuggets in six.
San Antonio Spurs (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6)
These teams know each other really well. I believe that the Spurs are the better team, but it's going to be an exciting series because of the familiarity factor.
Something that's important to look at is Tim Duncan's averages this season against the Mavs—23.3 points and 13.7 rebounds per game. Dallas center Erik Dampier is no match for Duncan.
The Mavericks are yesterday's team. They had their big playoff run a few years ago, and beat the Spurs en route to a Finals appearance, but they just aren't the same team they used to be.
The Devin Harris for Jason Kidd trade didn't pan out the way they wanted either.
However, Kidd has loads of experience, which could help the Mavericks win at least one or two against the Spurs. Dirk Nowitzki has also been there and done that.
In order for Dallas to have a shot, Nowitzki will have to put up at least his season average (25.9 PPG) each game. And if the Mavs can somehow capitalize on the absence of Manu Ginobili, we could have a series here.
But I don't see Duncan and Parker choking—They've been through this too many times.
Prediction: Spurs in six.
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