Since round 2 of the NBA Playoffs is starting today here are my predictions for the teams who've advanced so far. Once the Magic's competitor is determined I'll post a prediction for that game too.
Cleveland vs. Boston
The Cavs are the top seed in the East and hold home court advantage over the Celtics, a reversal of roles from the last time they met in the playoffs during the Celtics' championship season in '08. That was a memorably hard fought series that went seven games with the Celtics coming out on top. However, much has changed in the past two seasons. Lebron James' injury doesn't seem to be too serious and he said he will play every game in the series, which is bad news for the Celtics.
Celtics Return to (Defensive) Glory?
The Celtics, riding high after their first round dismantling of the Heat, showed signs of life after a tough second half of the regular season. KG is showing flashes of his former self with stellar defense and Ray Allen has been shooting lights out. Paul Pierce has been playing great ball as of late and Tony Allen and Glen Davis have provided a much needed spark off the bench. But the stellar play of these players doesn't mask some of the Celtics' blemishes and bad habits.
At certain points in the first round, the Celtics played lazy with a big lead, settling on bad jump shots and playing sloppy defense. Outside of the aforementioned TA and Big Baby, the Celtics bench is awfully thin. Rasheed Wallace is still as awful as ever and Marquis Daniels and Nate Robinson have been MIA in the playoffs. Michael Finley has been able to contribute here and there, but not nearly enough to give him extended minutes.
The Celtics will need to be perfect to win this series and I just don't see it in this Celtics team. One minute they play like the '08 championship team, then the next they play like a team again in dog years. Lebron James is the league MVP and is more determined than ever to win a championship. Antawn Jamison was the steal of the trade deadline and can shoulder the scoring load if Lebron has an off night. Shaq is still getting into game shape after being injured but he is still a big body down low that Kendrick Perkins will have a difficult time scoring on. I see the Cavs ending the Celtics season, leading to an off season filled with many questions.
Cavs in Six.
Los Angeles vs. Utah
The Lakers played an exciting first round series against the Thunder which they won in six. However, even though they won, the Thunder exploited many issues that are a cause for concern for Lakers' fans. Chief among these issues is the erratic play of Kobe Bryant. Kobe has been playing hurt all season, which is nothing new, but he has been making some questionable decisions on the court, such as not taking a shot until the 2nd quarter of game four against the Thunder. Kobe seems content with trying to prove to his team that they can't win without him during games. He's done it in the past and for some reason he is doing it again this year in the playoffs. Also, the Lakers seem very sluggish and out of sync at times, as if they are as hungry to win a championship as last year. The Jazz need to capitalize on this if they have any chance of winning.
Jazz Team Unity better than Lakers?
The Jazz's season seemed to be done after Memo Okur went down with an achilles injury. However, the Jazz are one of the best coached and most close knit teams in the league. There is no question that Deron Williams is the best point guard in the league right now and he has been doing everything for the Jazz. He has averaged over 20 points and 10 assists in the first round dismantling of the Nuggets. Carlos Boozer has been a scoring machine and C.J. Miles has been one of the biggest surprises of the playoffs coming off of the bench. Andrei Kirilenko is also set to return this round to provide a lift off of the bench.
This is going to be a dog fight of a series that will go seven games. The Lakers will need to use their size advantage down low against the undersized Jazz. The Lakers used this advantage against the Thunder in games five and six and this strategy should work against the Jazz. The Jazz have no answer for Bynum and Gasol down low as long as Okur is on the sidelines. In order to counter this advantage down low, the Jazz will need to hit outside shots as effectively as they did against the Nuggets. I think this is Deron Williams' time to shine and I believe he will will this team to the Conference Finals. The Jazz have been playing so well as of late that I don't see them letting up against the defending champs.
Jazz in Seven.
Phoenix vs. San Antonio
I will be the first to say that I was completely wrong in writing off the Spurs. I figured that the more athletic Mavs would dismantle the Spurs, who seem to have a similar problem as the Celtics with an aging "Big Three" in Duncan, Ginobli, and Parker. While all three players struggled at times, no one could have forseen players like George Hill and Dejuan Blair stepping up in such a big way and picking up the slack. The Spurs have showed flashes of their old championship selves and look to make one last playoff push before it's too late.
One Last Push for Aging Spurs?
The Suns played an up and down series against the Blazers. The major flaw of the Suns is that they are not as effective when they don't dictate their run and gun offense. If they are forced to play a slowed down half court game, they do not stand a chance against the Spurs, who have haunted the Suns in playoffs past. Jason Richardson has become a real X factor. If he's hot, the Suns are nearly unbeatable, but the Suns struggle on offense when he's missing shots. Steve Nash has only become better with age and this might be the last chance for a title if Amare Stoudemire decided to leave after this season via free agency. It is only fitting that he plays the Spurs again in the playoffs.
I see this being a real battle between Western Conference rivals with the Spurs coming out on top. I feel that the Spurs are clicking at the right moment and have the ability to shut down the Suns high octane offense. If they force the Suns into a half court game, they will win in six games. If not, they stand a chance of getting run out of the building. I feel that the Spurs will use their playoff experience to gut this series out.
Spurs in Six.