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The Two Cents NBA playoffs preview

17

April

Lebron Thought you had the NBA playoffs all figured out, didn't you?  After the Celtics and Lakers met in last year's title series, it seemed like just the beginning of those legendary teams meeting year after year. But now comes word that Boston's Kevin Garnett might miss the postseason. LeBron James' Cavaliers have established themselves as the team to beat, with the Magic right behind. Out West, every single team is good enough to take out any of the others. The Jazz went 48-34 and that was good for only eighth place. Five teams won at least 50 games and the Lakers won 65.So with that in mind, here is your Two Cents preview of the NBA playoffs.

Team to beat in the East
It's only a matter of time before LeBron James wins an NBA title. Now might be that time. The Cavaliers lost only 16 games and just missed the NBA record by going 39-2 at home. Clearly, however, the Cavs have their eyes on the big prize. With a chance to tie the NBA home-record mark, the Cavs sat many of their regulars, including James, in the season finale to rest up for the playoffs. That shows where their focus is. And with Kevin Garnett out and the fact that Cleveland doesn't have to beat both Boston and Orlando to get the final, the Cavs are the team to beat.

Bynum Team to beat in the West
As great as Kobe Bryant is for the Lakers, the key player might be Andrew Bynumwho missed a good chunk of the season with an injury. Without him, the Lakers'control over the West was a little weaker. But now that Bynum is back, the Lakers clearly sit atop of the mountain. A veteran team like the Spurs could give the Lakers problems, but it just doesn't seem likely.

Team you should root for
Sure, you can be boring and root for the Lakers or Celtics, which is like rooting for the sun to come up. Or maybe you would like to see LeBron James win an NBA title in Cleveland because eventually he's going to leave for a big market like New York. But if you want be like all the cool kids, find a fresh young team for which to root. Here are two: Portland and Orlando.

The Trail Blazers haven't won an NBA title since 1977 and the Magic has never won one. Portland is loaded with young stars, Greg Oden, Brandon Roy and Rudy Fernandez, the Spanish sensation who comes off the bench. Here's some hope if Portland plays the Lakers in West final: The Blazers have won 10 straight in Portland against L.A. Portland, however, might be a little too young to make a lot of noise in this postseason. For the Magic, center Dwight Howard, is a monster in the middle and if Kevin Garnett can't play, there's no one in the East who can stop him. The gap between the Magic and Cavs, however, might be too wide.

Howard First-round predictions
Eastern Conference
Cavaliers vs. Pistons
: The Cavs only lost two homes games all season (and one of those was without LeBron James). Detroit has made six straight Eastern Conference final appearances, but that streak ends in a hurry. Cavs in five.
Celtics vs. Bulls: No Kevin Garnett? It shouldn't stop the Celtics from winning this series, but they could be extended an extra game or two. Celtics in six.
Magic vs. Sixers: The Magic swept the three games in the season series and the 76ers have no one who can stop Dwight Howard. Of the top three seeds in the East, the Magic might have the most favorable first-round matchup. Magic in five.
Hawks vs. Heat: Bring food and supplies because this figures to be a long series. Miami has the best player of the series in the amazing Dwyane Wade and he has some help since the acquisition of Jermaine O'Neal. But Atlanta won three of the four meetings during the season. Flip a coin. Hawks in seven.

Paul Western Conference
Lakers vs. Jazz: Look at how good the West is. The Jazz won 48 games and finished eighth. But Utah stumbled down the stretch, winning only two of its final nine. Too much Kobe Bryant for the Jazz to handle in this series. Lakers in five.
Nuggets vs. Hornets: Denver hasn't advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 1994 and star Carmelo Anthony has never won a postseason series (0-5). Those droughts will end, but it won't be easy. New Orleans' Chris Paul is good enough to win a couple of games by himself. Nuggets in seven.
Spurs vs. Mavericks: Might be the most intriguing series of the first round. The teams tied the season series 2-2 with each winning once on the other’s floor. The Spurs get the edge for two reasons -- homecourt advantage and more championship experience. Spurs in seven.
Blazers vs. Rockets: For as talented as the Rockets are (Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady) they have lost seven straight postseason series. Ron Artest could be the piece that breaks that string. Portland is young and hungry. It'sthe Blazers’ first playoff appearance since 2003. If Greg Oden can stay healthy, I  like Portland. Blazers in seven.

[Last modified: Monday, June 14, 2010 3:42pm]

    

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