I had actually written this post during the weekend, but didn't have time to publish it online it until now. As you can see, my predictions have been a bit off. This postseason hasn't gone as I expected.
Orlando (2) vs. Boston (4)
Orlando sweeps Atlanta in the previous round in dominating fashion. It was the most lopsided 4-game sweetp in NBA history, as Orlando won each game by an average of 25.3 points. I thought the Hawks would put up a better fight. But I suppose there were plenty of warning signs when the Hawks struggled to put away a Milwaukee team without it's best 2 players. Dwight Howard was a force in the series; and they also got solid contributions from Nelson (their leading scorer), Vinsanity, Lewis, and Pietrus. They look very impressive in the playoffs so far compiling an 8-0 record. But I have some concerns that the long layoff between the end of the second round and the start of the next round makes them vulnerable for a game 1 upset against Boston. Time will tell.
Boston pulls off the impressive upset against Cleveland. The team is finally healthy, and they are playing fantastic defense in the postseason. They have picked the right time to peak. KG is returning to form, which is bad news for the rest of the league. Rondo has been the best player on their squad. And you can't forget about Pierce and Allen. Their role players are stepping up their games too. They've gotten nice production from Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen and Glenn Davis. The Celtics struggled coming into the postseason, but are now playing their best basketball of the year. They will be a dangerous team. And while some experts see this team as old, I see them as experienced and crafty. I think the champions will come from the Eastern Conference this year. Sorry Lakers.
Boston has plenty of length and size to combat Superman. And they play great team defense. Rasheed Wallace was signed specifically to match up with Howard. Wallace can defend him one-on-one, and his outside shot can drawn Dwight away from the basket. That is key; as much of Orlando's offense comes from double-teams drawn on Dwight Howard. Kendrick Perkins is also an excellent post defender; and KG will take some turns defending Dwight. I think the key for them is stopping Nelson, who has perhaps been the best player for Orlando this postseason. Also if they can limit the # of 3pt baskets made, they will be in great shape. Pierce and Tony Allen will need to slow down Vince Carter. Rondo and KG will be tough matchups for Orlando. Lewis is similar to Jamison, who KG feasted on in the last series. For Orlando, they need to be hitting their outside shots to stand a shot. They are still a jump shooting team. Vince Carter will be the key. He and Nelson are the only players who can really create their own shot consistently. Dwight will need to stay out of foul trouble and be productive. I like their depth, with Redick, Pietrus, Anderson, Jason Williams off of the bench. They can score points in a hurry. It's their defense that needs to be sharp. It's important for SVG to make the proper adjustments from game to game, and use their depth to their advantage. He needs to keep the team motivated and make sure they don't come up flat in Game 1. They have home court advantage, which could be the difference-maker. Boston has not played well at home also, so I think Orlando wins in 7. They were my preseason pick.
L.A. Lakers (1) vs. Phoenix (3)
The returning champs beat down Utah in a 4 game sweep. They weren't particularly dominating, but they managed to squeeze out the wins with some great play in the clutch. They got excellent production from Kobe and Gasol. Kobe scored over 30 points in all 4 games against Utah. The extra rest between the series should help Kobe also. The injury to Bynum is a bit worrisome however. They don't have a lot of depth on their bench, so they will be hurting in the frontcourt if Bynum is hobbled. They haven't gotten much production from their bench excluding Lamar Odom. Phil Jackson remains among the best coaches so he will make sure that his team is prepared. They have homecourt advantage and will be anxious to avenge their defeat from a few years ago.
Phoenix has been one of the hottest teams in the postseason. They swept a very touch Spurs team. I did not see that coming. They managed to elevate their game in the clutch. They got some defensive stops when they needed, and were relentless on the offensive end. J-Rich has played great so far in the postseason. Amare and Nash have been unstoppable with their pick-n-roll and are providing an excellent inside and outside game. Grant Hill has evolved into an effective defensive stopper. But the X-factor for the postseason, has been their bench. Frye, Dragic, Barbosa, Amundson and Dudley have been great. They've provided tons of energy and hustle, and have been the difference-makers. They have plenty of scoring, and just need to keep up the tempo and put pressure on the Lakers. They can't stop the Lakers frontcourt.
This will be an exciting series. The Lakers seem to have the advantage though with their length and size in the inside, plus having the best closer in the game in Kobe. But if Bynum is limping, that will definitely make this series more interesting. Lopez is scheduled to return for Phoenix, which provides another big body to defend against Bynum and Gasol. Hill will be assigned to Kobe, and asked to slow him down. Nash will murder Fisher. I wonder if the Lakers will elect to put Kobe on Nash. I think Artest will defend Richardson, and will slow him down. Amare vs Gasol should be a fun matchup. Amare has the power and athleticism advantage, Gasol being a more finese and skilled player. The Suns will need to push the tempo and try to outscore the Lakers. They'll need their bench to continue to play well. They have the edge there over the Lakers. Dragic and Barbosa could be keys to this series, with their quickness and ability to score. Frye's outside shooting; along with Dudley will be big off of the bench too. For the Lakers, Bynum, Gasol and Odom will need to dominate the post. They'll need to play good defense. Artest and Fisher will need to step up and hit some buckets for them. Any production they can get from their bench will be a bonus. I always say that defense wins championships, so I predict the Lakers will win in 6, maybe less.