March Madness left me wounded (thanks a lot, Syracuse!) But the D-League playoffs have me on the rebound with my predictions after going 4-0 in the first round. So, I thought I'd take a stab at the NBA playoffs while I'm at it.
For what it's worth, I hit on six of the eight playoff teams in both my East and West preseason predictions. I narrowly missed on the Thunder (9th) and seriously underestimated Milwaukee, who I picked to finish dead last in the East.
The biggest difference is between the NBA playoffs and NCAA Tournament is that March Madness is one-and-done, which, as we all witnessed this year, opens the door to plenty of unpredictable upsets. In the D-League, the playoffs expanded to a best-of-3 series this season, so upsets are still possible, but it can't happen with just one fluke performance. The NBA model of best-of-7 means the best team usually wins. With that in mind, here are my picks:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers over 8. Chicago Bulls in 4
4. Boston Celtics over 5. Miami Heat in 7
3. Atlanta Hawks over 6. Milwaukee Bucks in 6
2. Orlando Magic over 7. Charlotte Bobcats in 6
1. Los Angeles Lakers over 8. Oklahoma City Thunder in 5
4. Denver Nuggets over 5. Utah Jazz in 7
3. Phoenix Suns over Portland Trail Blazers in 6
2. Dallas Mavericks over San Antonio Spurs in 6
1. Cleveland Cavaliers over 4. Boston Celtics in 5
2. Orlando Magic over 3. Atlanta Hawks in 6
1. Los Angeles Lakers over 4. Denver Nuggets in 7
2. Dallas Mavericks over 3. Phoenix Suns in 6
1. Cleveland Cavaliers over 2. Orlando Magic in 6
1. Los Angeles Lakers over 2. Dallas Mavericks in 6
2010 NBA Finals
Los Angeles Lakers over Cleveland Cavaliers in 7
I know the Lakers are entering the playoffs with several question marks. Their play has tapered off down the stretch. Andrew Bynum hasn't played in weeks. Kobe Bryant is showing signs of wear and tear. Plus, LeBron James has been a force all year long and seems hell bent on winning the title this year before becoming a free agent this summer.
Still, I picked the Lakers over the Cavs way back in October, and I'm a Lakers fan, so I'm sticking with the pick. It's almost impossible for a defending NBA champion to come in under the radar, but this Lakers team is not expected to win. People are talking about them like they're a lost cause. If anyone can perform an instant playoff turnaround, it's Phil Jackson. And if they do advance to the Finals to meet the Cavs, the Phil Jackson vs. Mike Brown coaching dynamic favors the Lakers. And although Kobe-LeBron is no longer a question in terms of athletic talent, LeBron still hasn't gotten it done in the postseason. There is no doubt that Kobe's competitive fire will be at an all-time high if this series materializes because he wants no part of being a torch passer. Not now. Not yet. Lakers in a memorable seven games is my prediction.