This years' NBA playoffs are playing out to be one of most intriguing of the last five years. Obviously, the first round is not complete yet, so I will write this prediction from the second round to the finals with who I think will make it out of the first round.
Celtics v. Cavs
Lots of matchup problems for the Cavs here, but one glaring matchup problem for the Celtics: Who guards LeBron?
As of last night, Joe Johnson seems to be unstoppable, even against the best statistical defense in the NBA. Johnson is the same type of athletic, dual threat player that LeBron is, except LeBron is much, much better. I can't see James Posey (who seems to be doing the best job on Johnson) staying with LeBron's strength and quickness. Ray Allen, the next candidate, can't defend anything right now. It seems like LeBron is going to get his points in this series.
This would be a problem for the Celtics if not for the matchup problems that the Cavs are going to have against them. Although Ben Wallace is a multi-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, he is not the man he was in those years. I wouldn't want him guarding a KG who is hungrier than ever and who was finally woken up by the Hawks' two upsets. Another matchup problem will be the Cavs' perimeter defense against the outside shooting of Ray Allen and company.
Although I expect LeBron to keep the Cavs competitive, I think there are way too many problems for the Cavs against the Celtics defense and too much for LeBron to do by himself on offense.
Prediction: Celtics 4, Cavs 1
Pistons v. Magic
I am sure that I am not the only one who smell upset in this round. Dwight Howard is reverting to his early-season form in these playoffs and is also beginning to establish himself as a beast amongst men. He's going to be an impossible matchup for an undersized Pistons team. Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson have also been playing great basketball as of late.
The same cannot be said about the Pistons. "Big Shot" Chauncy Billups hasn't been playing as clutch as his reputation expects of him. Look for him and Rip Hamilton to have a better series than they are against the 76ers, but I don't think it's going to be enough to stop a red-hot Magic team. The key is going to be how well Jason Maxiel and Rasheed Wallace can contain the inside presence of Dwight Howard.
Prediction: Magic 4, Pistons 3.
Celtics v. Magic
Horrible, horrible draw for the Magic here in their first Eastern Conference Finals. Almost every matchup bodes well for the Celtics. They have KG and Kendrick Perkins to be physical with Dwight Howard, and the defense of Rajon Rondo to keep Jameer Nelson in check.
Look for this to be an anti-climatic final. The Celtics' Big Three want a championship too much to let a young Magic team come and spoil their season.
Prediction: Celtics 4, Magic 0
Lakers v. Jazz
While the status of Andrew Bynum is doubtful, his presence will not play a major role in the outcome of this series. Kobe Bryant can smell a championship at this point and unfortunately for the Jazz, they don't have anyone talented enough to defend him. Pau Gasol has been playing the best basketball of his young career during these playoffs, and I see no end in sight for his production. (The entire Memphis front office, please light yourself on fire).
The Jazz will have to hope for a stellar performance by Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer. Andrei Kirilenko will have the impossible task of trying to contain Kobe Bryant. Ever since going AWOL under the Jerry Sloan regime, Kirilenko has been a shell of his former self. The new Andrei is highly under qualified to guard a motivated Kobe.
Although the Jazz home court advantage is the best in the league look for the Lakers to steal an exciting game on the road, and end this series in six games.
Prediction: Lakers 4, Jazz 2
Hornets v. Spurs
This series has potential to be the best of any series in the playoffs. So many matchups to watch for. Can CP3 continue to play at an impossibly high level for another series against a better defensive team? Can Tony Parker repeat one of the best point guard performances of all time like he had in Game Three against the Suns when he scored 41 points while also having 14 assists?
The Spurs will be the Spurs. Look for Tim Duncan to continually defy his critics and have another stellar series. Manu Ginobli has been one of the most unstoppable forces thus far in the playoffs, and look for that to continue as well. The Spurs also have the luxury of a Bruce Bowen, a player who can keep David West from taking over any given game. Tony Parker will be the X-Factor. If he can play like he did against the Suns, the Spurs will win games.
The Hornets, who rely on their outside shooting for success, will have to shoot well to have a chance. The pick and roll that was so effective against a below average Dallas defense will not work against Tim Duncan and Bruce Bowen. Don't count on Tyson Chandler taking countless lobs from Chris Paul here. However, Chris Paul is not only one of the most competitive players in the league, but he also possesses a rare set of intangibles that give off the, "There's no f****** way I'm losing this game" aura that infects not only himself, but his teammates as well. I can't see him stopping the roll he is on just yet.
This series is definitely going seven games, and thankfully for the Hornets, they are the number two seed and will have home court for that deciding game seven.
Prediction: Hornets 4, Spurs 3
Lakers v. Hornets
Every great player: MJ, Kobe, Wilt, Bird, Russell, Magic, etc always needed to take a devastating playoff loss before they learned how to win championships. I feel like this is going to be the rite of passage for Chris Paul, who is unquestionably the best rising star in the NBA. Kobe wants this championship too badly, and I think this is going to be his series to win or lose. This years' version of Kobe is mature enough to not try to do too much like he has in past years. He has too many weapons around him to fail.
Look for the Hornets to be competitive, but there's just going to be too much Kobe for the Hornets in this series. Definitely a promising season for the young Hornets team, though.
Prediction: Lakers 4, Hornets 2
NBA Finals - Lakers v. Celtics
Every NBA fan should now run to the grocery store and stock up on food and drink, because you're not going to want to leave the hour for the week that this series goes on. ABC is also putting a gift basket together for the NBA for single-handedly causing their ratings to break every record.
Kobe v. KG is the marquee matchup in this series. Both players are at a crossroads in their career. Kobe looks to prove that he can win without Shaq, and KG is looking to get out of the infamous "Best Players in NBA History...Not to Win a Championship" group.
To be honest, this series isn't about matchups, because the teams are equally the best in the NBA. They key will not be Kobe, or the Big Three. The key instead will be the play of Rajon Rondo. If he plays well, the Celtics will win. If he does not, the Celtics will not win. Sam Cassell may not see the floor during this series, and I'm happy about that. Being a Celtics fan, I want to see Rondo stake his clame next to Deron Williams and Chris Paul as one of the top young guards in the league.
This series goes to seven games, no question. The Celtics, who had a better record during the regular season, will play at home. The ghosts of the old Boston Garden will be awoken during the seventh game between the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Game seven in Boston against the Lakers is too perfect for NBA fans. Whatever way the game goes, there will be no disappointments in this game.
PREDICTION: Celtics 4, Lakers 3.