#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #3 Orlando Magic
Finally, the Cavaliers will have some legitimate competition. The Cavs have had more days off than playoff games thus far, after demolishing both the Detroit Pistons and Atlanta Hawks in back to back sweeps. Some people have been crazy enough to suggest the Cavaliers might go 16-0 and win the NBA title. I have two problems with that. Firstly, this team plays in Cleveland, sports history mandates that their road to the championship won't be that easy. Secondly, they beat the Hawks and the Pistons, teams that instill fear in no one and teams that wouldn't even have made the playoffs in the Western Conference.
The Magic disposed of the defending NBA Champion Boston Celtics in seven games. They tried many times to choke the series away but finally choked the life out of the Celtics in Game 7 in Boston. The Magic own the distinction of being the most frustrating team to watch in the NBA. They have a dominant center in Dwight Howard and a team full of chuckers in JJ Redick, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis. When those chuckers are hitting, like they were in Game 7 at Boston, the Magic are pretty much unbeatable. However, when they don't, instead of realizing that and feeding the big man inside, they keep chucking.
The Magic can take some confidence from the fact that they had the Cavaliers number in recent years, including a beat down in Orlando the last time these teams got together. Matchup wise the Cavs have the greatest player in basketball, LeBron James, and the Magic have to contain him in some way. Really, the Magic's focus should be to let LeBron get his and shut down his teammates, including Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
I think LeBron and Mo Williams hold distinct advantages for the Cavs. If Jameer Nelson was healthy for the Magic I would like their chances much more, as the point guard battle wouldn't be lopsided. However, with Rafer Alston starting, I think Williams and West can tear him up. I expect Howard to have a big series and dominant Ilgauskas, but its hard to pick against the team with homecourt advantage and the best player in the world. The Magic will show that the Cavs are beatable but they won't show it enough to make the Finals.
Prediction: Cleveland over Orlando, 4-2
Western Conference Finals
#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #2 Denver Nuggets
It ended up being much harder than any Lakers fans expected but the Lakers are in the Western Conference Finals for the second straight season. The Lakers seemingly have been playing with a laissez faire attitude, turning their effort level on and off. With their backs against the wall against the Houston Rockets the Lakers would use maximum effort, but if given any sort of wiggle room the Lakers looked about as good as the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Hopefully, they have been paying attention to the playoffs because any sort of let down against the Nuggets will lead to the end of their season. The Nuggets have been the second most dominant team in the playoffs and because of that are losing room on their bandwagon. The Nuggets have become the popular pick to defeat the Lakers and prevent the dream showdown of Kobe vs. LeBron.
The Nuggets certainly have an edge at point guard. Derek Fisher was made to look foolish for most of the series against Houston by Aaron Brooks and will have to deal with a player that is twice as good as Brooks, in Chauncey Billups. However, who do the Nuggets have that can slow down Kobe Bryant? Who on the defensive end will help them contain Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum? Kenyon Martin hasn't been able to do it in the past and I'm not buying that Carmelo Anthony has all of the sudden become a defensive stopper. I keep hearing that the Nuggets play defense now but they haven't faced a team with the amount of weapons that the Lakers have.
Another fact the people seem to want to overlook is that the Lakers have absolutely dominated the Nuggets in recent years. Sure, most of those games were without Billups but the Nuggets first have to prove to themselves that they can even beat the Lakers once, let alone four times in one series.
Don't get me wrong, this will be a very competitive and entertaining series. I think the Lakers will not have the on/off switch in this one because they will show nothing less than maximum intensity. Kobe vs. LeBron is meant to happen and while most of the time we don't get to see our dream matchups in sports, this year we will.
Prediction: Los Angeles over Denver, 4-2