Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Orlando Magic
The Cleveland Cavaliers have been awaiting their opponent after easily competing their second consecutive sweep of the playoffs taking down the Atlanta Hawks 4-0. That opponent will come in the form of the Orlando Magic, who promptly ousted the reigning NBA Champion Boston Celtics in Game 7 at The Boston Garden.
Cleveland Will Win If- They come up with a strategy to stop Dwight Howard in the post. Ben Wallace is going to have to bring back his defensive play from his championship days in Detroit, when he frustrated Shaquille O’Neal. If Wallace can contain Howard on the glass and prevent his easy buckets Cleveland is sure to take this series. Moe Williams has a nice match up with Rafer Alston, as he should definitely be able to take advantage of this on the offensive end. Lebron James is going to have to continue his high level of play, which we all expect him to do, but this series will be his chance to develop the lacking clutch game to his repertoire, thanks to Orlando’s struggles to finish close games late.
Orlando Will Win If- They bring their game from Game 7 in Boston to the Eastern Conference Finals. Dwight Howard is going to present the biggest mismatch of the series. He has to completely dominate in the post and on the glass on both ends of the court. Howard will also have to improve his scoring output. Dwight must also stay out of foul trouble while also providing an effective last line of defense on Lebron’s drives. The Magic have to continue to penetrate and find Howard for the easy baskets. Hedo Turkoglu has to continue to be the playmaker and finisher throughout the series. Rashard Lewis has to needs to play up to his paycheck and take advantage of his skill set and versatility. Mistakes and bad shots need to be kept at a minimum from Rafer Alston. The bench will also play a tremendous role in this series. Pietrus is the best option to shadow Lebron and his clutch shooting from 3-point range will be necessary. Anthony Johnson and Courtney Lee will also play big defensive roles off the bench as Johnson can defend Moe Williams much better then Alston and Lee will be constantly working hard to shadow his assignment while also picking up his involvement in the offense.
Prediction- This series will in no way resemble either of the first two series the Cleveland Cavaliers have been involved in so far this playoffs. Orlando is the team that matches up best with the Cavs in the Eastern Conference and I expect an extremely competitive series. LeBron James will obviously get his, but expect him to get somewhat frustrated and limited by the length and athleticism of Pietrus and Turkoglu. The Dwight Howard mismatch is going to be too much for Lebron to overcome. I’m sure David Stern will be disappointed, but look for the Magic to fight past Lebron and the Cavs despite some controversial calls that are sure to go Lebron’s way late in games. Orlando in 7.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets
The LA Lakers seesaw performance continued throughout the Western Conference semifinals, but they managed to survive a tight series against the banged up Houston Rockets with a rather comfortable Game 7 victory. The Lakers reward, a match up with the hungry highflying Denver Nuggets. The Nuggets have contentedly eliminated both the New Orleans Hornets and Dallas Mavericks in five games apiece, and now set their sights on the Lakers.
Los Angeles Will Win If- They play to their talent and keep their effort going at a more consistent pace. Kobe Bryant will need to dominate on the offensive end of the ball. Laker big men will need to take advantage of their size advantage inside. Pau Gasol will be counted on to produce at a high level throughout the series. Trevor Ariza will need to provide some sort of containment on Carmelo Anthony and will have to continue to be a big producer on offense. Lamar Odom is going to have to step his game up and produce up to his skill set. The Lakers bench will also play a key role in this series, as Luke Walton will be a pivotal versatile producer. Farmar will have to continue his solid playoff production and the dangerous Sasha Vujacic has to get back to his sharp shooting ways.
Denver Will Win If- The Lakers slip up or try to snooze through the series. Denver is an explosive team that is full of weapons. Melo is the team’s best offensive force and he will have to continue to dominate and score at will. Billups’ leadership will be at full force and his ability to post up Fisher should work to his advantage. Kenyon Martin and Nene need to keep the movement at a constant pace, as their speed and explosiveness are what can get the best of the Lakers bigs. Off the bench JR Smith will need to be making the majority of the long distance shots he’s guaranteed to fire up. The “Birdman” will be a key energy guy off the bench. He will need to have a presence on defense and a key rebounder on both ends of the court. Kleiza will need to be the x factor for Denver, especially in Los Angeles, as his game on offense can be a huge addition to the Nuggets.
Prediction- Don’t be surprised to see this series go the distance with the combination of the Lakers inconsistency and the Nuggets firepower. Expect a back and forth series that will come down to another Game 7 at The Staples Center. Denver will get their wins thanks to their energy and hard work on both sides of the court. Look for Kobe to have a high scoring series as Denver lacks a “Kobe container”, and for Gasol to get the Denver big men in foul trouble when the series is on the line. Game 7 will go down to the wire unlike in the LA-Houston series and Kobe will prove why he is considered the best closer in the NBA having just enough to out clutch Carmelo Anthony. Los Angeles in 7.