After nearly two rounds of the NBA playoffs are complete, it seems that two teams have really elevated themselves above the rest. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets have far and above outshone the other remaining teams, and have therefore booked the first two spots in their respective Conference Finals.
They have played at a high intensity level each and every game and are now awaiting their next opponents.
Here is an early look ahead to (and predictions for) the Conference Finals:
Western Conference Finals:
Here we have the Denver Nuggets just waiting for the Los Angeles Lakers to finish off the Houston Rockets. Whether it comes in six or seven games, Kobe and the Lakers will be able to defeat a pesky, Yao-less Rockets team.
The Lakers are the top seed but, like expected, have been let down by their defense at times. When their offense is not clicking, their defense is porous.
The Nuggets; however, have been clicking on all cylinders for nearly two months now. Their offensive fire power is perhaps even more dangerous than the Lakers, and their defense has been more solid than anyone expected.
Nene and the “Birdman” have stepped up for the Nuggets to provide enough of a post presence, particularly on the defensive end, to show evidence they can compete with the Lakers big trio: centers Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and power forward Lamar Odom.
Bynum, meanwhile, has been a relic of his regular season self, playing some of his worst ball of the year. Chauncey Billups has been the most effective point guard of the playoffs, leading his team single-handedly at times and Carmelo Anthony has proven to be as dangerous of a scorer as (dare I say it) Kobe Bryant.
Anthony is averaging 27.0 points per game, compared to 28.3 ppg for Bryant, in the postseason, but averaged 30 in the series against Dallas, and has stepped up in clutch situations.
In addition, J.R. Smith has grown into a dependable bench scorer, averaging 16.1 ppg in the playoffs.
Both teams are fast and love to score points quick, but because of Denver’s intensity, consistency, and defense, I think they have a slight edge. It is also worth noting they have won 16 straight games in Denver. If that stat holds, one road win would give Denver the Western Conference Championship.
Prediction: Denver steals one of the first games and finishes the series in six.
Eastern Conference Finals:
The Boston Celtics currently lead the Orlando Magic 3-2 as the series returns to Orlando for Game Six. Orlando seems to be the better team, but the Celtics dominate the Fourth Quarter making this a tough series to predict.
Ultimately, I think that the Celtics will take the series in seven, because Orlando is not mentally tough enough and Boston has more quality players that can carry the team—with Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, and Ray Allen (not to mention Glen Davis playing at a high level).
Yet, whether the Cavs end up playing Boston or Orlando, it will not matter. Both teams can play at a high level but have not shown enough consistency to compete with Lebron James and Cleveland night in and night out.
They can both steal a couple games…maybe even three…but Cleveland will be representing the East in the NBA Finals.
Prediction: Cleveland over Boston in six.