Today: May 29, 2024

Opinion: NBA Playoff Predictions

Kobe Bryant is going for his sixth championship and third in a row.

Jake DeVellis, Special to the Southern News:

As the NBA regular season comes to a close, playoff time is right around the corner. Beginning April 16, the top teams in the league will square off for two months of what promises to be awe-inspiring action.

The playoffs will answer many questions I’ve posed throughout the 82-game regular season. Can the Heat live up to the hype LeBron created when he chose to “take his talents to South Beach?” Will Kobe complete a second “three-peat” in his career, bringing the title back to the Lakers? Are the aging Spurs and Celtics too old for championship success? Is the East’s first seed, the Chicago Bulls, ready to elevate onto a championship level? These questions and more will be an­swered once the Larry O’Brien Trophy is hoisted in mid-June. Here is a rundown of the two conferences and some predic­tions of what to expect:

EAST:

THE CONTENDERS– MVP front runner Derrick Rose has led Chicago to a surprising first place finish. Rose’s dynamic play making ability, along with big men Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, make the Bulls a legitimate contender for the first time since the Jordan Era. They do not have an easy road, however, as the East is filled with superior talent.

The ‘Big Three’ promised multiple championships when they joined forces last summer. Well, they finally have a chance to prove themselves in the playoffs. A roster containing LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh will be extremely tough to beat if these three All-Stars play as they are capable of. Miami was plagued by early season chemistry issues, but still managed to have a successful campaign in the first year of the ‘Big Three’ experiment.

Boston’s triumvirate of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce has already proven their worth. Last season, the Celtics fell one game short of capturing their sec­ond championship in three years. Flashy point guard Rajon Rondo averages 11 assists per game as the team’s floor general. Questions about the team’s toughness have been persistent since trading Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder in February.

Orlando is led by dominant center Dwight Howard. He greatly improved his offensive presence this season, averaging 23 points and 14 rebounds per game. The Magic are also only two years removed from an NBA Finals appearance.

The Knicks showed their desire to become a serious contender after a mid-season trade for Carmelo Anthony. Amare Stoudemire had a brilliant season for New York, helping lead them to the playoffs for the first time in what seems as a decade. No team will welcome a playoff series having to go against these two superstars

THE PREDICTION– The Bulls, Magic, Heat and Celtics will all advance to the second round. LeBron and company then outduel the Celtics in an epic series to reach the Conference Finals. Boston is unable to establish an inside defensive presence, which has been a weakness since the Perkins trade. The Bulls, meanwhile, defeat the Magic in a series that sees Derrick Rose emerge as a primetime performer. Miami and Chicago meet up in the Eastern Conference Finals, with the “Big Three” overpower­ing the Bulls. James makes his first NBA Finals appearance since 2007 and it’s Wade first since being named Finals MVP in 2005.

WEST:

THE CONTENDERS– San Antonio is out to prove that age osn’t anything but a number. An aging roster, highlighted by all-stars Tim Duncan and Manu Gino­bili, has a large amount of previous playoff experience.

Los Angeles is searching for their third straight championship. Kobe Bryant leads the Lakers along with a strong front line of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. Phil Jackson is seeking his twelfth career title as head coach.

Dirk Nowitzki has the Dallas Mavericks looking to make a deep postseason run. Eccentric owner Mark Cuban is starving for a title after a decade of being in contention.

Oklahoma City is filled with young talent as scoring machine Kevin Durant can pour on points. Fellow all-star Russell Westbrook is also an electric playmaker who makes the Thunder a team to look out for.

After trading Carmelo Anthony, the Nuggets have become a dark horse con­tender. A team-oriented attack that has propelled Denver in the second half of the season.

Portland is another team to look out for, armed with center LaMarcus Aldridge and swingman Gerald Wallace. The Blazers also have a raucous home court crowd, which is a tough environment for any visiting team.

THE PREDICTION– Spurs, Lakers and Thunder advance along with a first round upset from the Trail Blazers. San Antonio’s age is then exposed in a second round match-up with the youthful Thunder. Duncan is outmatched by Durant in a series that sees the Thunder reach the Conference Finals. The Lakers continue their dominance by handling Portland in a tough series. The Thunder and Lakers square off in a 2010 playoff rematch, with Kobe out-gunning Durant in a thrilling seven game series.

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