The closest playoff match up in the east, obviously, is Cleveland-Washington. The Wizards are playing their best ball of the year, have three strong defensive players they can assign to LeBron, and just got back a 20+ ppg scorer in Gilbert Arenas. The Cavs are floundering since their trade, which both analysts and myself liked, and are now further incapacitated by LeBron's back spasms, the same injury that derailed T-Mac's career.
On paper it seems simple, you go for the Wizards who are relishing this opportunity and may even finagle home court advantage the way the Cavs are playing. But Cleveland still has LeBron as well as the most dominant big man in the series, and has playoff experience.
PG: Advantage D.C., Agent Zero is turning the corner, and even if he doesn't start I like Antonio Daniels more than Delonte West.
SG: Advantage D.C., Sczerbiak cannot hang with Caron Butler, who is becoming one of my favorite players of this decade.
SF: Advantage, Cleveland area construction crews who get to fix all the damage LeBron keeps doing to Euclid Avenue every time the L-Train comes down the middle
PF: Advantage D.C., Antawn Jamison is playing well-rounded basketball and overshelms Ben Wallace completely with quickness and athleticism. Mike Brown needs to start Varejao or Joe Smith.
C: Advantage Cleveland, Brendan Haywood is a punk and Big Z is a nice guy.
Coach: Advantage Cleveland, Mike Brown's defensive awareness should overcome his coaching staff's offensive limitations in this series. He's been to the Finals, although Eddie Jordan is not bad.
Bench: Advantage Cleveland primarily due to size and experience. Of course if Arenas is coming off the bench, that changes things, but the power forward position is going to determine this match up. I don't think Washington can match Cleveland's energy, their young players are not yet ready
Mental edge: Tie. Cleveland has beat them three straight years in the playoffs, but this year LeBron is ailing, the Wizards have had success this year against eastern playoff teams including the Cavs, and Stevenson truly believes he can shut down the best 'overrated' player ever.
Pick: Cleveland. LeBron does not shy away from the spotlight, Gilbert is not 100%, nor is he in playoff shape yet, Zydrunas should help the Cavs secure the paint, and Washington's play rides on emotion too much while Cleveland will methodically ready themselves for the gruel of a playoff push. They have players who have been to the finals, and a DPOY winner who (*Hubie Brown tone*) oh did I mention has a championship ring? Despite one of the more annoying fanbases, Cleveland has the most intimidating force in the league. There is nothing scarier than watching LeBron cock back readying for a dunk, and once he gets a head of steam nothing can stop him.
On a side note, I am cheering my hardest for the Cavs. As a Western Conference elitist, I want to see them in the Finals. Badly.