Eastern Conference Semi-Finals
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #4 Atlanta Hawks
The series no one wanted to see has come to fruition. Pretty much any NBA fan was hoping the Miami Heat would defeat the Hawks in the First Round so that we could be treated to a battle of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade. Instead we will have to settle for LeBron against Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Mike Bibby, and company.
The Cavs steamrolled the Detroit Pistons in four game and will be playing their first game in 9 days tonight. The Hawks are coming off the most boring seven game series in the history of the NBA Playoffs and will be at a significant disadvantage when it comes to conditioning. The Cavs are of course led by MVP LeBron James, and also complemented by PG Mo Williams, PF Anderson Varajeo, C Zydrunas Illgauskas, and SG Delonte West.
The Hawks get contributions from all over the place, SG Joe Johnson is their scoring leader, PF Josh Smith is their leader in rebounding, steals, and blocks, while PG Mike Bibby is the one that stirs the drink. Overlooked but worth mentioning is that the Hawks are a formidable home team, they finished 31-10 at home in the regular season.
I think the Hawks can steal a game at home but they have no chance to take this series. LeBron James could almost single handedly lead the Cavs over the Hawks, add in the contributions that his teammates have given this year and the Cavs roll will continue.
Prediction: Cleveland over Atlanta, 4-1
#2 Boston Celtics vs. #3 Orlando Magic
This series got started last night as the Magic built a 28 point lead in the second half, nearly choked it away, and then held on for the victory. The Celtics are missing PF Kevin Garnett and PF Leon Power for the rest of the playoffs. For them to have any chance in this series they will need SG Ray Allen, and PF Glen Davis to play out of their minds like they did against the Chicago Bulls.
The Magic are led by superstar C Dwight Howard, and are a team that loves to shoot threes. PF Rashard Lewis, SF Hedo Turkoglu, SG Mickael Pietrus, and SG J.J. Redick live and die by the three. Watching the Magic can be maddening because they should build their entire offense around Howard, but seem content to feed him the ball occasionally and shoot threes the majority of the time.
The Celtics are a depleted and exhausted team and it showed in the first game. I think the Magic are ready to take the next step in their evolution as a championship contender and will end the Celtics reign as champions.
Prediction: Orlando over Boston, 4-2
Western Conference Semi-Finals
#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #5 Houston Rockets
If anyone thought the Lakers path to the Finals would be easy it was erased last night. The Rockets took Game 1 and did it rather easily on the Lakers home floor. The Lakers were undone by a horrible shooting night by just about everyone with FC Pau Gasol, C Andrew Bynum, PF Lamar Odom, and SG Kobe Bryant all struggling. I don't expect the Lakers to continue to shoot as poorly as they did last night but the Rockets defense is much better than the defense the Lakers faced from the Jazz in Round One.
The Rockets got great games from SF Ron Artest and C Yao Ming last night. The x-factor could be PG Aaron Brooks, who was running circles around the Lakers all night. The big question for them will be can they play at that high a level for an entire series.
I think the Lakers will recover in Game 2 Wednesday night and then steal a game in Houston. It will be a very tough, physical series but Bryant is going to will the Lakers on to the Western Conference Finals.
Prediction: Los Angeles over Houston, 4-2
#2 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Dallas Mavericks
Both these teams surprised me in Round One as I had both of them losing in their respective series. The Mavericks and Nuggets both decimated their opponents, the San Antonio Spurs and New Orleans Hornets. I wasn't taking the Nuggets too seriously but after the way they destroyed the Hornets, and then crushed the Mavs in Game One, they are definitely a title contender.
PG Chauncey Billups has changed the entire culture of the Nuggets team and it is apparent his winning attitude has rubbed off on his teammates. SF Carmelo Anthony is just as good as ever, and PF Kenyon Martin has changed his game to become quite the defensive threat. The Nuggets are also getting great contributions from FC Chris "Birdman, Hardcore Drug Abuser" Andersen.
The Mavericks are led by PG Jason Kidd. Kidd is completely useless on the defensive end but can still find the open teammate better than almost any point guard in the game. SF Josh Howard and PF Dirk Nowitzki both had a great series against the Spurs. PG Jason Terry provides the spark for the Mavericks off the bench.
It has become quite clear that the Nuggets are the second best team in the Western Conference. The Mavericks will put up a fight but it won't be enough.
Prediction: Denver over Dallas, 4-2