1 Lakers .vs. 5 Houston
The Lakers come into this series fresh off of a five game beat-down of the Utah Jazz; while the Rockets will enter the Western Conference Semifinals after a tough competitive series against Trailblazers. The Lakers swept their regular season series with the Rockets winning all four match ups.
The Lakers were third in the NBA in scoring during the regular season averaging just over 106 points per game. In the Rockets the Lakers will be facing a team with great one on one defenders such as Shane Battier and Ron Artest.
This series will place the preeminent guard in Kobe Bryant against the leagues most outspoken and talented perimeter defender in Ron Artest. Against the Rockets and Artest, Kobe averaged 28.3 points in their four meeting this season. This included Kobe’s 37 point out burst in March during a game where Artest was grabbing, shoving, and talking trash all night. To add fuel to Kobe’s ultra competitive fire were Artest’s recent comments in which he stated Portland’s Brandon Roy, not Kobe was the best offensive player he has faced.
The Lakers will throw a gang of defenders at Houston’s All Star center Yao Ming. If Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can neutralize the 7-6 center the Lakers will cruise to an easy series victory.
X-Factor – Andrew Bynum
Bynum L.A.’s 7-0 285 pound center must stay out of foul trouble while defending Yao; Bynum needs to stay on the court as he is Los Angles’ only true center. Bynum must use his superior bulk and strength to move Yao around the paint and to keep him off the boards. Bynum had a poor first round series against the Jazz averaging just five points and three rebounds while shooting just 39.1% from the field. More alarming was the fact he picked up sixteen fouls in seventy-seven minutes in a five game series. Bynum must establish a presence in the post for the Lakers and stay out of foul trouble or the Lakers could be in for a much more difficult series than most expect.
Prediction – Lakers in 5
2. Nuggets .vs. 6. Mavericks
The Nuggets enter this series after humiliating the Hornets in the first round; while The Mavs finished of the Spurs in five games. Denver swept the regular season series 3-0.
Since acquiring Chauncey Billups from the Pistons earlier in the season the Nuggets have played with a sense of purpose that I have never seen from them in the past. Billups brings leadership at the point guard that Denver has been lacking for a longtime. Since adding Billups, Carmelo Anthony has really come into his own; playing a more complete game and becoming a better leader. The Nuggets also bring an underrated collection of post player that includes Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chris “Birdman” Anderson.
The Mavericks are a team that still has a lot of talent and one of the premier scorers in the league in Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Kidd brings a veteran, stabilizing attitude to the point guard position. And NBA sixth man of the year Jason Terry is instant offense off the bench and really helps to light a fire under his teammates when he is in the game.
I think this is a series in which the Nuggets could really dominate the paint and control the boards. Chauncey Billups is four years younger then Jason Kidd and I think he should be able to control the tempo of games.
X-Factor - J.R. Smith
Smith has unlimited range and can heat up from downtown like nobody else in the league. Smith has the ability to come off the bench and go on a 6-0 run single handedly.
I think the Mavericks will have a tough time staying with the athletic swingman who does a great job of coming of screens and moving without the ball. Smith averaged 16.0ppg and shooting .424 from behind the arc in Denver’s first round series.
Prediction – Denver in 4
1. Cleveland .vs. 4. Atlanta
The Cavaliers swept Detroit in the only sweep of the first round; while the Hawks are coming off a seven game series against the Heat. The Cavs won the season series against the Hawks 3-0.
The Cleveland LeBron’s are by far the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA finals. And why not they had the best record in the NBA (66-16), second best home record in NBA history (39-2), and the best all-around player in the NBA. The Hawks are a young athletic team who have a some really good talent. Joe Johnson is one of the most underrated stars in the NBA, while Josh Smith may be the most athletic player in the NBA. Power forward Al Horford gives the Hawks a solid prescience in the middle and could be a match up nightmare for Cleveland’s big front line.
All of that being said the Cavilers will roll over the Hawks in this series. LeBron is playing at an incomparable level; in Cleveland’s first round sweep of Detroit, LeBron averaged 32.0ppg, 11.3rpg, 7.5apg in four games. The acquisition of Mo Williams in the off-season has given LeBron his first true secondary scorer and has taken some of the pressure of King James on a nightly basis. The Cavs massive front line of Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao should dominate the post and control the glass against a much smaller Atlanta front line.
I think the young Hawks will play hard and fast but the Cavilers have the best player in the NBA. LeBron is playing like a new player; becoming a great leader after winning a gold medal this summer in Beijing.
X-Factor – Anderson Varejao
Varejao is a big, athletic post player who has a nonstop motor. Varejao hustles to every lose ball and isn’t afraid to mix it up with opposing big men. I think Varejao will need to control Al Horford on the block and prevent him from getting Atlanta extra possessions with his offensive rebounding ability. It will also be vital for Varejo to play major minutes to keep Big Z rested and healthy for the remainder of the playoffs.
Prediction – Cleveland in 5
2. Boston .vs. 3.Orlando
Boston is coming off the longest playoff series in the history of the NBA; while Orlando handled Philadelphia in six games in a much more difficult series than most are giving it credit for.
This series will match Dwight Howard, the best pure center in the NBA against a K.G.less Boston team. The Celtics have Kendrick Perkins and “Big Baby” Davis who are both huge and showed up big time in the Chicago series. Unfortunately for Celtic fans I think Howard’s superior athleticism and other worldly hops will be too much for Boston’s big men.
On the perimeter the Magic will have to contend with the red hot Ray Allen who is coming off a 51 point performance in game six. Allen’s running mate Paul Pierce is the most underrated player in the NBA; he is a player that comes to play every night and steps it up in big games. Orlando will counter with the combination of Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu; two guys who can flat out stroke it from the outside.
If Boston had a healthy K.G. I think Boston would win this series handily, but without last years Defensive Player of the Year on the court I think they will struggle. Orlando is a team that relies heavily on the jump shot and when it isn’t falling they can struggle; but Howard gets a ton of second chance points on missed jumpers. The Magic need to get the ball into the post as much as possible and let Dwight Howard dominate; but skittish Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t always seem to make this his first option on offense. At the end of the day I think the long, grueling first round series against Chicago has taken too much out of the tank of an older team.
X-Factor – Rajon Rondo
Rondo averaged an unbelievable triple double during the Chicago series with 21.5ppg, 10.0rpg, and 11.7apg. Rondo has quietly blossomed into one of the five best point guards in the NBA and a leader on a very good Boston team. Rondo is very efficient with the basketball; his assist to turnover ratio in the first round was an incredible 70-11. Rondo has also become an elite defender averaging over two steals a game and perfecting the move of swiping away the ball from behind. Rondo should be able to use his unparallel athleticism to dominate Magic point guard Rafer “Skip To My Lou” Alston
Prediction – Orlando in 6
Projected Conference Finals Match Ups
1. Cleveland .vs. 3. Orlando
1. Los Angeles .vs. 2. Denver