Thursday, October 29, 2009

2009-10 NBA Preview

This might be, quite simply, the most intriguing NBA season in quite some time. Think about it. Almost half of the top ten players are in contract years for the most important offseason in years. The teams at the top are all absolutely loaded, and they could get even more loaded as about 1/3 of the teams only care about cutting costs in this economy. There's nothing you can tell me to temper my level of excitement. Now...on to some predictions. Here's how I see the teams being ranked at the end of the year.

The John Wall Sweepstakes
30. Memphis Grizzlies - Good things don't usually happen when you put together a team of me-first players that never pass, rebound, or play defense. Seriously, what made them think it would be a good idea to take on Zach Randolph's 34 million dollar contract and even consider bring in Iverson?

29. New York Knicks - Defense-free system, tons of shady chemistry guys in their contract year...and to think, the team doesn't even look all that good on paper to begin with. Knicks fans need to stop deluding themselves about any marquee free agents coming to this mess.

28. Golden State Warriors - Plenty of perimeter scorers, hyper-athletic big men that cause mismatch problems, but ultimately you can't win when you don't have any defenders or post-up threats. And that's before we get into the toxic environment and horrible chemistry that's been created there.

27. Charlotte Bobcats - They downgraded from Okafor to Chandler, so that's probably good for an extra loss or two. This team is so bad that Raja Bell's - Raja Bell for crying out loud - injury will cause major problems for them.

26. Milwaukee Bucks - They were a lottery team even with Richard Jefferson, Ramon Sessions, and Charlie Villanueva. Skiles will max out on their talent, but when Michael Redd is your franchise guy and Brandon Jennings is your future then there's not much talent to max out on.

Better than Advertised
25. Sacramento Kings - Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes can play, Kevin Martin keeps producing offense, and I'm tellling you, Tyreke Evans WILL be a stud. He's like Tony Parker, only if Parker was 4 inches taller and was an excellent defender. The Kings have talent and aren't the worst team in the league.

The Lebron Sweepstakes
24. New Jersey Nets
23. Los Angeles Clippers
Both teams have terrific young nuclei (Griffin, Gordon for the Clippers, Lopez, Harris, Courtney Lee, Terrence Williams for the Nets). Both teams have tons of cap space and a lottery pick in a pretty good draft class, and both of them have some X-factor; The Nets have the Russian James Bond, Jay-zee, and a possible move to Brooklyn, while the Clips have some good veterans (Baron, Kaman, Craig Smith, maybe Camby that can help, the L.A. factor, the potential to one-up Kobe in his own city. In any case, these are the only teams that have a chance at Lebron, and it'll be interesting to see whether they try to entice Lebron by winning (to show that he can win rings there) or losing (to possibly get a franchise player like Greg Monroe or John Wall to attract Lebron).

Uber-interesting longshots
22. Minnesota Timberwolves - Yes, I know Big Al and Kevin Love are injured. And I'm aware that Ricky Rubio left them in the dust. But look up and down the roster, there's some real breakout potential. Jefferson commands a double team in the low post and scores at will on a lot of people. Kevin Love is a top-10 rebounder, skilled passer and three point shooter, and the best outlet passer in years. Ramon Sessions is an upper-echelon point guard, Jonny Flynn is an adequate backup at the position, Cory Brewer and Ryan Hollins present some intrigue....but ultimately the defense (or lack thereof) will kill them.

21. Seattle Supersonics - Argh!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Seattle is one of the best basketball cities in the league; those fans are as knowledgeable as any, they know how to create a true homecourt advantage, they waited patiently until finally they got to see a super-exciting bona fide superstar, a very smart GM, and some nice young pieces arrive...and the team got hijacked. It's not fair; the Pacific Northwest deserves better than this (and what was David Stern thinking, letting this happen? Wouldn't it be better to keep Durant in Seattle? There he would have the connection to Nike Headquarters and you could promote the Oden-Durant rivalry in the Pacific Northwest). Anyways, intriguing young team, but not enough size or depth.

Mired in Mediocrity
20. Indiana Pacers - This is a borderline playoff team - and there's absolutely no upside or downside to that...for a very long time.

19. Houston Rockets - As you know, I don't support the Rockets signing of Trevor Ariza. He takes up their MLE and prevents them from being able to totally rebuild, but he's good enough to prevent them from getting a top-5 pick that they desperately need. Also, he - and all the other Rockets for that matter - won't be as good now that they have to create shots for themselves. The possibility of T-Mac returning is intriguing, but probably fool's gold. It will be fun and sad watching Rocket's games - they'll play all-out for 48 minutes, defend like mad men, share the ball on offense, do all the little things, make all the hustle plays, yet you'll know deep down that they can't win because there's no go-to guy.

18. Detroit Pistons - The motor city will be very disappointed with Air Gordon and CV; I mean, you don't splurge that kind of money on jump shooters that don't play any defense. Even if everything goes right it's hard to see Detroit winning a playoff series.

We're really not too worried about this season
17. Miami Heat - Dwayne Wade does not deserve this. He's so good, so high character, he plays the right way, yet he has to singlehandedly carry this mess. Ultimately though I think Wade stays because Chris Bosh will come to Miami, and Beasly will improve just enough.

Decent, nothing special
16. New Orleans Hornets - CP3 is amazing, David West is good but overrated, Emeka Okafor is solid but not spectacular. It just doesn't seem right that CP is stuck on a team with no talent, no cap flexibility, and a stingy owner.

15. Phoenix Suns - There is some talent. Nash is still a top-10 or 12 PG, Amare is a nice offensive weapon, Jason Richardson can be passable on both ends, Barbosa is solid off the bench, and Earl Clark will surprise people. But let's not get carried away: 48 is the ceiling, 43 seems more realistic.

14. Philadelphia 76ers - Maybe Elton Brand reverts to 2006 form, Louis Williams becomes a passable point guard (which is all that you need to be in Eddie Jordan's motion offense), Iguodala and Dalembert have really good years playing within their styles, then the 2nd round is a possibility. More likely, Brand gets injured, Williams doesn't improve as a point man, Dalembert remains an offensively inept shot-blocker, and Iggy has to carry way more weight than he would on a title team. Problem is, there are so many bad contracts on the team that sixers fans are stuck with this group for a while.

13. Toronto Raptors - What were they thinking signing Hedo? Everyone knew that his defense (or lack thereof) virtually negates his offense, and that he's only good in Orlando's system. Besides, they already wasted another $55 million on Andrea Bargnanni, a 7 foot version of Hedo. It's too bad the greatest country in the world is going to lose Bosh to Miami this summer.

We don't know what the hell to expect
12. Chicago Bulls - Maybe Derrick Rose improves so much that he compensates for the loss of Air Gordon. But maybe Rose's jumper and defense see limited gains and Rose doesn't develop the crunch-time cajones that is a staple of Gordon's game. Maybe the Salmons/Hinrich platoon at shooting guard overcomes Gordon's loss by providing better ball movement, energy, and defense. Then again, maybe Rose becomes less effective because he has to assume Gordon's role as the lead scorer, taking away energy from his playmaking and ball-hawking. You could make a case to put this team four to five spots lower or higher, but I'll stick them here to be safe.

Electrifying yet ultimately harmless
11. Washington Wizard - Do they have even a sliver of a chance at a title? Absolutely not! But I still love their offseason moves. Now they've got four above average perimeter players who can all create their own shots, and a decent 20-10 guy. Sure, Mike Miller doesn't care about defense, but how much worse can they really be defensively? Do you realize that they can throw out a lineup of Foye, Arenas, Miller, Butler, and Jamison? Sure, that lineup will give up 95% shooting and get outrebounded by 50 rebounds per minute, but how fun would it be to watch that lineup on offense? Arenas can score on anyone, anytime, Butler is a good one-on-one scorer that can run the offense like a point man, Miller will kill defenses that collapse, Foye will do a little bit of everything, and Jamison will score somehow, someway, no matter how herky-jerky it looks. And you thought the Baron Davis-led Warriors and the D'Antoni Suns were as exciting as it gets.

Pretty good, but a cut below the elite
10. Dallas Mavericks - Not quite sure what all the fuss is about. Shawn Marion has always been overrated; he's never been a skilled player or the shutdown defender that he claimed to be, and now his athleticism (his bread and butter) are declining. Jason Kidd can still quarterback the offense as well as anyone, but he's an average shooter and a sieve defensively. There's no interior defense (unless, you know, you count Erick Dampier), Josh Howard has regressed on defense, and there's a huge dropoff after 6th man Jason Terry (another aging player). Rick Carlisle is a top-five coach in this league, but I don't know if even he has the ability to get them to the second round again.

9. Atlanta Hawks - Let's be clear: this is a good team. Joe Johnson isn't a franchise player, but he's a quality guy who can carry this team on a lot of nights. Horford din't improve last year, but he's still a nice asset. The depth is strong with some new additions on the frontline (although I'm not sure Jamal Crawford will be able to replace Flip Murray). Josh Smith is the X-factor; if the lightbulb finally goes on and he says to himself "I haven't had a good shooting night in five years; maybe I'm not a great shooter and instead I should be using my riduculous athleticism to take slower power forwards off the dribble", then look out. For all the highlight dunks, Smoove has tons of unfulfilled potential, and it's really his call whether the hawks are going to be the 9th best team or the 5th best team.

8. Denver Nuggets - There's a decent talent pool here - and I mean that in a good and bad way. No way they don't make the playoffs, no way they possibly advance past round two. Chauncey will prevent them from dropping off too much, but his declining defense and scoring ability lowers the team's ceiling. Aaron Afflalo helps, Ty Lawson really really helps, and maybe J.R. Smith starts helping more (enough with the crossover-3 pointer-jersey popping; play some defense and learn some shot selection!). But the only way I see them taking a step up is if Carmelo wills himself into an all-world defensive force without sacrificing his status as the game's best pure scorer. To be fair, he's become a passable defender, but if Carmelo hasn't yet turned into a defensive stopper extraordinaire after 6 seasons, what makes you think it will happen now?

7. Utah Jazz - They have to get better now that everyone is healthy. Deron's return is especially important; When you have this much frontline talent, D-Wil won't let them win fewer than 50. Sloan will squeeze out every win possible, Boozer will be playing well in a contract year (and he's smart enough to know that he won't be doing himself any favors if he screws over the team by trying to pad his own stats), and CJ Miles could breakout. Kirilenko is a wild-card; A long, hyper athletic hybrid forward, a stopper on the perimeter and the paint, a point-forward who can finish really well, he's the guy that allows the team to match up with the Lakers and Spurs...when he's not being an emotional trainwreck. This should be interesting.

Overrated,fraudulent pretender covered in pyrite and shrouded in smoke and mirrors
6. Cleveland Cavaliers - Last year their sterling record hid the fact that they struggled against elite teams, couldn't match up with athletic big men, and generally had a talent-devoid roster that overachieved thanks to Lebron's historically good all-around dominance. Sorry, but Cleveland simply isn't as good as teams 1-5 (and I could see the Hawks being better if Josh Smith gets his act together). Anthony Parker is a nice addition, Jamario Moon might help too, Mo Williams remains overrated but competent. Shaq's addition is not good. He's a defensive liability against the pick and roll, he stagnates the offense because he demands touches, and he won't cede the alpha-dog role to Lebron. He wouldn't take a backseat to Kobe, he wouldn't do it for Wade, he wouldn't do it for Nash, and he won't do it for Lebron. Even if Shaq doesn't get hurt or see a dropoff in production (both of which are highly likely), the Cavs simply don't have the talent to get it done. Enjoy watching him, Ohio, The King will don another uniform in 2010.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
5. Portland Trail Blazers - I keep saying it: everyone is sleeping way too much on the Blazers. I don't love the Andre Miller signing, but he will contribute by running the second unit and by taking a lot of ball-handling pressure of B-Roy in crunch time and letting him spend more time in his natural position of an off-the-ball 2-guard. I'm sold on Rudy Fernandez. He reminds me of a Rip Hamilton, in that he's a supremely conditioned freak who wears out players by running through a billion screens a game, is a really deadly catch-and-shoot player, he has enough ball-handling skills to create space off the dribble, and he's a really good athlete that can finish at the rim. Travis Outlaw is a stud scorer off the bench, a guy that can dunk it hard and stroke it both from midrange and downtown. Nicolas Batum was one of my favorite guys in the whole league last year; Batum is a really long, uber-athletic wing that can shut down some of the best scorers in this league, hit open threes, and make some really smooth and athletic finishes at the hoop. He will eventually be a better version of Trevor Ariza, but a right now part of me died when I learned that he'd be out until March. Never fear, Martell Webster, a knockdown 3-point shooter and above average defender who gives a lot of versatility. Oden will improve (he's too talented not to; most of you probably read a bunch of Bill Simmons articles and already declared him the worst player in the league, but he's an amazing defender and rebounder that needs to cut down on his fouls), and Pryzbilla is one of the best backups in the league at any position.

And we haven't even gotten to the two stars. We all know that B-Roy is already a borderline franchise player, Paul Pierce with less scoring and post-up instincts but better passing and playmaking. Roy is about where The Truth was defensively in his fourth year, and I'm sure he can become passable. But Aldridge is the reason why I'm so high on this team. He's Rasheed Wallace 2.0, minus the hothead personality. Really long and athletic, really disrupts opponents on defense and on the boards, range extends out to the 3-point line, unguardable turnaround, can play high post, low post, or elbow, high basketball package. I would be a little surprised to see them make the Finals, but I would be shocked if they didn't win a playoff series (and I could absolutely see them getting to the conference finals and taking either LA or San Antonio to 7 games).

The Contenders
4. Boston Celtics - I can understand why people like the Celtics. The might have better spent their money on someone other than Rasheed Wallace, but 'Sheed will help since you can never really have enough long, athletic big men that can rebound and defend. Rasheed will also give their offense some new dimensions since he can stretch defenses while posting up smaller bigs. Marquis Daniels is a nice addition, although I think people are going overboard on him. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce really impressed me last Spring; I didn't think that team could go that far but Pierce and Allen played their hearts out in the playoffs. And of course, Rondo was a stud last year and established himself as a top-five point guard and top-25 player in the league. If the big three are healthy, Boston might be the most talented team. But I'm worried about their health, I'm worried about how Rondo will handle the fact that the team made him available for the right price (I'm really curious about this - teams don't spontaneously start even giving a single thought to trading a young franchise point guard unless he's got some really well hidden skeletons) and taking a bunch of subtle cheap shots at him, I'm worried about their perimeter defense (they really miss James Posey)...too many question marks.

3. San Antonio Spurs - I have them here right now, but I see them coming out of the West. The Spurs will lose more games than the Lakers in the regular season because they're an older team that will pace themselves and sacrifice wins to keep the playoff legs fresh. Richard Jefferson is so perfect for this team: He's an athletic guy who will thrive running with Parker; He really good at hitting that corner three that Bruce Bowen was so good at making; In New Jersey he was terrific as the third option, so he will probably be amazing now that he's the number four guy in San Antonio; He's a high-character guy with no ego who's battle tested in the playoffs and knows what it takes to win at the highest level; Even if he had any ounce of character issues (which he doesn't), they won't surface because he just went from basketball hell to heaven, and anytime things seem bad he'll just remind himself that he could've been in Milwaukee instead. R-jeff has looked terrible in the first two games, but he's consistent and I'm pretty sure he'll turn the corner some time in the next week.

A word of caution: don't overrate Dejuan Blair. Based on everything people say about him, you'd think he was the second coming of Charles Barkley. First of all, rookies picked outside of the top-10 rarely make an impact, and even if they do it's usually in limited. Blair was only projected as a mid to late first rounder, so why is everyone suddenly acting like he's a future all-star when they didn't think so three months ago. And there's a reason he dropped that far: he's short for the position (and not athletic enough to masquerade as a small forward), he's had weight issues in the past, and he has no ACL's. Look, I'm not saying he's a bad player, I happen to agree that he was a steal at that late. But for some reason are going overboard on his production; I mean, people wouldn't be considering it such a big offseason success if the Spurs had drafted him at his projected spot of 20 or so. As of now we should predict the Spurs season under the assumption that Blair will have make very limited contributions.

Overall, if everyone stays healthy, the team is so deep and talented that I really believe they should beat the Lakers in a series. L.A. is not as good as everyone thinks. The Spurs are better defensively, more cohesive, tougher, and will beat the Lakers.

2. Los Angeles Lakers - We know the story: Everyone is back, save for Trevor Ariza, who got replaced with Ron Ron. What does that mean? It means that point guard will continue to be a major hole, since Phil Jackson still hasn't figured out that Shannon Brown is way better than Derek Fisher's mummified body and the dummy that Jordan Farmar's kidnappers gave to the Lakers. It means that Kobe will grow a year older, so he'll slip a little defensively and lose some hops, but he'll compensate by picking his spots better and adding to his post-up game repertoire. It means that Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom (perhaps Khlodom?) will either continue their stellar play from last year or continue with their bad habbits that they developed prior to 2008 (I'm betting on the former). It means that Vujacic is back to continue his act of coming into games, playing really aggressive (but secretly passive) defense until the TV announcers give him accolades, after which he'll start flopping all over the place, stop guarding anybody, and keep missing three pointers (do you realize he's makine 5 million a year?!!!!!!!). And it means the Artest formerly known as Ron Ron (get it? get it?...OK, bad joke).

Theoretically Ron could minimize the defensive dropoff by the Lakers (don't tell me that he's a shut down guy; now that he's lost his quickness, he's not as good at defense as Ariza, and he gets most of his defensive praise based on his reputation as opposed to his actual play), and he'll give the triangle plenty of new dimensions by offering better 3-point shooting as well as the ability to assume the point-forward role and provide yet another post-up threat. But I know that's not how it will turn out. I know it. I know it I know it I know it. And deep down, every true Laker fan (not the front-runner knuckleheads who spam blogs and message boards and who only show up to games when the Lake Show is the hot thing in town) knows it. Ron always breaks plays. He did it in Indiana, he did it in Sacramento, he did it in Houston...he's a me-first player who isn't disciplined enough to stay within the team concept. He will view this as his chance to bring the Ron Ron show to Hollywood and expose his star power to the rest of the world, and he has the kind of stick fingers that can ruin an intricate motion offense like the triangle. I'm sure Artest respects Kobe and will cede touches to the Black Mamba. But do you really think that Artest will take a backseat to guys like Gasol, Odom, and Bynum? Of course not, and that's bad, because all three of those guys are better (well, mabye not Bynum. Btw, why does everyone suddenly expect Bynum to become a spontaneously become a top-15 guy? In his career he's been moderately productive when's he's healthy, but nothing spectacular. And when you've had 3 major knee injuries dating back to high school, you are officially a decent injury risk at any given time). Not that such matters are important to Ron Ron. And don't spew me this nonsense that Phil and Kobe will keep him in check. Ron may respect them, but at the end of the day he's his own animal. Furthermore, even if he accepts his role, then all he'll do is provide all the same offense that Ariza provided while being a worse defender...which makes him a downgrade!!!!! Mark it down: he will hold the Lakers back in June.

The Favorite
1. Orlando Magic - I have yet to meet anyone who truly understands just how stacked the Magic are. They are loaded. Orlando is clearly the best team in the league and will challenge for 67-68 wins. In broad terms, this offseason they traded Hedo Turkoglu, Courtney Lee, Tony Battie, and Rafer Alston, for Vince Carter, Ryan Anderson, Brandon Bass, and Matt Barnes. That's not just a win, that's a ridiculously lopsided switch of talent, and that's before you consider the boost they'll get by getting Jameer Nelson back. But let's look at it more closely. They exchanged Courtney Lee (a terrific role player who can start for a title contender) and two fringe rotation players for Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson. Anderson is a really underappreciated big. He's a good rebounder, average defender, and has range out to the three point line; he's the perfect guy to play next to Dwight Howard.

Then there's Vince. I get it: he's softer than a kleenex, he has a reputation for taking games off, he settles for too many jumpers, he's 33. But guess what: he's better than Hedo. Much better. Much much much much much better. Hedo's a nice player, a good ball-handler and passer with 3-point range. But he's one of the 5 worst defenders in the league, he has no ability to penetrate into the lane, and his only move is the step-back followed by the contested 3. While Carter is a definitely more of a scorer than a passer, he's a better point-forward than Hedo. I mean, Carter's a better dribbler, a better passer, and has more court vision, so how is he not better at running the offense? And Carter's 50 times the scorer that Turkoglu ever has been. People spend so much time criticizing his tendency to shoot too many jumpers, and rightfully so. But remember: first of all, Hedo does the same thing, and more importantly, Vince makes those shots, no matter how bad they sometimes can be. Vince is an above average shooter, and a punishing low-post player. At the very least, his jumper and post up game are good enough when you consider how amazing of a slasher and cutter he is. And defensively the Magic get a HUGE upgrade from Hedo to Vince. Vince is an above average defensive player, and no serious basketball fan could actually argue that Hedo is anywhere near Vince's level defensively. I'm not saying that he's going to go shut down Kobe, but on a lot of nights he can match Kobe shot for shot while providing decent, defense on him.

Of course, all of that is is moot if Vince isn't motivated. But I'm confident that he'll play hard and commit himself. He's playing in his hometown. At 33, he knows that this is is last chance to both win a title and define his legacy. If he wants to make a push for the hall of fame and be known as more than just the greatest dunker ever, then this stint with Orlando is do or die (and anyone would agree, even if Vince doesn't care about the title, we know that he does care about his individual legacy). This is the only time he's ever been in a situation where he had a legit chance for a title, and for once he gets to be the second banana and not have to handle so much pressure. Furthermore, last year he had nothing to play for in New Jersey, yet he went out of his way to be a leader, mentor the young guys, sacrifice for the good of the team, and do all the dirty work to fill in the gaps for all his teammates. The bottom line: Vince is motivated, and when Vince Carter is playing hard, he is one of the 15 most skilled and talented players in the game. He's not just an athlete, he has amazing basketball skills and defense. Anytime Carter is you're second fiddle, you have a potentially great team.

Then there's Dwight Howard. He will win the MVP, he will build on that killer instinct that he displayed in the conference finals, he will add a countermove to his jump hook, he will add an up-and-under move, he will learn to keep the ball high when finishing at the rim on high-low passes, and he will become a good perimeter on-ball defender to complement his interior defense, shot-blocking, and rebounding skills in the paint. Dwight is just as driven as anybody, he's steadily improved each year, and there's no reason to believe that he won't get better. Just you watch.

As for everyone else: Rashard is out 10 games for taking PED's, but he's still Rashard - an overpaid guy, but one that is a borderline all-star at two positions, an mismatch nightmare, a passable defender (seriously, he's not a liability there anymore), and a really terrific third option; Nelson is one of the top seven or eight point guards in basketball (which is beyond good enough when you consider that what was a weaker team last year made the finals with an injured Jameer);, Brandon Bass is an excellent rebounder, post defender, and energy guy, and he gives you a little bit in terms of making the 17-footer and giving some post-up looks. He's perfect for them; Pietrus is a poor man's Josh Howard, a great defender and 3-point man, a real bargain; Barnes is a poor man's Shane Battier, a tough guy who plays 3 positions and is a nice backup option; Jason Williams and J.J. Reddick are...well Jason Williams and J.J. Reddick, which is not bad for 11th and 12th men; Marcin Gortat represents nice trade bait (as does their 9 million dollar trade exception - Orlando can still make some moves), and if he stays then at least he showed last year that he's a terrific backup to Dwight Howard. The Orlando Magic have the best roster in basketball; they have a top-five player in the league who happens to play the most important position (center), they have the best set of top three players in the league (and remember, you're team's fate is more or less determined by how far you're top three guys take you), they have a top-10 point guard, they have plenty of shooters, plenty of defenders, plenty of rebounders, and the best top to bottom depth. They're motivated after last year's disappointment in the Finals, and last year's experience will really help a lot of these guys. That's why I'm picking Orlando to win the title.

MVP: Dwight Howard

Defensive Player of the Year: Kevin Garnett

Rookie of the Year: Tyreke Evans (I would've picked Blake Griffin if he hadn't gotten injured)

Coach of the Year: Nate McMillan

Most Improved Player: Russell Westbrook

Executive of the Year: Otis Smith

Sixth Man of the Year: Manu Ginobili

Comeback Player of the Year: Gilbert Arenas

Playoff Predictions:
Round 1:
(1) Orlando over (8) Philadelphia, 4-0
(2) Boston over (7) Toronto, 4-1
(3) Cleveland over (6) Chicago, 4-3
(4) Atlanta over (5) Washington, 4-3

(1) Los Angeles Lakers over (8) New Orleans, 4-1
(2) San Antonio over (7) Phoenix, 4-1
(3) Portland over (6) Dallas, 4-0
(4) Utah over (5) Denver, 4-2

Round 2:
(1) Orlando over Atlanta, 4-0
(2) Boston over (3) Cleveland, 4-1

(1) Los Angeles Lakers over (4) Utah, 4-2
(2) San Antonio Spurs over (3) Portland, 4-3

Round 3:
(1) Orlando over (2) Boston, 4-2

(2) San Antonio over (1) Los Angeles Lakers, 4-3

Finals Prediction: Magic over Spurs, 4-2