NBA Playoffs Preview, Part Two: Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers

Welcome to Part Two of SportsChump’s NBA Playoff preview.

5 – Will the Nuggets finally strike gold?

The Denver Nuggets have been schizophrenic all season long.  At times, they’ve looked like potential NBA champions.  At others, they’ve looked like the same old, underachieving Nuggets

They got a harsh dose of reality when their head coach George Karl was sidelined to throat cancer treatment.  Adrian Dantley has taken over head coach duties in the interim.  It is still unclear if or when Karl will return.  Obviously his health is this team’s top priority, but from a pure basketball standpoint, Denver has the talent to win a title if they play up to their potential.

The Nuggets actually fared well against the better Western Conference teams, going 8-3 against Los Angeles, Utah and San Antonio.  They have one of the best players in the game in Carmelo Anthony and a veteran point guard in Chauncey Billups who is known for elevating his game in the post-season.  They have one of the game’s nastiest leapers in JR Smith and Kenyon Martin who doesn’t take kindly to pranks that involve popcorn.

They have the best defensive bench player in the league in Chris Anderson, a solid center in Nene Hilario and a rookie in Ty Lawson who would love nothing more than to follow up his North Carolina national championship last year with an NBA title.

But Denver has yet to make the most of its talent and that’s why so many pundits think they’re a paper tiger.  Karl’s healthy return to the sidelines would likely infuse this team with the spirit they need to make a title run but until then, the Nuggets haven’t given us much of a reason to think they’ll be hoisting the O’Brien Trophy in June.

4 – How wilted is Boston’s three-leaf clover?

The Celtics have had their share of trials and tribulations this season.  They still feature the Big Three, Version Two but they have had difficulty against younger, more athletic squads.

As much as it pains me to say this, Kevin Garnett is no longer the KG of old.  In fact, he’s just old.  He’s second only to Jason Kidd in minutes played for active players and it’s starting to show.  Apparently, anything is no longer possible.  Or is it?

Garnett is averaging a career low 14 points per game but he’s not the only Celtic acting his age.  Paul Pierce is averaging a career low 18 ppg.  Ray Allen is averaging a career low 16 ppg.  Even Rasheed Wallace’s numbers are down, except of course for his technical fouls, where he once again leads the league.  Who would have ever guessed that a 170 lb. kid from Louisville, Kentucky who makes one-tenth their salary would be Boston’s best player?  Young teams need veteran leadership but sometimes older teams need a little youth.  Fortunately for the Celtics, they have that in Rajon Rondo.

Despite changes in Boston’s supporting cast, its core is still intact.  Kendrick Perkins has been a solid post presence and will be called upon when the Celtics play Eastern Conference teams with overpowering centers.  They picked up Michael Finley, a move which actually raised the median age of this team.  He has yet to provide any consistent scoring.  They lost Eddie House but added Nate Robinson.  We’ll see how that move comes into play when they need a clutch three pointer.

All this might not be enough to win the East, never mind make it to the Finals.  That being said, nobody wants to play Boston in the playoffs.  Pierce, Garnett and Allen aren’t future Hall of Famers for nothing.  They will likely be playing as if their backs are against the wall.

That’s because they are.  An early out this post-season might mean the disbanding of this team in 2011.

3 – Can Vince Carter perform Magic?

Make no mistake, Orlando is dangerous.  The Magic may be this season’s most consistent team.  They lead the league in point differential at +7.5 points per game.  They beat good teams and bad.  They win on the road and at home.  They’re the fourth best defensive team in the league, meaning Stan Van Gundy’s message has finally sunk in.  Defense wins championships.

Many thought trading for Vince Carter and giving up on young talent like Courtney Lee and a veteran like Hedo Turkoglu was a gamble.  For a while, it looked like those skeptics were right.  Carter started off the season shooting horribly but has finally found his stroke, averaging over 50 FG% in February and March.  A sharp-shooting Vinsanity makes Orlando very difficult to beat.  More than ever, this is Carter’s time to shine.  We’ll see if he takes advantage of it.

Then there’s the best center in the game.  His performance in last year’s Finals was abysmal but after Orlando’s loss to Los Angeles, Dwight Howard vowed to return.  He sat on the bench after Game Five and watched the Lakers celebrate on his own floor,  knowing victory would be that much sweeter when he finally experienced it.  An inspired Dwight Howard is a scary thought but he’ll have to take better shots and turn the ball over less than last year.

We saw Rashard Lewis hit some big shots last post-season.  There’s no reason to expect that won’t continue.  They’ll also have a healthy Jameer Nelson who missed most of last year’s playoffs, disrupting their rhythm.  Orlando has solid role players in Matt Barnes, JJ Redick, Mickael Pietrus and Ryan Anderson.

They have won 18 of their last 21 and are clicking at just the right time.  They are definitely one year better and there’s no reason to think another Finals appearance is outside the realm of possibility.

2 – Is it still Showtime in Los Angeles?

After 82 games in a potent Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers proved they are once again the team to beat.  The question remains whether they’re too beaten down in the process.

Kobe Bryant hasn’t been 100% all season.  Andrew Bynum hasn’t played since Mid-March.  The Lakers are 15-11 since the All-Star break and are only 23-17 on the road.  Derek Fisher is the only guy to play in every game this season and he’s the oldest person on the team.

That being said, we all know the Lakers are able to flip the switch at any given moment.  They definitely need a healthy Bynum, not necessarily for scoring or defense but because when he’s hurt, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol are forced to play out of position.  Gasol is much more effective at power forward than center and Lamar Odom is much more effective at small forward than power forward.  When Bynum’s in the game, L.A. has three guys that are long and strong.  When he’s not, the triangle is out of sync.

Then there’s Ron Artest.  Debate has raged on all season as to whether L.A. did the right thing by trading Trevor Ariza to get Artest.  Well, we’re about to find out.  They acquired Artest to shut down the likes of Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitzki, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James if they get that far.  Anything short of an NBA title would be disappointment.

Do the 2010 Lakers have enough left in the tank?  Five rings would give Kobe one fewer than Michael.  Don’t think that’s not motivation for a man who wants to be remembered as the best ever.  At 31, he’s not getting any younger, considering he’s already been in the league 13 years.

Las Vegas might list the Lakers as favorites to win it all but the road to repeating will not be a walk in the park for last year’s champions.

1 – Will Cleveland finally become witnesses?

Mention the upcoming off-season to a Cavaliers fan and before he tells you that LeBron isn’t going anywhere (which he probably isn’t), he’ll still shudder with nervousness knowing it’s a distinct possibility.  Now ask that fan the same question assuming the Cavs don’t win it all and he might just go into convulsions.

The bottom line is LeBron has to win a title for all of our sakes.  Otherwise, we’ll be subjected to another summer of will he/won’t he and quite frankly, we’ve had enough of that with Brett Favre.

Once again, the Cavaliers enter the post-season with the league’s best record as well as its most frightening player.  This time around, they have one more year of bitterness behind them.  Last year, when Orlando eliminated Cleveland from the playoffs, LeBron left the court without shaking his opponents’ hands, a move he still hasn’t lived down.  If it comes to pass, this year’s Cleveland-Orlando series will be one you will NOT want to miss.

To combat the man-child Dwight Howard, the Cavaliers landed the aging Shaquille O’Neal, who has missed the last two months due to thumb surgery.  Shaq will be ready for the playoffs but his weight, conditioning and now finger are a concern.

In mid-February, the Cavs also landed Antawn Jamison to add another offensive post presence.  They lost the first two games he played but then won 14 of their next 15.  Jamison will definitely present match-up problems for Orlando, who lack a decent, defensive power forward.

Cleveland’s frontcourt still boasts Anderson Varejao, JJ Hickson, Jamario Moon and the second coming of Zydrunas Ilgauskas.  Their backcourt is once again solid with Mo Williams, Delonte West, Anthony Parker and Daniel Gibson.  Oh, and they also have Sebastian Telfair.  It will be VERY interesting to see how many minutes Telfair will get in crunch time.

LeBron’s future status as a Cavalier isn’t the only thing on the line this post-season for Cleveland.  There’s also Mike Brown’s job.  It’s hard to imagine Brown keeping his job if Cleveland doesn’t win it all.

Picture if you will… Cleveland loses in the playoffs and fires Brown.  Phil Jackson retires from Los Angeles after winning another title… then returns to the NBA one last time to coach LeBron James in Cleveland.  I’m not one to start rumors but that scenario doesn’t sound all that preposterous, does it?

Enjoy the playoffs, everyone.

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42 Replies to “NBA Playoffs Preview, Part Two: Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers”

  1. Here are your first round playoff match-ups:

    Western Conference

    Oklahoma City Thunder vs Los Angeles Lakers

    San Antonio Spurs vs Dallas Mavericks

    Portland Trailblazers vs Phoenix Suns

    Utah Jazz vs Denver Nuggets

    Eastern Conference

    Chicago Bulls vs Cleveland Cavaliers

    Charlotte Bobcats vs Orlando Magic

    Milwaukee Bucks vs Atlanta Hawks

    Miami Heat vs Boston Celtics

  2. Go Magic! And they have a back-up center who can start for most teams in the NBA. They need him because Dwight, as good as he is, tends to pick up early fouls. And hey, they have the second best record in the NBA, being the only team to have beaten every franchise. So if it’s a Magic-Lakers rematch, we’ll have home team advantage. All that being said, I don’t think the Lakers have the goods to make it to the finals this year. And the Cavs? Will LBJ leave for NY or other pastures if they win the title this year? Will he leave if they don’t? For that reason, and also because the city of Cleveland deserves it, I wouldn’t be sad if the Cavs go all the way (except…darn, can Shaq just sit this one out?)

  3. Chris

    This just in Kate Gosselin of “reality show” tv fame says that she’ll give up her tv career should the Pirates have a winning season . As and added incentive she says she’ll sleep with the entire Pirates’ roster as well as the coaching staff should they meet that goal.

    So when do you try out for the Pirates ? LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Aah ! The NBA playoffs , ‘joy’ and “sweet music” to my ears !
    I’m lovin’ it already ! Almost as much lying ‘tween the sheets and having both Halle Berry and Scarlett Johansson rub whipped cream and baby oil all over my body. And then we do what comes “oh so naturally” ! No, not fall asleep . LOL,LOL,LOL !!!

    Alan Parkins

  4. Before we get started, I would like to extend a sincere apology to Phoenix Suns fans.

    When I first started writing this two part preview, I didn’t pay the Suns any mind. I simply thought they were the same old Suns… good but not good enough.

    But they have looked VERY good lately. They have won 14 of their last 16. Steve Nash is playing as well as he’s ever played, as is Amare Stoudamire.

    This team should breeze by Portland and give the winner of the San Antonio-Dallas series all they want.

  5. Elizabeth…

    Great point about Gortat. He is definitely solid. Showed up BIG time last year. I’m glad the franchise had enough sense to keep him around. How ridiculous is it to say that the Magic don’t lose much when Dwight takes a breather?

    I am PSYCHED for that Orlando-Cleveland series which I honestly think is an inevitability.

    If I had to go out on a limb, how about choosing Dallas over Denver in the Western Conference Finals and Orlando to play…. and beat Dallas.

    Oh god… now that’s down in writing.

  6. As much as I despise the Lakers, I have a feeling they will turn it on. Their real weakness lies in their depth. Sasha (The Machine) Vujacic got hurt last night, Walton has nerve issues, Bynum is at best a question mark. Maybe Adam Morrison will have to become a hero…lol. The Thunder are a tougher matchup for the Lakers than either Denver or Utah in my opinion. Fisher is going to really have a tough time with Westbrook. Durant kind of neutralizes Kobe. So it comes down to whose 2nd option plays better…Westbrook or Gasol. Could be a good series. In other news…Go Suns!

  7. FYI… here’s how Vegas has ’em:

    Cavs +125
    Lakers +180
    Magic + 575
    Celtics + 1300
    Mavs + 1600
    Nuggets +1600
    Hawks + 1600
    Spurs + 1600
    Jazz + 1600
    Thunder + 1900
    Suns + 2200
    Blazers + 3600
    Bobcats + 5000
    Heat + 5000
    Bucks + 5000
    Bulls + 7500

    With those numbers, I’m inclined to think Dallas has the best comeback.

  8. Vegas has the Celtics that high to win it! I think the Heat are going to give them trouble round one. Accoring to Vegas the Suns are the 7-seed, apparently they haven’t been watching recently as they tore it up the 2nd half of the season

  9. I was kind of surprised at that number too, Adam.

    I mean, think about it.

    If I asked you the fourth most likely team to win the Finals, would you say the Celtics?

    Me either.

  10. You know I am torn between Celtics and Cavs. I love me some Paul Pierce, but I would be happy to see Cleveland finally able to have bragging rights. And I sure would like to keep LeBron in Cleveland.

  11. DB…. This is gonna be it for this Celtics team as it exists now. As least that’s the popular opinion.

    I’m not sure who’s under contract next year but I think Ray Allen’s is up. And there’s been talk of Doc Rivers wanting out to be able to spend time with his two sons, one of which is coming to play for Billy Donovan. Awwww yeah!

    I know Cleveland is thirsting for a title but hey, so is Orlando. And I honestly think the Magic are better.

    You know where my allegiances lay.

  12. Al, don’t get me wrong. I like the Spurs. I respect the dynasty they built.

    I just think these Mavs want it a little more. I think the series will go the full seven games.

    While it wouldn’t surprise me if the Spurs pulled of the upset, I still think the Mavs have the edge in the series.

  13. Most intriguing teams for me are mostly out of the west. I want to see Durant go off, Portland play well, and don’t sleep on those Jazz. But my hearts with the Hawks and I can only hope, no pray, that Charlotte gives Orlando some trouble. I don’t want us facing the magic after they’ve rested for a week. Good Post!

  14. The Bird is the Word…

    Thanks for reading and let’s stay in touch.

    I feel ya’, man. I’m a Magic fan but I’m also a Florida boy so I love me some Al Horford.

    You’re right. I think the Hawks will meet their maker when they face Orlando but they’ll give ’em a fight.

    A fight which I honestly don’t see Charlotte giving. Not with their nomad coach, Larry Brown, allegedly one foot out the door.

  15. GREAT article Chris. You highlighted all the reasons why this postseason has me more excited than I think I’ve ever been. Anyone could win it. By the way, nice LBJ/Favre comparison!

    StubbornBird- I WILL sleep on the Jazz even though I love them. It’s the same story, different year. They don’t play enough defense. It’s as simple as that.

    I also think the Lakers are a bit overrated, especially with Bynum’s status. Durant will get them a game or two in his first trip to the playoffs, and then 1-2 years down the road, the West will be his!

    * I didn’t touch Orlando because I don’t want to jinx my team!

  16. Al… there’s no arguing that Kidd’s door is closing but come on, if anyone’s door is shutting hard, it’s San Antonio’s.

    Duncan’s aging and Ginobili is rumored to play abroad. What does that leave you?

    Kidd’s really the only old fart on Dallas. Dirk is still unguardable and wants it more than anyone on the Spurs roster, including Richard Jefferson. And don’t sleep on Shawn Marion in this series. He could very well run amok.

    I’m still taking Dallas.

    Sorry, bra.

  17. Luc…

    Nice to see we’re on the same page with Orlando.

    I agree that this might be the same Jazz tune. I’m just not so sure that roster, despite the mismatches they present, can win a title the way the rest of the teams line up.

    And if Bynum, and Kobe, aren’t 100%, we could be on the verge of witnessing a franchise win it all that’s never won before, i.e., Dallas, Cleveland, Orlando.

    That wouldn’t be so bad for the league now, would it?

  18. I really believed early in the season that Boston could make another legit run, especially with the addition of Rasheed Wallace, but that seems far from likely now. I would love to see them get it together, but father time may be calling.

  19. FDF… Thanks, man.

    Ya know, I hate to say this but I think I agree with you on the Nuggets. They look like they have totally given up. I understand what they’re going through with Karl but they still have jobs to do. And that window is going to close soon.

    A buddy of mine and I actually took a future out on the Nuggets this season. We got ’em at +3500 and at the beginning of the season, which looked like a steal. Now I don’t think there’s gonna be any way for us to hedge that back.

  20. Al… I heard Hill’s been getting his accolades. That’ll help them in the playoffs.

    But I think you agree with me that this team could not have made a push without TP.

  21. PJ… like I said, I don’t think anyone wants to play Boston. They’ll have a tough time covering D Wade in the first round but who DOESN’T have a tough time covering D Wade.

    I have them advancing though and then giving Cleveland a tough time.

    Can you imagine if Boston beat the Cavs? I think the entire town of Cleveland would go into mourning.

  22. Can you stand another post about the Magic? I wish that Charlotte wasn’t coached by one of the best coaches in the NBA, and owned by one of the greatest legends of basketball. That gives them an extra edge. Good thing they are not a good road team, although they did beat the Magic at Amway last month with Gerald Wallace. Great exhibition of coaching by Brown. I’ll be at Game 2 and Game 5.

    The craziness begins today…how is my son ever going to finish his college projects during the playoffs?

  23. Oh come on, Elizabeth. Brown has no USC ties so I’ve trying to rationalize your allegiance.

    Yes, he’s a great coach but I think it’s a stretch to call him one of the best coaches in the NBA.

    Personally, I think his act is tired. I commend him on a job well done this season but to let any word of him wanting to move to Philadelphia to coach the Sixers a week before their first ever playoff appearance when they have a HUGE task at hand ahead of them in the Magic I actually think is quite weak.

    I fully expect them to get swept.

  24. Enjoyed reading the two part preview, Chris. As an NBA junkie the next couple of months should be sensational. I expect half of the first round series to go the full seven games.

    LeBron and the Cavs are definitely the favorites (with the Lakers a close second), but don’t be surprised if another team wins it all.

  25. I think there will be some upsets and I’m looking forward to the out come of the Boston/Miami series. The East will be tough but the Cavs will have to battle with the Magic in the Conference Finals. Lakers and Nuggets West Conference Finals those are my predictions.

  26. Alexes…

    The Boston/Miami series suddenly got a lot more interesting with the Garnett suspension.

    And the Lakers and Nuggets can’t face each other in the Western Conference Finals as if they both advance, they’ll play each other in the next round.

  27. Magic looked dominant for most of the game last night…especially SuperDwight…smacking away 7 in the 1st quarter. I will take Howard over Shaq any day…especially when it comes to work ethic and attitude!

  28. PJD… to think that Dwight Howard could go onto have a better career than Shaq is a stretch. Keep in mind, Shaq still has the four rings and although Dwight’s young, that’s still quite a feat.

    Shaq is still probably the fifth best center ever behind Wilt, Russell, Kareem and Hakeem. Those are big shoes to fill.

    Now, onto the Magic. I REALLY like their chances and I’m okay with Orlando taking their foot off the gas and letting Charlotte come back a little in Game One. It’ll remind them not to take any team lightly going into the next rounds.

    How ’bout them Rays, huh?

  29. Well, you know my rooting interest (as a fan) is in the same place as yours… with the Magic…

    This should be an interesting playoffs though for sure… same with hockey…

  30. KP… As of yet, I have not watched one minute of playoff hockey. I probably won’t tune in until the Stanley Cup playoffs, if I even do that.

    I still challenge a reader to turn me onto the sport….. hmmmm, that just gave me an idea for a post.

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