Tag:Von Wafer
Posted on: October 13, 2010 3:07 pm
 

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

2010-2011 NBA Atlantic Division Preview

As the phrase has long been applied to life is recited: for every action there is a reaction. Three teams in this division were greatly affected by free agency this summer, even though they all ended up empty handed when it came to their pursuit of any of the prized free agents this July. Two of the teams, though, plotted for two years with hopes of landing LeBron James, only to be spurned as he left for the Miami Heat. Another one of the teams had one of the prized free agents, and his leaving for the Miami Heat left them in freelance as well. Meanwhile, the three-time defending Atlantic Champions lost in the NBA Finals and had to react promptly. The loss of Kendrick Perkins did not help either in the NBA Finals or at the start of this season, and the Celtics looked to add to their list of established veterans for what feels like one last run at a championship. And then there’s the Philadelphia 76ers. After years of being an afterthought in the league, one of the league’s most prominent cities is taking huge steps towards relevance again. They reached back and hired Doug Collins to return to Philadelphia to help advance this process and it will be interesting to see how those new players mesh.

All in all, the Atlantic Division had a lot of turnover on most of the rosters and could see significantly new change among the production of three of the worst teams from last season in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. With all three of those teams now positioning themselves for victory and with Boston continuing to add players primed for one last run, the change could be even more evident in the coming seasons. But even though there’s a reaction for every action, the Celtics reacted accordingly to last year’s NBA Finals loss to the Lakers, and are still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

1) Boston Celtics
Incoming Players:
Avery Bradley, Luke Harangody, Semih Urden, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal, Von Wafer, Delonte West
Outgoing Players: Rasheed Wallace, Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Michael Finley, Shelden Williams
Team Report: The Celtics walk into this season as the clear favorites in the division and are among the favorites for an NBA Championship this season as well. The Celtics were up by 13 points in the 3rd quarter of last season’s Game 7 of the NBA Finals before conceding to the Lakers in a heartbreaking defeat. A lot has been made of their age in recent years, but they showed last postseason that they’re one of the few teams capable of flipping a switch on and off. Whether they would want to walk that tightrope again this season remains to be seen, but the players on the team don’t necessarily give any encouragement of a change of the times coming in Beantown.

Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal are the most high profile additions to the team. The two big men fit right into what the Celtics are looking for: smart, seasoned veterans willing to use what’s left of their ability to contribute to the ultimate goal of the team. Both come at an opportune time as well with the injury to Kendrick Perkins. Perkins injured his knee in Game 6 of last year’s NBA Finals and should be out until January. His loss will be greatly felt across the board in Boston, but the Celtics will hope it’s offset by the continued improvement from point guard Rajon Rondo. While it’s hard to argue that at least Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett aren’t more important to a championship for the Celtics, it’s also hard to argue that Rondo isn’t currently the team’s most talented player. Overall, the Celtics still enter this season with a chip on their shoulder and with a lot to prove. They also are the most stable of the rest of the teams in the division, and that’s why they’ll be winning the division title come next April.

2) New York Knicks
Incoming Players:
Larry Fields, Andy Rautins, Jerome Jordan, Timofey Mozgov, Kelenna Azubuike, Patrick Ewing, Jr., Raymond Felton, Roger Mason, Jr., Anthony Randolph, Amar’e Stoudemire, Ronny Turiaf, Shawne Williams
Outgoing Players: Earl Barron, David Lee, Chris Duhon, Sergio Rodriguez, J.R. Giddens, Al Harrington, Jonathan Bender, Tracy McGrady, Eddie House
Team Analysis: The Knicks have been bad for years now, it seems. Since 2004, the Knicks have regularly been among the worst teams in the league. A fantastic city and fan base has really been negated by the lack of overall production on the court and the turmoil that occurred off of it. However, after Isaiah Thomas left New York, Donnie Walsh was hired to clean the mess. He hired Mike D’Antoni, rid himself of some of the ridiculous contracts on the team, and built towards the famed 2010 NBA Free Agent class. The Knicks have been telling their fans to accept defeat the last two seasons, a hard sell to New Yorkers, because a great star was on the horizon. After whiffing on LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, the team signed Amar’e Stoudemire to a big max contract this offseason instead. It still may be a hard sell to New Yorkers that he was worthy of being the light at the end of the tunnel.

But the Knicks made other moves this offseason to reshape the roster. They brought in the extremely promising Anthony Randolph over in a trade with Golden State and hope that he can partner up with Stoudemire to create the ideal frontcourt for head coach Mike D’Antoni. But, for the first time since D’Antoni was hired in 2008, the pressure is now on for him to win in New York. After being patient with a struggling team the last two seasons, the Knicks were told they would be much better in 2010. It’s fair to say they will be much better, but it’s debatable if they’re a lock to make the postseason. D’Antoni has h is work cut out for him, as do the rest of the Knicks franchise.

3) Philadelphia 76ers
Incoming Players:
Evan Turner, Tony Battie, Craig Brackins, Spencer Hawes, Andres Nocioni, Darius Songaila
Outgoing Players: Samuel Dalembert, Rodney Carney, Willie Green, Jason Smith, Francisco Elson, Allen Iverson
Team Analysis: The Philadelphia 76ers traded Allen Iverson in 2006 and have been largely irrelevant since. Sure they’ve made the playoffs a couple times since that trade, but they’ve been no real threats among the NBA’s elite and the team really wasn’t in Iverson’s last years with the team either. So it seems a tad ironic now that the 76ers are building towards and selling hope; again at a time when Iverson is leaving. The 76ers brought Iverson back last season in an attempt to sell tickets and regain relevance, but it went for nothing as Iverson couldn’t stay on the court due to injuries and other factors and was a large non factor in the team’s horrendous 27-55 season. After only one season, Eddie Jordan was fired and the 76ers again went back to the drawing board.

The Sixers interviewed a lot of candidates and wound up with Doug Collins as the team’s new head coach coming into this season. Collins isn’t “new” by any means. He’s been a coach for three different franchises before and had mild success with all of them. His name is largely important because of his broadcasting gig with TNT moreso than what anyone remembers him doing as a coach. But Collins is a 76er at heart. He was drafted by Philadelphia and made an NBA Finals with the team in 1977. He wants, just as much as the rest of the city, for the 76ers to be relevant. How quickly that happens will largely land on the shoulders of second overall pick Evan Turner. Turner is a “do-it-all” type talent who led the Big 10 in scoring and rebounding last season. The Sixers will look to him to possibly spearhead a new era in Philadelphia. Andre Iguodala remains the man in Philadelphia, but for how long is anyone’s guess. How he and Turner mesh this season will go a long way towards determining how quickly Philadelphia can turn around in a shallow Eastern Conference. The 76ers are still a team with a lot of uncertainty, but they’ll take that as long as it can generate a lot of excitement.

4) New Jersey Nets
Incoming Players: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Joe Smith
Outgoing Players: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Chris Quinn, Josh Boone, Trenton Hassell, Bobby Simmons, Keyon Dooling, Tony Battie, Jarvis Hayes
Team Analysis: The Nets were close to becoming, historically, the worst team in NBA history last season. A late season “surge” by the Nets helped them avoid the NBA’s futility mark and allowed the team to finish 12-70 last season. There wasn’t a lot to be happy about in Jersey last season, but at least there’s hope on the horizon for this upcoming season. The Nets have a new owner now in the hugely interesting and insanely rich Mikhail Prokhorov as their brand new owner, the impending move to Brooklyn (which seems like it’s been in the works forever) is finally going to happen by 2012, and they’ve introduced a new coach to the team in Avery Johnson. Johnson, who won an NBA Championship as a player with the Spurs and went to the NBA Finals as a coach for Dallas, will at least command the attention and respect of the young talent in New Jersey.

Speaking of that new talent, nobody is more promising on the team than the third overall pick in the draft: Georgia Tech PF Derrick Favors. Favors has drawn early comparisons to Dwight Howard in terms of body structure and athletic ability, but is still very raw and will be brought along slowly by the Nets. The team lacked a lot of fortitude last season, and it’s no guarantee that they’ll develop that toughness just from the presence of their new coach. But they will be better. Troy Murphy, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow all make great additions to the team. Will it be enough to make them a playoff team? Probably not. But after last season’s 12 win season, everything is looking up for New Jersey.

5) Toronto Raptors
Incoming Players:
Ed Davis, Solomon Alabi, Leandro Barbosa, Linas Kleiza, Julian Wright
Outgoing Players: Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Marco Belinelli, Rasho Nesterovic, Patrick O’Bryant, Antoine Wright
Play Analysis: Although the Knicks and Nets cut salary and lost games on purpose to be players this offseason, the Raptors signed and traded for talent to please one player who was going to be on the market: Chris Bosh. Bosh, however, never was going to stay in Toronto and he now resides in South Beach. The Raptors didn’t respond as harshly as Cleveland did with LeBron, but they’re going to move along with life after Bosh anyways. The talent that the team acquired last season did not gel at all, and with more turnover this season as well, chemistry will still be a huge problem with this Toronto team.

With the selection of Ed Davis in the first round, the Raptors hope to have found Bosh’s replacement immediately. Davis is a North Carolina product who is a very solid offensive talent. However, they can’t expect him to replace Bosh’s production right away. Andrea Bargnani should be primed for a huge break out year for Toronto, but I feel like that’s been said for about three straight seasons. But the talent gap between him and the next best player on the team is huge. The Raptors deserve credit for not going into complete firesale mode without Bosh and trying to still compete even though they lost their best player. But the moves they made this offseason won’t do much to help the team make the postseason. Coaching, chemistry and defense were the biggest problems last year; they’re still problems this season.
Posted on: April 16, 2009 11:54 pm
Edited on: May 10, 2009 7:45 pm
 

2008-2009 NBA Postseason Predictions

 Team By Team Previews
Western Conference:
1) Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

2) Denver Nuggets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14321911

3) San Antonio Spurs - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14346631

4) Portland Trail Blazers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14386245

5) Houston Rockets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14288379

6) Dallas Mavericks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14440073

7) New Orleans Hornets - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14427724

8) Utah Jazz - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14393609

Eastern Conference:
1) Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

2) Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

3) Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

4) Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

5) Miami Heat - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14373942

6) Philadelphia 76ers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14376757

7) Chicago Bulls - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14504657

8) Detroit Pistons - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14467742

1st Round Matchups
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (8) Detroit Pistons - The Pistons bring their experience to Cleveland to stand opposite the Cavaliers. The Cavs are really riding a huge wave of momentum into the postseason, the complete opposite way which Detroit is entering the playoffs. The Cavs have beaten the Pistons the last time they played in the postseason as well, and there's no reason for Detroit's intimidation factor to affect Cleveland. This is a solid matchup for the Cavs, because their lack of size won't affect them as the Pistons, likewise, lack significant size in their frontcourt.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Mo Williams - It will be interesting to see how Williams, the Cavs' second option, responds to having that kind of pressure on him in the postseason.
Pistons Player to Watch: Kwame Brown - With the Cavaliers lack of size, Brown can continue his solid play down the stretch with solid defense on Zydrunas Ilgauskas if called upon. He can really help the Pistons if he elevates his play.

(4) Atlanta Hawks vs. (5) Miami Heat - Dwyane Wade and the Heat are a tough out for anybody in the postseason, including an unproven playoff team like the Hawks. The Hawks are still a tough team to take seriously, although we all should, and they can look at that as a rallying cry. This is the most even matchup in the entire Eastern Conference, and the Hawks fantastic play at home should help this squad get out of the first round for the first time since 1999. Dwyane Wade and company will put up a fantastic effort, but I look for every home team to win in this series.
Prediction: Hawks in seven.
Hawks Player to Watch: Al Horford - The Heat's lack of a true center should speak for a good series for Al Horford. Also, the Hawks are nearly unstoppable when Horford averages over 15 points a game. So his play is critical for the advancement of Atlanta.
Heat Player to Watch: Michael Beasley - Beasley is entering the postseason on a tear, and if he can continue to be that consistent second option for Miami then the Heat have the chance to pull off the upset.

(3) Orlando Magic vs. (6) Philadelphia 76ers - This is a matchup of slumping teams running head to head and will probably provide the least interesting of all of the playoff matchups in the NBA. The 76ers, even though they'll throw Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff at him, really have no answer for Dwight Howard. Andre Iguodala will have to do it by himself and I don't believe he's the kind of player capable of doing that. Also, his dissapointing performance in last season's playoffs has to weigh on his mind. However, Hedo Turkoglu's injury is something to look for in Orlando.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Magic Player to Watch: Hedo Turkoglu - It will be intersting to see how he plays with this injured ankle. This team can really take off if he can somehow go back to the style of play and consistency he showed last season.
76ers Player to Watch: Samuel Dalembert - His defense on Dwight Howard will be critical for the 76ers chances to advance. However, he's had moments where he dissapears.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Chicago Bulls - Without Kevin Garnett, the Bulls lack of inside scoring can really be masked in this first round matchup. These two units play spectacular basketball at home and can really put points on the board. The key will be which team can make the defensive stops when it's necessary to get them. The defending champions, even without their defensive leader Garnett, have experience doing so and can really put the inexperienced Bulls on the ropes. I look for the Bulls to put up a great fight, and push the C's to seven but I look for the Celtics to somehow prevail.
Prediction: Celtics in seven.
Celtics Player to Watch: Rajon Rondo - Rondo's play in this series is going to be crucial for Boston. Without Garnett, the teams are very evenly matched and Rondo's defense on Derrick Rose will be key for the Celtics.
Bulls Player to Watch: Derrick Rose - The Rookie of the Year will have a lot of pressure playing point guard in his first postseason against the defending champions. He can really blow skeptics away or he can struggle against the insurmountable odds.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (8) Utah Jazz - The Lakers get the unfortunate task of facing the inconsistent Utah Jazz in the first round. The Lakers should be confident, seeing as how Utah simply cannot win on the road, but the Jazz always give the Lakers fits. Kobe Bryant and company, though, should replicate last season's conference semifinals and really look to push Utah to the limit. Nobody outside of Deron Williams is really playing consistently for Utah, and he simply cannot do it alone. The Jazz will put up a fight in every single game, but they don't have the weapons or the confidence to pull games out.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Lamar Odom - Odom always plays well against the Jazz, and coming off of the bench he can match up against Andrei Kirilenko and really take it to the Jazz. Without pressure Odom always seems to shine, and this is a perfect chance for the Lakers to develop a playoff rotation that includes Odom on the bench.
Jazz Player to Watch: Carlos Boozer - Boozer struggled mightily last season against the Lakers and without him scoring inside, the Jazz are simply a jump shooting team. That plays well into the Lakers' hands, so it's on Boozer to improve from last season's (and mainly this season's) performance.

(4) Portland Trail Blazers vs. (5) Houston Rockets - The Rockets were coming into the postseason on a huge positive note, but stumbling to the 5th seed and having to face Portland is not what the Dr. ordered for a team looking to make it out of the first round for the first time since 1998. It's all mental with the Rockets, and Yao Ming should really be a force, but Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden are big enough to stay in front of Yao and really alter his shots. With that being negated, the Rockets must rely on Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer and none of the three shoot consistently enough to match the late game heroics of Brandon Roy.
Prediction: Trail Blazers in six.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: Greg Oden - He's dissapointed all season long, but his defensive capabilities give the Blazers a lot of hope in their matchup with Yao Ming. If he can stay out of foul trouble, he can give the Blazers a good 20-25 minutes of solid defense on Yao and has the best size to matchup with the Rockets center.
Rockets Player to Watch: Kyle Lowry - Aaron Brooks is the better offensive player, but Lowry will most likely draw the assignment of guarding when he's in the game. His defense will be critical if he can slow down Roy for stretches and affect his confidence for the late game situations when Roy will be forced to take the shot for Portland.

(3) San Antonio Spurs vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks - The Spurs pulled off an amazing run to win the Southwest Division, but if there's one team that always troubles the Spurs it's the Dallas Mavericks. The Mavericks have peaked at the right time and are entirely capable of winning games in San Antonio. Tim Duncan always plays fantastic ball against Dallas, but the same can be said for Dirk Nowitzki matching up against San Antonio. The role players will be huge in this matchup, as will Tony Parker, but the Mavs role players (Jason Terry, Josh Howard, Brandon Bass) should give the Mavericks the edge they need to pull the upset.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven.
Spurs Player to Watch: Roger Mason Jr. - With Manu Ginobili out, Mason's contributions will be critical. After an unbelievable first half to the season, he's been rather inconsistent as of late. If he can provide good minutes and consistently hit his jump shot, the Spurs will be in great shape.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Jose Juan Barea - Coming off of the bench, Barea has the speed to really give Tony Parker fits when the Mavs have the ball. If he can come in and play well alongside either Jason Kidd or Jason Terry, the Mavericks will really have a leg up in the matchup.

(2) Denver Nuggets vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - This is a fantastic matchup here as the Hornets and Nuggets engage in a tightly contested head to head battle. Chris Paul may be too quick for Chauncey Billups to guard one on one, and if the Nuggets go to Anthony Carter that will give the Hornets the advantage defensively seeing as how Carter struggles with his shot. The Nuggets frontcourt could provide a lot of problems for the Hornets, especially Chris Andersen, who can really provide problems for Tyson Chandler and Sean Marks. When called upon, though, the acquisition of James Posey will pay off with his defense on Carmelo Anthony in this tough matchup.
Prediction: Hornets in six
Nuggets Player to Watch: J.R. Smith - Coming off of the bench, J.R. Smith gives the Nuggets a huge advantage with his ability to take games over with his shot making ability. However, he takes possesions off on defense and can also shoot the Nuggets out of games, so he has to one day his erratic play to be fully helpful to the Nuggets.
Hornets Player to Watch: Tyson Chandler - Coming off of an injury, Chandler should be monitored. If he doesn't play many minutes then that could prove to be a huge problem for the Hornets. However, the Hornets are infinitely better when Chandler plays and it will be crucial to see to it that he contributes as much as possible.
 


Conference Semifinals
Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (4) Atlanta Hawks - The Cavaliers will still be riding that wave of emotion heading into the semifinals after their dispatching of the Pistons. However, they're going to run into a tough, battle tested Hawks squad that could steal a game in Cleveland. Joe Johnson and LeBron James give the fans quite the one on one matchup and fans will be tuned in to watch those two go at it. However, Cleveland's role players outshine Atlanta's in critical spots and the Cavs will escape in seven.
Prediction: Cavaliers in seven.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Zydrunas Ilgauskas - There's no reason anywhere near his height in Atlanta, and he can really pull defenders away from the basket with his jump shot. If he has a big series, the Cavaliers will undoubtedly advance.
Hawks Player to Watch: Ronald Murray - Murray is the best player on a shallow Atlanta bench, and he can really jumpstart Atlanta's role players and give the Hawks a ton of energy in spots where they least expect to receive it.

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (3) Orlando Magic - Without Garnett, Dwight Howard looks to dominate against Boston and may very well do so. These two squads meet head to head and give a fantastic first four games in this series and the series should head back to Boston tied at 2 apiece. However, the Celtics will miss Garnett as they look fatiqued from a tough series with the Bulls. That gives the Magic an opportunity to steal a game and close out the series in Orlando. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen will really shine in this series, but Boston's lack of options will do them in.
Prediction: Magic in six.
Celtics Player to Watch: Glen Davis - Assuming he'll be playing the power forward position without Kevin Garnett in the lineup, he can really get his shot off against the smaller Magic. His ability to knock down the 15 footer could really help open the floor up for Boston.
Magic Player to Watch: Rashard Lewis - With the Celtics throwing out a bigger, slower lineup Lewis can really put the Magic over the top. He'll create the fantastic offensive mismatch for Orlando if he remains aggressive and looks to take it to the basket more than settling for his jump shot. Furthermore, he's long and quick enough to guard Davis and Powe if he stays out of foul trouble.

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (4) Portland Trail Blazers - Coming off of facing the Jazz, the Lakers match up with another hated rival in Portland and have to be worried about this contest. The Lakers struggle against Portland, especially at Portland, and the Trail Blazers are one of the dangerous teams playing with no expectation to win. The Trail Blazers should give the Lakers lots of fits, but the Lakers have the best player on the court in Kobe Bryant, and have players outside of Kobe who can hit the big shot to win crucial games. The Blazers really will give the Lakers all they can handle and should take them to seven games.
Prediction: Lakers in seven.
Lakers Player to Watch: Andrew Bynum - Portland has very servicable big men, so Bynum's effort, play and intensity level should speak volumes on if the Lakers will advance or not. If he isn't as commanding as he can be, then the Lakers may have to go small with Odom and Gasol in the lineup instead.
Trail Blazers Player to Watch: LaMarcus Aldridge - Going up against Pau Gasol or Lamar Odom, Aldridge is talented enough to get his points against either of those defenders. If he takes to the basket more often and stays aggressive, then the Lakers will be hard pressed to find options to stop him. However, he has a tendency to fall in love with the jump shot and that could hurt the Blazers more than help them.

(6) Dallas Mavericks vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - In this matchup of underdogs to advance, the Hornets and Mavericks both should count their blessings to be so close to the conference finals. These two teams will meet up for the second straight postseason, providing a lot of intense moments of basketball. However, the Mavericks have always struggled with the combination of Chris Paul and David West. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass always give the Hornets trouble, but Nowitzki will be guarded closely by James Posey and the Hornets can allow Peja Stojakovic to run relatively free, giving the Hornets the series victory.
Prediction: Hornets in six.
Mavericks Player to Watch: Brandon Bass - Bass has always given the Hornets fits since signing as a free agent from New Orleans a few years ago. His strength, speed and ability to hit the mid range jump shot give the Hornets plenty of fits and he really can take over games if given significant minutes by Rick Carlisle.
Hornets Player to Watch: Peja Stojakovic - Peja's struggled mightily against more physical teams, but the Mavericks usually throw Josh Howard at Peja, and Peja generally gives the Mavericks problems. If he's able to run free and hit his jump shot, like he did last postseason, the Hornets will dispose of the Mavericks.


Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic - LeBron James should really dominate in this matchup, as the Magic simply have no answer for him. Courtney Lee will provide the best line of defense, but having to rely so many minutes to a rookie could hurt the Magic on the offensive side of the basketball. Dwight Howard may go off in this matchup as well, but his role players will be hard pressed to knock down the jump shot consistently against the fantastic defense of Cleveland's.
Prediction: Cavaliers in five.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: LeBron James - When times get thick, your best player is the one that can carry you out of tough situations. The Cavaliers will all feed off of the play of their MVP and if he plays well, the team will play well.
Magic Player to Watch: Courtney Lee - His defense on LeBron will be crucial, and if he can stay in front of and attempt to contain LeBron then the Magic can allow Howard to really take adavantage of Cleveland's lack of strength inside.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (7) New Orleans Hornets - The Lakers, after two extremely draining matches will now be faced off with the postseason's cinderella team. However, the Hornets will be vexed from their two tough series as well, and their lack of size will finally come back to hurt them. Players like Odom and Bynum always perform well against the Hornets lack of height and the Lakers have more options to turn to than the Hornets do. They'll both be tired, but the Lakers have much more talent than New Orleans does and that will be enough for the Lakers to advance.
Prediction: Lakers in five.
Lakers Player to Watch: Pau Gasol - The Hornets have no option to defend Pau Gasol. He can basically get his shot off at will against David West or Tyson Chandler and can really take over the series and give the Lakers the easy victory.
Hornets Player to Watch: James Posey - Posey was brought to this team for critical spots like these, and he will be assigned the task of guarding Kobe Bryant. Posey will look to feed off of last season's finals to get into Kobe's head, and if he can stay in front of Kobe and keep him around a percentage near 40%, the Hornets will be in contention.


NBA Finals

(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers - And now for the matchup that the nation, David Stern and ESPN want and that haters across the world will despise. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James will match up head to head in a battle between the two best teams in the NBA all season long. Coming into the finals, both teams will have been tested although the Lakers will have had the tougher time getting there. The Cavaliers can use Los Angels' fatique to their advantage for at least the first game of the series, but after a co uple days rest, the Lakers should shock Cleveland in game 2 on their home court. Once the series returns to Los Angeles, the Lakers should really use their size to their advantage and pound it into the paint against Cleveland's smaller lineup. LeBron's heroics will be tested against the defense of Trevor Ariza and the Lakers bench will do just enough to send the series back to Cleveland with the Lakers ahead 3-2. With a fantastic sixth game being held in Cleveland, the game of the year will come down to the wire but the Lakers prove to be too much for Cleveland and take the series.
Prediction: Lakers in six.
Cavaliers Player to Watch: Daniel Gibson - Gibson can be the true catalyst for a Cavaliers bench that is deep in body's but shallow in terms of point production. If he can come in and hit the three point shot consistently, that should bring more to the table nightly than anybody the Lakers can throw off of the bench. He also can spell either guard in critical moments and has hit big shots in the postseason before, and should be comfortable taking them when called upon.
Lakers Player to Watch: Trevor Ariza - His athleticism and defensive prowress will really come into play here against the Cavaliers. He's quite possibly the best option to defense LeBron as he is strong enough to where LeBron can't entirely muscle Ariza and Ariza's quick enough to stay in front of him as well. If he makes the open jump shot as well, that makes things all the better for the Lakers.

Posted on: March 30, 2009 3:37 pm
 

2009 NBA Playoff Preview: Houston Rockets

Previous Previews:
Western Conference:
Los Angeles Lakers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14206197

Eastern Conference:
Cleveland Cavaliers - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14152907

Boston Celtics - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14220509

Orlando Magic - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14229507

Atlanta Hawks - http://www.cbssports.com/mcc/blogs/
entry/5993128/14238342

Well now that teams are clinching divisions and spots in the postseason I thought it would be cool to go ahead and preview each team that is going to be a part of the 2009 NBA Postseason. I will do one for each team as they clinch a playoff spot and since we already have teams that have clinched, we will start with them. Now we will continue with a team that, by way of Phoenix's loss last night, recently clinched a playoff spot: the Houston Rockets.

Strengths
The Rockets are a throwback to the old days.  They include everyone in the offense, play a physical style of basketball and have tremendous defenders at nearly every area of the court.  The Rockets throw two tremendous on the ball defenders in Ron Artest and Shane Battier at your best players, making it nearly impossible for anyone to get into any kind of rhythym and then have 7'6" Yao Ming waiting around the basket for whenever Artest and Battier gamble and their defenders gets past them.  It's extremely difficult to score on Houston and they are also fantastic at rebounding the basketball, which limits any second chance opportunities for the oppositon. 

On offense, the Rockets are very balanced with a nice inside-outside game.  Yao Ming, for all of his height, has a beautiful touch around the basket and can draw defenders away from the basket.  He's a weapon that a lot of times simply don't have, and because of his height and shot is difficult to guard.  Rick Adelman's motion offense includes everyone on the court and forces teams to hold all of their players accountable.  But with Luis Scola and Yao Ming holding the paint area, and with Ron Artest, Shane Battier and Aaron Brooks streching the defense, they're not as inept on scoring as most teams that rely on their defense are. 

Weaknesses
The Rockets, although they run a fantastic offense and have solid players on every position, really don't have anyone who can take over a game in the clutch.  Yao Ming is capable but lacks the killer instinct, and Ron Artest doesn't shy away from taking big shots, but is way too inconsistent to be reliable for every game in the postseason.  They don't have that wing player that can really help them get over bad slumps and get the ball going around to everybody.  Aaron Brooks is also a solid point guard and has more upside than Rafer Alston did at this stage in his career, but I'm not convinced that Brooks is an upgrade at this point in time.  Also, the team has a nice starting five but doesn't necessarily have the explosive bench necessary for spelling those starters.  Von Wafer, Kyle Lowry and Carl Landry are good energy players but neither has the capability of changing games off the bench. 

The Rockets also aren't a very athletic team.  When they play potent offenses things can get difficult for them, and this team really struggles coming from behind.  Their defense has to be on point every single game, and it is, but they can't fall behind by double digits and hope for a comeback.  Their team isn't built for that.  The Rockets are very good at controlling the pace of the game, but if they can't dictate the pace and teams escape the half court game then the Rockets are going to be hard pressed for options. 

Why They Will Win It
The Rockets could easily win it this season because they have two things that so many teams are lacking in the postseason: defense and a fantastic post game.  The Rockets have depth at the big man positions and all of them can score around the basket.  They've been on the brink of succeeding the past couple of seasons but always seem to defeat themselves in the postseason.  Ron Artest brings an awesome sense of confidense in tight games and this team now believes that they can win. 

Why They Won't Win It
The Rockets may struggle to find someone who can consistently take over games for them in crucial situations.  They have all of the role players, defensive mentality and post game but don't necessarily have a good wing player who can come up with big shots consistently.  In this regard, I think they'll miss Rafer Alston and Tracy McGrady.  McGrady was never effecient at taking the big shots, but teams really focussed to stop him and that opened up shots for other people.  Most teams will live with Ron Artest's low shooting percentage because he doesn't utilize his main strength: taking smaller defenders to the basket.

Conclusion
It's still mental in Houston.  They have to escape the first round and once they do that things can fall into place.  The first playoff series will be the most difficult but if Houston wins then they can make a nice run at a championship.  There are no excuses to not get out of the first round this season, because Tracy McGrady is not there to blame, Yao Ming is healthy for the first time in four years and they have, arguably, the best defensive team in the NBA.  They have to avoid teams that also excell at half court offense, but if they can face a team that relies too heavily on offense then the Rockets can shut them down and come out victorious.  The Rockets, though, may be lacking the consistent offensive star to take this team to the next level.  Aaron Brooks, Ron Artest and Von Wafer can be great in spurts in certain situations but they're going to lack any bit of consistency.  The Rockets are a championship team with a championship defensive mentality, but they have to have someone step up and hit big shots consistently.  If anyone can step up and do that, the Rockets can make a run at a championship.

The next team to clinch will be covered in the next preview.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com