Eastern Conference Finals
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (3) Orlando Magic
Why The Cavaliers Will Win: The Cavaliers enter this series on a roll that is out of this world. After winning their first eight games of the postseason, they've run an incredible wave of momentum right into this series. Everyone across the board is contributing and they've gotten an absolutely magnificent showing from LeBron James so far this postseason. I imagine they'll continue to get great production from LeBron but the defense will be key. And if you're going to rely on defense, being the number one defensive squad in the league helps in that department.
Why The Magic Will Win: The Magic look like a confident bunch. No team has been scrutinized more, outside of Los Angeles, than this Orlando squad. However, the coaching squad and players have responded to criticism and have shown the ability to win crucial games on the road (winning games 1 and 7 in Boston, and winning critical games 4 and 6 in Philadelphia). Dwight Howard is a matchup problem for anybody in this league, but with the Cavaliers he should look to have his way around the basket. Anderson Vareajo can't sporadically give him fits with his ability to draw chargers, but Ben Wallace hasn't received any playing time and I can't imagine him being fresh enough to check Howard. Even if he is, the offensive holes with him in the game will be glaring. When that happens, the Cavs become too one dimensional (go to LeBron and spot up).
Key Player for the Cavaliers: Mo Williams hit some big shots in game 4 against the Hawks but he's struggled with his shot this postseason. If he plays at the level he did during the first two series then Rafer Alston will be able to match him. Williams needs to convincingly take Alston to the limit at that position in order for the Cavaliers to win this series.
Key Player for the Magic: Courtney Lee will go unsung, but his defense on Eddie House against the Celtics was huge. He was big in the 76ers series and although he's lost his starting spot, he stopped a critical role player and I imagine he'll be asked to do the same against Delonte West. West has had a very good postseason thus far and if he continues to excel it's a huge feather in the cap for the Cavaliers. However, if Lee can have West struggle with his jump shot, it can further discourage this squad and have them defer to LeBron too often.
Prediction: Magic in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: Dwight Howard will be the critical factor in this series and I imagine he's going to have a field day in the paint. This was not a problem for the Cavs in earlier series, but a severely injured Al Horford and a three point friendly Rasheed Wallace aren't necessarily intimidating presences.
Conclusion: I had these two teams in the conference finals before the playoffs started, and I picked the Cavs to win it. I have no reason to back away from that precition now. However, I'm riding the Magic bandwagon and really feel as if this team plays great ball together. I could really fall on my face with this pick as I've rode the Cavs bandwagon all year, but I'm jumping off for this series. It's not a matter of what the Cavs can't do, they've proven they can play with anybody in the league. This is all about what the Magic are doing. They've blown teams out, won tough games, faced adversity and overcome obstacles. The Cavs could be riding momentum, but no team should be as confident as the Magic are. That convincing victory in Boston for game 7 should give the Magic the confidence to win a seventh and final game in Cleveland.
Western Conference Finals
(1) Los Angeles Lakers vs. (2) Denver Nuggets
Why The Lakers Will Win: The Lakers are top to bottom the more talented team. However, they have a tendency to let up and let Kobe Bryant do all of the work. Pau Gasol is hit or miss in the paint but came up big in game 7. Trevor Ariza will be able to guard Carmelo Anthony which should allow Kobe Bryant the freedom to opperate on offense. The bench, the defense and Andrew Bynum were huge in a critical game against Houston, and that should give the team some confidence going forward. Also, Dahntay Jones has done a good job against smaller guards, but he won't be able to check Kobe and J.R. Smith isn't a force on defense either.
Why The Nuggets Will Win: The Nuggets are playing the best basketball of anybody in the postseason. Everyone top to bottom is contributing, playing tough defense, hitting open jump shots and taking it to the basket at will. The Lakers soft inside should have the Nuggets licking their chops if they continue to play the game that they've been against the Hornets and Mavericks. Chauncey Billups should continue to give the Lakers problems at the point guard position and should be able to continue to keep Derek Fisher a non factor. Also, now that Kenyon Martin won't be busy guarding Kobe Bryant, he should be able to contain Pau Gasol and give him fits.
Key Player for the Lakers: Andrew Bynum was solid in the last two home games of the Houston series and if he can continue to be productive, even if at home, it will do wonders for the Lakers in the paint. Nene struggled away from Denver against the Mavericks and that was without any kind of inside presence on Dallas. If Bynum can play solid ball around the basket on both sides then the Lakers can take it.
Key Player for the Nuggets: The starting lineup is a toss up, but J.R. Smith can give the Nuggets something the Lakers haven't had this postseason, reliable, consistent production off of the bench. Chris Andersen got into foul trouble a lot in the Dallas series, but Smith was still able to play and has looked great the entire postseason. It feels as if everything he's letting go is going in. It's important for him to continue to produce, because if he gets hot Kobe Bryant will have to guard him and that can take away from his relaxing on defense.
Prediction: Lakers in seven
Key As To Why They Will Win: The Houston Rockets did the Lakers all sorts of favors in their second round matchup and I'll tell you why. The fact that they showed the Lakers they can't win simply by showing up should instill a sense of urgency for the Lake show against the red hot Nuggets. If the Lakers are on their game they're the most talented team in the league. Now that they're playing the best competition the West has to offer, I look for them to bring it every game.
Conclusion: This series was tough. It was left undecided even as I typed this and I feel as if it could justifiably go either way. The Nuggets should win the point guard and bench battles, but the Lakers should be able to match that at the wing spots and inside the paint. The Nuggets have faced teams that were inferior to them and they exerted their authoritiy. They won't be able to do that against the Lakers, and this is a series where a couple of losses could give the Nuggets some trouble. They haven't faced adversity in the playoffs in years. They've breezed through this postseason and were hardly in contention in previous years. It's vital that they go back to Denver with at loss one win if they're going to win this series, and I think the Lakers will ride game seven into games 1 and 2 in Los Angeles. That was the difference maker.