Anyone who is going to sit back with a cigar in their mouth and calmly predict how the 2010 NBA Playoffs will unfold better take a second and think again.
Sure, the obvious prediction (on paper, anyways) should be the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Los Angeles Lakers, pitting the league's two top seeds in an epic showdown between LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
It would mean Shaq did his part, LeBron James would be one step closer to being the next Michael Jordan, and of course, the debate over who's the best player in the league could reach an entertaining climax.
Of course, there's still the faint hope that the Western Conference lives up to its regular season brutality in terms of competition, and there's always the hope that the Orlando Magic could once again escape the grasp of James and his Cavaliers.
But what about all the little guys? Even if it does end up being a predictable match-up in the season's final series, will there be enough upsets along the way to keep fans interested? You better believe it .
Chicago Bulls (8) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (1)
Why Chicago wins: This team is young and scrappy, and if there's one guy you don't want to count out on this team, it's Derrick Rose. He can create for himself at will, and can pour it on in the clutch.
Their inside game is solid enough to compete with Cleveland's, and they can cling to the hope that Kirk Hinrich finds his shooting touch for the entire series.
Why Cleveland wins: Um, I believe his name is LeBron James. The Bulls don't have an answer for James, and while Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich are great defenders, they are not equipped to stop James or the lights-out three-point shooting this Cavs team has to offer.
Throw a healthy rotation of Shaq, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Anderson Varejao, and J.J. Hickson in the mix, and the Bulls don't stand a chance.
Verdict: Cleveland in Six
Charlotte Bobcats (7) vs. Orlando Magic (2)
Why Charlotte wins: Larry Brown has the Bobcats playing inspired basketball, and more often than not, intense, gritty defense. If they're going to get past the Magic, they'll have to keep up the pace on offense, while slowing down Orlando's hot shooters.
Why Orlando wins: They're stacked, pour on the points, and have a good bench. You can talk all you want about Vince Carter, Dwight Howard, and Rashard Lewis, but the likes of Mickael Pietrus, Jason Williams, and J.J. Redick may have a bigger impact on the playoffs than the casual fan thinks.
But if we have to get simple with it, it's as simple as this: Dwight Howard won't be denied.
Verdict: Orlando in Five
Milwaukee Bucks (6) vs. Atlanta Hawks (3)
Why Milwaukee wins: Andrew Bogut is gone, so they'll have to do all they can do to match up with Atlanta's strength inside, but the Bucks play solid defense, which should keep most of these games close.
If their bench can continue to step-up, it'll take the pressure off of rookie point guard Brandon Jennings, and Milwaukee will have a chance to push the series to seven games.
Why Atlanta wins: Pure talent and athleticism. Joe Johnson is an under-rated star who should be able to go to work at ease, even against a solid defensive team like Milwaukee. The Bucks might be able to hang, but Al Horford alone could prove to be too much, rather early.
Verdict: Atlanta in Six
Miami Heat (5) vs. Boston Celtics (4)
Why Miami wins: They can't. They're still basically a one-man show on most nights, and in the playoffs against a team with great potential on both sides of the floor, that's just not going to cut it.
However, if Jermaine O'Neal can find his old touch and swagger, and Michael Beasley can grow up in this series, they can make it to the seventh game.
Why Boston wins: Kevin Garnett isn't in a suit on the bench this year, and the team has added a veteran, playoff-savvy presence in Rasheed Wallace.
The "Big Three" might be winding down, but that won't equate to a first-round exit.
Verdict: Boston in Six
Oklahoma City Thunder (8) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (1)
Why OK City wins: Because Kevin Durant is just that damn good,and Russell Westbrook is a fantastic running mate.
Their bench isn't anything special, but they can turn to Jeff Green and James Harden in a pinch. Their defense probably isn't good enough to last, but if they can mess with Kobe Bryant's head, they do have a chance at pulling off an upset.
Why L.A. wins: Because they're the Lakers, and it's Kobe Bryant. I don't even have to mention the fact that Ron Artest will rough-up Durant any chance he gets, and the Lakers' inside game (even without Andrew Bynum) is easily better than anything the Thunder can muster up.
Verdict: Clean Sweep, L.A. in Four
San Antonio Spurs (7) vs. Dallas Mavericks (2)
Why San Antonio wins: The fear that Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobli strike into opponents is never more alive than when this team is in the playoffs.
Just five games separate these two teams, and the Spurs still have the roster to battle with just about anyone, especially a familiar foe.
Why Dallas wins: Dirk Nowitzki is still having nightmares about that NBA Finals series loss against the Miami Heat, and he's a man possessed.
Still, if Jason Kidd looks tired against Parker, guys like Caron Butler and Jason Terry will have to help shoulder the load. If not, the Mavericks could be in trouble.
Verdict: Dallas in Seven
Portland Trail Blazers (6) vs. Phoenix Suns (3)
Why Portland wins: Without Brandon Roy , even keeping this series competitive is going to be awfully hard. The only way they stay in it is if Rudy Fernandez steps up big-time, and Andre Miller plays good defense on Steve Nash.
Why Phoenix wins: Without Roy to set the tone on offense, Nash could find it extremely easy to run around Miller and the Blazers' defense. The Suns are unstoppable on offense when everything is clicking, and they've recently begun to play defense. Look out, Western Conference.
Verdict: Phoenix in Five
Utah Jazz (5) vs. Denver Nuggets (4)
Why Utah wins: They're playing much better on the road than they have in recent years, and they play solid defense, so they should be able to contain the Nuggets' frequent offensive outbursts.
Deron Williams can make sure Chauncey Billups is in check, but for the Jazz to pull off this minor upset, they'll need to limit the effectiveness of J.R. Smith off the bench.
Why Denver wins: It's going to be a lot harder than people think without George Karl. When they're on, the Nuggets can hang with just about anybody on offense. Defense, however, is a completely different story. They win if they can consistently start hot and blow Utah out of the water with their hot-shooting.
Verdict: Utah in Seven
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