The NBA season kicks into high gear for the next two months as 16 teams battle to become NBA Champion. People have their complaints about the NBA and the NBA Playoffs. They say the players don't try hard enough and that the playoffs take too long. Some of that may be true but the best basketball is played in the NBA. The intensity of the playoffs is great to watch and will make for an interesting two months. Most people seem to think the NBA Finals will match the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Los Angeles Lakers, especially with the news that came yesterday that the defending champion Boston Celtics will likely be without Kevin Garnett for the playoffs. LeBron James vs. Kobe Bryant would be the ideal NBA Finals matchup but anything can happen.
Eastern Conference First Round
Best Series: #4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35) vs. #5 Miami Heat (43-39)
Honestly, the Bulls/Celtics series will be better than this one but I already previewed that series. This one will be the second most entertaining as the under the radar Hawks take on Dwayne Wade and the Heat. Wade would be reason enough to watch this series, in any other season he would be the MVP. He put up 30.2 points per game, 7.5 assists per game, and 1.5 blocks per game. He is the sole reason this team is even in the playoffs. Rookie PF Michael Beasley has picked up his play as of late and provided some help to Wade. The Hawks haven't been talked about much but they have an exciting team, one that is looking to take the next step after last season taking the Celtics to the limit. The Hawks are a very balanced team offensively, receiving contributions from SG Joe Johnson (21.4 points per game), PF Josh Smith (15.6 points per game, PG Mike Bibby (14.9 points per game), and SF Marvin Williams (13.9 points per game). Both teams are pretty good defensively and this should be a series that goes the full seven.
Any Upsets?: I don't think there will be any upsets in the First Round. I think the series will be competitively played for the most part but I like the matchups for all of the favorites in this round. I expect the Celtics and the Hawks to get the most trouble.
Individual Matchup to Watch: Cleveland's LeBron James vs. Detroit's Tayshaun Prince
It will be Prince's assignment to try to at least somewhat contain James. Prince is very skilled defensively and the Pistons held LeBron to 25.8 points a game in their 4 meetings this season. That is a ton of points but being kept relative that is a good night defensively against James. Some of that number has to do with the Cavs blowing the Pistons out and LeBron leaving the game early but not all of it. The Pistons have very little chance in this series, their only chance is try to somehow limit LeBron and force other Cavs to step up.
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers over #8 Detroit Pistons, 4-2
#4 Atlanta Hawks over #5 Miami Heat, 4-3
#2 Boston Celtics over #7 Chicago Bulls, 4-3
#3 Orlando Magic over #6 Philadelphia 76ers, 4-1
Western Conference First Round
Best Series: #4 Portland Trail Blazers (54-28) vs. #5 Houston Rockets (53-29)
The Trail Blazers began their ascension somewhat quicker than most might have suspected and now have earned home court advantage in the First Round. The Blazers are a highly entertaining team. SG Brandon Roy (22.6 points per game) is their star, who the Rockets know all too well. Early in the season these two played in a classic game, with Roy hitting an unbelievable shot at the buzzer to give the Blazers a victory. PF LaMarcus Aldridge also puts up huge numbers scoring and rebounding, 18.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds. Centers Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla will have their work cut out for them with the Rockets C Yao Ming. Ming led the Rockets in scoring (19.7 per game), rebounding (9.9 per game), and blocks (1.95 per game). Yao was out with an injury in the Rockets First Round series last year. This year the Rockets will be missing Tracy McGrady, although honestly the team has played most of the year without him and been fine. A large reason for that was the addition of SF Ron Artest. Artest provided another scoring option to pick up McGrady's lost scoring and also has performed well on the defensive end, for which he has always been known. I think most of the games in this series will come down to the finish, ending with a classic game seven.
Any Upsets?: I like the #7 New Orleans Hornets (49-33) to knock off the #2 Denver Nuggets (54-28). The point guard battle between the Hornets Chris Paul and the Nuggets Chauncey Billups will be great to see. The effect that Billups has had on the Nuggets can't be denied but this team has been famous over the years for First Round flame outs. The Hornets have slightly underachieved this year but they have had some distractions and injuries to deal with. I know they come into the playoffs stumbling but I like how they matchup with the Nuggets. I think the Hornets can slow the Nuggets offense and Paul can carry them to the Second Round.
Individual Matchup to Watch: San Antonio's Tony Parker vs. Dallas' Jason Kidd
Kidd is going to have to try to go back to his defensive abilities of five years ago for the Mavericks to have any chance against the Spurs. Kidd was abused by Parker this season, as Parker averaged 31.3 points per game against the Mavericks, 9 points above his season average. Kidd is still an assist machine and can create on the offensive end but he is a definite defensive liability. The Spurs will be hurt with the loss of Manu Ginobli but I think they have such an advantage in point guard matchup that they will be fine against the Mavericks.
#1 Los Angeles Lakers over #8 Utah Jazz, 4-0
#4 Portland Trail Blazers over #5 Houston Rockets, 4-3
#7 New Orleans Hornets over #2 Denver Nuggets, 4-3
#3 San Antonio Spurs over #6 Dallas Mavericks, 4-2