Boston in 4. They're just too good. The Celtics will force Atlanta to play a halfcourt game, and they'll suffocate them on defense. It will be funny to watch how Garnett reacts the first time Josh Smith throws down a monster dunk; my guess is he breaks his back over his knee, Kane style.
Cleveland in 7. I think this one's going to be a hell of a series. I'm definitely worried about the Cavs; while I think the trade made us better on paper, it did disrupt some decent on-the-floor chemistry. But, Caron's a bit beaten up, and Arenas is such a wild card. More importantly, I understand the parallels between this year's Cavs and last year's Heat – but there are two differences. First, Z ended the season on a high note (unlike Shaq last year). And, LeBron is bigger, more physical, and more unstoppable than D-Wade. It'll be a bloodbath, but we'll pull it out.
Detroit in 5. I think Philadelphia will steal one at home. The Pistons will probably get up two, relax a bit, and then put things together in Games 4 and 5. Philly has almost no chance, since they thrive on getting up and down the floor, and Detroit really takes you out of that game.
Orlando in 6. Orlando will probably win the series because they're so damn tough to guard when they're hitting threes. I mean, despite the lack of anything resembling a PG (they may be worse off than my Cavs in that department) they have Dwight Howard (who's probably too much for Bosh to handle over six games) and two 6'10" guys who can hoist threes.. I expect there will be two games where the combination of Lewis and Turkoglu going cold (this happens when you're a shooter) and Bosh taking it to Howard will result in Toronto wins. But ultimately, Toronto just has too many tall, ugly white guys (here's looking at you, Rasho).
Lakers in 5. This series should feature amusingly high scores. Most of them by the Lakers. It's funny to think, though – remember when people were saying it was a close call as to who was going to have a better career between Melo and LeBron? I think AI's going to gut out one "no way we lose" game, because he's just that kind of player. But the Lakers have too much talent, and Denver's a team that goes for the fancy play instead of the fundamental play that works. Can't do that against Kobe and Pau.
Utah in 6. T-Mac's curse continues. I think the Rockets would have done serious damage with Yao active, but his injury just kills them. Plus, when Rafer Alston goes down and that's a big loss for your team, that's not a great sign. But, watching the Houston crowd in a game against the Lakers this year, I think they might be good enough to let the Rockets steal a couple at home. But, the Jazz are a great home team, they're solid at every position, and despite AK-47 being the biggest fantasy disappointment on my team, they'll probably win. Did I mention that I HATE Carlos Boozer?
Dallas in 6. I know they're thought of as soft, and I know the trade looked bad on paper, and I know they haven't exactly been dominant. But I saw them play New Orleans at the end of the season in what was basically a meaningless game, and they had that look in their eye. Kidd knows he can't afford to lose this series, Avery Johnson is coaching for his job, Dirk is playing to prove he's not soft, and Josh Howard wants to prove he deserves the perpetually-underrated label. I love CP3 and think he elevates his team, but there's only so much there. I'm going with Dallas. (Plus, maybe a string of playoff disappointments will convince CP3 to come out East!)
Phoenix in 6. They made the trade for this series. They thought it would happen later in the playoffs, but it's here nevertheless. Simply put, Shaq occupies Duncan and makes things extremely hard for him. Nash is a better PG-who-can't-defend than Parker. Stoudemire is basically unguardable at this point. And, even Bowen is minimized because instead of trying to injure a superstar, he'll be battling against fellow pest Raja Bell. I think this is Phoenix's year to shed this monkey off their backs.
This one really, really hurts my heart. On the one hand, I know Boston is the better team. They have a better starting lineup, they play tenacious defense, and they have just a sick amount of chemistry and intensity. And maybe losing to the Celtics wouldn't be the worst thing in the whttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.giforld for the Cavs -- it might put more pressure on Ferry to go after Redd, and maybe if (ok, when) Mike Brown gets outcoached by Doc Rivers, we'll consider firing him and getting a real coach, as opposed to a defensive coordinator.
I watched the YouTube of LeBron's Game 5 last year. And then I watched it again, and again, and again. Who on Boston can stop him? Pierce can't really guard LeBron, and his MO is to just get into a stupid cockfight with LeBron where he starts jacking up wild shots. Z is slow, old, and lumbering, but he's a surprisingly good offensive player who plays well with LeBron. Plus Delonte West (yes, Delonte West) is playing with a glint in his eye since for the first time in years, he's going back to the postseason. If the Cavs can get some chemistry -- if the team can get together and unite -- then I think they can get this done. But if they continue to look fractured and inconsistent, and not trust the defensive system, they won't.
I'll know if this is a good pick or not early on. It'll happen after the first time Boston gets a cheap dunk. If Ben Wallace does what he was brought here to do and throws the next guy coming into the lane down, then I think we can do it. If we let ourselves get pushed around, we'll lose.
I know this is a dumb pick. I know it's not going to happen. And I know I'm going to lose this bracket challenge because of it, because Boston is going to win the NBA Championship this year. But I've been proven wrong by LeBron before. And I'm really, really sick of losing to Boston. I'm taking the Cavs in 6.
Pistons in 6. I think this will be a better series than people expect. IF (and this is the big if with Orlando) their wing players shoot well, they'll have a shot at taking a few games. And there's really nobody on Detroit's squad who can guard Dwight Howard. But, I do think the Pistons can do a good job preventing him from getting the ball. All told, I'm not sure how much Flip Saunders is going to trust his bench, but at least his starters are more rested than last year. And I think the Pistons are just going to have an edge this year after losing last year, and being told that Boston's the team to beat. It'll go to six, but I think the Pistons will pull it out.
Los Angeles in 7: This one is going to be a close series. Utah is an outstanding team, and they're strong across the board. But I think LA is just a touch better. Kobe's a man with a mission right now, and the one-two punch of him and Pau is as good, if not better, than Deron-Boozer (did I mention I hate Carlos Boozer)? Ultimately, though, I think LA's got better supporting players -- I'd take Odom, Fisher, and Radmanovic over Okur, the lost-in-the-woods Kirilenko, and Ronnie Brewer. And LA's second unit plays together as well as any. I think home court is going to carry, but this one will be fun to watch.
Suns in 6. Another battle of a series. These two teams match up pretty well against each other -- both have superlative power forwards who don't play defense, slightly older PGs who have unsurpassed court vision (and also play no defense), big men who have underperformed of late, bench guys who are horribly streaky (Barbosa and Terry, I'm thinking of you) and something to prove after controversial midseason trades. I'm not sure why my gut tells me Phoenix is going to win, but there's something about the Suns this year that just seems more loose and relaxed than Dallas. Maybe that's the benefit of having Shaq on your team. I think the Big Diesel prevails, esp. knowing he'll get to face Kobe in the next round.
A rematch of epic proportions. Last year, this series was where we saw LeBron make the leap. Will it be the same this year? I think the Pistons are hungrier than before, and I think they have what it takes. The question is, can we get inside their heads like we did before. Can we come out in the first game (which I guarantee we will lose) and play them close enough that they start worrying about last year all over again? And can we find someone to step up and make shots?
Ultimately, I think the thing here is momentum. If the Cavs manage to get to this point, they'll have a ton of confidence in themselves after knocking off the team everyone guaranteed would win the championship. But, Detroit is a great basketball team, and they've been operating under the radar all year. I think I'm going to hedge my bets and take Detroit in 7.
AAAAAGH! That was the sound of my body convulsing. But, I'm going to stick with the pick.
Lakers in 7. This will be one of the most fun series to watch in a long time. These teams have history already, plus you add in the Shaq-Kobe rivalry as well. Shaq's going to play like a beast in this series. He's going to have all the fire in the world. And the Lakers are going to struggle to defend Amare. But, in the end, I'm picking Kobe and the Aston 5. The Lakers are playing with a ridiculous swagger this year. They're one of the most fun teams in basketball. And they've got a great home crowd.
Lakers in 6. The title returns to LA. This would be an exciting series, largely because the last time it happened, Detroit stopped the unthinkable four-peat, and the Lakers fell apart for a while. But this time, Karl Malone won't be hunting little Mexican girls, Payton won't be talking so much that he forgets he's supposed to be guarding someone. I think this time, Kobe gets it done. The Pistons will struggle with him, and even when they do shift to him, Lamar and Pau should be able to finish. I just don't see the same offensive firepower on the other end. Plus, Kobe's a closer. Once he gets to the Finals, he's not going to let his team lose. Justin and Jordan, enjoy -- because next year, LeBron and Redd are going to end the drought.
While I think the most valuable player to his team is unquestionably LeBron (if you took him away from the Cavs we'd go 2-80), I think the NBA will give the MVP to Kobe. Even though the Lakers would be a decent team without him (Bynum + Pau + Odom), Kobe has shown true grit and determination all year. He's playing injured, he's more of a team player, and he's on a more successful team.
Next year, however, ATWGMR (assuming that we get Michael Redd), LeBron will go on a statistical tear, potentially average a triple double, and will do a video of him jumping over a Hummer H2 before the playoffs. So it's his next year. And then, the Bryce Maximus era begins . . .