The Eastern Conference Semi-Finals open up this evening as the Celtics invade Cleveland and the LeBron Express. Could this be the last run for the second Big 3 and is its LeBron's farewell tour in Cleveland before this summer's much anticipated free agency circus begins?
The Celtics, who had the best record in the NBA through Christmas, limped into the post season on a .500 pace and left many (including myself) with serious reservations about whether they could even beat Dwayne Wade and the Heat in the 1st Round. But after handling Miami with relative ease, the C's seem poised to use give Cleveland a battle. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were hitting on all cylanders, Kevin Garnett, although not as explosive since last seasons injury, seemed to be returning to double-double form, Rondo continued playing well, effectively nuetralizing Wade and Kendrick Perkins and Glen Davis returned to their effective low post play that allowed the Garnettless Celtics to make a nice playoff run last season. Doc Rivers finally settled on an 8 man rotation instead acting like a church league coach and giving everyone playing time. The result, a dominant 4-1 series win.
For Cleveland, the big news seems to be the possible injury to LBJ's elbow. I have no doubt that he will be healthy and ready to go. The additions of Shaq and Antwan Jamison have Cleveland poised to return to the Finals for the first time since 2007. Mo Williams, Delonte West as well as Cleveland's reserves are complimenting LBJ and have propelled the Cavs to another great season. Winning time is now for the Cavs or it may be never.
For this series, I see Cleveland having a decided advantage. The Cavs have changed their entire starting line up, except for LeBron, since they lost to Boston in 7 games in 2008. The Cavs seem to be a better team when Shaq is not on the floor because they can stretch the court more with Jamison, Williams, West and my former neighbor Jemario Moon, thus giving LeBron more room to operate. Their is no stopping LeBron so Boston has to hope the other shooters are off their game like Miami was.
As for Boston, they need bench production from someone other then Big Baby Davis. The loss of Eddie House in the Nate Robinson trade has been a disaster, as has the acquisition of Rasheed Wallace. Doc Rivers cannot rely on Tony Allen to play as well as he did in the last series. Garnett will need atleast three 20 point/15 rebound games to make this a series because as much as I like him, Paul Pierce struggles against Cleveland because of the size difference against LeBron.
When the dust settles, I see Cleveland winning this series in 5 games. The Celtics definently have the ability to win this series, but they still play too sloppy at times and Rasheed Wallace will no doubt rear his ugly head with a lack of defense during in 12-18 minutes a game he sees in playing time. You will also be asking a Marquis Daniels or Nate Robinsion to contribute signficantly from the bench and I just don't see that happening. Of course, I was wrong about the last series so we'll see what happens.
Lakers-Jazz: Hate if for Utah that MehMet Okur and Andrei Kirelienko have been injured because they would have a legit shot to win this series. But the frontline of Bynum and & Gasol are too tall compared to Utah's Boozer and Millsaps. Lakers get a cakewalk now that they escaped the Fighting Durants, 4-1.
Sun-Spurs: The old men Spurs keep getting it done, even though Tim Duncan has been off his game. The addition of Antonio McDyess has paid huge dividends for the Spurs, who likly will out physical the Suns like they always seem to do when these two teams meet, similar to the Spurs-Mavs series, San Antonio 4-2.
Magic-TBD: Does it matter who wins the Hawks-Bucks series? I'm still disappointed the Hawks didn't offer me $10 playoff tickets today like they did for Game 5. Atlanta plays up or down to its competition so if its Atlanta, Magic win in 7. If its Milwaukee, Magic in 4.