Season Series: Tied 2-2
For the people out there who thought the Cleveland Cavaliers would be challenged by the Chicago Bulls… I pity you about as much as I did Joakim Noah when he came out and said the Cleveland city life sucked. Well, the Bulls did take more games then I expected they would, but the Cavaliers proved exactly why they above the top of the league… Lebron James (and I don’t care if he isn’t 100%). In game one, the Cavs were killing and he sat back and enjoyed an easy 24-point outing to propel Cleveland past Chicago 96-83. Game two wasn’t much different as the Cavs home crowd watched Lebron lead the team in points with fourty, rebounds with eight and assists with eight. The Bulls stole game three but were lucky as they finished off the fourth quarter with horrific foul shooting as Lebron scored 13 and brought the Cavs back in the game. AT 108-106, Anthony Parker missed a three that would had won the game at the buzzer. Not only did I expect the Cavs to sweep the series, but Lebron to dominate and it was evident in game four as he put up a triple double (37 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) muscling his way through Chicago’s defence the entire night. When I stated that the top four teams in the Eastern Conference (Cavs, Magic, Hawks, Celtics) were head and shoulders above the rest of the East, some of you agreed but I took a lot of flack for it and well, mainly due to Atlanta’s poor play but it proves teams like Miami and Charlotte just don’t have what it takes. The Cavs do have what it takes… a superstar surrounded by consistent teammates who night-in-night-out provide Lebron with the extra punch needed. Even if Lebron leads his team in every category or is right there at the top (rebounds for example), he has been surrounded with a cast of players that Cleveland hopes will keep James a Cavalier long term.
Mo Williams and Antawn Jamison who were averaging an identical 15.8 points per game, have kicked it in more on the stat sheet while the man their teammate and man-child Lebron James put up mid-thirties and makes it look like easy in the process. Two additions that the Cavaliers made this year to get that extra push needed to win the NBA Finals was getting Anthony Parker from the Raptors, who can come in at shooting guard to relieve Lebron or even play the two position with Lebron carrying up the ball up the floor. Anderson Varejao is an extremely pivotal part of the Cavaliers roster and many closely associated with the club say that after Lebron, he is the second most important player they have. Personally, I disagree… as important as it will be for him to play well deep into the playoffs (I’ve made it clear that big men who can take over games like Howard, Garnett, Gasol will win a championship), it is just as important for Shaquille O’Neal to give the Cavs the same boost that Anthony Parker has. Through-out Shaq’s career, all he’s done is lift the team in which he is playing on to be great and win championships. He took the Magic to a championship back in the 90′s when he played there, he and Kobe won a bunch together in Los Angeles and he helped Miami win it all and the only team to get back and win it all since he’s left has been Los Angeles (which was last year). The addition of Shaq is huge and if he can stay healthy and be a presence down low in the paint through-out the Cavaliers playoff run, you may just see Lebron and company in the NBA Finals and if they go deep, it’ll certainly help Lebron stay in Cleveland long term. They’ll coast past Boston in my eyes because Boston is too old. The real challenge will come if Orlando moves onto the Eastern Conference Championship and we get to see Man-Child vs Superman.
When I took the Boston Celtics over Miami and said the Heat ‘will be lucky to win a game’ I pissed off a lot of Heat fans but again, just like I said the top four team in the East are the best, the Heat were lucky to win a game and it took a record setting performance out of Dwyane Wade. I am sure there will be plenty of diehard Celtics fans who won’t like what I am about to say but simply put, it’s the truth. At 33 years old, the Cavaliers Jamison would be considered the veteran presence on the team (other than Shaq). The Celtics are honestly filled with a bunch of players who are great but back in 2007-2008 when they were two years younger, were much better, and by that I mean good enough to win the championship. This year? No way. Boston’s top three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen are just getting too old… at the same time, if they are on their game, they can absolutely win games and even steal a game or two they shouldn’t have won. But when facing a younger team with just as much if not more talent, the Cavaliers will simply be too much. An 82 game season, and the playoffs can wear and tear on any man’s body but when you are young and your body doesn’t ache (as much) after games as it would when are ready to hang em up’, it’s a huge advantage. I absolutely loved the first round match-up of Boston-Miami because I said ‘the big man’ would be the difference as Wade couldn’t do it all himself. I wasn’t only right, but I will be with this series too. The big men of Garnett and Perkins won’t have such an easy time facing Shaq and Varejao and it’s a lot different opening up a series on the road than it is on your own home-court. I know Boston has a better record on the road (26-15) vs their record at home (24-17) which is huge come post-season Basketball. The problem for the Celtics is not only do the Cavaliers have the exact same record on the road during the regular season at 26-15 but their home-court record is a outstanding 35-6.
Cleveland winning on the home-court I would like to say is almost guaranteed, but one of those six losses came at the hands of the Celtics as these teams split the season series each winning a game on their home-court and on the road. As much as I think this series won’t be won by the Celtics, it absolutely can be but it won’t be because of the efforts of Pierce, Garnett and Allen. If Boston wants to move past Cleveland, the only way they can do it is if Rajon Rondo continues to play double-double type basketball at point guard while being a threat to score himself but as well in essence ‘the quarterback’ of the Celtics. Averaging in the mid-teens points and just shy of ten assists per game, Rondo can be the difference maker in this series. You expect the Celtics big three to produce all the time because it’s what Boston fans and fans all over the NBA have grown to know and love out of them. But anyone closely associated with Boston would agree that the play of Rondo in this series can absolutely be the difference. If Cleveland has a fourth star that each night they have to worry about hurting them on the scoreboard, it’s going to be tough for the Cavs. Thing is, Lebron is better than any player on the court and in the last two minutes of a game, he can steal the ball from Rondo, go down and dunk it, run back and block a Pierce shot or Garnett dunk, only to go coast-to-coast hitting a trifecta as the clock expires. Lebron and his younger, more talented and quicker Cavaliers will be too much for Boston to handle, and it will make upper management realize (much like a father with his son), that at some you become a distant second and you just don’t want to admit it. The Celtics road will end on their home-court in game six.
The Orlando Magic have everything it takes to win the NBA Championship this year and the way they made it through the first round rather easily by sending the inexperienced Bobcats packing in four games (as I predicted) is proof of how good they truly are. The Bobcats knew they were going to have to stop Dwight Howard, and next they wanted to have none of Vinsanity so halting Carter was their 2nd priority. Unfortunately for the Bobcats, they totally forgot about Jameer Nelson who gave Charlotte headaches in the entire first round. In the regular season, Nelson was averaging 12.6 points per game and mainly distributed the ball to Howard, Carter and Rashard Lewis but early in the playoffs, Nelson put up a staggering 32 points in each games one and three. In somewhat surprising fashion, it hasn’t been Howard and Carter leading the way like many Orlando fans have come to be familiar with but Rashard Lewis has put himself behind Nelson on the stat sheet and it may just be the reason you see the Orlando Magic in the NBA Finals and this year win it. Everyone knows you can count on ‘Superman’ every night to dominate defensively while putting up great numbers offensively.The Magic picked up Vince Carter to be the extra punch they needed to beat a team like the Los Angeles Lakers (who they lost in last year in the Finals) and even through they have the exact same record in the regular season this year as they did last, I know they are a better team… and so should you. If Howard and Carter have the luxury of knowing that other players on their team can take control of the game and put the Magic in a position to win, the Orlando is possible the most dangerous team in the NBA at the moment.
In my opinion, this isn’t going to be the series it could have been if the Hawks moved on because the Magic are head and shoulders above the Milwaukee Bucks. The main difference will be how Orlando can travel on the road and win basketball games. When I took the Magic in four games against the Bobcats, people thought I was crazy to underestimate the Bobcats but it was either Charlotte fan’s still upset they lost the Hornets years ago, or someone who was simply underestimating the capability of the Magic. This Magic team is for real. No question about it. They are 34-7 on their home court while going 25-16 on the road and the only other teams in the East who have better road-records are the Cavaliers and Celtics (they are playing in the other series). Milwaukee was not even close to as good on their home court with a record of 28-13 and an abysmal 18-23 on the road and due to that, the series won’t go past six games. You heard it hear first. The Bucks are a talented squad and will take a game or two but if you’ve got Nelson and Lewis lighting it up, knowing that behind them are two actual superstars Howard and Carter, the Magic are no team to take a night off against. Matt Barnes and Mickael Pietrus do a great job sharing time at the small forward position and J.J. Redick can always come off the bench to give the Magic an extra spark. Milwaukee fans won’t like it, but the Magic have been their before, and they’ll be there again. They are experienced, know what it takes to win the East, and the bitter taste left in their mouth after last years NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, has only made them want it that much more. The Magic have been to the Finals twice (in 94-95′ and 08-09′) and this year want nothing more than the ‘NBA Champions’ banner hanging in the rafters instead of ‘Eastern Conference Champions’. They’ve been there done that… and literally got the t-shirt.
There is something about the Atlanta Hawks that love to play in game seven. In 2007, they went to game seven against the Boston Celtics almost pulling through on what would have been a huge upset but fell short. In 2008, they took Miami to game seven, and knocked them off before moving onto the second round, getting swept by Cleveland. This year, the Hawks did it yet again for the third straight year taking the Milwaukee Bucks to game seven. The Hawks-Bucks series was certainly not what everyone expected it would be, many people knew Milwaukee had a shot but with how much Atlanta improved since last year, most thought getting past the first round would be easy for the top four teams in the East. For Cleveland, Orlando and Boston it was, for Atlanta not so much and that should concern Hawks fans going into round two against the Magic. The Magic are not only the defending Eastern Conference Champions but want nothing more than to go back to the Finals and bring home the hardware. Atlanta will have to play much better than they did against Milwaukee. In games one and two, Atlanta played much like they had all season with back-to-back ten points victories on their home court. As one one expect Joe Johnson lead the way with a combined 49 points in both games while Josh Smith averaged 12 rebounds a game in their two victories. When games three and four rolled around, and the home-court advantage shift to Milwaukee, so did every other advantage as John Salmons and Brandon Jennings dominated both games. Game five, the Hawks blew it as the Bucks stormed back and took the lead late in the game and stole a 3-2 advantage. The Hawks were pissed and it showed in game six and early it looked as if the game would be extremely close but Atlanta ran away with the game in the last 24 minutes and tied up the series with a 83-69 win. Back on their home-court, the Hawks easily won and all that matter is they are moving on… not how many games it took.
The Hawks are a great team and if they play their style of basketball they have a chance to beat the Magic. Alright, who am I kidding… they have no chance. Atlanta is skilled but way to they will not beat the Magic, they are too small. If the Magic can control the ball down low and force Atlanta to take unwanted shots, the series could end quick. Joe Johnson is phenomenal and has has played all season as if he is a top ten player in the league. He’s continue it through the playoffs with over 20.0 points per game. Behind Johnson, there is a steady cast of skill with Horford, Crawford, Smith, Bibby and Williams. Crawford is the teams 6th man and can come off the bench to give players a much needed rest while the Hawks don’t loose any offensive punch. Down low in the paint it’s Al Horford and Josh Smith who against 90-95% of the league can put up great numbers as well as stop the other teams big men on the other end of the court. They have no chance (even together) of stopping Dwight Howard. The dude is a freak, he is a beast, he is Superman and will kill the Hawks every time he steps on the court. Mike Bibby and Marvin Williams put up approximately twenty points per night but don’t have the skills of Jameer Nelson and Vince Carter over in Orlando. Stop them, and you still have to worry about Rashard Lewis. There is no way around it… the Hawks are screwed. The only way they can win this series is if they play great basketball and the Magic play horribly but it won’t happen. The Magic want it way to bad. Luckily for Atlanta, they have experience from making the playoffs in previous year but they’re not as experience as the Magic… or as good for that matter.
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