Finally, after a pre-pre season in October and a pre-season from November to mid- April it's go time as the real season starts this weekend... the 2009 NBA Playoffs. Let's start with the weaker Eastern Conference (yes, they may have three heavy weights in Orlando, Boston and Cleveland but CLEARLY the bottom 5 would be lottery bound in the west) and break down each series.
Cleveland (1) vs. Detroit (8) - My biggest question for Cleveland heading into the playoffs: do they have a fifth gear? Well looking at their path to the Finals, I'm not sure they even need a 4th gear. Detroit is rudderless, coachless, depthless (is that a word?) and... well they're merely a shell of the team that went to the ECF's six straight years. Kwame Brown started 30 games! Again, Joe Dumars, the GM that EVERYONE in the media loves signed Kwame Brown for 2-years at $8 mil. per, helped Denver become a 2-seed and killed Allen Iverson's will to play (no player played with more heart and soul than A.I. but hiring Michael Curry and then trading for A.I. did the unthinkable... it killed A.I.). The Pistons are headed straight for lottery land for years to come (seriously, will any free agent want to go to Detroit... ever?). Everyone, let's give Joe Dumars a huge standing ovation... (insert sarcastic clap here.)
Anyway, not much to say about this series. Detroit has no chance as Cleveland wins 4-0.
Boston(2) vs. Chicago (7) - First off, it's VERY disappointing to hear that KG may miss the rest of the season. The 2009 playoffs NEEDED Boston to properly defend their title. We needed to see Boston respond in a full 7-game series to the Cavs taunting from last weekend. And as a Lakers fan, I really wanted to win the NBA Championship against Boston with Kobe winning the Bull Russel Memorial MVP Trophy, Phil Jackson winning the Red Auerbach Memorial Coach of the Playoffs Trophy, have Sasha Vujacic winning the Danny Ainge Memorial All-Tears-All-Complaints Award in the playoffs and any other trophy that the NBA decides to name after Boston Celtics (hey commish, there's a lot more to the NBA's history than dead Celtics!!!!). Anyway, it's disappointing about the KG situation... but I did predict it last October with my very real Boston Icon Curse.
The defending champs have the experience, talent (Pierce is still one of the best playoff closers in the game) and coaching (Doc River's and his ghost writer coach Tom Thibodeau runs circles around Vinny the Black) to win this series. People will use the Bulls strong finish as a reason to make Chicago a threat in the series but I just don't see it. I think Chicago's goal after a horrendous start was to simply make the playoffs and they''ll carry a "just happy to be here" attitude as Boston wins 4-1.
Orlando (3) vs. Philadelphia (6) - Is Orlando ready for the next step this postseason? Will Turkoglu be healthy enough? Is there anything in Dwight Howard's sudden drop in play with Orlando playing for the #2 seed? Will Rafer Alston kill the Magic in the playoffs? Does Orlando have that go to guy necessary during playoff crunchtime? They really don't need to answer these questions against a pesky 76ers squad. Obviously the key in this series is for Orlando to control the pace and feed Dwight Howard constantly. If the Sixers were a futbol team, I'd call them the ultimate counter-attack squad. They love off turnovers and fast break points and Orland needs to just slow it down to win easily. I think Philadelphia rides their home crowd and makes this series a little more challenging but Orlando wins 4-2.
And by the way, that last question about a go to guy during crunchtime... the answer is a resounding no and THAT is why they wouldn't get by a healthy Boston or Cleveland... the key word being healthy.
Atlanta (4) vs. Miami (5) - Easily the most competitive series in the Eastern Conference. Will Wade ride his MVP-ish season past Atlanta to a potentially epic clash with LeBron? (BTW - he's a distant third to Kobe and LeBron only because his team is terrible and only made the playoffs because they're in a lesser conference... and you really can't give MVP awards to players on bad teams... I call it the Kobe in 2006 rule.) Everyone outside of Atlanta wants a LeBron-Wade matchup, ABC/TNT wants a LeBron-Wade matchup... I WANT A LEBRON-WADE MATCHUP!!! But unless the refs go 2006 NBA Finals on the series and give Wade 97 freethrows a game I think Atlanta will disappoint us because of home court advantage. Atlanta wins 4-3.
One last and very important thing... I am really concerned about the potential repeat of the 2006 NBA Finals with LeBron or Wade. Obvously they are the present and future of the NBA and with the economy down and season ticket renewalls lagging there's a need for superstars to shine this spring. I just hope the refs allow the players to step up without shooting 78 freethrows a game.