Since I am on the record as calling 2007 the worst sports year ever, it’s at least worth acknowledging that it also launched the beginning of the best NBA season in at least 20 years, and what is shaping up to be the best playoffs ever.
The Western Conference is up for grabs from top to bottom, really up for grabs. And there are at least 3 teams in the East, possibly 4 that could get there and represent too. The Eastern Conference winner might benefit from the road the Western Champ will have to travel in getting there.
As for the MVP, they’ll be debating it right up until it’s announced, but I’d give it to Chris Paul. Without him, the Hornets are nowhere. I doubt most could name the Hornets starting 5 without looking it up. Paul has elevated everyone around him, helped guys like Peja and Chandler get their careers back and is making stars out of guys like David West and Hilton Armstrong.
Kobe is probably going to get it, and it’s tough to argue with his credentials too. My biggest problems with Kobe are the way that he was crying to get out of LA in the off-season, and the fact that this year is just OK statistically for him compared to years past. Bryant will probably get the award much like A-Rod finally got his in baseball, because his numbers have justified it for years, but he finally has a team around him that’s winning. I’m still not sure what kind of teammate Bryant is, and we’ll see how he reacts when things get tough in the playoffs, but he’ll probably walk away with the hardware.
Kevin Garnett deserves a mention too, unlike Bryant, Garnett really seemed like he wanted to make something happen in Minnesota, but the change of scenery did him a lot of good. The supporting cast around him and the relative weakness of the East won’t do much to endear him to MVP voters though.
For my money, LeBron belongs where Kobe has been for the last couple of seasons. He has the numbers to justify inclusion into the picture, but his team’s performance in a weak Eastern Conference makes his claim to the title a weak one. James raised the bar in carrying his team to the finals last season, and the Cavs came up well short of expectations this year.
Now for the first round playoff predictions:
Boston sweeps Atlanta 4-0
This is what the Celtics have been gearing up for since the first month of the season, look for them to pull out all the stops in this first round match-up. What’s sad for the Hawks is that they’ll miss out on the lottery. There are at least 4 non-playoff teams in the West that could give Boston a better run for their money, and they’ll all get lottery picks this year.
Detroit beats Philadelphia 4-1
They split the season series, and Detroit can be lackadaisical at times in the playoffs, but don’t expect too much excitement in this series. The Pistons will be looking to match the intensity of Boston and get through the early rounds as quickly as possible.
Orlando sweeps Toronto 4-0
Orlando may be the great unknown in the East, they may benefit from flying under the radar for most of the season. It wouldn’t make much of a difference either way in this one, as Chris Bosh will not be enough to contain the young and upcoming Magic.
Washington survives Cleveland 4-3
The Cavs have been slowly fading since the Spurs put an end to their improbable run last season. The Ben Wallace trade seems to have weakened them even further and they’ll be facing a motivated Wizards team that’s as healthy as they’ve been all season. This should be the most watchable Eastern Conference first round match-up.
Los Angeles beats Denver 4-2
The Lakers swept the season series, but the Nuggets have been playing playoff basketball for a couple of weeks already. Nothing in the West is in the bag for sure, but the Lakers have to feel pretty good about this first round draw.
New Orleans beats Dallas 4-3
In a match-up of two of the truest point guards in the league in the past 20 years, Chris Paul will prove why he should be the MVP. Dallas is a tough team to get a read on, especially in the playoffs, but after last years early exit they may be staring another first round elimination in the face.
Phoenix survives San Antonio 4-3
In what should be the best of all of the first round match-ups, it could come down to a coin toss. I’ll go with Phoenix because I think they’re now comfortable at any tempo. I truly see this series coming down to the final 10 seconds of game 7.
Houston beats Utah 4-2
Of all of the Western Conference teams, the Jazz seem to have the most glaring and insurmountable weakness; they just can’t win on the road. Look for that to catch up with them in the playoffs. Houston could have them on the ropes mentally by winning a single game in Utah’s building. Nice draw for the Rockets.
No matter how this all plays out, it’s shaping up to be a great playoffs, especially in the Western Conference. We should be seeing Finals-like intensity from the opening tip out West and there may be a surprise or two to come from the Eastern Conference as well.
Post your predictions and/or thoughts on the MVP here.