Monday, May 18, 2009

NBA Playoff Predictions: Conference Finals

Talk about a letdown. Last Sunday was shaping up to be an epic day of basketball, with two huge Game 7's that figured to to have fans everywhere glued to their couches. Two blowouts later and we are all left wondering where that Lakers team had been all series and how the Magic ever had any trouble with the Sixers in the first round. The Conference Finals could feature a few more blowouts, especially in the Eastern Conference, but it looks like we might have a classic series on our hands in the West.

After going a paltry 2 for 4 in my Round Two predictions, here are my predictions for the Conference Finals:

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Nuggets (2)

Lakers in 7

This should be a good one. The Nuggets are red hot but the Lakers are clearly the more talented team when they are playing at the top of their game. Part of me really wants to go with the Nuggets, especially when you look at how Kenyon Martin and the rest of the Nugget frontcourt figures to beat down the Lakers softies inside, but Denver simply doesn't match-up well with the Lakers. Start with the question of who will guard Kobe Bryant. With Shane Battier hounding him all series, Kobe didn't play great against the Rockets, but he still was able to drop over 30 points three times on the guy who supposedly guards him better than anyone else. Imagine what Kobe will do against Dahntay Jones, who is a solid defender but not in the same class as Battier.

Of course, Kobe won't be able to do it all alone, he needs his supporting cast to step up. The biggest weakness the Lakers have is at point guard, where Derek Fisher can't guard faster players and contributes very little offensively. Unfortunately for the Nuggets, they won't be able to exploit Fisher in the same way that Aaron Brooks of the Rockets did. Chauncey Billups is a great player for sure, but he is no speed demon. If the Lakers play anything like they did against the Rockets in Game 7, this series could be over quickly. Look for the Lakers to remain inconsistent, giving the Nuggets an opening, but L.A. has the edge in experience that will help them to pull out their 3rd straight Game 7.

Eastern Conference
Cavs (1) vs. Magic (3)
Cavs in 5
The Magic showed just how talented they were in dominating the Celtics in Game 7, but look for everything to come crashing down for Orlando against the Cavaliers. The Magic rely too much on the outside shot, something that gives opposing teams as bad as the lowly Sixers a chance to come back from any possible deficit. Of course, I don't expect the Cavs to have a lot of deficits against the Magic, not with LeBron James willing them to victory every night. I am tempted to go with the Cavs in their third straight sweep (Fo' Fo' Fo'), but the Magic will probably get hot one game and squeak out a win. The best thing the Magic have going for them is the fact that Dwight Howard is big enough and strong enough to force LeBron to think twice about taking it to the hole every time on the Magic. Unfortunately for Orlando, LeBron can beat you in so many ways that they simply don't stand a chance.

So those are my predictions. Although it's not as inevitable as before, we still seem headed for a Kobe/LeBron showdown in the NBA Finals. What a series that will be, it will be the perfect way to cap off a thrilling NBA Playoffs.

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