Thursday, April 15

2010 NBA Playoffs: The Preview

The 2010 NBA season concluded last night with a bevy of games having impact on playoff seeding. The Jazz lost to the Suns which enabled the Nuggets to grab the fourth seed and home court against the Jazz in the first round and the Mavs won to lock up to the two seed. Over in the East the Heat held on to lock up the five seed and a date with the aging Celtics in the first round, while the Bulls won and locked up the eighth seed to set themselves up to play King James in the first round.
The season was long and a lot of fun to watch. One of the most exciting teams to watch this year was Oklahoma City. Led by Kevin Durant the Thunder were in contention for the number 3 seed until late in the season only to finish eighth to set up a very exciting first round series against the Lakers. Durant became the youngest player to win a scoring title, averaging just over 30 PPG. Watching him and Kobe Bryant go at it in a playoff series will be fun to watch and something that should happen for many years to come.
Finally, here is how I think the playoffs will play out and who will be crowned champion and Finals MVP come mid June.

West First Round:
(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (8) Oklahoma City

Season series: 3-1 Lakers.

The Lakers struggled down the stretch losing 7 of their final 11 games and looking nothing like the top seed they are. Everyone assumes that the Lakers were just bored with the end of the regular season and they can turn it on once the playoffs start. Count me as one of the people that don’t see it so black and white for the Lakers. The Thunder, on the other hand, finished the season 8-5, one of those losses being the thrilling OT game against the Jazz, which they should have won. The Thunder are a very young team that has never been in this position before. They are led by the scoring champ Kevin Durant and a great young PG in Russell Westbrook.
This series will be a lot closer than Laker fans will like to admit and the Lakers are going to have to exude a ton of energy to pull out a victory.
Lakers in 6

(2) Dallas vs. (7) San Antonio
Season series: 3-1 Mavs.

The Mavs look very strong. They have a talented core of players in Dirk, Caron Butler, and Jason Kidd. They are 23-7 since they traded for Butler and Brendan Haywood and are clicking on all cylinders and are hoping that a repeat of what happened a few seasons ago doesn’t occur when they were upset by the eighth seeded Warriors.
The Spurs are being called the sleeper of the West because of their championship pedigree. They have won titles before and can possibly do well in the playoffs. I have gone back and forth many times on my opinion of the Mavs, however I think this year will be different. I think the Mavs have enough to pull out a victory and put a lid on Tim Duncan.
Mavs in 6

(3) Phoenix vs. (6) Portland
Season series: 2-1 Blazers.

The Suns are the hottest team in the NBA right now. They are bashing teams left and right. They just put a thrashing on both the Jazz and the Nuggets when both teams had a lot to play for. Amar’e Stoudemire and Steve Nash lead the way for this team that is rich with three-point shooters. Channing Frye, and Jared Dudley have been jacking and making threes all season and there is no reason why they should stop now.
The Trailblazers are playing at a disadvantage. Their star player, Brandon Roy, was diagnosed with a torn meniscus and will try to play through the injury. It will be very tough for him to play through this injury and without Roy at 100% they will not have a solid chance to beat the Suns. Look for the Suns to run all over the court against the Blazers.
Suns in 5

(4) Denver vs. (5) Utah
Season series: 3-1 Nuggets.

The Jazz and Nuggets both limp into the playoffs not playing their best ball of the season. The Jazz lost to the Suns on Wednesday night, which lost them home-court advantage in the first round, which can be huge because the Nuggets are a team that has very difficult time winning on the road. The Jazz are also dealing with injuries to Carlos Boozer, and Andrei Kirilenko. However, Kirilenko should be back for the first round.
The Nuggets have the home-court advantage and look like a very good team at home. However, since the Jazz also play in higher elevation, the home-court wont help the Nuggets a much as it would against a different team. I think the Jazz have the pieces in place to make a strong run in these playoffs.
Jazz in 6

East First Round:
(1) Cleveland vs. (8) Chicago

Season series: 2-2 split.

The Cavs are the best team in the league and have the best record to prove that. The Bulls snuck themselves into the playoffs with a strong finish. King James and the Cavs will use this series as a chance to get Shaq and Antwan Jamison some much-needed playing time together, as they have only played three games together. The Bulls will try to replicate their exciting series they had with the Celtics last season but will not be able to that against a far superior team.
Cavs in 5

(2) Orlando vs. (7) Charlotte
Season series: 3-1 Orlando.

Orlando will open their playoff run looking to repeat as Eastern Conference champions. They have a strong team and can never be ruled out of a series because of Dwight Howard anchoring the middle of their defense. The addition of Vince Carter and the subtraction of Hedo Turkoglu can have an affect on their quest to repeat, but it wont show up this early in the playoffs.
The Bobcats will try to muster up enough will to put up a good fight but will find out just how good this Magic team is.
Magic in 5

(3) Atlanta vs. (6) Milwaukee
Season series: 2-1 Atlanta.

The Hawks played well all season and still look like a team that is on the rise. They have a solid core of youngsters that have been in the playoffs for three straight seasons and know what it takes to make a deep run in the playoffs.
The Bucks looked like a sleeper team before Andrew Bogut went down with a scary injury. They start a rookie PG, in Brandon Jennings, who had a shaky season shooting the ball and this will hurt them in the playoffs. They may be able to sneak out a victory or two but nothing more.
Hawks in 5

(4) Boston vs. (5) Miami
Season series: 3-0 Boston.

The Celtics have struggled all season and are not playing well heading into the playoffs. They look very old and they do not scare anyone in these playoffs. Garnett, Allen and Peirce look a step slower and their days an elite contender look like they are over for the time being.
The Heat has Dwayne Wade, who has a ring, but he doesn’t have much help. They have some young talent, and are athletic, but it is a tough matchup for them against the Celtics. Even though the Celts are not as good as once advertised. The Celtics will be able to prevail in the first round this year.
Celts in 6

West Second Round:
(1) L.A. Lakers vs. (5) Utah

Season series: 3-1 Los Angeles.

After a tough first round series against the Thunder the Lakers will be drained and will be ripe for the picking. The Jazz, who should be fully healthy by the time these two teams meet, will have an advantage against the Lakers. They always play well against them and the Jazz will be able to steal a game against the Lakers in LA.
Bynum will be back, but we don’t know what he will be able to provide for the playoffs, and the Jazz have too much power inside for Pau Gasol to handle. The Jazz will win the PG matchup with Deron Williams a much better player than Derek Fisher. The Lakers will have a tough time flipping the switch to player more competitive basketball and it looks like they will not make the finals for a third straight season. This is my upset special, and you heard it here first.
Jazz in 6

(2) Dallas vs. (3) Phoenix
Season series: 2-1 Dallas.

The Suns and Mavs present a great matchup in the second round of the playoffs. They both have unlimited potential on offense and struggle to play defense. This will be a high-octane series that will be very enjoyable to watch. The Suns have great three point shooting and hold an advantage in that department. The Mavs have Dirk who can score at will. He can carry the Mavs on his back for the series.
The PG matchup is one of the best you can hope for. Steve Nash vs. Jason Kidd makes for very exciting games full of assists. The Suns have been in the playoffs for many years now and have yet to put it all together in May and June, however this is the year. They Mavs will not be able to keep up with Amar’e and Nash and the Suns will make it back to the Western Conference Finals.
Suns in 7

East Second Round:
(1) Cleveland vs. (4) Boston

Season series: 2-2 split.

This will be a rematch of the exciting second round series that went to seven games back in 2008. The Celtics went on to win that series and the title. However, this season the Cavs will be the team with the top record in the East. The Celtics look old and slow and while they did manage to win two games against the Cavs this year, they will be lucky to win two in the series. The Cavs look focused and LeBron James looks ready to crown himself champion of the league.
The Celtics can win max two games this series and will be run off the floor in most games. They Celtics need to find away to muster up the defense they used against the Cavs in ’08 to have a chance in this series, but with Rasheed Wallace on this team they have very light chance of that occurring. As much as it pains me to do this, the Cavs will win this series.
Cavs in 6

(2) Orlando vs. (3) Atlanta
Season series: 3-1 Orlando.

This too will be a very exciting matchup. The Hawks have a ton of athleticism and length that can trouble the Magic. The Magic however, control the defensive boards and will make life difficult for the Hawks to convert on second chance points, a place where the Hawks make a living.
Dwight Howard will dominate on the inside and will cause havoc on defense for Al Horford and Josh Smith. The Magic took the season series 3-1 and those three wins were blow outs, while the Hawks lone win came at the buzzer. This matchup will overwhelm the young Hawks and the Magic will advance.
Magic in 6

Conference Finals:
(3) Phoenix vs. (5) Utah
Season series: 2-2 split.

I am all in on the Suns this year. They have the pieces in place to make it the NBA finals and they have the matchups too. The Jazz are hurting and will struggle to protect the paint against the Suns. The Suns will win the three-point line and the paint and it will be tough for the Jazz to keep up with the Suns. The Suns will have problems winning in Utah, but since they won the final game of the season the Suns have home court and will be able to close out this series at home in 7.
Suns in 7

(1) Cleveland vs. (2) Orlando
Season series: 2-1 Cleveland.

This is the year the Cavs make it back to the Finals. After getting a taste of it in 2007 LeBron wants more. He will dominate this series from the beginning and carry the Cavs to the NBA Finals. This could be his last year with the Cavs and he will want to know that when he makes his final decision he will have no regrets. The addition of Jamison will push the Cavs over the top against the Magic as will the loss of the Hedo for the Magic. I think the addition of Vince Carter will hurt them in this series. The Cavs have it all working and should be able to reach the NBA Finals.
Cavs in 6

NBA Finals:
(1) Cleveland vs. (3) Phoenix

Season series: 2-0 Cleveland.

I am sorry to all my friends from Phoenix but this is where their run ends. As mentioned earlier LeBron is on a mission. He wants a ring and will earn it. The Suns will try to defend LeBron, but to no avail. He will get whatever he wants whenever he wants. The Suns will keep the games close with Amar’e, Nash and their three-point shooting, but in the end there will be too much LeBron. He will finally bring a championship back to a championship hungry town.
Cavs in 7

NBA Finals MVP: LeBron James.

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Great analysis Hartman. I love your picks. Go Suns!

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