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NBA 2010 Playoffs: Second Round Storm

4.May.2010

Okay. So I got burned when I went out on a limb and said that the Cavs would sweep the Bulls and that the Lakers would beat the Thunder on their first playoff game at Oklahoma City. But that’s how predictions go. Sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong. And sometimes, I make promises that I eventually can’t keep—like saying there’s “more predictions tomorrow” and then end up not posting anything the following day.

In my defense, I graduated from college two days from when I posted my last blog entry, and I simply couldn’t find the time to write and post my next set of predictions.

Well then, now that that’s out of the way, on to more NBA talk.

No one else will say differently: the first round couldn’t have been better: all the storylines and drama, plus a Game 7 for those who get a kick out of literal must-win situations.  And I’m perfectly sure that things are just starting to get interesting. Let me tell you why:

—Phoenix and San Antonio advancing in six games and are going head-to-head in what is building up to be one hell of a series just like those that came before;

—Cleveland’s routing of the Bulls (though it wasn’t a sweep like I predicted), Boston somewhat regaining their championship form, and these two teams set in a collision course that will shake the Eastern Conference;

—The Lakers reaching the second round with not just Kobe, but with impressive performances from his supporting cast (i.e. Gasol, Odom, Artest, Fisher), and being matched up yet again with playoff rivals Utah Jazz;

—A one-sided Game 7 courtesy of the Hawks, who seem to be regaining their ability to soar high;

—And lastly, Orlando moving up to the second round with a pristine playoff record after sweeping MJ’s and Larry Brown’s ‘Cats.

The second round is clearly shaping up to be a narrative all about three things: rekindling age-old rivalries, awesome clutch performances, and of course, defense.

The remaining eight teams will undoubtedly give us something to remember.

NBA Playoffs 2010: 2nd Round

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland vs. (4) Boston, Series tied 1-1

Game 1                        101-93

Game 2                          86-104

The defining factor in this series for the Cavs will be the performance of LBJ’s supporting cast. King James just nabbed his second straight MVP award and with good reason: he’s a one-of-a-kind, incredibly versatile player who lets it all out on the court between the first and last buzzer. And since he’s sure to play his A-game no matter what, the fate of the game (and ultimately the series) will be on the shoulders of his teammates. If they don’t play well, they don’t stand a chance against the unselfish Celtics, as we’ve all seen in Game 2.

As such, this series is hard to call. But, as hard as it is to bet against the King, I’m going to “tentatively” side with the Celtics—if only because I don’t think LBJ’s supporting cast of Old Shaq, Mo, Jamison, et al. are going to play well enough to help him get past the Celts, who are clearly showing that they still have the defensive intensity and terrific team-play-mentality/execution that won Boston its 17th title two years ago.

Prediction: After losing home court advantage, Mike Brown’s Cavs (specifically the role players) continue to disappoint, and the Celtics, thanks to momentum, Doc’s brilliant leadership, and their tried-and-tested routines, win Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead.

(2) Orlando vs. (3) Atlanta

Orlando won the season series, 3-1, all with double-digit leads. Atlanta was only able to get a squeaker win. But the Hawks are pretty much playing the best basketball of their lives as of late, and the Magic have difficult times ahead of them, unlike the easy sailing they experienced in the first round.

But, with no games played yet, I’m going to side with the well-rested Magic. Team Florida definitely has an edge since they have home court advantage and because they were able to sweep their first round matchup while the Hawks had to go the full seven games to get to the next round.

Prediction: Game 1 will be tough, especially for Big D, but the tired and bruised Hawks eventually give out and Orlando gets the W.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles vs. (5) Utah, LAL leads 1-0

Game 1                        104-99

NBA.com says that LA beat Utah at their own game: toughness. I say LA beat Utah because of a future Hall-of-Famer: KOBE. Sure, a close game means both teams played tough, but the Lakers won Game 1 because of KB’s late-game heroics. They won not because they played tougher than the Jazz, but because they have a go-to-guy who has proven time and again that he is the best at what he does: making shots down the stretch when the game is on the line.

Game 2 will be very interesting, with the possibility of Andrei Kirilenko playing some minutes and with Artest’s defensive play on D-Will especially after Deron said he’s going to exploit Ron-Ron with his speed advantage.

Prediction: Expect to see Ron-Ron shut down D-Will (this is Artest’s reaction to the statement Deron made), and don’t be surprised when Kobe and Gasol dominate the game with their inside-outside play. Lakers go up 2-0.

(3) Phoenix vs. (7) San Antonio, PHX leads 1-0

Game 1                        111-102

After a disappointing loss in Game 1 of their first round matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers, the Phoenix Suns delivered in Game 1 of their second round clash with long-time playoff rivals San Antonio Spurs. Planet Orange is celebrating right now, after seeing the Suns’ inspired play and Stevie’s offensive explosion with 33 points and 10 assists. STAT wasn’t bad either—he scored 23 and grabbed a game-leading 13 boards for a double-double of his own. And of course, the Suns’ X-factor, Jason Richardson, added 27 points, on 3 of 6 shooting from downtown, 10 of 16 overall.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The real reason why Suns fans should be celebrating is because our team won the game despite two second half rallies the Spurs pulled out of their sleeves. That tells us that the Suns know how to buckle down and get some stops even as the lead that they worked so hard to build is slowly vanishing. It tells us that the W the Suns got was in no way a fluke. They won that game because they could, and that speaks volumes as to where this series is going—that is, the Suns eventually beat the Spurs and advance to the West Finals.

Prediction: The Spurs are sure to make key adjustments: defending in transition better, stopping Nashty, getting Hill and Jefferson more points on the board; but the Suns, realizing the importance of maintaining home court advantage as a result of their first round experience with the Blazers, take a 2-0 series lead with the help of their deep bench.

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