Los Angeles Lakers-Cleveland Cavaliers Still a Certainty for NBA Finals?

Peter LomuscioCorrespondent IFebruary 19, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives the ball against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the third quarter at Staples Center on January 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The NBA trade deadline has come and gone, and like usual most of the action was in the rumor mill. We did see 11 deals get done though, involving 15 teams and 39 players.

At the beginning of the season, the majority of predictions out there already had the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers penciled in for the 2010 NBA Finals. At the midpoint of the regular season, the teams confirmed popular belief that they were the two best teams in the NBA. Now that the trading deadline has passed, it has pretty much become assured that these two teams will be battling it out for the trophy in June. But is all this certainty assured?

Apparently having the best record in the NBA at 43-11 was not a feat that would stand in the way of the Cavaliers improving themselves at the deadline. The Cavs went out and acquired forward Antawn Jamison from the Washington Wizards for a future first rounder. Big Z was also in the deal, but it is almost definite he will be bought out and return to the Cavs in 30 days. This is a huge deal that improves the Cavs in a big way. They now become even more versatile with Jamison in the lineup and have a legitimate 20-10 threat every night. There can no longer be any whispers or complaints of Lebron James not having the supporting cast because it can now be argued that Cleveland has one of the deepest teams in the league.

The Lakers, on the other hand, decided to stand pat, as their offseason moves will have to suffice. Los Angeles already has a complete roster, so it’s pretty definite that the fans wont be in any sort of a panic that a deal wasn’t made. All the focus for the Lakers in the rest of the regular season will be on the health of Kobe Bryant.

It’s always nice to see potential playoff teams make a move to help give them a push for a run at the Championship, but we didn’t see much of that at this year’s deadline.

In the Eastern Conference, the challengers to Cleveland really were a major disappointment at the deadline.

The Orlando Magic will still be able to have a competitive six or seven game series with Cleveland that can go either way, but it just seems like their offseason moves pushed them a step back rather than a step forward. They also could have made a statement by adding a final piece to keep improving their team.

The Atlanta Hawks were also silent at the deadline, as they appeared content with the roster in place. Not to take anything away from the Hawks, who are having a great season, but it just seems like it will be the same old story for this squad. Win one playoff series tops and get bounced in the second round.

The Boston Celtics still have the same starting lineup that brought them to the top of the NBA two seasons ago, but unfortunately for them, the miles on the tires look to have taken their toll. Boston was mentioned in rumors of all kind, but the only deal they managed to get done was Nate Robinson for Eddie House. The Celtics have been hurting on the glass with their lack of strong rebounding, and what was once their strength, their defense, has become questionable in the big moments of close games. It seemed necessary for them to go out and get a big man to help inside and give Garnett’s creaky knees the rest they need down the stretch, but it never happened. Instead, they got a high-energy scorer off the bench. This deal might work out for Boston, but Eddie House was a perfect fit for the Celtics, and he played his role perfectly. It's easy to believe in Boston when you look over their roster, but when you watch them lately, it is hard to see them taking down Cleveland in a series this season unless the squad is at full strength, which looks unlikely.

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The Toronto Raptors are a darkhorse in the Eastern Conference that can surprise any team in the Eastern Conference in a given series, but they also failed to make any moves to help improve their team when it counted. This team lacks depth, and an acquisition at any position besides point guard would have definitely been welcomed.

The Chicago Bulls had a controversial deadline. Some think they managed to acquire some nice pieces that will help them compete in these playoffs and set their cap at a nice spot to make a big run in free agency at Chris Bosh or Dwayne Wade. Others think dealing away John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas was the Bulls way of conceding defeat for the season. Whichever way you see it Chicago has basically ended all hope of winning a series in the playoffs this season with the current state of the team.

The Miami Heat should be extremely nervous after the results of their deadline day. Not only did they fail to acquire anyone to help Wade out, but they may have also aggravated Wade enough to have him considering the thought to leave in the offseason. You want to think that Wade has the ability to carry his team by himself to at least one playoff series victory, but it looks unlikely with the roster in place. The Heat really struck out in terms of not landing big men they were rumored to be interested in like Amar'e and Boozer.

The Charlotte Bobcats have been the surprise team in the East this season, and even though their deals didn’t make headlines on deadline day, it is nice to see this team try to improve. The Bobcats acquired two bigs in Tyrus Thomas and Theo Ratliff. This adds some key depth to their frontcourt as they will look to be a Cinderella story in this years playoffs like that Golden State Warriors team was a few years back against Dallas.

In the Western Conference, three teams really stood out as winners after the deadline, the Dallas Mavericks, Portland Trail Blazers, and shockingly, the Houston Rockets.

The Dallas Mavericks started off the Trade Deadline week with a big splash when they acquired Caron Butler, Brandon Haywood, and DeShawn Stevenson from the Washington Wizards for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton, and Quinton Ross. This can easily be labeled the best deal of the deadline. The Mavs have added two very underrated producers to their starting five. Butler is a versatile player who will help Dallas on both ends of the court and Haywood will be a force they have been missing inside to block some shots and hit the boards. Dallas will be a strong contender to challenge the Lakers, as even Kobe Bryant came out to compliment the Mavs after hearing about this deal.

The Portland Trail Blazers are the team in the Western Conference that has the potential and talent to shock the nation. Obviously, we have to make sure Brandon Roy is healthy for them to have any shot, but after this huge acquisition of Marcus Camby, they now have a legitimate center to complete their starting five. They did have to deal key role players in Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw, but you have to give to get. Blake will definitely be missed, even though the talented Outlaw has proven to be easily replaced by a well-performing Martell Webster. Portland may lack the big game playoff experience, but their energy and pace can be something that can add up to shock the Lakers in the Western Conference.

Houston was the surprise team that stepped up at the deadline. Despite being on the outside looking in, in the playoff race Houston managed to make the most of their deadline day. They did put a valuable trading chip in Tracy McGrady to his best use in dealing away him, tough role player Carl Landry, and Joey Dorsey for Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill, and a first-rounder (and the right to swap first-rounders with NY in 2011).

Considering Houston didn’t plan on playing T-Mac any longer anyway, they basically got a tremendous deal in their favor for what they may consider their scraps and leftovers. This move not only threatens Western Conference competitors for a playoff berth this season, but it also makes them legitimate contenders next season when/ if Yao comes back healthy. Kevin Martin is an underrated scorer that the Rockets will be pleased to build around. They have done a nice job setting a foundation, and despite how hard it must be to see a hard working guy like Landry leave the team, the draft picks sweetened the pot to a level where they had to let him go. Jordan Hill was the eighth pick in last years draft and his potential has also been clearly under-appreciated by the Knicks. Not to mention Houston was also a late entrant in the Amar'e Stoudemire sweepstakes, only to fall just short on time.

The Denver Nuggets were the team to give the Lakers the biggest challenge in last year’s playoffs, and despite the lack of any action at the deadline, the same can be expected this year. It would have been nice to see Denver add some depth behind Kmart and Nene, but apparently that is easier send then done. The Nuggets better hope Chris Anderson can remain healthy throughout the postseason because he is basically the only depth they have behind their bigs.

The Utah Jazz can be seen as the Atlanta Hawks of the Western Conference. They have a team that is as solid as they come, but it just seems to not have that closer or one big piece to take them to the next level. Even though they are playing great basketball at the moment, it’s hard to see them winning more than one series in the playoffs.

The San Antonio Spurs have had their struggles this season, and it looks like they are beginning to be written off similarly to the Celtics in the Eastern Conference. But like Boston, it’s hard to be certain that they won't step their game up when the playoffs come along. Whispers were that the Spurs were trying to dump players (Jefferson, Mason) rather than add at the deadline, but don’t take that as a forfeit by San Antonio. They still have the talent and roster in place to win the Western Conference.

The Oklahoma City Thunder are the feel good story of the Western Conference this season. Their young and talented roster is sure to be playing the fan favorite underdog role come playoff time. Kevin Durant has established himself as a top-class NBA player, and only if they could have acquired a big man to complete their starting five, they might have become a serious scare of a first-round matchup. Look for the Thunder to gain some playoff experience this season, and best-case scenario, push their first round series to six or seven games.

Phoenix Suns’ General Manager Steve Kerr is going to have to answer multiple questions again inquiring his transactional strategy this season. Ironically, this time it will be for the deal he didn’t make. After taking apart a contender few years back, this year Kerr decided to leave his squad in “no mans land.” Kerr should have pulled the trigger on the best offer for star forward Amare Stoudemire whether it have been centered around Michael Beasley, JJ Hickson, or the Rockets alleged offer Battier, Scola, and draft picks. If Kerr felt that these deals weren’t enough for Amare than it would have been nice to see him add some type of contributor that could help Steve Nash get this team past the first round wall they now seemed to be locked into.

So after reviewing this deep group of contending teams there is no way that general public should seem so assured of a Lakers-Cavs series. Yes, I know that these two squads are clearly the two deepest and talented teams overall, but it’s going to be a much tougher ride than usual this season.

Cleveland is easily going to be labeled overwhelming favorites in the East, but they aren’t even the defending Eastern Conference Champions. It shouldn’t be seen as an automatic that they will be in the NBA Finals.

The Lakers, on the other hand, will have to be aware of at least four teams that have a legitimate chance to take them down in a series in the Western Conference.

One thing is for certain: We all know who Commissioner Stern will be rooting for to get to the finals: Puppets, Puppets, and more Puppets. So try not to be so shocked after Lebron gets an undeserved visit to the line four to five times a game.

So brace yourselves for what looks to be an action packed fulfilling NBA Playoffs that will be sure please us all no matter who reaches the finals.


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