It's been a heck of a ride in one of the most highly anticipated playoffs in NBA History. Memphis knocks off the top-seeded Spurs in the West, the Bulls looked shaky against the Pacers, the two-time defending champions get swept by Dallas and the Miami Heat conquer their biggest rival thus far in the Boston Celtics.
And that was just the beginning.
Does it feel odd that the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Magic are out sooner than expected? Sure it does. This is the year since 2006-2007 in which both teams in the Finals won't be from LA, Boston or Orlando: it should feel weird. But what we are witnessing is a changing of the guard, in my opinion. The Lakers, Celtics, Spurs and Magic are passing the torch to the Bulls, Heat, Hawks and Thunder. Now all of those teams passing the torch will reload and still contend, but the youth in the NBA is in revolt and it is no longer a Kobe/KG/Ray Ray/Yao/Nash driven league. It's about the young guns now. LeBron, DWade, Dwight, Durant, DWill, Melo, Amare, etc. That's what has lead to the "Royal Families" of the NBA to get knocked out so early.
Bulls vs. Heat
Let's start with the East. There is no doubt that this will most likely be the better series between the two. The best team vs. the best two players in the league. If Derrick Rose is to beat The Heatles, it will go down as one of the greatest individual performances in playoffs history. But he's going to need some help. Carlos Boozer needs to outplay Chris Bosh and Luol Deng needs to step up big in this series. He's the X-factor for the Bulls. No doubt about it. If the Bulls can find another scoring threat outside of Derrick Rose, the Bulls will have a chance. On the other side of things, Chris Bosh is the X-factor for the Heat. He needs to outplay Carlos Boozer in order to completely make the Bulls a 1-2 man show. LeBron proved that he does have a killer instinct in the last series against Boston, let's see if he can show it again in this series.
Prediction: Carlos Boozer is more likely to show up than Chris Bosh. Bosh has admitted to being easily distracted and mentally corrupted by home crowds and playing on the road. I'm sure that night when he shot 1-18 will haunt him and clog his memory. Boozer needs to seriously take advantage of that. I believe the Bulls will win this series in 7 games. Smart point guards, physical big men, a bench and Kyle Korver's shooting will prove to be the difference in this series.
Mavericks vs. Thunder
Not the matchup anyone really expected, but it's what we have and it also has the makings to be a classic. It is truly the battle of the young guns vs. the veterans. Russell Westbrook against Jason Kidd. James Harden vs. Jason Terry. Kevin Durant vs. Shawn Marion. Serge Ibaka vs. Dirk Nowitzki and Kendrick Perkins vs. Tyson Chandler. These teams are pretty equal, to be honest. The Mavericks have a 2nd rotation that could start for about 10 NBA teams with Barea, Terry, Stojakovic and Haywood, a pretty impressive group to have sitting at the start of a game. You saw what they can do in Game 4 against the Lakers in the last series. That could prove to be the difference in the series. Plus don't forget about all that rest that the Mavericks got over the past week. That could be another factor. The Thunder have the younger squad, which leads me to believe that even thought they went 7 games with the Grizzlies, they'll still be good to go on Tuesday against the Mavericks. The X-Factor for the Thunder is their bench. Sefolosha, Mohammed, Collison, Maynor and Cook will need to play well or just as well as the Mavericks' second rotation in order to win this series.
Prediction: The Mavericks in 6. That bench is just too good. Both teams have a smart point guard, physical bigs, a good bench and shooters. So this could be the better series to watch because they are so equal. KD vs. Dirk. Westbrook vs. Kidd. Those two benches squaring off to get their teams to the title. I'm pumped. Aren't you?
Bulls vs. Mavericks!