On Saturday, the NBA playoffs began. The race in the Wild West was over, and the intensity has risen a great deal. Some of the 1st Round has already been completed, and these are my opinions.
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Washington Wizards
People say this is the most closely matched playoff series in the 1st round. I have to agree. These two teams have similar styles on the offensive end, and they both pull down around 30 boards a game. The Cavs are trying to prove that last season's run to the NBA Finals wasn't a fluke, while the Wizards, who have lost to the Cavs in the playoffs 2 straight years, are trying to get to the 2nd round of the playoffs for only the 2nd time since 1982.
LeBron has been sensational in the playoffs. Before this year, he has averaged 27.4 PPG, 8.0 RPG and 7.0 APG in the playoffs. In these playoffs, he had this crazy alley-oop dunk. Many people say that he's not the next Michael Jordan, but he can prove people otherwise if he is able to consistently win on the big stage. Even though the Cavs got to the Finals last year, a lot of NBA analysts and NBA fans believed that the Detroit Pistons blew it, and the Cavs benefited from the Pistons' mistakes.
The Wizards were a surprise this season. When Gilbert Arenas (Agent Zero) went down with a knee injury, people stopped believing in this Washington Wizards team. But, All-Stars Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler kept this team's head above water. They haven't gotten far in the playoffs over the last couple of years, but, they are still young, and if the Wizards can get past the Cavs and to the 2nd round of the playoffs, it would be a huge morale-booster. The Wizards have a lot of potential and still have many years to achieve their potential. The Beasts of the East (Detroit and Boston) are getting older. If this young Wizards team could gain some playoff experience and confidence in the next couple of years, it would be great for their playoff hopes in the future.
Prediction: The Cavs won the first two games, and I believe they will win the series in 6 games.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Phoenix Suns
These two teams have a history in the playoffs. Last year, this happened. These teams hate each other. They've met in the playoffs 4 out of the last 8 years, and they have a lot of experience against the other. The Suns and the Spurs have been two of the best teams in the West for a couple years, and they are expected to go far in the playoffs every year. This year, one won't go past the 1st round.
The Spurs are coming off a championship season, and the fans expect nothing short of a championship this year. They are proven winners in the postseason, and this team is virtually the same team that won it all last year. Last years Finals MVP, Tony Parker, is still on the team. Manu Ginobli, who won the 6th Man of the year award, is still there. Than, you have the best Power Forward ever to play in the NBA, Tim Duncan. Finally, Greg Popovich returned this season, and has led the Spurs to a couple championships, and has a lot of playoff experience. Factor that and their deep bench into the big picture, and they have a great chance of going very far in the playoffs.
The Suns have a lot of pressure because of the Shaq trade. They have to prove to the fans that this was a smart trade. They also have even more pressure because they are matched up with the arch rival Spurs. Amare Stoudemire has come into his own, and Steve Nash is still Steve Nash. They have come up short in the playoffs the last couple of seasons, and this year has to be different. It has to be, because major changes will be have to be made if the Suns aren't successful. New GM, Steve Kerr, has a big responsibility on his shoulders, and needs the Suns to be successful.
Prediction: The Spurs won the first two games, and I think they will outlast the Suns in 7 games.
New Orleans Hornets vs. Dallas Mavericks
This is a pivotal series in the playoffs. The winner plays the winner of the San Antonio-Phoenix series. Many NBA analysts said that this was a bad match up for the Hornets. I don't think so. David West can match up with Dirk, while Tyson Chandler is the type of beast in the post that the Mavs need. The Mavs have more playoff experience, and depth though. But, the Hornets have a lot of momentum, and this is going to be an exciting series.
The Mavs are a playoff hardened team. They have reached the playoffs for 8 straight years. They have proven veterans in Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs have to prove something to their fans after their unprecedented collapse in last year's playoffs. They lost in the first round to the 8th seeded Golden State Warriors last year. Fortunately, for them, Baron Davis and those same Warriors aren't in this years playoffs. But, this year, they are set on erasing the memory of that terrible series. They have to get the ball to the reigning MVP, Dirk Nowitzki, so he can create and put them in a great position to win the series. Dallas is feeling some pressure after what some people called a stupid trade, when they acquired Jason Kidd. Jason Kidd is a true point guard, and lets Jason Terry play a position that is better suited for the Jet, shooting guard.
The Hornets are the Cinderella team of this years Western Conference playoffs. To get the #2 seed in probably the craziest playoff race ever is stupendous. They have come a long way, and have many people to credit. First, there is Chris Paul. The obvious leader of this team, and he will probably be the runner-up for the MVP. Then, there is Byron Scott who is Coach of the Year, no doubt. Another person to credit is David West. He can shoot mid-range jumpers, and fight in the post for high-percentage shots and rebounds. Next, there is Tyson Chandler who is one of the best rebounders in the league. He's the defensive anchor on the Hornets. Finally, you have Peja Stojakavic who is their best pure shooter. He's the guy you look to for clutch 3s.
Prediction: The Hornets took the first two games, and I believe thy will outlast the Mavs in 6 games.
Utah Jazz vs. Houston Rockets
This is a match up between two Western Conference teams who ended the season HOT. Everyone knows about the Rockets 22-game winning streak late in the season, and the Jazz finished on fire. The Jazz might have more star power than the Rockets, but the Rockets have a deeper team. Rick Adelman is a candidate for the Coach of the Year award, and for good reason. He turned this team around damn quick.
The Jazz are a team that has a great core. Deron Williams is easily a top 5 point guard, and he can out muscle and out rebound most other guards. Carlos Boozer is one of the most athletic Forward-Centers out there. He can get you 25 and 12 on any given night. Their coach, Jerry Sloan, has playoff experience, not to mention he also coached one of the best great Point Guard-Power Forward duos ever - John Stockton and Karl Malone.
The Rockets are a team who have through many ups and downs. The 22-game winning streak was definitely their peak, and Yao Ming's injury is definitely their lowest low. They have a great bench, and have some tough players like Luis Scola and Shane Battier. I haven't even mentioned Tracy Mcgrady who is easily the key part of this team. He can create, and is a great defensive player. They are deep, and the fact that they can have a pretty good group of players on the floor at all times will be a big part in this series. Their is also Rick Adelman who deserves votes for the Coach of the Year award, as mentioned before. The injury to Rafaer Alston will really hurt them, but they will still play hard, and make this series close.
Prediction - The Jazz took the first two games, and I think that the injuries to Yao Ming and Rafaer Alston will be to much for the Rockets to overcome, the Jazz will prevail in 5 games.
Orlando Magic vs. Toronto Raptors
This is a match up of teams who are only here because of their big men. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh. Both are forces in the post, but it's obvious that Dwight Howard is the better of the two players. Both teams have good coaches and pretty good supporting cast for their two star big men.
The Orlando Magic are the third seed in the playoffs. Over the summer, they acquired small forward Rashard Lewis. They added him to their other two stars Hedo Turkoglu and Dwight Howard. They have decent guards, and this is the 2nd consecutive year that they have made the playoffs. They might not go very far in the playoffs this year, but they have a team built for the future. Dwight Howard is the next great big man, other than Greg Oden. Hedo Turkoglu is an accurate shooter, who can shoot clutch shots, and he can drive to the bucket. Rashard Lewis has a pretty good mid-range jumper and he can work for high-percentage shots in the post. Coach Stan Van Gundy was in the Miami Heat organization when the Heat won the NBA Championship just a couple years ago.
The Toronto Raptors have a pretty good core. They have star big man Chris Bosh. And another big man who can shoot 3s in Andrea Bargnani. Throw in Jose Calderon and stud rookie Jamario Moon, and you have a team that can make a splash in the playoffs in years to come. They have a bright future, but this year probably isn't their year. They might have taken a step back this year, though. They lost 6 more games than they did last year. I don't think it's a sign, but many people doubt this team.
Prediction: The Magic took the first two games, and will take the series after 3 more.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets
Both of these teams have their respective stars. The Lakers have Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol. The Nuggets have Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. Both of these teams have stars who are very experienced in the playoffs, and stars who aren't. For the Lakers it's Kobe who is experienced and Pau who is not. For the Nuggets it's AI who is and 'Melo who is not.
The Lakers are a VERY storied franchise. Great player, coaches, 2nd most championship rings, etc. This year, they hope to add to that number of championships. Kobe is their superstar. He already has acquired 3 championship rings (with the same coach that he has now). Pau Gasol was probably the biggest part of the biggest trade this year. Andrew Bynum will probably play in the 2nd round, if the Lakers get there. They have the deepest bench in the NBA, and the most all-around complete team. They captured the 1st seed with just a couple games remaining in the regular season, and they are playing great basketball.
The Nuggets are, well, a confusing team. They have one of the best defensive players in the league in Marcus Camby, but their defense is terrible. Their offense, however, keeps this team going. Whenever you have two of the top scorers in the league, it's expected that the team they play on scores. Alot. The Nuggets could really be something if they committed on the defensive end. They don't work hard enough. They are deep enough to really be successful, but their defensive woes hold them back.
Prediction: The Lakers will sweep this series because, THEY PLAY DEFENSE!!!!!!
Detroit Pistons vs. Philadelphia 76ers
This is a series between a team who are contenders almost every year, and a team who have a lot of momentum going into the playoffs. The Detroit Pistons have the same solid core of players they have had or the last several years, besides Ben Wallace. The 76ers just lost their 2 best players just last season, and they have still been able to get to the playoffs.
The Pistons have probably been the most consistent team in the NBA in the last couple of years. They've made the playoffs 6 straight years, and the Conference Finals 5 years straight. Guards Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton have been the driving force of this team along with Forward Tayshaun Prince and Forward-Center Rasheed Wallace. These are experienced players, who know what to do in pressure situations. Flip Saunders may not be Larry Brown, but he is a damn good coach.
The Philadelphia 76ers are the most surprising team in the Eastern Conference. Expected to fall off the face of the earth this year, they have been able to play well enough to capture a 7 seed. Stars Andre Igoudala and Andre Miller have led this team farther than anyone would've even imagined. Igoudala is showing that he can be a star, after living in Allen Iverson's shadow. He's one of the most complete players in the NBA. You can expect 20-5-5 from him every night. Now, because Iverson is gone, Miller can be the 1st string Point Guard on this team. And, he's doing great with the position. He's in the Top 10 in the NBA in assists and is a very underrated player.
Prediction: The 76ers took the first game in a stunning upset, but Detroit will prevail in 6 total games.
Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks
The 1 vs. 8 seed match up almost always seems lopsided. This year is no different. As the 1 seed you have the Boston Celtics. Biggest turnaround in NBA history. On the other side you have the Atlanta Hawks. A young team, that has almost no playoff experience. So, yeah, it's pretty lopsided.
The Celtics ended the regular season with the best record in the NBA. They have the best Big-3 in the NBA in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Pierce is the guy you look to for points. Garnett is the defensive monster on the team and Allen is the clutch shooter. Together, the three make for a great core. Than, you throw in players like Rajon Rondo, Sam Cassell, etc. and you have the best team in the Eastern Conference. They are the best defensive team in the league, as expected with a beast like KG. High expectations were set for this team coming into the season, and so far they have lived up to them.
The Hawks are very young. The pick-up of Mike Bibby mid-way through the season has brought them another scorer in the form of a decent Point Guard. With two legitimate scorers in Bibby and Joe Johnson, and two great rebounders in Josh Smith and Al Horford, this team is built to score and crash the boards. They are inexperienced, though. That will hurt them this season, but when they gain valuable experience after this season they will be better off for playoff runs in the near future. Just a couple years ago this team was in the cellar, but not anymore. Talent is plentiful on this team, and Hawks management has made great decisions.
Prediction: Boston won the first game in this series, and will sweep it all together.
These playoffs should be interesting, eh?