And Then There Were Eight: NBA Second Round

After a stunning Hawks comeback, a big road win for the Lake Show and an inexplicable left handed free throw attempt by now two time MVP LeBron James (hey, at least they won), we’ve weeded out eight pretenders and now are left with eight contenders.  Here we go, series by series.

1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs 4) Boston Celtics

Game one showed us why Boston is not going to beat Cleveland.  You cannot blow a road game like Boston did.  In the late third quarter, the C’s led by 11, but the Cavs just out executed them.  Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett just about disappeared in the fourth quarter, LeBron had a terrific game (35 pts 7 rebs 7 ast), and Mo Williams’ hellacious dunk over Pierce effectively demoralized Boston.  The Celtics are two proud to get swept, but I think the Cavs have what it takes to take one in Chicago and finish it in five.

Verdict: Cavs in 5

2) Orlando Magic vs 3) Atlanta Hawks

These are my two favorites of the East’s final four.  Atlanta’s improbable game six win in Milwaukee certainly leaves them energized and holding momentum.  Orlando meanwhile is probably still all mixed up over how Dwight Howard tied a record for most committed fouls in a four game sweep.  It was not a problem against Charlotte;  it will be against the Hawks.

Still, Orlando is rested.  Jameer Nelson looks great.  They convincingly swept their first round opponent despite a lackluster effort from their consensus best guy.  Add in their home court advantage and they have to be viewed as the favorite.  I don’t think Atlanta will win every home game, but I don’t know if Orlando will either.  I’m gonna go the safe route.  Fasten your seat belts, this baby’s going the distance.

Verdict:  Magic in 7

1) LA Lakers vs 5) Utah Jazz

I’m really liking Utah.  They executed terrifically against Denver and nearly snatched game one.  They’ve got as good a chance as anybody of beating the Lakers.  The issue is a simple question:  who’s going to defend Kobe?

It’s always been the issue for the Jazz.  It’s the premium reason why LA knocked out Utah each of the past two years.  It was the reason why LA was victorious in game one.  He can still execute in crunch time, even though he’s lost a step or two.

But Utah is incredibly tough to beat at home.  They have decent size to match up against the Lakers and they’ve got a phenomenal floor general in Deron Williams.  They will not break against LA, and they will be able to force a seventh game.  But if they can’t grab a win in Los Angeles in games two or five–and I’m not convinced they can–they will certainly not win a game seven there.  Kobe’s down, but he’s definitely not done yet.  Utah’s about to learn just how much he has left in the tank.

Verdict:  Lakers in 7

3) Phoenix Suns vs 7) San Antonio Spurs

Thanks to yet another Mavs choke we’re treated to Suns-Spurs, round 8,262,465 (author estimate).  The Suns are faster, younger and more talented.  They dispatched a Blazers team that tried to make them play slowly by playing their game.  Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker are looking older, and Steve Nash is aware that every playoff run could be his last.  All of this points to a Suns victory.

But wait a minute.  That’s insane.  The Suns never beat the Spurs in the playoffs.  That’s like predicting the Red Sox to beat the Yankees in the ALCS.  That’s like predicting Peyton Manning’s Colts to beat Tom Brady’s Patriots en route to the Super Bowl.  That’s like saying A-Rod, everybody’s favorite choke artist can actually win a World Series

I could go on, but I’m sure you get my point.  Manning, the Red Sox, A-Rod:  they all had their day.  I was one of those skeptics who doubted all of those predictions, just like I’m sure you can’t believe the idea that the Suns could actually beat the Spurs.  But you know what?  The time has come.  I’m calling a Suns victory and I’m willing to take the heat if I’m wrong.  After all isn’t this the NBA:  “where amazing happens”?.  Stay tuned.

Verdict:  Suns in 6

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