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2009 NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals May 19, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, NBA.
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Can’t believe there are only 4 teams left still battling it out for the 2009 NBA Championship – Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, LA Lakers and Denver Nuggets.  The majority of people probably picked these 4 teams to be here when the playoffs first started, but the dynamics and expectations have changed somewhat.

So, what do I expect to happen?

EAST

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs (3) Orlando Magic (59-23)

Can Dwight Howard and the Magic give Lebron and the Cavs more than a tickle this series?

Can Dwight Howard and the Magic give Lebron and the Cavs more than a tickle this series?

Cleveland has been cruising these playoffs, sweeping Detroit and then Atlanta.  Both opponents had issues but neither were strolls in the park, and yet Cleveland crushed them with ease, not one game coming within single digits.  With newly crowned MVP Lebron James leading the way and playing better than ever and the supporting cast stepping up, right now the Cavs are the clear favourites to make the finals, if not win it.

On the other hand, Orlando has been up and down, first going through an uneven 6-game series against Philadelphia and then coming back from 3-2 down to overcome the defending champs Boston in 7.  Many say they should have disposed of the ailing Celtics (missing both Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe) much earlier, but I think they deserve a lot of credit for pulling through (because I picked against them!) in a game 7, in Boston, against the resilient defending champions.

Further, Orlando matches up well with Cleveland as well as any other team in the East.  The Cavs can probably contain Dwight Howard to some degree with their bigs, but I think the Cavs’ perimeter defense will be tested by the shooters camping out by the 3-point line.  Turkoglu and Lewis both pose matchup problems for the Cavs.  The big game 7 win against the Celtics will give them more confidence that they can upset the favourites.

Nevertheless, the Cavs have the biggest mismatch in the league in Lebron, so it’s hard to bet against them.  If Orlando wants to stand a chance they have to steal at least one of the first 2 games in Cleveland, where the Cavs have only lost twice all season.  As much as I want to see the Cavs tested in these playoffs, I just can’t see that happening.  Despite Orlando winning the season series 2-1, I still say Cleveland in 5.

WEST

(1) Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs (2) Denver Nuggets (54-28)

LA vs Denver is shaping up to be an intiguing series

LA vs Denver is shaping up to be an intiguing series

The Lakers were supposed to be the Cavs of the West, annihilating all opposition on their way to a finals the majority believe they will win.  Many people thought after last year’s collapse against the Celtics the Lakers would have learned their lesson and developed the toughness and killer instinct lacking before, but it doesn’t appear as though they’ve quite gotten there yet.  Instead, after disposing of Utah in 5, the Lakers were taken to 7 games by a hobbling Houston Rockets squad that didn’t have Yao Ming for half the series (and Tracy McGrady for the entire series).  I had predicted that the Rockets would give the Lakers a tougher test than most anticipated, but even I didn’t expect them to be that tough, especially after losing their big man.  So now, instead of everyone thinking the Lakers are the sure thing to win the championship this year, people are starting to wonder again whether they have what it takes.  And despite known as a clutch performer almost all his career, Kobe’s 14-point performance in the game 7 against the Rockets also raises questions about his ability to deliver when it matters most.

Conversely, the Nuggets have been a revelation for me.  I honestly didn’t think they were that good, and for most of the regular season they flew under my radar.  Denver was one of 3 teams that finished with a 54-28 record, but they have now established themselves as the clear No.2 team in the West.  They brushed aside both New Orleans and Dallas in 5 games (while I thought both would go to 7), never appearing to be in danger of losing either series.  Carmelo ‘Carmelengo’ Anthony (sorry, couldn’t help it) has been in sublime form, and Chauncey Billups is playing even better than his championship days in Detroit.  Guys like JR Smith, K-Mart and Nene are also contributing in significant ways.  Confidence-wise, you could even say they may have an edge on the Lakers right now.

Consequently, a series that pundits initially thought would be just another formality in the Lakers’ ascension to the NBA throne has become a toss up.  I don’t care much for either squad but I would prefer to see the Nuggets win, simply because the Lakers have, at times, acted like it’s their God-given right to win the championship this season.  However, the things I can’t ignore are the facts that: (1) LA has home-court advantage; (2) they won the season series 3-1; (3) they won 9 more games than the Nuggets during the regular season; and (4) the media went overboard with the Lakers’ premature demise just because the Rockets took them to 7.  Perhaps the Rockets series was the final wake-up call this team needed.  Lakers in 7.

Bring on Lebron vs Kobe!

Recapping my 2nd Round predictions

I sucked.  I got the winner correct 3 out of 4 series (the exception being my prediction of the Celtics over the Magic), but I got the number of games all messed up.  I said Cavs in 5 (they won in 4), Lakers in 6 (they won in 7) and Nuggets in 7 (they won in 5).  I was right that the Celtics and Magic would go 7, but I got the winner wrong!

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