The 2009 NBA Playoffs are about to kick off, and those who thought answers were coming after seeding was determined last night have another thing coming. Will KG be able to come back, will King James lead his less-experienced Cavs to a second Finals trip in LeBron's young career, and can anyone supplant the Lakers as the dominant force in the West?
Those are just the headlines. Continue reading for my take on how the postseason could play out through June.
Even with recent news that Kevin Garnett may miss the entire postseason due to his strained right knee, any talk about who will win it all has to start in Beantown.
Reigning Finals MVP Paul Pierce will have quite the burden to shoulder if the Big Ticket can't run. Having a sniper like Ray Allen never hurts a team's chance to win, and Rondo's emergence as a Top 10 point guard in the league is a big positive as well. However, no Garnett almost certainly spells no repeat this year.
The C's will have their hands full in the opening round against the young Bulls, but should be able to dispatch Rose and company in six games or less. If they meet Orlando in the second round, you can expect to really see the impact of KG's absence. Perkins has evolved into a nifty defensive player under Garnett's wing, but could have too much to handle in Superman Dwight Howard.
I am a homer from New England and will lose my voice screaming for Celtics victories, but even I have to recognize that team from Ohio as having the advantage.
You can easily see that King James has a lot to cheer about . Best record in the league, odds-on MVP, and a team he can actually win the championship with. LBJ will enjoy lighting up Detroit, for old times sake, as Cleveland should be able to get by Round 1 in five games or less.
I can't imagine Atlanta or Miami giving the Cavs a very hard time, so Round 2 should be another five games or less series. Even if Dwyane Wade is Flash 2.0 and get past a solid Hawks team, they'll be running into a buzzsaw in Ohio. Cleveland never loses at home and won't see any real opposition until the Conference Finals, unless a Denver-Seattle miracle happens, but that has been made much tougher by the newer best-of-seven format for all rounds.
For those who remember the epic best of fives from a while back, you'll know what I mean. Considering the NBA has dragged out the first round to May if series go a full seven games, I just don't see any major upsets happening in the East.
With Kobe Bryant more focused than ever, Los Angeles is poised to stand on top of the NBA mountain once again. The league MVP has been able to overcome injuries to himself and key teammates, a shortened offseason due to Olympic basketball, and the scrutiny of the media to lead the Lake Show to No. 1 in the West by a wide margin.
Even as the Nuggets found themselves sliding into second, they were still a full 10 games back of Zen Master Jackson and not even a blip on of Phil's motorcycle mirrors. Pundits and analysts all agreed about a month ago that the Jazz could present the biggest challenge...and then they lost seven of nine and Hall of Fame coach Jerry Sloan pulled no punches by calling his team's chances of surviving the first round as "bleak".
Sloan is a smart man and has it right. L.A. will cruise to the second round, where they could have a stiffer challenge from the Blazers (if the young team is able to put away a more experienced Rockets squad that won the season series this year). Given that seeds 2-7 in the West were separated by only a few games, I won't be surprised to see the Hornets knock off Denver or if San Antonio is knocked out minus Manu.
If the Hornets are healthy, specifically trade reject Tyson Chandler, New Orleans could be the team that could give Kobe and crew the toughest round en route to the Finals. No matter how you look at it, L.A. will be back in the Finals for the second straight year, likely to challenge Cleveland for the title.
No matter who you talk with, LeBron is one of the top two or three players in the league, and should expect to add a championship ring to the jewelry collection. After adding Mo Williams, James finally seems to have the complement of players needed to go all the way, though as KG shows us, an injury can quickly change the team outlook and severely impact the ability to win.
If Williams, West, Wally, or Gibson finds himself in a cold shooting stretch, you can bet that Kobe and L.A. will be more than willing to step and take the throne over the King.