Season Series: Tied 2-2
The Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in the NBA going 61-21 and because of it, they face the #8 Chicago Bulls, who in the last month of the season, couldn’t put together a few wins if their playoff lives depended on it (literally), Toronto just played worse and practically handed them the eighth seed in the East (I will get to that in a bit). The Cavaliers, we all know are led by man-child Lebron James, who averages 29+ points per game (right behind Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant and just ahead of Carmelo and Kobe) but the Cleveland ownership has done a fabulous job of giving Lebron the teammates he needs to win it all. In doing so, they hope Lebron will stay in Cleveland long-term and not jump ship with friend and Nets Owner Jay-Z. Winning a championship would definitely help the Cavs keep Lebron. Cleveland puts Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Antwan Jamieson and Anderson Varejao out to start the game with James and have a strong bench with Daniel Gibson, Sebastian Telfair, Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Zydrunas Ilgauskas and the injured Shaq-daddy (thumb) but he will be back for the playoffs. Heck, even Lebron sat out games near the end of the season for precautionary measures due to soreness. Like an NFL team resting their starters, Cleveland is serious about winning it all this year. The Cavs have done a great job at clobbering teams with bad records but when facing Boston, Orlando and Charlotte they are a combined 5-7 and even against Chicago split the season series 2-2. Remember, Cleveland was the 2007 Eastern Conference Champion but in 2008 lost to Boston in the 2nd round (Boston went on to win the Championship) and in 2009 lost to Orlando in the conference finals (Orlando went on to the NBA Finals and lost to the Lakers). After two years as one of the most dominant players in the league, if Lebron and Co. can’t make it to the NBA Finals this year, expect to see him in a different jersey come next October.
The Chicago Bulls didn’t make the playoffs. The Toronto Raptors blew their shot at making it by losing 19 of their final 28 games, moving them from 5th in the East, to 9th place. If I seem a little pissed off… well, I am. Being a Canadian, I wanted to see the Raptors back in the playoffs but it’s not like it would have mattered because they would have ended up playing the Cavs’ and get stomped. Now, in come the Chicago Bulls, who to start the month of March lost nine straight bringing their season-long losing streak to ten games but when the Raptors started to fall their hardest, the Bulls took full advantage by going 10-4 in the final 14 games of the season. The season series was split 2-2 but technically the last game played that Chicago won, you can strike from the season series due to the fact the Cavaliers rested Lebron James giving Chicago the victory (another reason why Toronto didn’t make the playoffs but you can’t blame anyone but their own horrific play). The Bulls got in by winning games when it mattered most and because of it earn a chance to take on the Cleveland Cavaliers…. but as I said, they will get thumped (much like Toronto would have). Why? One Reason. They suck. When the Bulls were horrible after the Jordan era, I thought all the draft-picks they were getting would turn into something big… but nope, it has seemed to do nothing. Derrick Rose leads the team in points per game with 20+ per game but their other marquee draft picks Luol Dang, Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah and even most recent 2009 1st rounded Taj Gibson aren’t winning the Bulls many games. The Bulls play .500 basketball (41-41 last season, 41-41 this season) and could have had a better record this season (my opinion) if they didn’t get rid of John Salmons and Tyrus Thomas (they got Hakim Warrick and Ronald Murray in return trades) but pinning them up against Cleveland only means one thing. Sweep.
TheCoach’s Pick: CAVALIERS in FOUR
Season Series: Orlando 3-1
Before the season started, the Orlando Magic picked up Vince ‘cry baby’ Carter and has he improved their team? I’d say yes but last year they went 59-23 and this year they are 59-23. Hmm… Vince has definitely helped though by averaging over 16.0 points a game in just over 30 minutes a night but the Magic are Dwight Howard’s team. Dude is a freak. He leads the league in rebounds and blocks; averages over 13 and 2.5 respectively and leads the Magic in points with just shy of 20 per game. Much like Cleveland, the Orlando management have done a fabulous job at giving Howard all the pieces of the puzzle he needs to get back to the NBA finals and this time, win it. Howard leads the team, Carter was brought into be the difference maker but Rashad Lewis and Jameer Nelson know they are just as pivotal to Orlando’s success as any player on the team. If the magic can stay healthy and 6th-man J.J. Reddick and Michael Pietrus can come off the bench and give Orlando starters the break they need while keeping them ahead of the Bobcats on the scoreboard, the Magic are going to be extremely hard to beat. Just because Lebron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant all put up almost thirty points a game (ten points more than Howard), doesn’t mean Dwight Howard isn’t a freak and can’t not only take over a game offensively but defensively better than anyone. The Magic went 3-1 against Boston, 3-1 against Atlanta and 3-1 against Cleveland and with how much stronger these four teams are than the rest of the Eastern Conference, you may very well see Orlando back in the NBA Finals. They play their best basketball against their best opponents and I expect the Magic to go deep in the playoffs… the question is will Vince Carter be the wimp he’s been in Toronto and New Jersey and complain about his toe, or foot, or shoulder, or back or… let’s hope not, cause the addition of ‘Vinsanity’ should give the Magic the final piece to win the Championship.
The Charlotte Bobcats are in the the playoffs for the first time ever, congratulations to the Charlotte Hornets, uhh, the New Orleans Hornets, Bobcats. The Bobcats come from the SouthEast which is packed with Orlando, Atlanta and Miami who all made the playoffs (along with the abysmal Washington Wizards who didn’t) and even though they have never finished better than 4th in the SouthEast, for the first year ever, they’ve clinched a playoff berth. It hasn’t been with the play of their former big name draft picks Emeka Okafor (now in New Orleans) and Adam Morrison (L.A. Lakers) but the steady and consistent players they’ve picked up in trades over the seasons (other than Felton). Steven Jackson, who is playing on his six NBA team, has lead the Bobcats to where their fans have wanted them to be since the days of the Hornets. Jackson, along with Gerald Wallace lead the team combining for almost 40 points per game and over 15 rebounds. Wallace has been on the team for the last six seasons after coming over from the Sacramento Kings has been great and as mentioned above, starting point-guard Raymond Felton is really the only draft-pick who has worked out for Charlotte. When Felton is not scoring points himself, he does a fabulous job of distributing the ball to whichever of his teammates have the hot-hand that night. Even Boris Diaw and Theo Ratliff kick in their share while Tyrus Thomas and Tyson Chandler (he suffered a injury in the last game of the season and won’t be at 100% if he plays), and they add to what Diaw and Ratliff already do and no matter who is on the the court, Charlotte doesn’t loose much offensively. Charlotte lost the first three games to Orlando earlier in the season (two games in November, one in January) but most recently in March, they knocked off Orlando 96-89 as Jackson lead the way with twenty-eight points. The problem for the Bobcats (other than the fact they are playing the Magic), is that they are a banged up team. In the last couple games of the season, Thomas, Jackson and Felton were all listed day-to-day with either dislocated fingers, tweaked hamstrings, or flu-like symptoms and that doesn’t include Chandler. Whether it’s from being banged up, or swept by the Magic, all that Charlotte is going to see is black and blue.
TheCoach’s Pick: MAGIC in FOUR
Season Series: Atlanta 2-1
In three years, the Atlanta Hawks have done a complete flip. In 2007-08, they went 37-45 clinching the 8th playoff spot and gave Boston a scare in the 1st round but eventually lost in game 7. In 2008-09, they went 47-35 and clinched the 4th spot (quite a bit behind Cleveland, Orlando and Boston), beat Miami in game 7 before getting swept by Lebron and company in round two. This year they are 53-29, have clinched the 3rd spot ahead of Boston and will face the Milwaukee Bucks. Something tells me that this year, the Hawks won’t allow a seven game series in the first round. The Hawks have improved a great amount in the last 82 games since the Cavs swept them and Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford together, are amazing. Add younger stars Josh Smith, Al Horford and Marvin William to the mix and you have one extremely talented young team. Heck, even their starting point guard Mike Bibby has been good putting up over 9.0 points a game but he isn’t your normal point guard as he ranked over 30th in the league in assists. No one believes in the Atlanta Hawks though (outside Atlanta) but I am sure many people will take them to beat the Bucks but after that won’t even consider touching them against the Cavs, Magic or Celtics. Just because the Hawks don’t have an ‘as-well’ known house hold name on their team… don’t be fooled, there is a reason these guys have won over fifteen more games than they did two seasons ago. The Hawks don’t need someone like Lebron, Kobe, Howard, Garnett, Wade or Anthony to win games… they do it by playing hard-nosed gritty basketball and as an entire unit, do it extremely well. Should be noted though, late in the season Joe Johnson has been battling a thumb injury and missed a few games but expect him to play. In all honestly though, this Atlanta squad is way to talented to not win this first round match-up and if it goes past five with Bogut gone… I’ll be shocked.
The Milwaukee Bucks hail from the Central Division and sit a ways back behind the Cleveland Cavaliers and aren’t ever really talked about (unless you live in Milwaukee but even then, in past years you’d probably rather of cheered for Prince Fielders’ Brewers or the Aaron Rodgers’ pivoted Packers just up the I-43). Since 1990′ the Bucks have made the playoffs seven times and had a decent stretch between 1998 to 2006, making it six of the eight years during the time and appearing the in Eastern Conference Final in the 1999-2000 season (lost to Philadelphia). It seems during the George Karl era the Bucks were at their best with a variety of players over the years such as Ray Allen, Sam Cassell, Anthony Mason and Tim Thomas. Once they decided to trade Ray Allen with ‘Flip’ Murray, even though it increased play time for Michael Redd, the team went straight down-hill for a few years. In those six-out-of-eight years they made the playoffs, they only got past the first round in 99-00′. It wasn’t until 2005 draft pick Andrew Bogut was surrounded by not only Redd (who is now injured and out for the season) but also 2009 draft-pick, promising point guard Brandon Jennings as well as picking up John Salmons via trade. This season was looking like it could be one of the best in modern franchise history for Milwaukee… that was until this (if you don’t like watching gross videos and haven’t seen this, I am warning you; viewer discretion is adviced… …you may just puke during the replay).
Alright, so you see that, you puke and… damn. It’s going to be extremely hard to beat Atlanta. They have Salmons, who has been a beast since joining the Bucks and is smashing his old stats ten-fold which is important with Redd injured. But Jennings is going to have to do something un-human like and players like Kurt Thomas and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (say that five times fast) have got to be Bogut-like. Not possible. Unfortunately without Bogut, their seasons ends here.
TheCoach’s Pick: HAWKS in FIVE
Season Series: Boston 3-0
The Boston Celtics aren’t quite the team they were two years ago when they won the NBA Championship. Well, in a sense they are because they still have Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Rajon Rando and Kendrick Perkins, and they even picked up Rasheed Wallace to boost their defence (he’s also added almost 10 points per game). Where lies the problem? Here it is; the Celtics are getting old. An eighty-two game season, plus the playoffs is gruelling on the body and considering the big three for Boston (Pierce, Garnett and Allen) average age is 34 years old, it’s going to be awfully hard to keep place with young teams like Cleveland, Orlando or Atlanta as the playoffs continue. Don’t get me wrong, they all still have a lot of talent and they’ll walk past Miami but 2008 was their year, 2010 is the year for someone else (don’t be surprised if its the Western Conference as they’ve won 7 of the last 11 championships and the most interesting part is the Spurs and Lakers have won all seven). Back on April 7th, Garnett tweeked his knee in a game against the Raptors and even though he won’t let it keep him out of the playoffs, the only person who knows if he is at 100% is himself, but it’s a pretty safe bet to say he won’t be, at least he won’t be there 100% mentality if not physically. There is no question the Celtics starting five is full of talent, and even Wallace (who although chipping in is producing less than Boston expected) and recently acquired Nate Robinson should help the Celtics chances of making a deep run in the playoffs but Boston combined to go 3-9 against the three teams ahead of them (Atlanta, Orlando and Cleveland) and with that record, it’ll be tough to get past the 2nd round after presumably coasting through the first. Boston has been there before (deep in the playoffs) and that experience is going to be impossible to stop for Miami but once Boston sees the likes of Cleveland, Orlando or Atlanta, expect not only great basketball but for Boston’s age to catch up to them.
Unfortunately for Miami Heat fans, you will see a trend as the my Eastern Conference preview rolls on but honestly, it is nothing to be surprised about. The top four teams in the East (Cleveland, Orlando, Atlanta and Boston) are all head and shoulders above the remaining four teams (Milwaukee, Miami, Charlotte and Chicago). With that being said, don’t tell Dwayne Wade because the guy is ridiculously skilled with a basketball and already has a Championship under his belt (yeah, mainly to the help of Shaq). There is no question that this is Wade’s team now (it always was but he needed a big-man like Shaq to win it) but Miami has done what they can to help Wade by picking up Michael Beasley in the draft two years ago and also got Jermaine O’neil via trade from the Raptors. Udonis Haslem and Quintin Richardson also dish in but what Miami is missing is what was the most pivotal part of their 2005-06′ championship run; the big man. Dwyane Wade can’t do it all himself, he is not Lebron, Kobe, Durant or Carmelo, who all (but Durant) have a better cast of team-mates surrounding them. Although Wade does average 25+ points, just under 5 rebounds and over 6.5 assists I can’t see him doing enough to get past a team that in every way in better than his. Again, the big man is the reason the Heat will duck out early and by early I mean five games… they’ll be lucky to even win one in this series folks. Jermaine O’neil may not be at 100% but he has come back from injury and will definitely be a boost the Heat who will need him real bad but the fact he won’t be playing at full strength is going to hurt Miami, and hurt them bad. It honestly wouldn’t matter what #1-4 seeds played #’s 5-8 because the four best teams in the East are moving on.
TheCoach’s Pick: CELTICS in FIVE
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