Cleveland Cavaliers (1) vs. Detroit Pistons (8):
Why the Cavs will win: This team has the best chemistry and defense in the NBA. This year’s Pistons basically have the opposite of that. I think Moe Williams cannot wait to be guarded by Rodney Stuckey. Be physically with Rasheed Wallace, the last thing you want if for him to get energized or feel like he can punk you. You want to end this series as fast as possible, and rest up for the second round.
Why the Pistons can win: It is a proven fact that if you look Rasheed Wallace in the eye in the wrong way, he can turn you into stone. Cavs fans better hope he doesn’t turn his voodoo onto Lebron James. That is about the only chance the Pistons have of winning by the way. In all seriousness, for the Pistons to win, Rasheed Wallace has to go all out. This has to be his greatest series ever. He has to stop penetration on defense on one end, and start scoring in the paint on the other. He cannot take a game off. The Pistons as a whole have to force James to shoot jumpers and just hope he misses.
Prediction: Cavs in 4
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Chicago Bulls (7):
Why the Celtics will win: This team was dealt with a huge loss when they found out that Kevin Garnett is most likely out for the playoffs. Even though I’m pretty sure that’s BS and KG will find his way back into the lineup by the second round or the conference finals, this team is going to pretend his loss is a rallying cry, and stomp all over the Bulls. Oh and before you consider the fact that the Bulls are playing well, don’t forget they’re being coached by Vinny Del Negro.
Why the Bulls can win: Because Kevin Garnett is hurt, and the Bulls have been playing well lately. John Salmons and Ben Gordon have bee money since that trade, and Tyrus Thomas has finally started realizing his potential. Just kidding, the only chance the Bulls have is if Del Negro resigns. Still, Bulls fans should just be happy they made the playoffs anyway.
Prediction: Celtics in 6
Orlando Magic (3) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (6):
Why the Magic will win: Dwight Howard plays offense in the post like a man on vacation (the opposite of a man on a mission.) You can stop him with a mildly competent defensive player in the post. However, the Sixers don’t have that, and that’s why despite injuries, the Magic can and will win. Also, the Magic trick teams into shooting three pointers by the dozen. They just leave you so wide open that you cannot help yourself. Anyway, the 76ers best players are terrible behind the line, so if they cannot play at the pace that they want, they’ll probably get swept.
Why the 76ers can win: I’m pretty sure Hedo Turkoglu is the most valuable player on the Magic. If he’s too hobbled, then there is a window for the 76ers to steal some games. It won’t happen in the first round, but the Orlando Magic are a gimmicky team, that will get killed by the Cavs or a healthy Celtics in the playoffs. You live by the three; you die by the three. The Magic aren’t special in that regard.
Prediction: Magic in 5
Atlanta Hawks (4) vs. Miami Heat (5):
Why the Hawks will win: For some reason, the Miami Heat are a popular pick to upset the Hawks. That is mostly because of Dwayne Wade. Still, the Hawks are really good at home, have home court advantage, and are playing against a team with Mario Chalmers and Joel Anthony playing big minutes. Jermaine O’Neal would be rolling over in his grave if he had to see this team on TV—except he’s too busy dragging his sack of bones up and down the court for this year’s Heat team. Yeah, Al Horford should have some fun with him.
Why the Heat can win: Dwayne Wade…yeah, he’s that good.
Prediction: Hawks in 7
Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Utah Jazz (8):
Why the Lakers will win: The Jazz are a physical team. They will foul you and try to get into your head. However, if you wait long enough on offense, you are going to figure out that they are a terrible defense. Also, the Lakers with Odom back on the bench are much deeper, and can afford to wait out the Jazz. This is going to be a short series.
Why the Jazz can win: They can win or at least make the series somewhat interesting, because Deron Williams—my pick for the best point guard in the NBA—is being guarded by Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, and Jordan Farmar. Actually, despite that huge advantage, even Jerry Sloan doesn’t think they have much of a chance, but hell I had to write something…
Prediction: Lakers in 4
Denver Nuggets (2) vs. New Orleans Hornets (7):
Why the Nuggets can win: This team is so much more focused than last year’s team that it is ridiculous. Billups has been a huge improvement over Allen Iverson. Carmelo Anthony has to be in the discussion for most skilled offensive player. If this team can get anything from their big men, they will give Byron Scott and his coaching staff fits. On the other side, help on Paul, and whoever has Chandler has to stay on him and not give up any alley oops. You cannot allow the Hornets to be energized.
Why the Hornets will win: Anthony just hasn’t shown the killer drive that he should have shown by now. Ultimately, that means he isn’t going to give the Nuggets that much more than David West is going to give the Hornets. However, even though I said all those nice things about Billups in the earlier section, Chris Paul is going to absolutely murder him. It isn’t going to be close. If Billups backs down Paul, Paul has Chandler to back him up. Billups is going to have no help as Chris Paul will run circles around him over and over again.
Prediction: Hornets in 6
San Antonio Spurs (3) vs. Dallas Mavericks (6):
Why the Spurs will win: No Ginobili? No problem! Remember when I said Chris Paul is going to run circles around Billups? Multiply that by a thousand and you get Tony Parker vs. Jason Kidd. If the Spurs want to win this, they have to keep it simple. Dribble penetrate and run screens for Parker. When you’re not doing that, get it inside to Duncan. It isn’t just that you expect your stars to carry you either. The Spurs are full of shooters, and they need to exploit the Mavericks help defense to get open. My money is on them doing it well.
Why the Mavs can win: They have the better starting five in terms of talent. If Josh Howard heats up and Erik Dampier slows down Tim Duncan, then this Spurs team is vulnerable. The Mavs have to close out on all shooters, and get back on defense after every basket. If you want to beat the Spurs, you have to stay disciplined on defense, and creative/patient on offense. This isn’t the same Spurs defense that we have come to expect. They are vulnerable this year, and the Mavs can exploit it, as long as they get serious about doing some of the small things consistently.
Prediction: Spurs in 6
Portland Trailblazers (4) vs. Houston Rockets (5):
Why the Blazers will win: This team is deep and has home court where they are incredibly hard to beat. Brandon Roy has to create early for his teammates because he’s going to be hounded by Shane Battier and Ron Artest. LaMarcus Aldridge is going to be the key to this series for the Blazers. He’s faster than any of the big men that the Rockets can send his way, and he has to out tough Artest in the post. If he can do that, then the Blazers might even be able to steal a few on the road. As it is they’re biggest advantage is their improved play at home. As long as they can keep the score close at the end of the game, they can trust Brandon Roy and Travis Outlaw will take over the game.
Why the Rockets can win: They have a lot of advantages here. They can try to neutralize Roy by sicking Battier onto him, and Aldridge by sending out Artest. On the other side, Blake can’t keep up with Aaron Brooks and no one has the size to keep up with Yao. You have to force Roy to play defense to get him too tired to be clutch once the fourth quarter comes around. This is going to be a great series.
Prediction: Blazers in 7.