Stamping his class on yet another epic Wimbledon final, Roger Federer needed a record 77 games to oust what was probably Andy Roddick’s best performance to date, but still was not good enough to beat the 5-time champ. The Swiss won 5-7 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 16-14 in 4 hours and 16 minutes to win his 6th Wimby and became the all-time men’s leader in Grand Slams won with 15 passing Pete Sampras.
The match was a pure joy to watch with both players having won every game on serve until Federer finally broke Roddick’s serve in the final game that sealed the match. But from the start, it seemed to be a very different and confident Roddick this time around, who amidst his terrible 2-18 record against Roger, stood toe-to-toe with him in every game and in every set. But in the end, Federer still managed to pull through and he even beat Roddick at his own game serving 50 aces against Andy’s 27!
The scary thing about all this is that Federer is only 27 and still has a long way to go before he even thinks of retiring. There ARE studs out there like Nadal who has conquered Roger majority of the time, but the other young guns like Murray, Roddick, Djokovic, and Del Potro, aren’t quite there in that league yet. So let’s see if they can ever develop to the skill set to overthrow the top two players in the world.
So the debate on whether Roger Federer is the best men’s player of all-time seems rather moot. Though some old-timers may still disagree, and some critics still don’t believe he can be the best if he doesn’t beat Nadal a few more times. But no one can discredit how at the feathery age of 27, a player in Fed’s caliber who still has a ton of years ahead of him has already broken the record for most grand slams wins ever. And that fact is undisputable.
All the talk and hype about a Lebron-Kobe showdown is OVER and my darkhorse pick to get to the Finals detroyed Lebron’s Cavs this morning in very convincing fashion. Superman scored 40 points and went 12-16 from the line to trounce the Cavs and Lebron had his worst game this post-season. The “Magic upset” paved way to a very intriguing Finals match-up against the highly-touted Lakers in Staples next Thursday.
The Cavs were so favored in the Conference Finals series, they actually had majority of the NBA analysts saying they’d sweep the Magic. Give me a break. If you’re a Magic fan like I am, you know that it would be impossible for them to have done so. The world now knows how good this Magic team is and how much better this match-up is between them and the Lakers is compared to the Cavs.
(2) Los Angeles Lakers vs (4) Orlando Magic
Let’s break this Final series down. In the regular season, the Magic beat the Lakers 2-0, 1 at home and 1 on the road. Does that record matter in the Finals? Unlike the Cavs series where the Magic had a better head-to-head record that also mattered this post-season, this one against the Lakers does not. In both games, Jameer Nelson scored a total of 55 points and burned the Lakers. He’s gone now and Rafer Alston isn’t going to be even close. Next, Trevor Ariza was an afterthought back then but now he’s a certified starter and is the X-factor for the Lakers winning the series altogether.
And with those two changes, it made the regular season record irrelevant. The Lakers became a much better team. They got stronger in defense with Ariza starting and he has also shown a ton of potential on the offensive end. Goodbye Vladimir Radmanovic. The Magic, on the other hand, lost a lot of scoring in the point but had Courtney Lee grow up right before our eyes and more importantly have Pietrus emerge as their X-factor in both ends also. So who DOES have the better team? Let’s break it down.
Next: Lakers vs Magic Player Match-ups
The stage is finally set for the 2009 NBA Playoffs and it’s going to be a great match-up for the Conference Finals! The top seeds were both expected to move on and they did, while my darkhorse picks for both East and West moved forward too. The West saw the Lakers needing 7 games to down the Rockets who were without Yao for the last 3 games and will face the peaking Nuggets led by the very reliable Chauncey Billups. Denver proved to be too much for the Mavs on both offense and defense as they were very dominant in closing out that series.
On the Eastern front, Lebron James was unstoppable again and his Cavs swept the Hawks and made them look terrible every game. While the Magic finally snapped the Game 7 leprechaun magic that hounded all teams spanning from last year with a blowout win at Boston today setting up a great match-up against the Cavs!
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (3) Orlando Magic
The leprechauns are finally gone and their Game 7 streak of wins (32-0 all-time) is OVER. Sure, KG was out, but that’s how it is in the playoffs! They just didn’t have enough bigs to cover Dwight Howard as the Magic proved that having the defensive player of the year anchor your D beside unbelievably accurate shooters on the wings would be a daunting task to overcome. And the Celtics found that out an hour ago.
The Cavs… what CAN you say about them? Lebron is un-guardable and has made it his mission to get to the Finals and win it all this year. It seems like they can do it, but they need to run through 2 more very tough teams and the Magic will be their first real test. Forget about the Pistons and Hawks as those teams stood no chance against them. Lebron is 1-2 this season against Dwight’s Magic and this series will be quite entertaining as it pits the unstoppable force against the immovable object!
This is going to be a great series but I reckon the advantage is to the Magic. The only reason I’m re-thinking it is because the Cavs are so dominant at home all season and don’t look to back down on that record anytime soon especially in the playoffs. But the Magic are proving to be legit this season and really don’t care where they play as evidenced by their Game 7 thrashing of the Celtics on the road today. The key for the Magic to win is how well Rashard and Hedo play because Dwight is a constant and no one from the Cavs side can actually guard those 2 shooters. And when Turkoglu plays as well as he did today, good things will happen for the Magic as it opens up everything for them. I don’t see how Dwight gets in foul trouble against Z or Varejao as they aren’t really scorers and that gives him more room to play help D, unless Lebron finds a way to bait him. And boy are the Magic TOUGH down low and can play great D outside too.
The keys to the Cavs winning this series are two-fold. Lebron has to play consistenly well but distribute the ball enough to get his teammates confidence up. In the 3 games they played against the Magic this season, only Lebron has shown any sort of will to win while his team has played terrible except for Mo in 2 of the 3 games. They need Z and Delonte to step it up otherwise they will have a very difficult time facing this hyped up Magic squad. I’m going with the darkhorse for this series but it will be very interesting to see how the first game goes. Can’t wait! Magic by an inch in Game 7!
PICK: Magic in 7.
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (2) Denver Nuggets
The Lakers finally got past the pesky Rockets today with a Game 7 win at home, as it should be, but were pretty disappointing in this series. Even without Yao, Houston was still able to pull off 2 wins to bring it to a decider. In any case, what matters is that the Lakers got there and will be tested by a very versatile Nuggets team.
I love the Nuggets this season but like them even more in the playoffs as everything has come full circle at the right time. JR Smith is finally growing up and George Karl finally has confidence in him. Chris Andersen has been special and is having the best year of his career. Both are vital playing off the bench to spell the starters and they lose NOTHING when they come in and that’s a rarity these days on any elite team. You add their new skipper in Chauncey Billups to the mix and you have got a complete team that can actually win it all this season. The Lakers are going to have a very difficult time playing these Nuggets even if they are up 3-1 this season against them as that team in the regular season is light years away from the one it is now. You have 2 bigs in the middle in K-Mart and Nene, with Birdman off the bench, then Melo who has been scoring at will in these playoffs and Smith off the bench will for sure give the Lakers headaches each and every single game.
Kobe’s crew finally did their homework and destroyed the Rockets in Game 7. There is a lot to fix though as the series showed a lot of weak parts in the Lakers game. Bynum definitely needs to play well against the Nuggets otherwise Pau is going to have his hands full with all the banging he’s going to get from the big men of Denver. The key to the Lakers winning this series is how well Odom and Ariza play and how well their team plays D against this offensive juggernaut. I’m sure Kobe relishes this match-up against Melo and I see Kobe having a better advantage but they will probably cancel each other out. So it’s going to be how the other guys play but the Lakers won’t win this series if Bynum plays nonchalantly and if Odom doesn’t aggressively push the ball.
Let’s see how Kobe and Ariza play D against Melo and company but for sure it’s going to be another great series to watch! And as much as I love the Nuggets, I think Kobe has one up over Melo after playing together in that Olympic team and he may just have enough to keep the Lakers afloat to the Finals. I won’t be surprised if the Nuggets pull an upset in Game 7 though!
PICK: Lakers in 7.
The cast for the 2nd Round of the 2009 NBA Playoffs is set to begin as the last Game 7 today had the Hawks blow out the Heat. Joe Johnson’s 6 threes proved too much for the one-man-Wade-Heat team as the much-anticipated matchup between Lebron and Wade went down the drain. In any case, the current Cavs-Hawks series would be a lot more competitive than a Cavs-Heat matchup as the Heat would have been pummeled to the ground.
My predictions for the 1st Round went pretty well. In the 8-team matchups, I was 7 of 8, with only my pick on the Heat losing out. On the series W/L predictions, I’m only 3 of 8, hehe. Let’s see how my 2nd Round predictions go…
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (4) Atlanta Hawks
The Cavs breezed past the First Round by utterly destroying the list-less Detroit Pistons. This is definitely the last time we are seeing this Pistons team with the line-up that they have as it is definitely time to start rebuilding. The Cavs on the other hand look unstoppable and seem to be able to turn it on anytime they want to. The Hawks needed Game 7 today to dispatch Wade’s Heat but did it easily behind JJ’s hot night. So how do both teams match-up?
The Cavs are 3-1 against the Hawks this season, with 2 of those wins by 6 points or less, with one blowout, while the Hawks took one game. Lebron scored 26 points or less in 3 of their games with one game scoring 33. Do the Hawks stand a chance? My guess is they have a glimmer of hope, but they need all guns on target to be able to do it. Bibby and JJ have to be on-target, J-Smoove needs to play his best and Horford NEEDS to get healthy and play his game. Those are a lot of NEEDS, though…
The Cavs seem to be poised for an Eastern Conference Finals match-up against whoever, and it doesn’t seem like it matters. They are playing unbelievable basketball with Lebron orchestrating and every single player in a Cavs jersey delivering. It will be a good test for them against the feisty young Hawks though, but Lebron seems focused enough to push them through no matter what.
A Hawks upset seems rather hopeful, but I think they can pull one game off at home. I don’t see them winning a game on the road though and the Cavs don’t seem to really care where they play. Still a better 2nd Round match-up compared to Flash coming in and getting destroyed.
PICK: Cavs in 5.
(2) Boston Celtics vs (3) Orlando Magic
This series seems like one heck of a good one, but with both teams riddled with injuries, it seems more like a battle on who can adjust better to injuries. And in this case, I think the Celtics have a better line-up on paper considering the injuries on both teams, but looking at it deeper, the Magic might actually have the edge.
The regular season match-up had both teams even at 2-2 with each team taking a game at home and a game on the road. The interesting thing here is that both teams have bad match-ups on guarding the other team’s stars. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce seem to love playing the Magic as they have scored consistently in all 4 games. The Magic only have their Big 3 to turn to and no one else.
The problem the Celtics have now is who is going to guard Dwight Howard. Superman has torched this team each game he’s played and KG missed one game out of the four. It’s significant to note that Perkins plays decent D on Dwight, but their problem is, there is no more KG and no more Leon Powe. The reason they play great D on Howard is because KG plays great off the ball and on help defense. Now that he’s gone, as well as Powe, what happens when Perkins gets in foul trouble? Big Baby will be forced to guard Dwight and that spells trouble for them.
The problem the Magic have is bigger. They’ve lost Courtney Lee for the first 2 games, as reported, so no one can keep up with Pierce and Allen. And considering Lee has been pestering Allen in all those 4 games and Ray-Ray still ran circles around him, spells big trouble for the Magic. Orlando also relies too heavily on 3 players, and Turkoglu is very prone to fouls especially if he’s going to guard Pierce. If one of those Big 3 go down, this might be a quick series. If they can steal a game off of the Garden, then getting Lee back at home would give them a pretty good chance.
This series all boils down to how smart each team plays off of their best players. And it’s probably not going to be a nice fluid series like the Bulls-Celtics match-up. I picked the Magic as the dark-horse to come out of the East with Jameer still running the ship. But now that he’s gone, they will be hard-pressed to upset the Celtics as Alston is too inconsistent and might be run off the ground by Rondo. My prediction, my head says Celtics in 6, but my heart says Magic in 7!
PICK: Celtics in 6. Mind probably wins
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (5) Houston Rockets
The Lakers probably breathed a sigh of relief when the Rockets blew out the Blazers in Game 7 of their series. If there was a team that the Lakers have had a hard time playing, it’s the young Blazers led by Brandon Roy. Since that’s done and over with, Kobe will be up against his nemesis Ron Artest and the defensive-minded Houston Rockets.
It will be exciting to see the match-up between Kobe and Artest as each game has had them both challenging each other, with Bryant pounding Artest to the ground and the Lakers blowing out the Rockets. It’s going to be a really good challenge for the Lakers before they face the Nuggets (yes, the Mavs stand no chance) as it will be a battle of offense vs defense.
Kobe has torched the Rockets almost every game and winning every mind game Artest throws at him. But I’m sure the Rockets will throw a barrage of defenders at Kobe rotating Ron with Shane and even Wafer. On the Laker side though, the presence of Bynum is a huge boost as it will help better deal with Yao and the drive and drop plays of the Rockets. Gasol will be vital as he will be significant in trying to get Yao in foul trouble but the key is who takes over the point guard duties when Fisher sits down. Note that Farmar is out of the series as far as I know. Fish also doesn’t seem like he’ll be able to manage Brooks’ speed but then again, Brooks has played well in one game out of the four. But this post-season, he has upped his game and has full confidence in the playoffs. So that’s something to watch out for.
The Rockets need Scola and Landry to play very well against the Laker bigs. If they don’t, it will be very difficult as the defense will be able to stifle Yao and there will really be no one else. Artest is too streaky on offense and the Rockets rely a lot on teamwork to get points on the board. So it will be interesting to see how this goes in Game 1, but I think the Lakers make a statement right off the bat.
PICK: Lakers in 5.
(2) Denver Nuggets vs (6) Dallas Mavericks
The Nuggets are on-fire and they are my dark-horse to come out out of the West. Melo and JR Smith have been playing unbelievable and the Nuggets D anchored by Nene and Chris “Birdman” Andersen off the bench has been special. They crushed the Hornets in Round 1 even if they lost that one careless game. The Mavs were able to get past the Manu-less Spurs, as expected.
Why am I hyping up the Nuggets and downplaying the Mavs? Denver has a solid first five and a great bench to rest the starters. Melo has played unbelievable against this Mavs team and they don’t seem to have an answer for him. Dirk will have his usual numbers, but who else is there?
Josh Howard is the key to the Mavs winning any game, seriously. There really is no one else except Terry and Dirk that they can count on for points and knowing the stingy D the Nuggets will play on Terry, Howard will really need to do something special for the Mavs to have any chance.
I love the Nuggets this season. They got what they severely lacked in Billups for a true point guard who can control the game and is clutch, and they have 2 game-changing players who come off the bench. JR Smith is an amazing player and if the Mavs have no answer for him, they will be blown off the court. Birdman is also playing the best basketball of his life and I see no reason his blocks numbers decrease. I see him blocking at least 3 shots a game, and that’s huge for a center coming off the bench when K-Mart and Nene sit. Goodluck to the Mavs in the series. As the 1st game showed today, the Nuggets can blow the Mavs out of the building. And sheesh, Chauncey only scored 6 points today and the Mavs lost by 14.
PICK: Nuggets in 5.
The very competitive Western Conference starts off in a few hours and practically all the series match-ups will be strongly contested. The only exception may be the series between the Lakers and the Jazz, but every other series is really a toss-up. The favorite to come out of the West is definitely Kobe’s Lakers as even Vegas did not come out with odds for that series while every other series had its own except for their 1st seed counterparts in Lebron’s Cavs in the East.
Here are my series picks for the First Round in the WESTERN Conference. I think the Nuggets are the darkhorse here and really do have a big chance of making a lot of noise while the always-reliable Spurs might be booted out right off the bat by the Mavs as Manu is out for the playoffs. Who are your picks?
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs (8) Utah Jazz
Just like the Cavs, the Lakers are being considered shoo-ins to breeze past their 1st Round opponents. And as expected, Kobe and the gang are looking to bring home the trophy that eluded them last year. And looking at their chemistry this year, it seems very likely that Kobe will be holding up another trophy.
Why am I discounting the Jazz? Well, first off, they’ve struggled closing out the regular season. And second, Okur is sidelined and may not even play the first game and it might be even more. The Jazz are a very savvy bunch but without Mehmet, Booze and Deron are just not enough to topple the would-be champs. AK47 will need to step up and look to score more especially with Okur out, but the keys here will be how Brewer plays Kobe, as well as how Millsap can help compensate for his Okur’s absence.
Are the Lakers as good as they were last year? In my opinion, they are in a 7-man perspective especially with Bynum coming back at the right time and Ariza playing unbelievable basketball at both ends of the court. But looking at their bench, I think they’re a tad bit weaker than last year as Farmar has been totally useless since coming back from his injury. And if the Lakers want to seriously win a title this year, their bench better be ready to step up unless that solid 7-man rotation is going to hold up until the Finals.
The edge is definitely still with the Lakers but they can’t be overconfident against this feisty Jazz team. I think Utah takes one home game, and might have a slight chance for another, but that’s about it.
PICK: Lakers in 5.
(2) Denver Nuggets vs (7) New Orleans Hornets
I never thought Denver would end up being the 2nd seed in the West especially when Nene and Kenyon were in and out of the season with injuries. That speaks volumes of how talented and deep this Denver team is and they are definitely the darkhorse in the West. The Hornets quietly squeaked in the playoffs this year and look to make a little noise, but seem rather mismatched against a larger Nuggets team.
Thanks to the trade that brought in Chauncey Billups, the Nuggets are poised to make a ton of noise in the competitive West. With the departure of Allen Iverson, the Nuggets turned from a pure offensive squad that shot the lights out every night, to a squad that finally had control and a real legit point guard who could lead. Maybe that’s what they were lacking from the start and now that they’ve got it, that might be all they really need. They are 8-man deep and have 2 players that come off the bench that can make a huge impact on the game. JR Smith can shoot the lights out as evidenced by his 11 threes in that one game and Birdman can block 8 shots in a game. This match-up will be a test, but I’m pretty high on them moving to the next round.
Do the Hornets stand a chance? Maybe, but they have 1 legit big man in Chandler and err, Hilton and Wright, and throw in Melvin Ely, as backups, if you want to in the mix, against the solid front court of the Nuggets. Man, that’s a really tough match-up every night for those guys. I learned never to count Chris Paul out though, but he has to be playing the game of his life and have David West in sync, but most importantly have Peja healthy and in shape enough to hit those open threes. If one of those 3 players have an off-night, it’s going to be lights out for the Hornets.
PICK: Nuggets in 6.
(3) San Antonio Spurs vs (6) Dallas Mavericks
This series looks pretty interesting as both these teams have developed a little rivalry over the past 3 years. There’s one big difference though this year, and that’s the fact that the Spurs don’t have Manu Ginobili to save them anymore. The Mavs, on the other hand, have lost the quickness of Devin Harris, who’s one of the few players who can keep in step with Tony Parker.
It’s quite a surprise to see the Spurs end up as the 3rd seed because Manu really hasn’t been playing practically half the season but that’s testament to their core and veteran savvy. Tony Parker has been absolutely amazing this year and he’s developed great range now and is almost unstoppable if he has it turned on. Duncan is still been one of the best and most reliable big men around and hurt you in so many ways. But that’s about it. Outside of those 2 players, there’s really not much else but role players. Finley has aged, Mason is still raw, and everyone else is a backup player. Is this team strong enough to beat the Mavs?
Dallas finished the season strong and got Josh Howard back “healthy” in time for the playoffs. Dirk will still be the Spurs biggest thorn as there really is NO player that can match-up with him on the perimeter and in the post. You add Howard to the mix and the Spurs have huge problems as Finley or Bonner can’t guard jack. The only problem the Mavs have is how to slow down Parker as Jason Kidd is going to be a liability in defense. The key to the Mavs winning this series is actually Barea. If JJ can slow Parker down, the offensive threesome of Dirk, Howard, and Terry, will easily be able to sail the Mavs to the 2nd round.
PICK: Mavs in 6.
(4) Portland Trailblazers vs (5) Houston Rockets
Just like how it is in the East, the match-up between the middle seeds seem to be the most exciting series to watch. Pitting the youth of the Blazers against the Rockets veterans, it’s either going to be a classic, or a sorry sleeper. If the Blazers youth succumb to the Rockets toughness, this series might be real short. But seeing how good the Blazers have been in the regular season against perennial contenders, it seems these young guns are ready to make some noise in the playoffs.
Brandon Roy has been a joy to watch this year and the young studs of the Blazers have stepped up when needed and that’s why they have home-court advantage in the playoffs in the 1st Round. The Blazers have a solid 9-man rotation with youth booming off the bench. The real question here lies on whether the playoffs will be too much pressure for these Blazers as this is definitely far from what the regular season is. My biggest concern here is how well Lamarcus Aldridge plays. If he manages to play his game and shake off those nerves, they are going to be a handful for the Rockets. But that’s still a big question mark and is definitely the key to the Blazers moving on to the 2nd round.
Everyone was counting the Rockets out since the day T-Mac called it quits. No one gave them the light of day as the question of Artest being able to co-exist with Yao and the gang was a huge mystery. But look where they are now? Sure, they’re the 5th seed in the West, but they really can make a lot of noise. Yao is pretty much money and Scola has been amazingly consistent lately. Artest has been a warrior but can shoot you in and out of a game in a heartbeat. Brooks though has been the revelation and he is the KEY to the Rockets advancing. If he starts off well and gets the confidence he needs to play his style of basketball, then the Blazers are in big trouble. This is a real tough one, but I’ll go out on a limb and pick the veterans to squeeze it out in Game 7.
PICK: Rockets in 7.
East First Round Matchups
One day to go before the NBA Playoffs for 2009 begins! This season is one of the most intriguing in terms of match-ups in both conferences even if the top seeds seem to have it pretty easy. So just like last year, I’m writing this before reading any opinions or predictions by the popular ESPN guys as well as any other source for that matter.
So here are my picks for the First Round in the EASTERN Conference! I’ll follow with the WESTERN Conference match-ups later on. Who are your picks?
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs (8) Detroit Pistons
I’m quite certain that 90% of analysts have picked the Cavs to come out of the EAST and destroy all the teams that come their way. Sure, the Pistons really don’t stand a chance especially with that horrid trade that sent Chauncey to the Nuggets for a very pissed off AI, but that’s how it is. If the Pistons couldn’t handle the Cavs last year with Billups in a Pistons jersey, there really is no chance for the them to pull off any kind of an upset this round.
Why does everyone say no chance? Well, this is Lebron’s MVP year and he really is unstoppable. The addition of Mo Williams gives the Cavs a legit point guard with firepower, something they never had when Lebron got his rest last year. The emergence of Varejao and Delonte and the consistency and range of Z make the Cavs a very difficult team to beat. They would have ended up with ONE loss all year at home if it wasn’t for that last game give-away where LBJ didn’t play. That speaks volumes of how good this team really is this year.
The Pistons? Well… they’re old now and they’re pretty messed up in terms of team chemistry. Curry is a terrible coach and had Rip coming off the bench at a certain point post-mid-season. Injury or no injury, that was just pure idiocy. The AI trade blew up in their faces and totally eliminated any kind of leadership this team solidly had when Chauncey was running the show. So it’s really Stuckey’s show to run now (Stuckey who?) with 3 core players (Sheed, Tayshaun, and Rip) who seem like they are inches away from imploding.
So this is definitely going to be Cavs all the way. I’ll give the Pistons a little respect though and say they MIGHT pull off a tight one at home before all hell breaks loose this off-season and many changes are hopefully made (starting with their coach). But a sweep is definitely in the horizon.
PICK: Cavs in 4. Have Mercy.
(2) Boston Celtics vs (7) Chicago Bulls
With the news of a possible KG shutdown at least for the First Round, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to repeat again this year. Sure, they still are the favorites to win this match-up with the Bulls, but having a gimpy KG is not going to do them any good as his D was vital to their success last year. Don’t count the Bulls out though as this seems like a very intriguing match-up and will be a joy to watch.
How good are the Celtics this year? Well, they’re still pretty good, but they have quite a few problems this time around. KG is hurt, but the 3 core players are all-star-solid. Rondo is having an amazing career-year, Allen is still deadly as hell, and Pierce can still be relied on every single night. Big Baby and Leon Powe have been unbelievable in KG’s absence and look like very good fill-ins and Perk is a force in the middle for D. The problem is, with KG sidelined, their defensive anchor is gone and they lose a consistent mid-range pop-out shooter (unless you want to count Big Baby’s nifty outside jumpers). The bigger problem is their bench. Posey is gone as well as PJ Brown and the replacements ARE… (drumroll…), the very reliable Starbury, Tony Allen, Mikki Moore and Eddie House.
Any chance of an upset? My answer is YES. This young Bulls team is very hungry and more importantly confident and I would not count them out just yet. The trade that brought in Brad Miller and John Salmons made the Bulls a very dangerous deep team and they really are 8 players solid, and it would have been 9 if Deng wasn’t dinged up. They are also a very good defensive team and their players know their roles. Salmons is key here and if he plays the kind of ball he is capable of, the Celtics are in quite a bit of trouble. If Deng was still in the lineup, this series would be even as he plays great D on Pierce. If you shut Pierce down with KG gone, the Celtics are in for a long series and even a possible First Round goner. BUT, champions are champions and I think if the Celtics get in troubled waters, KG will suck it up and play, but that’s just me.
PICK: Celtics in 7.
(3) Orlando Magic vs (6) Philadelphia 76ers
I’ve been hearing everyone say that the Magic are going to sweep the 76ers but I seriously doubt they can. The last 3 games these 2 teams have played were pretty close and Jameer wasn’t even in the last two. The key here is the status of Dalembert as he is day-to-day as of the moment. Without that inside defensive presence in front of Dwight, the Magic will definitely sweep, but with Sam in the lineup, the 76ers will be able to win at least a game at home.
Dwight Howard leads the league in rebounding and blocks while being surrounded by FOUR solid three-point shooters. He’s having a career-year and he’s looking to bring the Magic as far as he possibly can without the help of his backcourt mate Jameer Nelson. Alston has been a very effective replacement BUT I think the loss of Nelson will show more in the playoffs especially in the clutch. Turkoglu and Rashard are key though as they are coming off injuries. If they come back healthy, there should be no way the 76ers can pull off an upset here.
Everyone is counting the 76ers out but they know they can beat the Magic. All their games have been close and having that in mind, I’m pretty sure the new AI and Andre Miller have optimistic goals of reaching the 2nd Round. The keys to their success will be how good Dalembert plays Howard in the post and how well the 76ers can defend the raining threes from Hedo and Rashard. But they need solid big games from Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams to have any chance in this series as well as very strong play from Willie Green. That’s quite a lot of if’s, but it’s a possibility at least.
PICK: Magic in 5.
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs (5) Miami Heat
This is definitely the best match-up in the East in the First Round. Dwyane Wade is having a MONSTER season (on both offensive and defensive ends (ranks 16th in blocks for a PG!) and as much as everyone is talking about Lebron being a shoo-in to win MVP, Wade should seriously be considered as well. For me it’s just a two-man race, Kobe and Dwight aren’t even close to the level these two have consistently played in all year long.
The Hawks are a very good young team and their starting five is rock pretty good. With Marvin Williams coming off an injury, the Hawks are better off with him playing 100% as he really is the key to them winning this series. Josh Smith has been playing well, Bibby and Joe have been consistent all year and Horford is a strong presence in the middle. Their bench is pretty thin though with Flip Murray, Mo Evans, and Zaza spelling the starters. Those aren’t really players you can count on even if Flip has been playing well lately.
I’m very high on the Heat’s chances in this series and I’m picking them to come out of the First Round against the Hawks. They aren’t really a one-man team as everyone says they are. The last 3 games saw the emergence and the amazing potential of Beasley and he is perfect coming off the bench but he is also great starting. There is no doubt in my mind that the Heat can and will pull this one off IF Wade doesn’t get injured and if Beasley plays to his potential.
PICK: Heat in 6.
West First Round Matchups