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Thoughts on Lebron going to the Miami Heat July 9, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, Indiana Pacers.
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[This Lebron thing is too big to ignore.  Below is an amended article taken from my basketball blog, Pacers Pulse]

Lebron James is going to the Indiana Pacers…

…and then I woke up!

The new Big Three

It’s a done deal.  Lebron James is joining the Miami Heat in the hope that he can win multiple championships with Dywane Wade and Chris Bosh (plus whoever else the team can get for low dollars).

Even though Miami was speculated to be the popular choice, I just couldn’t quite believe it when I followed the event live.  I understand some people saying that Lebron has sold out.  He has betrayed his home team in Cleveland, who have done everything they could to help him win over the last few years.  He has given up the challenge of winning by himself in the place that drafted him.  He has forgone the opportunity to play under the bright lights of New York City.  He didn’t want to follow the footsteps of Michael Jordan and play in Chicago.

Instead, Lebron went with the easiest way out — joining fellow All-Stars D-Wade and Chris Bosh to form the new Big Three.

I must say while I am intrigued by the prospect of such a terrific trio playing on the same court for an entire season (and possibly for many years), I have lost a little bit of respect for Lebron.  I wanted him to be loyal and stay true to his fans in Cleveland, who are absolutely heart broken.  I wonder if they will boo him (along with the fans in New York and Chicago?) when he returns to play next season.  I’d be surprised if they didn’t.

However, I don’t fault Lebron for his decision.  Not totally.  At the end of the day, all he cares about is winning.  He is taking less than max money to play for a championship.  When it’s all said and done, people are going to look at the number of championship rings he has on his fingers and make an assessment as to where he belongs in the GOAT discussion.  If he only has one or two (or none), that’s not going to be enough to get him there.  In Miami, he has the chance to win five or six, or perhaps even more?

On the other hand, if I were the Lakers, the Magic or the Celtics, I wouldn’t exactly be quivering in my boots just yet.  Yes, this new Big Three is pretty impressive, but we’ll have to wait and see what other pieces they can scrap together.  With these three guys taking up the majority of the cap space, who else are they going to get?  Basketball is, after all, a team sport.

That said, I don’t see it being a huge problem for the Heat.  For starters, Boston proved a Big Three could be enough.  In any case, I bet there will be plenty of solid veterans and role players willing to play for the Heat at minimum money.

Provided there are no serious injuries, the Miami Heat are going to be lethal next season.  This is not a case of simply having a few good players playing on the same team.  Lebron James is the reigning MVP and the best player in the NBA.  If you want to say he’s not, then one of the two guys that could challenge him would be Dwyane Wade (the other being Kobe Bryant).  So that’s two of the top three players in the entire league playing for the same team.  We haven’t had that since Shaq and Kobe played together in the early 00’s.

On top of that, there’s Chris Bosh.  Some would say Bosh is not a superstar, but he’s definitely one of the top five power forwards in the NBA at the moment, formerly the best player on a team skirting the playoff fringe.  He has his weaknesses but don’t pretend for a minute you wouldn’t love to have him on your team.

This is way bigger than the Boston Big Three.  Paul Pierce was probably a top 10 player in the league.  Ray Allen was probably a top five shooting guard.  Kevin Garnett is and was the NBA’s biggest douche, but in terms of basketball ability he was on his way down (though probably still a top five power forward).  The Miami Big Three has two of the three best players of any position in the league plus a top five PF.  Think about that.

But all it takes is a couple of injuries to derail the team.  High risk, high reward.  Potentially.

I asked a couple of basketball fan friends what they thought of the move.  One said, “Total sell out by LBJ!”  The other said, “I feel somewhat betrayed by LBJ.  [Miami] have to be special for LBJ to be forgiven by Cleveland.  Like MJ 72-10 special!”

That pretty much reflects the general sentiment of everyone not in Miami at the moment.  They can see how much Lebron wants to win, but did he have to gut his old team on national television?

Some say Lebron is like any other person faced with an opportunity to give himself and his family a better life.  If you had a better job on the table, wouldn’t you jump ship either?  In this day and age, job loyalty is a rarity.  How many people stay with the same company for their entire career these days?

I beg to differ.  This was no ordinary decision.  They cared.  People cried over it.  This impacted the lives of thousands and the economy of an entire state.  Lebron had a duty to these people.  Why not treat everyone with a little more respect and dignity?

Speaking of dignity, how about Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert’s response?  Talk about having no class…

DVD Review: More Than a Game (2009) July 8, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, Movie Reviews.
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The question on everybody’s lips right now is which team free agent and the NBA’s reigning 2-time MVP Lebron James will sign with.  Will the King stay with his hometown Cavs, or will he go join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami?  Will he join forces with Amare Stoudemire in New York, or will he team up with Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer in Chicago?  It has become such big news that ESPN is televising Lebron’s announcement live on Thursday night (US time).

Of course, Lebron James is no stranger to publicity, having been anointed “The Chosen One” since his high school days, as documented in the film More Than a Game.  I had heard about this documentary directed by Kris Belman last year when it was first released, but had forgotten all about it until I came across the DVD last week.

So was it any good?

I’d say it’s a “must” for Lebron fans, a “worth watching” for NBA/basketball fans in general, and a “can skip” for Lebron haters.

More Than a Game follows Lebron and his four best friends, Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton and Willie McGee (the “Fab Five”) through their trials and tribulations as their team, Saint Vincent-Saint Mary (from previously little known Akron, Ohio), played their way to national stardom.

It’s a coming-of-age story, a rags-to-riches story, and a perseverance-pays-off story full of excellent basketball footage from the time when the friends were just a bunch of poor but talented pre-teen kids having fun in an old gym.

The best part about the film is that it’s NOT a promotional vehicle for Lebron (not that he needed one).  While Lebron does get more attention towards the end when his name took off on a national scale and he struggled with eligibility issues, the film divides time equally between all members of the Fab Five and their coach, Dru Joyce II (father of one of the players).  At various times throughout the 105-minute running time, we received wonderful insights into each of the six central characters, including their difficult backgrounds, their strengths, their flaws and their motivations.  As one of the kids said, they were all stars of a rock band — Lebron was just the lead singer.

The "Fab Five"

Thanks to the ubiquity of the hand held cam and the team’s relatively early rise to stardom, the film also had some ripping footage — not just on the basketball court but off it too.  Whether it’s Lebron dunking as an eighth grader (I think) or him goofing around with his buddies at school, this film had it all.

However, to be honest, More Than a Game should have been a much better documentary.  All the elements were there.  You had a future NBA superstar in the making, already heads and shoulders above the rest of the competition from the first pieces of grainy footage.  You had a team full of African American players from broken families who were considered traitors by their community because they joined a school with predominantly white students.  You had plenty of ups and downs, setbacks and glory.  You couldn’t write a more inspirational story than this one.

And yet, More Than a Game doesn’t quite get there in my opinion.  There is no narrator as the story is told entirely through archived footage, interviews and recorded monologues.  While this was effective in its own way (such as let us make up our own minds about the characters), the story does suffer as a result when it came to exposition and transition.

There were times when it felt as though pieces of the narrative were missing.  For instance, you got the feeling that all these kids did was play, sleep and breathe basketball, but then all of a sudden we find out that some of them actually played other sports too at an elite level and had to make a choice.  In another sequence we were led to believe that the kids hated a particular player on their team, and then shortly thereafter he apparently became one of their best friends without much of an explanation!  And for those who don’t understand it, the system of competitive youth basketball in American is rather confusing.  I found myself asking questions such as why are these kids playing in Division II if they were “the best”, or why they would be “national champions” if they won the “state championship”.  These are easily answered with a bit of self research, but it made me wish things were made clearer when I watched the film.

Overall, not a bad way to watch some highlights of young Lebron in action, and the background stories of all the central characters were inspiring to watch — but as a documentary, More Than a Game was not much more than average.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: Having watched this I sure hope Lebron stays in Cleveland and doesn’t go for the seemingly perfect situation in Miami.  I don’t think he’s guaranteeing himself any rings by choosing the Heat and it could backfire terribly.  He seems like a loyal guy, I think he would be best served creating his own legacy in the city that picked him.]

2009 NBA Finals Prediction: Lakers vs Magic! May 31, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, NBA.
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Despite what I said in my last post, and notwithstanding the fact that my exams aren’t over yet, I nevertheless feel obliged to take a few minutes to predict the winner of the NBA Finals for 2009 between the Orlando Magic and the LA Lakers.

Will the Lakers dunk all over the Magic?

Will the Lakers dunk all over the Magic?

The road to the Finals

Orlando Magic vs Cleveland Cavaliers

Momentum can be a fickle thing in the playoffs.

Hours before this post, the Orlando Magic had just disposed of heavy favourites the Cleveland Cavaliers in 6 games (103-90 in the final game).  Like most people, I accurately predicted that the series would not be close, but I just got the teams the wrong way around!

Like the Magic’s Dwight Howard (who scored 40 points and grabbed 14 boards to finish off the Cavs) said, people were disrespecting the Magic by looking forward to a Lebron-Kobe final before the first game of the Conference Finals (or perhaps the first game of the entire playoffs).  I admit I was one of those people.  Instead of looking at the plethora of matchup problems the Magic presented to the Cavs, all I could remember was that the Cavs hadn’t even lost a game before this series, sweeping both Detroit and Atlanta, winning by double digits in all games.  The Cavs had the best record in the league (66-16), the best home record in the league (39-2) and had home court advantage in this series – plus Lebron James was on fire.  Conversely, Orlando had struggled through two lacklustre performances against Philadelphia (6 games) and Boston (7 games), were playing inconsistently and up to that point, seemingly doubting themselves.  It wasn’t hard to assume that the Magic didn’t stand a chance.  No ESPN analyst predicted the Magic to win.  Not a single one.  Not even those that predicted a tough series for the Cavs because of the matchup difficulties.  After all, they did have the ultimate mismatch in Lebron vs anyone else.

However, as it turned out, Lebron was still on fire, averaging over 38 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists in the series, but it didn’t matter in the end.  When matched up face to face, the Magic were simply the better team.  If it weren’t for Lebron’s buzzer beating 3-pointer in game 2, the series may have been a sweep.

So what happened?  All the momentum in the world could not have stopped Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis, the Magic’s two big, versatile forwards, from wrecking havoc on the Cavs’ defense.  The Cavs were supposed to be one of the best defensive teams in the league, but they couldn’t stop the drives, three-pointers and they couldn’t stop Dwight Howard in the middle.  Ilgauskas, the Cavs’ 7’3″ big man, was abused by Howard’s quickness.  Their other post defenders, Anderson Varejao and Ben Wallace (what the heck happened to him?), were dominated by Howard’s size and strength.  The supposed ‘Master of Panic’, coach Stan Van Gundy, did a calm job of allowing Lebron to get his and daring his teammates to beat them.  They couldn’t.

With the exception of the Cavs’ game 5 victory, Lebron’s supporting cast couldn’t find the basket.  When Lebron needed them the most, they started to choke, especially ‘Mr Prediction’ Mo Williams, who was the difference maker in the Cavs’ historic regular season but just couldn’t make a shot.  I suppose you could look at this in two ways – either that Lebron HAD to be this good this series because his teammates weren’t giving him enough help, or his greatness in this series actually turned out to be detrimental to his team’s success because they turned into a one man team again that had to rely on him for everything.

This devastating loss must be demoralising for the Cavs, who carried a swagger into these playoffs some considered bordering on arrogance.  Especially for Lebron, who thought he had all the pieces he needed to contend for the championship this year, only to be let down again.  Unlike last season, when Lebron was all smiles after losing to the eventual champs Boston in 7 games, he was less graceful this time, leaving the arena without uttering a word to anyone and skipping the post-game press conference.  I think this was because last season he didn’t genuinely believe the Cavs had what it took to win the championship, whereas this season he knows they blew a perfect opportunity.  I guess now he knows what Kobe felt like before the Lakers got Gasol.

As for the Magic, they go into the Finals knowing that they are once again the underdogs, but undoubtedly with a new sense of confidence that they can shock the world one more time.

Or will the Magic block the title from the Lakers?

Or will the Magic block the title from the Lakers?

LA Lakers vs Denver Nuggets

This series was another example of the illusion of momentum.

The Lakers came into the Western Conference Finals having beaten Utah in 5 games but stretched to 7 difficult games by a seriously depleted Houston team, leaving people questioning whether they had improved mentally from last season’s disappointing finish when they lost to Boston in 6 games in the Finals.  On the other hand, Denver surprised a lot of people by devouring New Orleans and then Dallas in 5 games in both series.  Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups were both playing their best basketball and the supporting cast (in particular JR Smith, Nene and Kenyon Martin) were doing great in their respective roles.  While the odds still favoured the Lakers, no one would be overly shocked if Denver pulled an upset.

After the Lakers escaped in game 1 and lost game 2, doubts flared up as expected; it happened again when the Lakers returned to LA with the series tied 2-2.  The Lakers seemed uninterested in giving 100% effort for 48 minutes a night, Phil Jackson was being outcoached, and Kobe’s legacy was in doubt once again.  And then, the Lakers win both games 5 and 6 with relative ease, and all is forgotten.  It was as though no one had ever doubted them all along.  Such is the nature of the game.

The Nuggets go into the offseason no doubt disappointed, but in the eyes of many they have already overachieved.  They were already the second seed in the West this season, so the inevitable question would be whether they can take it to the next level and dethrone the Lakers’ stranglehold of the conference.  However, without some minor shifts in personnel or injury to the Lakers, it’s difficult to see that happening.

The Lakers?  They enter the Finals as favourites again, but can they finally start playing the way people expect them to play like game 6 against the Nuggets?


The Magic actually match up well with the Lakers, but not quite as well as they did against the Cavs.


Derek Fisher is a veteran point guard who has been on the big stage many times before, but was thoroughly manhandled by Aaron Brooks in the Houston series.  At 34, Fisher is not old, but he’s definitely lost a step or two, though he can still hit the big shot when called upon.  Rafer ‘Skip to My Lou’ Alston is perhaps not as tough as Jameer Nelson, the injured player he was brought in to replace, but he matches up well with Fisher because of his quickness and skills.  Alston will be a big key for the Magic.  If he can keep his sometimes erratic game in check and outplay Fisher, then at least that puts more pressure on Kobe Bryant to perform.

Speaking of Kobe, there’s not going to be anyone on the Magic that can stop him.  Of course, we said the same thing about Lebron, and look what happened there.  Kobe won’t have to put up numbers anywhere close to what Lebron produced because he won’t have to (and probably is incapable), but the Lakers will look to him with the game on the line, and there’s no one better in the clutch in the league right now.  Kobe’s game is also more varied than Lebron’s, so even with Dwight Howard in the middle he’ll be able to find ways to score.

The Magic will probably put Mickael Pietrus in the starting line up (instead of Courtney Lee) to guard Kobe, but regardless, he will need a lot of help.

No matter which way you look at it the Lakers have a significant advantage here.


Orlando has a very impressive front court with 6’11” Dwight Howard anchoring the middle and versatile 6’10” forwards in Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu roaming the wings.  Both forwards can hit the three and they can drive, and as demonstrated in the Cavs series, they can both hit big shots when called upon.  It’s a frontcourt that will give any team problems.

However, the Lakers’ frontcourt is not too shabby either, with 7-footer Andrew Bynum, 7-footer Pau Gasol and the 6’8″ athletic forward in Trevor Ariza.  With the unimpressive way Bynum has been playing these playoffs, expect to see Lamar Odom play a lot of minutes off the bench.  Odom matches up well with both Lewis and Tukoglu, though that will leave Gasol trying to flop his way out of defending Dwight Howard straight up.

This is going to be where the series is won or lost for both teams.  There is definitely an opportunity for Orlando in the middle because Bynum hasn’t been playing well and is also prone to foul trouble.  Gasol is too lean to bang against Howard, though he is long and can cause problems at the other end of the floor.  Unlike the Cavs, however, the Lakers have a lot more big bodies to throw at Howard, such as DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell (who usually sit at the end of the bench).  If Howard can continue to hit his free throws at around 70% throughout the entire series and keep out of foul trouble himself, then Orlando has a decent chance.  It may mean that he will have to give up his defensive intensity on some plays to ensure that it happens.


On paper at least, the Lakers look like they have a strong bench, primarily because of Lamar Odom, who is definitely an X-factor in this series.  However, the rest of the Laker bench has been somewhat underused in these playoffs.  Odom has contributed a solid 12 points per game these playoffs, but the next highest bench scorer is Shannon Brown with 5.7.  Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton round out the regular rotation, but none of these guys have been impact players in this year’s playoffs thus far.

That might not matter too much because Orlando does not have a strong bench either. If they start Pietrus, then Courtney Lee will be the first man off the bench, and he has averaged 8.8 points per game these playoffs.  Guys like JJ Reddick and Anthony Johnson are solid, but they won’t be asked to do more than just hit the open shot when the opportunity arises.

If either bench can produce a breakout series then that will definitely shift the advantage in their favour, but it appears the starters + Odom will be the key.


Stan Van Gundy vs Phil Jackson.  One guy constantly seems like he’s about to have a heart attack, whereas the other looks like he might fall asleep any minute.  It’s a very interesting clash of styles.

No one is going to argue that Jackson, with 9 ‘coaching’ championship rings (and 11 total), can’t coach.  And while Van Gundy has been criticised in the past (including by Howard), he has done a very commendable job in first getting Orlando past a 3-2 deficit against Boston and then knocking off the Cavs.

It will be interesting to see whether Jackson will be ruffled if Orlando wins one of the first 2 games in LA, and whether Van Gundy will implode if Orlando loses both.


Orlando won both meetings against the Lakers in the regular season, 106-103 in Orlando in December, and 109-103 in LA in January.  Both games were a while ago, so they don’t necessarily mean much, but it does demonstrate that Orlando has the fire power to match up against the Lakers.  What is notable though is that Jameer Nelson, who is out injured, dominated both games, scoring 27 and 28 respectively in the games.  Accordingly, the pressure must fall on the shoulders of his replacement, Rafer Alston, and to a lesser extent, his backup Anthony Johnson.

Many players who have been to the Finals talk about the importance of championship experience.  They say until you’ve played in the Finals, you can’t possibly imagine what it’s like.  In this case, all the key players on the Lakers squad experienced the Finals last year, and Jackson, Fisher and Bryant all have championship rings.  That said, the experience didn’t help much against the Boston Celtics last season.  Personally, I believe it will be a factor, but probably only in the first and last games of the series.

Also of importance is the different game structure of the Finals, which is played 2-3-2 as opposed to the normal 2-2-1-1-1 in the preceding rounds.  I think this benefits the team with home court advantage, which in this case is Los Angeles.  The playoffs are about adjustments, and giving another team 3 consecutive chances to crack you on your home floor may prove to be decisive.  Then again, who can forget when the Detroit Pistons crushed the LA Lakers in the 2004 Finals where they swept the middle 3 games?

Lastly, there is the motivation factor.  The Lakers lost a series many thought they would win in last year’s finals, so it’s safe to assume they would be hungry for redemption and would not take Orlando lightly.  Kobe is still seeking that first elusive title (and Finals MVP) without Shaq by his side, and Jackson will be trying again to overtake Red Auerbach for the most coaching rings.  On the other hand, Orlando must know that this is a rare opportunity for them.  Unlike the Lakers, who will continue to be favourites for the NBA title as long as their core team is in tact, Orlando knows they might not get back here again if Boston is fully healthy and Lebron gets more support.  Hence it’s hard to say the Lakers will be more motivated.


After getting burned by my prediction for the Cleveland-Orlando series (where I pathetically predicted the Cavs would win in 5), I’m going to place less emphasis on momentum and the big picture and focus more on the matchups and intricacies of the teams.

I see the series comes down to a number of key factors.  The first is whether Dwight Howard can stay out of foul trouble.  The second is whether he can hit his free throws.  The third is whether the Magic can continue to hit their open 3-pointers as they have all playoffs.  If so, then the Magic can definitely pull off the upset.  They are a good road team, having disposed of both Philadelphia and Boston on the road, and contributed to 2 out of the 3 home losses for Cleveland all season and playoffs.  Therefore, if they head back to LA for the final 2 games up 3-2, they have a good chance of winning.

However, ultimately the Lakers look too strong on paper, so I’ll have to go with them in 6 games.  I hope the Magic prove me wrong.

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?


(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.


(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!

2009 NBA Playoff Predictions: Second Round May 3, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Basketball, NBA.
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Shortly after Round 1 of the 2009 NBA playoffs ended with the Atlanta Hawk’s game 7 thrashing of the Miami Heat (thereby ending the possibility of a dream matchup between Lebron James and Dwayne Wade), Round 2 began with game 1 between the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks.

So I better get my picks for the Conference Semi-Finals in before that game finishes!

Eastern Conference

Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?

Will the Hawks stand a chance against Lebron and the Cavs?

1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs 4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35)

The Cavs finished the first round in style, blowing out a weary Detroit Pistons squad in 4 straight games.  The Hawks, on the other hand, came out on top after a grueling, seesawing 7-game series against the Miami Heat.  Seeing that the Cavs have home-court advantage and won the season series 3-1, it’ll be outrageous to bet against them in this series.  Plus I don’t see anyone on the Hawk’s squad (or in the NBA, for that matter) that can stop Lebron the way he’s playing right now.  The question really should be whether the Hawks can win a game or two against them.  My guess is that they can, but just one.  Cleveland in 5.

2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs 3 Orlando Magic (59-23)

The Celtics just came off possibly the greatest first round series of all time by finally disposing of the resilient Chicago Bulls in 7 amazing games.  The Magic toppled the Philadelphia 76ers in an uneven, inconsistent 6-game series.

This will be a tough one to call.  Without Kevin Garnett, stopping Dwight Howard will be that much tougher than it already is, but on the other hand, the Celtics do have the championship experience.  Further, they have the big-time players in Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, plus Rajon Rondo demonstrated just how good he can be.  Rafer Alston will no doubt have his hands full.  In my opinion, this series will come down to whether Howard’s supporting cast can step up and hit the shots when called upon.

If I was calling this series at the beginning of the playoffs, I would have said the Magic in 6 against a KG-less Celtics.  But after seeing how the Magic played against the 76ers in the first round, my gut instinct is to go with the defending champs.  Boston in 7.

Western Conference

Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers

Artest will do his best to ruffle Kobe's feathers

1 Los Angeles Lakers (65-17) vs 5 Houston Rockets (53-29)

Yao Ming finally got out of the first round – but he’s going to find out just how hard it is to get past the second.  After overcoming the inexperienced Portland Trailblazers in 6, the Houston Rockets will face last year’s Western Conference Champions, the LA Lakers, who defeated the Utah Jazz in 5.

The season series wasn’t even close, with LA sweeping it 4-0.  However, with Andrew Bynum at less than 100%, Yao Ming will have opportunities to dominate.  For the Rockets to have a chance, Yao really needs to be more than just a 20-10 guy this series.  If he doesn’t assert himself and start having big games (and I mean 30+ points a night), it could be a short series.

On the other hand, no one can stop Kobe Bryant, but Ron Artest and Shane Battier are just about the best anyone could hope for.  They also need to make Kobe work hard on the defensive end.  If Artest can rough up Kobe a little bit then things could get interesting.   The real question is whether the Rockets can stop the likes of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol or have the firepower to stay with the Lakers’ high octane offense.

In the end, I think Houston will give LA a tougher test than most Lakers fans are willing to imagine, but they won’t be able to beat them.  Los Angeles in 6.

2 Denver Nuggets (54-28) vs 6 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Denver was so much more impressive than I thought they would be against the New Orleans Hornets, whom they eliminated in 5 games.  Dallas also did well to knock off perennial contender San Antonio in 6 games, though the Spurs were clearly operating at less than full capacity.

Another difficult series to pick.  Jason Kidd is lucky that they are facing the Nuggets instead of the Hornets, because he would have been burnt even worse by Chris Paul than he did by Tony Parker.  Chauncey Billups is great, but as he’s not the speedy type, it’s a good matchup for Kidd.  Dirk will no doubt have a big series, but I see the X-factor for the Mavs being newly crowned 6th Man of the Year Jason Terry.  He’s the type of player that can catch fire and turn a game around in a hurry.  For the Nuggets, JR Smith and Nene are their keys to victory.  Smith is also a guy that can light it up real quick, and Nene can make a difference in the middle with his defensive presence.

The two teams appear to be pretty evenly matched on paper.  However, I think home-court advantage will play a factor here, so I will say Denver in 7.

PS: How my Round 1 predictions stacked up

I am an admittedly bad predictor when it comes to sports, but I don’t think I did too bad in the first round (full analysis here).  The only series I got wrong was Atlanta vs Miami, where I declared that the Heat would prevail in 6 games (I was probably blinded by my desire to see Lebron vs D-Wade).

In terms of guessing the number of games per series, I correctly guessed that the Rockets would beat the Trailblazers and the Magic would beat the 76ers, both in 6 games, but that was it.  I gave too much credit to Detroit, New Orleans and San Antonio, but not enough to Chicago and Utah.

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