The Conference Finals, just one step away from the elusive prize sitting in the NBA Finals.
For those unaware, LeBron James is out of the Playoffs and I understand the pure disappointment many fans will have from now until the end of the Playoffs.
I was looking forward to seeing Kobe vs. LeBron, but that is not to be. With that being said, there are a couple surprises in the Conference Finals for me in the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics.
With that in mind, will I see more upsets playing out this round? Or will the higher seeds prevail? All we can do is sit back and watch the game being played at it's highest level.
This is a match-up of power versus speed in the most basic of forms.
Phoenix can run and shoot and run again. The bonus of responsibility for the Suns lies in their ability to try and contain the big men of the Lakers.
The Suns have to burn the court the full 48 minutes if they want a legitimate shot at winning this series.
It is imperative that Phoenix gets at least one victory in L.A. to begin the series. Phil Jackson, as previously stated, has never lost a Playoff series when winning the first game.
With that being noted, the Suns could be done before the series goes back to Phoenix.
Jason Richardson must continue to have monster games as he has had in the past two series.
The big men must do what they can within their abilities.
Lou Amundson must rebound and play tough interior defense, Channing Frye must spread the court with his ability to knock down the Three and Amare has to continue to play like a beast.
The only comfort the Suns should take is that they fell behind 3-1 in their prior Playoff Series against the Lakers to come back and win.
Thanks to the heroics of Tim Thomas then, leaving the door open to who can play that role in this series.
The Lakers are still the best team in the National Basketball Association.
Valid points of rationalization could point to a shift of superiority with the Magic, but until they get the rings, I'm sticking with L.A. The bigs should be able to have huge double-double nights between all three of them.
Lamar Odom is always the biggest point of success with the Lakers.
If he is on his game head home early to avoid traffic. There is no chance the Kobe show will be beat that night. L.A. must stay focused to insure that they do not let Phoenix creep back into a game that they have in their control.
Health will play a vital role in this series with not only Andrew Bynum's health; but Kobe Bryant's as well.
As premature as the thought may be, the Lakers need to use this series if possible to sure up any health concerns.
If they can take the first two at home, the Suns will be deflated and in need of a Steve Nash stitches miracle.
I don't see that happening at any point in this series. Clutch shooting by the Lakers back-court and the dominance of their big men should be too much for a physically over matched Phoenix squad.
Phoenix will play hard, but just does not have enough weapons.
Prediction: Lakers in Six
This being the more unlikely series, holds more question marks than answers.
Last year, 'Big Baby' Glen Davis hit a game winning jumper in Game five to give the Boston Celtics a 3-2 lead in the Conference Finals, only to give back the series in the next two games.
The difference this year, is the comeback of a healthy Jameer Nelson and Kevin Garnett.
The change between Hedo Turkoglu and Vince Carter should also be of intrigue to those watching.
The change of Carter taking Turkoglu's place raises a potential problem for the Celtics in Vince Carter causing Paul Pierce more pain than last year from Turkoglu.
Pierce's problems with on ball defense could be catastrophic in Carter's ability to drive and might force the Celts' to put him on the bench in favor of Tony Allen.
The Orlando Magic should be able to spread the ball around the floor through Dwight Howard; Thus allowing Matt Barnes, Carter, Michael Pietrus, Nelson and Rashard Lewis some easy and open looks.
Dwight Howard needs to be the man this series and make a few of his free throws this time around.
His inability to knock down the freebies almost cost them in last year in the Playoffs.
If he can knock them down Orlando will be looking good for the Finals trip.
Boston on the other hand is a team of curiosity.
They seemed dead in the water a month ago struggling into the Playoffs with Father time breathing down their necks.
Suddenly, Rasheed Wallace is actually hustling, Kevin Garnett looks healthy, Rajon Rondo is playing like a top Point Guard in the league and Paul Pierce is still complaining like a five-year-old girl.
Paul is a perplexity to me, as a young man trying to make his mark in the league he was tough mentally and physically.
I would expect the toughness to continue to grow over the years, but he has somehow become softer. I bring this up because Pierce cannot have another lackluster series (like the last two) if the Celtics are going to win this series.
Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins must use their fouls smartly against Howard and try to force him to commit silly fouls.
The one thing Dwight Howard cannot do in this series.
It was enough of a scare committing fouls against Charlotte; those same fouls will make a bigger impact against Boston in this round.
Ray Allen is an unknown, like Lamar Odom, when he shows up, the other team is usually going down.
Orlando still has not lost a single game in this Playoffs and will be tough just getting the first loss on them of the series.
The Celtics have so many unknowns in the coming round it almost makes me think of them as certainties.
All of this being calculated the consistency of Orlando should prevail over the at sometimes uninspired Boston Celtics.
Forget a rematch of the 2008 Finals.
Prediction: Magic in Six