1 L.A. Lakers.vs. Denver
Denver comes into the Western Conference Finals after beating both New Orleans and Dallas in five games in their first two series. Meanwhile the Lakers enter the series after beating Utah in five in the first round but battled for seven against the scrappy Rockets in a tough, physical series.
After watching the Lakers play this postseason I think they believe they can “turn it on” whenever they want; but teams that have this ability are tough, defensive teams not finesse, offensive teams like L.A. To me other than Kobe and Sasha Vujacic the Lakers are a soft team that can be rattled when a team smacks them in the face and doesn’t quiver in the shadow of the 14 NBA Championship banners hanging from the rafters of Staples Center.
Kobe has done a good job so far in the playoffs distributing the ball and getting his teammates involved. Pau Gasol has been a solid force in the middle averaging 18.5ppg and 10.8rpg in the first two rounds. Gasol has been desperately needed as Andrew Bynum has yet to show up in the playoffs. In the Lakers 12 playoff games he is being outscored by teammates Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown and is only pulling down 3.8rpg in the worthless 15.5 minutes of run he is get per game.
No player has affected a team more than Chauncey Billups; he has brought a calming, professional attitude to the Thuggets. Oh and since Chauncey has come home to Denver the Nuggets are actually playing defense for the fist time since Mount Mutombo was patrolling the paint in the early nineties. The trio of Kenyon Martin, Chris “Birdman” Anderson, and Nene has become the best post combination in the NBA; they are physical, athletic, and impose their will on other team’s big men. The addition of Billups and his run in the Olympics has turned Carmelo Anthony into a true leader and given him the confidence to become a leading “go to guy”.
I think if Bynum continues to be a non-factor in this series the Nuggets trio of big men will dominate Pau Gasol; Gasol is a finesse player who can be pushed around on the blocks. Derek Fisher is done as starting point guard in the NBA; Chauncey Billups should be able to run circles around him and control the pace of the game.
It looked like the Lakers were going to leisurely stroll into the NBA Finals but so far in the playoffs the Nuggets look like the focused team on a mission. I don’t think the Lakers are going to be able to play the same hot and cold defense against the Nuggets who are the one team in the NBA who can match the Lakers basket for basket. I think the Nuggets toughness in the post and Chauncey Billups ability to dictate tempo will be too much for the Lakers to overcome.
Prediction – Denver in 6
1 Cleveland .vs. 3 Orlando
No team in the NBA has been more dominant or is having more fun this postseason than the Cavaliers. The Cleveland LeBron’s have swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with double digit wins in all eight games.
On the other and the Magic’s playoff run has been more dramatic than Sophie’s Choice. The Sixers took Orlando to six games in a hard fought close opening round series. Then in the second round the defending champion Celtics took the Magic to seven games in a series where Dwight Howard questioned Stan Van Gundy’s coaching and the Magic blew double digit leads like Paris Hilton blows money at a cash bar.
LeBron James came into this season with one goal; winning an NBA Championship. And he looks poised to accomplish his goal and isn’t going to let any player or team get in his way. LeBron won his much deserved first MVP trophy this season and has had any let down in the postseason. In Cleveland’s first eight playoff games he has averaged 32.9ppg, 9.80rpg and 6.8apg, leading his team in all three categories. While LeBron has shown why he is now the best player in the NBA his teammates have been there to contribute and pick up the little bit of slack King James has left them. Mo Williams, Delonte West, and Big Z all are averaging double digits in the playoffs and Joe Smith and Krusty the Clown’s doppelganger Anderson Varejao have helped control the paint.
As for the Magic there is no question Dwight Howard is a physical freak the guy has shoulders as broad as a polar bear and he can jump out of the arena. I just don’t know if he has the killer instinct to use his superior power and athleticism to carry the Magic to the NBA Finals. The Magic are a team that is predicated on scoring in transition and from behind the arc; unfortunately for them the Cavilers are the best team in the NBA at defending the three. Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu are good role players but neither is a dominant player who is going to be able to carry the Magic when Dwight Howard isn’t scoring in the post. Perhaps the biggest problem for the Magic is the fact Stan Van Gundy is not the calming presence a young team like Orlando needs on the bench. Shaq’s comments about Van Gundy being a “Master of Panic” seem to be a dead on criticism; I think he is far too negative with his team and doesn’t show the confidence to allow them to beat a very good Cleveland team.
Dwight Howard will have one monster game where he gets 20 and 20 but I think that is the only win the Magic will get in this series. Orlando has nobody who can even attempt to match up with LeBron’s athleticism and power and he will control this series. The NBA Playoffs are all about defense, that is why San Antonio has been so dominant in the last decade and I think Cleveland’s defense will be too much for Orlando to handle. I see two potential twenty point blowouts by the Cavaliers in this series and a pretty easy path to the NBA Finals.
Prediction – Cleveland in 5
Cleveland .vs. Denver