The matchups are set and there is excitement building as the regular season comes to an exciting conclusion. The Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James locked up the best record in the NBA along with the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers have had the top seed locked up in the Western Conference since time began.
Now, it’s time to break down the playoffs from East to West.
No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8 Detroit Pistons
The classic marquee matchup that has been a focal point for the past few years in the Eastern Conference appears to be a piece of cake series for Cleveland.
Not true, however.
True, Cleveland has beaten Detroit three out of the four times that they met this year, but Cleveland always has a tough time with Detroit in the playoffs. Will Detroit beat Cleveland in a seven-game series? No chance.
Cleveland has the leadership and talent from LeBron James and Mo Williams, who average a combined 46.2 PPG, along with the solid bench play from veterans Joe Smith and Wally Szczerbiak, and a great three-point shooter in Daniel Gibson. Cleveland’s entire starting lineup averages double-digit scoring every night except for Anderson Varejao, who averages 8.6 PPG.
Detroit has the same band of veterans that have fought their way into the playoffs every year minus, arguably, their best player in Chauncey Billups. They have one of two active players who has ever won both an NCAA title and a NBA title in Richard Hamilton.
Will Detroit put up a good fight and win a game or two? Definitely. Cleveland will take the series in five games.
The Bulls lost the season series against Boston two games to one this year, the most recent meeting being a Bulls win. The Bulls should be able to run with the Celtics for most of the game each time, but the Celtics will overwhelm this young Chicago squad with veteran talent and experience.
The Bulls are on a hot streak, only losing one game in April, and beating two playoff teams: Detroit and Philadelphia. Chicago has a lot of raw talent in rookie phenom guard Derrick Rose, second year center Joakim Noah, and star guard Ben Gordon. They should be able to win one at home and steal one on the road, as well.
The Bulls stand no chance, however, at winning a full series against the “Big Three” for Boston. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett are just too much to handle. The Celtics are on a hot streak with their only loss in April coming to the top-seeded Cavaliers on the road. Then, when they get tired, Coach Doc Rivers has a bench to work with that is absolutely astounding.
Veteran guard Stephon Marbury and young power forward Glen Davis lead the way for the backups, as well as strong shooting guard Eddie House. Granted, if Garnett is out for the first round, that will be a big loss for the Celtics. However, the underlying point of this series is that Boston has too much veteran talent and playoff experience for Chicago to match up with. The Celtics take this series in six.
No. 3 Orlando Magic vs. No. 6 Philadelphia 76ers
The Magic won the regular season series three games to none against the Sixers. The Magic has barely any useful talent on their bench to backup their speedy and athletically superior starting lineup, though. They are also on a bit of a cold streak going into the playoffs, only picking up one win in April, a three point win against Memphis at home.
The 76ers come into this series on a solid cold streak of their own, only picking up one win in April. They don’t have a whole lot of depth, but they should be able to get some solid minutes from their standout backup guard Lou Williams. This young uptempo 76ers squad should be able to keep most of these games close and steal the home games as well. This series will be a six-game series with Orlando prevailing. The Magic will take this series four games to two behind the play of Dwight Howard, Hedo Turkoglu, and Rashard Lewis.
The Hawks won three out of the four meetings between themselves and the Heat, and by an average of five points in the last two games. The Heat has an outstanding guard combo in MVP candidate Dwyane Wade and rookie sensation Mario Chalmers. They may have some trouble against this solid Atlanta squad built around primetime shooting guard Joe Johnson.
In the paint, Miami may have a hard time matching up as well, with the Atlanta combo of Josh Smith and Al Horford. Chances are Chalmers will have a tough time having an impact in this series, as veteran point guard Mike Bibby will most likely guard him. Atlanta has depth and is on a hot streak heading into the playoffs. After it’s all said and done, the Hawks should be able to pull this one out in seven games despite great performances from Dwyane Wade.
The Lakers got to the Finals last year and are the favorite to get there again this year. The NBA Finals are now within reach for the Lakers as they need to run through Utah in a quick five-game series and then play in two more series to make another appearance.
The Jazz lost two games to one in the regular season series between these two teams. The one game that the Jazz won was at home, and they only won by four points. The focal point of this series isn’t depth or anything else. The limelight is solely on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer will put up a fight against this dynamic duo. The Lakers will take this series in five games.
The season series is tied at two games apiece. Each squad flaunts their own star guard-big man combo. They both like to get out and run the floor. These teams couldn’t be more even. The only edge even remotely relevant to the outcome of this series is the experience and veteran players.
Anthony has matured in every sense of the game. Now that he has veteran guard Chauncey Billups with him via trade with Detroit, Denver seems to have a slight edge in this best of seven series. Nuggets will win this series four games to three in an exciting game seven at home.
The regular season series was a two games apiece tie between the Mavericks and the Spurs. The Spurs have basically the same team that they have had for the past few years, making the playoffs every year for the past decade with playmaking point guard Tony Parker, and dominant power forward Tim Duncan.
The Mavericks also have a solid amount of veteran experience in big sharpshooter Dirk Nowitzki, and veteran guard Jason Kidd. Erick Dampier and Josh Howard also have lots of experience.
The point is that these are very equal teams in many ways other than their seed. The Mavericks will pull off the upset if they can win a game or two on the road. The Mavericks will pull off the upset and win in seven games.
The Trail Blazers stole a win from the Rockets in OT back in November, but the last two meetings have been Rockets wins at home. The Blazers have an outstanding record this month, coming into the series at 7-1. They have beaten the Lakers, the Spurs, and Denver, all since the beginning of April. The one loss this month was to—you guessed it—the Rockets in Houston by 14 points.
The Rockets, on the other hand, come in on a 5-3 record in April with their biggest wins coming over Portland by 14 at home, Orlando by 10 at home, and New Orleans by 20 at home. They lost three out of their final five road games, with two out of those three losses being double-digit letdowns.
The big men for the Rockets should be able to put up points and clean up the boards most of the time, but Brandon Roy should be able to make most of his first shot attempts. The Rockets have Ron Artest leading their guards with 17.3 PPG, and Aaron Brooks with 11.2 PPG. Yao Ming will also be a huge factor, as he has recently had problems with his foot again.
Between Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, there should be no offensive troubles for the Blazers as they average a combined 40.7 points per game. The Blazers also outmatch the depth of the Rockets as they have Greg Oden, Channing Frye, and Travis Outlaw on their sideline waiting to make an impact. The Blazers should be able to pull this series out at home in a close battle in game seven.