Here are the late predications for Round 2. Please note that I had the Hornets winning in seven on the record.
Lakers v. Jazz. The Lakers are thought by many to be the best team in the West. Personally, I think they're the third best team after the Hornets and the Spurs. They may play great basketball but there's not a lot of players on the roster who can play physical basketball, and they lack rebounders. For all the attention Young Andrew Bynum gets, he rebounds like Eddy Curry.
The Jazz are slightly less talented than the Lakers (not by much) but they bring a lot more versatility to the table. If they want to beat you up, they can beat you up. If they want to shoot the lights out, they can shoot the lights out. They're capable of playing offense on the break or in half-court sets and they're coached by the master of half-court disaster himself, Jerry Sloan. Oh, and they play defense.
I just don't think Kobe and the Lakers have what it takes to deal with this. Kobe is a flawed leader with the personality of a Pippen and Pau Gasol is very good seven footer who couldn't box Carlos Boozer out if he literally trapped Boozer in a large wooden box. Throw in the Jazz's superior defense and the Lakers have only two things going for them: Kobe's scoring ability and home-court advantage.
Neither of those two things is small, and Game 1 clearly illustrated that the Jazz can be blown out by this excellent offensive team. However, in the long haul, I'll take Jerry Sloan any day.
Jazz in 7.
Spurs v. Hornets. I already covered this a few days ago. I'm glad the Hornets won their first two games but, like anyone who has been watching basketball in the last few years, I'm not going to count the Spurs out until it's official.
The Spurs are not a good road team, despite their supposed monopoly on fundamentals. This year they were a pathetic 22-19 on the road and they scored 92.8 ppg to their opponents' 92.7. On the other hand, they're almost flawless at home, scoring 98 points and giving up only 88.4 during a regular season in which they only lost 7 home games.
So as much as spectators (including this guy) want the Hornets to be David to the Spurs' Goliath, what happened in the first round isn't actually that surprising. The Hornets were the higher seed, they were playing at home, and they won both games. The Spurs are a bad road team, they got terrible performances from their top two scorers in each of the first two games, and they lost. Were it not for the respective history of the teams, this might not even be a big deal.
What will be a big deal is game three on Thursday. If New Orleans wins that game, they'll be back home for game five and frankly, have a good chance to sweep a demoralized Spurs team in Game 4. However, if the Spurs win, they'll remind New Orleans that 2-1 looks a hell of a lot less impressive than 2-0. Based on the motivation and what's at stake, this has the potential to be the game of the year.
New Orleans in 7.
Boston v. Cleveland. I haven't actually heard any announcers state this but I'm sure there will be a lot of talk about last year's Cavs/Pistons series in which the Pistons were heavily favored but succumbed to what turned into one of the great playoff performances of our time by LeBron.
This year, Boston is the best team in the East, and like the Pistons of 2007, they win through defense and a balance of great players. Like the Pistons of 2007, they don't have anyone remotely qualified to guard LeBron (in fact the 2007 Pistons were better-equipped with Tayshaun Prince). Like the Pistons of 2007, they're a great regular season team with a questionable coach.
There is one big difference here, and it's the reason LeBron is not going to win this series by himself like he did last year against the Pistons: Scoring. Boston can score from four out of five starting positions with ease against the Cavs, and they'll bring a vastly superior bench and considerable advantages at every nonLebron position.
Cleveland is not an awful defensive team but they have big liabilities when they put Ilguaskas or Szczrbiak on the floor ( the former can't run, the latter can't run, defend, pass, or rebound). A team with a couple of defensive liabilities can stop a group like the 2007 Pistons if they can control Chauncey Billups and Rasheed Wallace, but to ask the cast of characters on the Cavs to stay with Garnett, Pierce, and Allen is unreasonable. Even Rondo will have a field day against this soft defensive unit.
Like anyone who follows basketball, betting against LeBron makes me uncomfortable. But when you can't defend and the other team has a great offense, I'm willing to do it.
Celtics in 5.
Magic v. Pistons. This should be the most boring of the playoff series, but it's up against some very tough competition.
I'm making this prediction knowing the Magic are down 2-0, and frankly, at the beginning of the series, I may have picked the Magic. However, in light of the considerable progress of the series, it's clear they have a big problem.
The Pistons have the benefit of two veteran, feisty power forwards (Sheed and McDyess) and one young athletic forward (Maxiell) to defend Dwight Howard and force him outside the key when he plays defense. Indeed, Rasheed Wallace and Antonio McDyess may be the two best shooting forwards other than Nowitzki in the league.
Wallace, McDyess, and Maxiell will leave Tayshaun Prince free to defend either Turkoglu or Rashard Lewis, and the Magic really have no one that can hang with Chauncey or Richard Hamilton.
I think the Magic can take one or two games if Dwight Howard can get Rasheed and/or McDyess in foul trouble and then begin to dominate a weakened frontcourt. Orlando is great at scoring points and should be able to with its perimeter shooters while Howard dominates. But being down 2-0 to the Pistons, who seem to have received a wake-up call from the Sixers, is a bad, bad place to be.
Pistons in Six.
As always, e-mail me at email@example.com