This year’s playoff field features a wide array of teams. Some are there purely to fill the field of 16 (Bulls, Bobcats), some are up and coming teams (Thunder, Bucks, Blazers) and a few teams have a legitimate chance of winning it all (Cavs, Lakers, Magic, Mavs).
Here is a round by round break down of the match ups, as well as some predictions.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs Chicago Bulls
Breakdown: After looking like a team that could take the step into the upper class of the East after there epic playoff battle with the Celtics last season, the Bulls took a step back this season. Loosing Ben Gordon and trading John Salmons didn’t help, but neither did giving up almost 100 points per game.
The Cleveland Cavaliers enter this off season knowing anything less then winning a championship is a disappointment, and could cost them their franchise player, Lebron James. No team has more pressure on it than the Cavs.
Derrick Rose will put up numbers, but this matchup should be nothing more than the Cavs getting their nucleus (James, Shaquille O’Neal, Mo Williams and Antwan Jamison) all on the same page for what seems like the first time this season.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
Orlando Magic vs Charlotte Bobcats
Breakdown: The Orlando Magic will look to defend its Eastern Conference title, and has maybe the most talented roster in the conference to do it with. The Magic had the biggest point differential in the league this year, with a 7.5 point advantage for the season.
The Bobcats were a nice story this year, but the only advantage they have over the Magic is on the bench. However, even Larry Brown couldn’t figure out enough right ways to play the game that would lead the Bobcats to a victory.
Prediction: Magic in 5
Atlanta Hawks vs Milwaukee Bucks
Breakdown: Philadelphia fans could have a hard time watching this one, as John Salmons, Josh Smith and Brandon Jennings (with better personnel decisions and a little luck) could all have been on their team this past season.
Jennings may be the rookie of the year, and Salmons has been the best pickup during the season in the NBA, but the loss of Andrew Bogut leaves a big hole in the middle for the Bucks. They could make some noise next year, but they should go out quietly in this one.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics
In perhaps the best and most evenly matched first round series, the aging Celtics look to make one more run with their Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce.¬† But it might be Rajon Rondo, who is without question the best and most valuable player on their team, who is the reason they win this series. Dwayne Wade will make it interesting, but for this one round, the Celtics playoff experience will be the difference.
Prediction: Celtics in 7
Los Angeles Lakers vs Oklahoma City Thunder
Breakdown: Everyone talks about LeBron vs Kobe, but true NBA fans know Kevin Durant is close to joining that conversation. Durant averaged more points than both Kobe and LeBron, as well as more rebounds then Kobe.
The Thunder features a roster that can shoot and defend, giving up less points per game than the Lakers during the season. Against almost any other team in the West, I would be picking the Thunder, but the Lakers are too talented. The Thunder really have no answer for Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum or Lamar Odom. Ron Artest should be able to frustrate Durant enough over the series, and Kobe will be Kobe.
Breakdown: Lakers in 5
Dallas Mavericks vs San Antonio Spurs
Breakdown: Many people will look at this matchup and think of the high flying,power house Mavs vs the veteran, declining Spurs, but, statistically, that isn’t the case. When it comes to offense, the Mavs and Spurs averaged almost the same amount of points per game (102).
Defensively, the Spurs gave up less points than the Mavs.
And while Tim Duncan may be on the decline, he lit the Mavs up during the regular season to the tune of 27 points and 13 rebounds. Also, Kidd has never been known for his defense, and Parker could create havoc for the Mavs as he blows by Kidd again and again.
I’m not as big on the Mavs as many, with many people thinking they could overtake the Lakers in the West. It’ll be a close series, but I think the combo of Duncan, Ginobili and Popovich get it done one more time.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
Phoenix Suns vs Portland Trail Blazers
Breakdown: What could have been one of the best first round series was robbed of that potential when Blazers star Brandon Roy went down. With Roy missing at least the first round, the questions for the Blazers become, where does the offense come from?
They can’t expect 30 points every night from Marcus Camby. Portland was one of the best defenses in the league, but even with their defense at its best, the chance of them outscoring the Suns is slim.
Prediction: Suns in 5
Utah Jazz over Denver Nuggets
Breakdown: The Nuggets have not been the same since George Karl left to focus on his battle with cancer, but some of that could have been due to Kenyon Martin missing a significant amount of time as well.
Martin is back, and should help the Nuggets slow down Carlos Boozer.
The point guard matchup is a great one,¬† because Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams should offset each other. The Jazz do not have an answer for Carmelo Anthony though, as Andrei Kirilenko will miss the opening round due to injury.
Prediction: Nuggets in 7
Cavs vs Celtics in 5
Talk about two opposite teams. The Cavs are a young, energetic, up and coming powerhouse that may have the best chemistry in the league. The Celtics can see the white light at the end of the tunnel, and there have been many reports of the older players (Garnett, Allen, Pierce) not getting along with the future of the franchise (Rondo, Perkins).
It should be an interesting off season for the Celtics- the Cavs will help them get there sooner.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
Magic vs Hawks
Breakdown: This second round matchup will be a battle of two of the most athletic teams in the league. Both teams feature forwards who can run, shoot and take it into the lane.
Both teams feature point guards that manage the game and can shoot the three when it gets kicked back out to them. The one thing the Hawks don’t have us an answer for Dwight Howard.
Prediction: Magic in 7
Nuggets vs Lakers
Breakdown: This series will be the true Western Conference championship. The Lakers were assumed by many to breeze thru to the Finals when they signed Artest, and kept the rest of the championship team intact.
The Lakers knocked the Nuggets out last season, but don’t expect the same result this time. The Nuggets should get their coach back in this round, and while that won’t be the only reason, it will help the team come together.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
Spurs vs Suns
Breakdown: This is a matchup that has led to some classic series in the past few seasons. While neither team is as good as it used to be, but this series will still provide a lot of points and plenty of good match ups; Duncan vs Stoudemire, Nash vs Parker.¬†¬† In the end, I think Nash will make enough plays, and Stoudemire will expose Duncan and his aging legs.
Prediction: Suns in 7
Cavs vs Magic
Fans will learn a lot about LeBron in this series. James took alot of heat after the Cavs lost to the Magic last season, and the Cavs management did everything they could to prepare the Cavs for the Magic. They added Shaq, Jamison and J.J. Hickson. They resigned Big Z.
This is where LeBron will have to make his legacy grow and he will. I expect him to play every game this series as a man possessed. A game of 50, 13 and 10 is not out of the question. If LeBron will ever have a chance to show he has the same killer instinct of Jordan and Kobe, this is it. Kobe and Jordan don’t lose this series. Neither will LeBron.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
Nuggets vs Suns
Breakdown: If the Suns reach this point, their season will be considered a success. However, if they do reach this point, it will also end here. While the Nuggets might have had an up and down season, they have all the components to come out of the West and win this series.
On their roster are the following: a great, veteran, game managing point guard in Billups;¬† great defensive players in Martin and Nene; an explosive 6th man in JR Smith; and one of the best players in the league in Carmelo.
Prediction: Nuggets in 6
Cavs vs Nuggets
Breakdown: For the second year in a row, the networks won’t get the Kobe-LeBron match ups they hoped for, but this one will be just as good. Arguably¬† the 2 best players from one of the best draft classes ever go for their first ring. LeBron and Carmelo’s rivalry goes back to high school, when LeBron lost to Carmelo in one of the most exciting and well attended high school games ever.
The other story line will be the Cavs basically playing to keep LeBron. James has been unstoppable this season, and should be the unanimous MVP. No one will stop him this close to his first professional championship.
Prediction: Cavs in 7