What the hey, we did the hockey playoffs, might as well cover the NBA as well. This piece was written in advance of this afternoon's games, so if LeBron broke his leg in the first quarter and the Bulls won by 45, so be it. Though even on one leg, LBJ is probably good for a 20-5-5 game.
Los Angeles over Oklahoma City in six Should be fun to see the old superstar (Kobe) against the up-and-coming superstar (Kevin Durant), but overall the Lakers have way too much for the "Zombie Sonics." The Thunder's existence bothers me since had they stayed in Seattle, I'd likely be on their bandwagon right now. I've always wanted to cheer for a Seattle franchise (I attribute this to lingering 'Frasier' fandom) and since my MLB and NFL dance cards are filled, the Sonics would've been perfect. Damn you, Thunder ownership!
San Antonio over Dallas in seven This is a big upset on paper, but the Western Conference is deep enough that the seeding is basically a crapshoot. The Spurs are probably the best #7 seed in NBA history. They were also (don't laugh) my preseason pick to win the NBA title, so I have to stand by them for at least one round, right? The Duncan/Parker/Ginobili triumvirate adds yet another series victory to their resume and the Mavericks can take solace in the fact that they're going to be a capital-p Prime destination for free agents this summer.
Phoenix over Portland in six The Blazers are missing Brandon Roy for at least the first few games of the series, though they've succeeded in the face of so many injury problems this year that it would be par for the course if they were to win a round despite missing their best player. But, then again, I'm too much on the Steve Nash bandwagon to pick against the Suns in this case.
Denver over Utah in seven Both teams are battling injuries and are pretty equal on paper, so I'll just give it to the Nuggets based on home-court advantage. It'll be an inspirational 'win it for George Karl' type of victory. Jerry Sloan wonders when the %(*&% his players will win it for him after decades of coaching success.
Cleveland over Chicago in four Congratulations, Bulls! You topped the Raptors in a competitive...er, hard-fought...uh...well, at least it was some sort of contest for the last playoff spot in the East. As your reward, you get to be ritually slaughtered by the Cavaliers. The only way this series isn't a sweep is if LeBron decides to take it easy on a team he might be joining in the offseason.
Orlando over Charlotte in five Interesting historical footnote: when Michael Jordan made his first NBA comeback, his Bulls were knocked out of the playoffs by eventual finalists Orlando. The Bulls then went on to win the next three titles. Now that Jordan is 'back' in the sense that he's Charlotte's lead owner, the Bobcats will surely lose here, but does this mean that the 'Cats will win the next three championships? Sounds like a sure bet to me! I wonder what kind of odds I could get on Charlotte pulling a threepeat? 5000-1? 10,000-1? If there is a bet to be made, no doubt Jordan is already all over it.
Atlanta over Milwaukee in six Milwaukee's "Fear The Deer" slogan is possibly my favourite thing about this past NBA season, narrowly edging out Rasheed Wallace accidentally scoring on his own basket. Unfortunately for the Bucks, without Andrew Bogut (leader of the incredible Squad 6 movement and, oh yeah, their starting center) they're going to be short work for the Hawks. Forget the Sonics, maybe I should jump on the Bucks bandwagon. Maybe I just like the idea of supporting a totally random NBA team. Seriously, how many other Milwaukee Bucks fans do you know?
Miami over Boston in six I may be biased by reading Bill Simmons' columns, but the Celtics aren't going to be worth much this postseason. They're running on fumes, whereas the Heat are a top-defensive unit and have Dwyane Wade to just run wild. The Heat are moving on.
Los Angeles over Denver in six As I noted earlier, Denver is banged up while L.A. is relatively fresh. Gotta take the Lakers in this one. The Nuggets' window as a contender in their current form might already be closed, strange as it sounds.
Phoenix over San Antonio in seven Ride that Nash train, baby! The Spurs simply run out of gas.
Cleveland over Miami in six James vs. Wade, man alive. It'll be a nice preview if and when these guys end up as teammates next season. (Honestly, that's doubtful, just because Wade is just too good to be a second fiddle. Chris Bosh, on the other hand....) This will be a very tough series for the Cavs but they'll pull it out. I mentioned Bill Simmons earlier, so I'll just ask what the vengeance scale rating of the Shaq vs. Heat matchup here. Does it even crack a 1.1?
Atlanta over Orlando in seven Upset! Why am I picking against Orlando? Simply put, I can't help but feel they got lucky last year with Hedo Turkoglu suddenly shooting out of his mind against Cleveland in the Eastern finals. Unless some other player steps up to fill that void (and subsequently getting an absurdly ill-advised contract from Toronto), I just don't think the Magic have enough. Atlanta are sneaky good and Joe Johnson is perhaps the most underrated star in the league. Dwight Howard may be Superman, but Johnson is Doomsday.
Los Angeles over Phoenix in six You might notice that the Lakers have gotten a pretty smooth ride in my imaginary bracket, facing banged-up and mild Cinderella teams as opposed to Utah and Dallas (the two West teams who match up well against them). That's because everything always seems to work out in the Lakers' favour. They're not a perfect team and could be beaten with the right combination of factors, but I've learned that those factors rarely come together before the Finals (if even there). I attribute this to Phil Jackson's one-ness with the universe. He's like Jacob from Lost.
Cleveland over Atlanta in six You know who could also be an interesting free agent second banana? Joe Johnson. I'm just saying, is all. I guess he could re-sign with Atlanta, but....well, c'mon. Anyway, go Cavs go.
Cleveland over Los Angeles in six The NBA finally gets its dream Finals matchup in LeBron vs. Kobe, and the city of Cleveland finally gets its first major sports championship since 1964. The Cavaliers' loss to Orlando last year seemed to light a fire under LeBron and he's been taking it out on the league ever since. I can't imagine what he'd do in 2010-2011 if the Cavs didn't win this title --- average a quadruple-double over the regular season? Hit a half-court shot per game? Maybe Cleveland fans should secretly be hoping for a loss, since an angry LeBron might re-sign just to take care of business and bring a championship home. Now, I've mentioned LeBron's impending free agency a lot here and ultimately, I think he'll just end up staying in the Cleve (and if he does leave, I see him going to Chicago or even Dallas before I see him joining the Knicks). But man, wouldn't that just be par for the course for that cursed sports city to finally break their title drought, only to see their biggest star immediately leave town? That would be the worst title defense since the 1998 Florida Marlins. On the bright side for Cleveland sports fans, there's always the Brow....um...