The race to the NBA playoffs is just starting to get interesting. Here is a renewed look at how the first round of the playoffs is shaping up, along with my predictions on outcomes.
1. Cleveland Cavs v 8. Detroit Pistons
Initially it looked like the Bobcats might grab this eighth spot with the recent poor showing by the Pistons, but the young guns of the Pistons have managed to hold the ship afloat. In addition, the Pistons have a much easier run home than the Bobcats do. Cleveland will make short work of the Pistons here -- this is not like recent years where the Cavs were the young challenger to the experienced Pistons.
Prediction: Cleveland win 4-1
2. Orlando Magic v 7. Chicago Bulls
The Bulls have actually looked improved in recent weeks. The additions of John Salmons and Brad Miller has done wonders for the team. Luol Deng's absence hurts though, as it has done for much of the season. The Magic have steamrolled almost all opponents in their path this season behind Dwight Howard and the Bulls will be no exception. Look at this as a great learning experience for Derrick Rose, Bulls fans.
Prediction: Magic win 4-1
3. Boston Celtics v 6. Philadelphia 76ers
The Cs are just reloading with the return of Kevin Garnett to the fray. However come playoff time they are still the battle-tested team that were titlists in 2008. The Sixers will put up a fight, but will be lucky to take out a game.
Prediction: Celtics win 4-0
4. Atlanta Hawks v 5. Miami Heat
By far the most entertaining series in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. It will be a high-flying team in the Hawks against a high-flying one man show in Dwyane Wade. This one will go all the way. It is worth noting that the Hawks are a fantastic home team and a poor road team -- look for this one to go on home court advantage most of the way. Somehow I can see Wade stealing a game in Atlanta though, taking out this series.
Prediction: Heat win 4-3
1. Los Angeles Lakers v 8. Dallas Mavericks
The Lakers are an unstoppable force, led by an unflappable scorer and top-class defender in Kobe Bryant. The likely return of Andrew Bynum off the bench will not help this squad's chances either. Dirk Nowitzki will put up his share of 30 point games, but ultimately this will be a warmup for the Lakers en route to the Finals.
Prediction: Lakers win 4-1
2. San Antonio Spurs v 7. New Orleans Hornets
The West is tighter than your dad's wallet in a recession right now. The gap between the Spurs and the Hornets is only 3.5 games right now -- that is just ridiculous. There is every chance that the Jazz could be sitting in this spot, playing the Spurs, or they could even be playing the Rockets in this position. Everything could change, but sticking with this prediction, this will be a great series. San Antonio is lacking the power of Manu Ginobili, but Drew Gooden is a solid addition in the big man department. The golden rule is, never ever misunderestimate Tony Parker and Tim Duncan. Chris Paul may pull out all stops, but at the end of the day, there is noone on the Hornets (David West included) who is as reliable in the clutch as TP and TD.
Prediction: Spurs win 4-3
3. Houston Rockets v 6. Utah Jazz
The Rockets just do not have any luck when it comes to injuries. Perhaps a product of this is the fact that they do not have any success in the NBA playoffs of late. The loss of Tracy "Knee-Mac" McGrady again for the season placed a foreboding dark cloud over the Rockets' hopes. Yao Ming alone is not enough to win a series and unfortunately for the Rockets, Ron Artest is not enough to fill the gap. The Jazz are a team in fine form and their team chemistry is firing on cylinders. With a floor general like Deron Williams, Pacific Ocean-like depth on the bench and a seasoned coach in Jerry Sloan, the Jazz will take this series out in style.
Prediction: Jazz win 4-2
4. Denver Nuggets v 5. Portland Trail Blazers
The Nuggets have hit their straps in the last week. Carmelo Anthony is in his finest scoring form, Linas Kleiza is contributing well, Kenyon Martin hasn't broken anything by stretching the wrong way and of course, Mr Big Shot, Chauncey Billups is who he is. They have a very deep second unit, yet they will be coming up against a team that can rival them on many of those fronts. The Blazers are as deep as any team in the league, have a steadfast leader in Brandon Roy, a dynamic frontcourt scorer in LaMarcus Aldridge and fantastic defence under the basket. This one will be a thrillride of a series, however I'm going to show some Blazer bias here and go with my feeling that the Blazers can pull a little more out of that youthfully exuberant bag and win this.
Prediction: Blazers win 4-3