As my life would have it, I didn't have time to sit down and write my playoff predictions. That's what happens in my (happily) trapped life. The weekend had an ASU football scrimmage, church, dinner date with my wife, a dinosaur project for my eight-year-old son, 30 assignments to grade for the online class I teach, 150 assignments from my high school students, and a lawn to mow.
So, I'll make my predictions now, having had the advantage of one game to see.
Lakers vs Thunder: The young Thunder have no chance. Their youth and inexperience, along with a healthy(er) and rested Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant for the Lakers, add up to one and done. Durant leads the OKC to one home win. Prediction- Lakers in 5.
Mavericks vs Spurs: This matchup features the new look Mavs and the wily veteran experience of the Spurs. San Antonio has battled injuries during the entire season, and seem to be the healthiest they have been all year. Tony Parker comes off the bench in the role that Manu Ginobili once had. Ginobili is looking more and more like the Manu of old, and not just an old Manu.
The Mavs bring in a veteran team as well, and with the deal that brought Caron Butler, Brendan Heywood, and Deshawn Stevenson, they are also very deep. Jason Kidd had a career shooting year from behind the three-point line. Dirk Nowitski seems to play his best against the Spurs.
After a game one win by Dallas in which the Spurs' "Big Three" of Tim Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker all played well, it seems that San Antonio will have a tough time. Still, there is always something about how the Spurs in the playoffs just cannot be taken lightly. This series will be a dogfight, but having home-court will lead to Dallas prevailing. Prediction- Mavericks in 7.
Suns vs Trailblazers: Phoenix exceeded everyone's expectations, including their own, to secure the leagues fifth best record. They went 23-6 after the All-Star Break. Once again, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire led the league's best offense. Stoudemire has arguably been the NBA's best player for the last two months.
Portland has continued suffering from horrible injury luck. Big men Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla are out for the season. The team's best offensive player, Brandon Roy, will not play this series after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Despite these injuries, Portland has one of the best defenses in the league, especially against the pick-and-roll, which happens to be the Suns' bread and butter play.
Portland stole the first game of the series behind great defense and inspired play by point guard Andre Miller. The Blazers pose a tough matchup for the Suns, who also are missing their starting center, with their slow, physical play. Even so, the talent of the Suns will overcome, even having lost their home-court advantage. Prediction- Suns in 6.
Nuggets vs Jazz: This series, with the Nuggets leading 1-0, took a bad turn for the Jazz. They are already playing without Andre Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer is not 100%, and now Mehmet Okur is out for the rest of the playoffs, after tearing his Achilles’ in game one.
Denver has Chauncy Billups and his playoff resume, one of the game's best scorers in Carmelo Anthony, and good three-point shooting by JR Smith. They basically are unbeatable if they score more than 110 points. They are, however, without their coach, George Karl.
Denver took the regular season series 3-1 from Utah. I can't see Denver losing this series. Utah doesn't have home-court, and doesn't play particularly well on the road. The have not played Denver well, and are short handed now. Prediction- Nuggets in 5.
Lakers vs Nuggets: Having Utah lose to Denver does the Lakers a HUGE favor. The physical play of the Jazz, and the sensational point guard play would pose problems for Los Angeles. Instead, they play the Nuggets, whose defense can disappear.
Denver really has no way to match up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Billups gives Denver a clear advantage at point guard, but LA can match up Ron Artest against Anthony to at least slow him. At no other position does Denver have even come close in talent. Prediction- Lakers in 5.
Mavericks vs Suns: This should be a very good matchup. Here you get aging elite point guards that are still producing (although Kidd has clearly diminished some). Nash is as good as he ever has. You also get two very good offensive teams.
There are two scenarios—one in which Robin Lopez returns, and the other that he does not come back. I believe that is the difference. With Lopez, the Suns have the defensive presence to deal with Nowitski. They also have more size offensively to either lead to easy dunks when Stoudemire is doubled, or space for Stoudemire in the paint.
This will be a high scoring series. It goes seven games either way. Prediction- Suns in 7.
Lakers vs Suns: If both teams are healthy, this will be an entertaining series. However, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers' length will prevail. Prediction- Lakers in 7.
Cavaliers vs Bulls: Honestly, does anyone think that the Bulls have a chance? They squeaked into the playoffs with only 41 wins. They got beat up in game one and that trend will continue.
The Bulls do have Derrick Rose, but not much else to match up against a stacked Cleveland team. LeBron and company likely do not lose a single game. Prediction- Cavs in 4.
Magic v Bobcats: This is another case of a clearly superior team going up against a playoff cupcake (If Oliver Miller were still in the league, he would salivate at the thought, just not for the playing part...he would want a real cupcake). The Bobcats won 44 games, but their team point differential was -9.0.
Orlando, let's face it, will roll. They shoot the ball well, and have the league's premier defensive center in Dwight Howard. Charlotte has Stephen Jackson and the game's (maybe) best coach in Larry Brown. On the other hand, Charlotte also has Boris Diaw, who, as Suns' fans know well, comes up small in big moments. Prediction- Magic in 5.
Hawks vs Bucks: Continuing the trend of lopsided matchups, Atlanta should show Milwaukee a quick exit. The Bucks lost their best scorer, Michael Redd, early in the year. Then they lost center Andrew Bogut in a freak play against Phoenix. They do, though, play Scott Skiles basketball. Skiles, a coach of the year candidate, loves controlled offense and hard-nosed, physical defense. That's how the Bucks play.
The Hawks, led by Joe Johnson, are young enough not to be old, but old enough to not be inexperienced. They have improved each of the past four years. They are athletic, physical, and have the league's best bench player in Jamal Crawford.
Atlanta will never really be tested in this series, although I believe the Bucks will pull out one win in Milwaukee. Prediction- Hawks in 5.
Celtics vs Heat: Finally, a series that should provide some drama. Boston won a lot of games, but also looked very old many times. Injuries have affected them, as well as being uninspiration. (Not sure that is a word? Just watch Rasheed Wallace play. It will make sense.)
Miami is, as always, all about Dwyane Wade. Yes, they have Michael Beasley and a rickety Jermaine O'Neal, but their game plan comes down to hitting outside shots and Wade winning games.
This will be the only tough series in the East. It will be a long series. Home court will be the difference. Get ready for some Celtic game seven magic. Prediction- Celtics in 7.
Cavaliers vs Celtics: After awakening in the first round against Miami, Boston shows some classic Celtic pride. The problem will be that The Cavs are just too good. The games will mostly be close, but the Cavs will pull away. Prediction- Cavs in 6.
Magic vs Hawks: This series is where Vince Carter disappears. He will be outplayed by Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford. Dwight Howard will dominate, but will not be the one taking shots in crunch time. Vince will, and will fail. Atlanta forward Al Horford bullies Orlando's forwards. Stan Van Gundy makes bad decisions. Prediction- Hawks in 6.
Cavaliers vs Hawks: Atlanta, athletically, matches up well with Cleveland. Shaquille O'Neal is rendered useless in this series, as he was acquired basically to face Orlando and Dwight Howard. No Dwight Howard, no real use for Shaq.
Antawn Jamison and LeBron are the stars of the series. Joe Johnson plays well, but not in the clutch. Mike Bibby has a down series. The series is physical, but never in doubt. Prediction- Cavs in 6.
Cavaliers vs Lakers: In the best matchup of stars in the Finals since Jordan vs Barkley and Magic vs Bird, the world gets LeBron vs Kobe. As a secondary matchup, the world also gets Kobe vs Shaq in the "How does my ass taste" Finals. The puppet commercials take over the airwaves and annoy everyone.
When they actually play the games, it will be as advertised. Each game will be close, two of which are won or lost on last second shots. Both Kobe shines, but the difference is the play of Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest. Bynum stays healthy and outplays Shaq. Artest makes LeBron work just enough to fatigue and take bad shots in clutch moments.
It comes down to a dramatic game seven in Cleveland. Derek Fisher revives his old body to hit a key three and Kobe hits when it counts, while LeBron misfires. Prediction- Lakers (in dramatic fashion) in 7.
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