A month ago, it was a forgone conclusion that the Cavs and Lakers would meet in the Finals. The Celtics were going to lose in the first or second round to younger, faster teams. The Suns didn’t have enough star power. The Mavs could out-talent the rest of the West. Public opinion would be 0-4-1 with a maybe on the Lakers behalf.
So what does this mean? Don’t listen to the court of common knowledge! Things aren’t as they seemed when the playoffs started in late April. The Lakers look lazy. The Celtics look three years younger. Steve Nash clearly has hockey-like toughness.
Old men are the new thing with Steve Nash (36), Paul Pierce (32), Kevin Garnett (33), Ray Allen (34), and Kobe Bryant leading their teams deep into the playoffs. But injuries to players like Kobe and Andrew Bynum could make the difference between a third round exit and the finals spotlight.
We are now 15 days away from the NBA Finals, so we are about to see the best of the best put it all on the line and fight for a ring.
Celtics (3) over Magic (2) in 6
Last season, the Magic caused matchup problems to every team. With Hedo Turkoglu leading the way, no team could match their length and size. Now, Hedo is gone and Vince Carter is in, so the team is certainly different then before. Now, there is no apparent player who will take a last second shot. Dwight Howard can’t shoot. Rashard Lewis isn’t dependable enough. Jameer Nelson isn’t even 6′, and Vince Carter is known for dunking (which he can’t do too well any more) and coming up short late.
One of the biggest surprises of the playoffs has been how much of an enigma Dwight Howard has been. Not only has he not showed up to play his best, but he is constantly sitting on the bench with multiple fouls. And when he is on the court, he hasn’t been doing much right. The Celtics have two players who can absolutely stop Superman. Rasheed Wallace and Kendrick Perkins can’t do much on the offensive end, but both have turned their game up a couple notches for the playoffs. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen have a killer instinct that no one on the Magic is even close to having. Boston also has the best player on the court: Rajon Rondo. Rondo has been averaging nearly 18 points, 11 assists, and 6 rebounds these playoffs – and he’s doing it without much effort.
In the end, the Celtics have experience. In the regular season, youth tops age. But in the playoffs, experience tops rawness. No one will step up for Orlando. Boston wants it more. Orlando is rusty after running over a under-prepared Atlanta Hawks team and getting a week off. It all adds up and when Boston takes one or even two in Orlando, this series will be over in 6.
Suns (3) over Lakers (1) in 7
The Lakers absolutely symbolize Los Angeles. Kobe is crazy, and the rest of the team is lazy. The coach is a great strategist, but incredibly passive at the same time. The Suns are just the opposite. Up-beat. Run n’ Gun. All offense no defense. In a clash of opposites, we will see blow outs on both sides.
Steve Nash is a man on a mission these playoffs. Already a two-time MVP, he has never found success in the playoffs. Now that Phoenix defeated their long-time rival Spurs, the only team left in their way is the Lakers. Amare Stoudemire has been a force and no one can run the pick-and-role. Robin Lopez will be coming back and will be essential to stop LA bigs Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Normally, inserting a player who has been out for an extended period of time is a good way to mess up chemistry, but any time you can take out Jarron Collins from your starting lineup, it will likely help.
The Lakers historically have gone as Kobe has gone. Now that Kobe won a championship ring without Shaq, Kobe has switch from selfish record book Kobe to win at all costs Kobe back to selfish Kobe. He would rather prove that he can outscore and out-stat LeBron James and everyone else in the game. Derek Fisher can’t guard any point guards, so Steve Nash should have his way with Fish and the Lakers. Grant Hill can do a respectable job guarding Kobe, and since he has so little offensive expectations, he can focus exetensively on stopping the Black Mamba.
Phoenix is deeper, quicker, smarter, and have more reasons to win. They will be more focused and will surprise the Lakers and their fans by sneaking a Game 7 win in the Staples Center from a underwhelming crowd.