Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Detroit Pistons (8) 4-0: Joe "Teflon" Dumars took a gamble clearing Chauncey Billups' contract in exchange for Allen Iverson. Iverson proved to be a dud, Michael Curry made some boneheaded moves, and Rip Hamilton got hurt. Oh well. The Pistons are in excellent position to retool over the next two seasons and seriously contend for a title as soon as 2010-2011. For now, they're without a pulse. The Cavs will win this series walking.
Boston Celtics (2) over Chicago Bulls (7) 4-2: I wouldn't totally be surprised if this series went to seven games. The Celtics are much better than the often confused-looking Bulls, but certainly losing Kevin Garnett will affect their morale. At the end of the day, Paul Pierce will be the best player on the court and, if his play the past month—as well as in last season's Finals—is any indicator, the Bulls don't stand a chance. They'll make it closer than it should be, but Boston will move on.
Orlando Magic (3) over Philadelphia 76ers (6) 4-0: What a boring series. Really. Samuel Dalembert isn't 100 percent, and even if he were, it wouldn't matter. I like how Andre Iguodala has matured this season. But the Sixers just don't have enough to hang with Orlando.
Atlanta Hawks (4) over Miami Heat (5) 4-2: What Dwyane Wade did this season was out of this world—the Heat made a 28-win improvement—but the playoffs are an entirely different monster. I can't put my money on a team that features a collection of rookies—including one at point (Mario Chalmers)—especially when its best players (Wade, O'Neal, Haslem, and Moon) are currently banged up. The Hawks are 100 percent healthy and should take this series.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Utah Jazz (8) 4-1: I'd feel differently if the Jazz had home court advantage. But the reality is, they are atrocious on the road, where they are 32-50 over the past two seasons. I think they'll win a crowd-inspired Game 3 at home before bowing out.
New Orleans Hornets (7) over Denver Nuggets (2) 4-3: This will be a tough, ugly series that could involve a fight or two. Both teams are evenly matched, so I'm giving the nod to the Hornets because Chris Paul will be the best player on the court. David West is no joke and should match Carmelo Anthony's offensive production. The keys will be how Tyson Chandler defends the middle and whether or not Peja Stojakovic gets hot. Let us not forget James Posey either.
San Antonio Spurs (3) over Dallas Mavericks (6) 4-2: Dallas has been playing its best basketball of the season over the past month. Manu Ginobili is out of the picture. Still, the Mavericks have no answer for both Tim Duncan and Tony Parker. Parker alone could average 30-plus points per game this series. And we all know, for as good as he is, Dirk Nowitzki remains gutless when it matters most.
Houston Rockets (5) over Portland Trail Blazers (4) 4-3: I know everyone is talking up the Blazers as this playoffs' sleeper, but the reality is they lack the experience to contend with the veteran-led Rockets. Outside of Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers don't have much scoring punch. And you can count on Ron Artest and Shane Battier severely limiting those guys. Yao Ming will be the difference-maker in the end in what will be a tough, close series.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Atlanta Hawks (4) 4-2: This series will be all about tempo and who establishes/controls it. The Cavs want to walk it up and execute in the half court; the Hawks want to push it and run at every chance. The Hawks are long and quick enough to turn LeBron into a jump shooter, but Mo Williams will have a field day scoring on Mike Bibby. The key to this series will be the front line of Al Horford, Josh Smith and Marvin Williams. If they can dominate the defensive glass and limit second-chance attempts, the Hawks can and will make this a very tight series.
Orlando Magic (3) over Boston Celtics (2) 4-2: This is where not having Posey becomes an issue. With him, the C's would be able to take at least one of Orlando's 6'10" shooters/slashers, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, out of the series. Without him, facing the Magic becomes a matchup nightmare. True, the Magic have no answer for Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, and Rajon Rondo, but it's a big man's game, and the Magic's advantage in the frontcourt is too great.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Houston Rockets (4) 4-1: I can't wait to see two of the game's best one-on-one defenders take turns guarding Kobe for a complete series. Kobe burned them both for 37 points on 14-23 shooting in a Lakers win at Houston in March. However, Artest shut him down in a January game—Kobe needed 32 shots to score 33 points—and limited him in two other meetings, including a Lakers win at Staples just two weeks ago. The Lakers are average—at best—defensively, but the Rockets lack the offense to exploit their weakness. Yao won't be a factor against Gasol and Bynum.
New Orleans Hornets (7) over San Antonio Sours (3) 4-2: At 100 percent last season, the Spurs needed seven games to close out the Hornets. This year, age and injuries take their toll. This San Antonio squad has been in a steady decline for two years now and, as great as Duncan and Parker are, the two of them can't do it alone. One team is going up and the other is going down. West and Paul, who both killed them last year, will only be tougher this time around.
Cleveland Cavaliers (1) over Orlando Magic (3) 4-1: The three factors in this series will be defense, point guard play, and health. The Cavaliers are much better defensively. Williams will out-play Rafer Alston. If Lewis and Turkoglu's respective knee and ankle injuries haven't worsened by this point, they will in this series. The two forwards will have be that much better for the Magic to have a shot here. Don't count on it.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over New Orleans Hornets (7) 4-2: If Chandler could somehow play like he did last season, I'd say the Hornets would have a shot at dethroning the Lakers. I don't see that happening and, ultimately, if the Lakers dominate the paint (they will), the series will be theirs with ease.
Los Angeles Lakers (1) over Cleveland Cavaliers (1) 4-2: This may be LeBron's year as the best player in the game, but this is the Lakers' year as the best team in the league. The Lakers have a huge advantage in every aspect except for point guard and wherever the heck you want to categorize LeBron. Cancel LeBron and Kobe out of the equation, and look at these two teams.
Lakers: Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic.
Cavaliers: Williams, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, Sasha Pavlovic, Daniel Gibson, Joe Smith, Wally Szczerbiak.
Then factor in it's Mike Brown against Phil Jackson.
There's nothing left to say except for, "Congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers for winning the 2008-09 NBA Championship."
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