NBA Conference Finals Preview

What better way to welcome the NBA’s Conference Finals than 1,500+ words of nonsense, comedy, and very brief insight. In other words, I become Charles Barkley.

The NBA Conference Finals are usually a good time. Two expected heavyweights and two surprises in the NBA’s final four should continue that trend. Even better, without the Cleveland LeBronaliers, we’ll be treated to four complete teams that don’t run a “stand around and watch that guy” offense. Ok, maybe 3 ½ depending on how Kobe is feeling. Let’s take a look…

Eastern Conference (4) Boston Celtics vs. (2) Orlando Magic

Favorite Player: Jameer Nelson. He’s a Philly boy and I still haven’t gotten over how amazing he was for St. Josephs in 2004. More importantly, it’s been nice to see him redeem himself for his disastrous performance in last year’s NBA Finals. Nelson was hurt and shouldn’t have played anyway, but when he did he was hard to watch. He won’t be the best point guard in the series, but unlike his counterpart, Nelson can hit an open jump shot.

Rooting For: I honestly haven’t decided yet. Heading into the Eastern Conference playoffs I was rooting for Dwayne Wade as long as he was around (only 5 games) and then I expected to swing my allegiance to the Magic. However, the second game of the Boston/Cleveland series changed my plan. In the second half of that game I tweeted: “On the verge of jumping on Celtics’ bandwagon for this series. Cavs are whiners, Ray Allen & Rondo are nasty, and KG’s faces are priceless.” At this point I’m 50/50 and could easily root for either team. It will probably come down to one team or one player doing something I don’t like and pushing my support the other way. Until then, I’m rooting for Tiger Woods to show up to a game in Orlando and Glen “Big Baby” Davis trampling him like he did that kid in last year’s conference semi. (Relive it here.)

What/who will be the Difference: Orlando is much deeper than Boston, and Boston can’t really match up with Dwight Howard (who can?). Although, if they can get Howard in foul trouble (somewhat easy to do) that will certainly limit the advantage he provides. Additionally, the Celtics will need another monster series from Rajon Rondo and will need much, much more from Paul Pierce than they got in the semis against Cleveland. Another important note is that the Magic hasn’t lost in the 2010 playoffs yet. I believe this has more to do with their opponents, but either way, it will be interesting to see how they respond when they are really tested for the first time in the playoffs. Regardless, it’s Orlando’s series to lose. I’m just thankful that Anderson Varejo doesn’t have to miss anymore runners and Mo Williams doesn’t have to go M.I.A. in the second half anymore.

Notables: The ESPN crew of Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, and Mike Breen are terrific. You may argue they’re annoying, but I love them. As a group, they’re highly entertaining, exciting, and brutally honest. *The point guard matchup will be fun too. As I mentioned, I love Jameer Nelson, but Rajon Rondo is a real treat to watch. His quickness is virtually un-guardable and his game IQ translates to success. However, I still laugh when the defense gives Rondo open 15 footers knowing he won’t take them because he’s a subpar shooter. If Rondo ever gets a consistent jump shot, look out. *The battle at center will also be a close one…although not in a basketball sense. Both Dwight Howard of the Magic and Kendrick Perkins of the Celtics are two of the biggest whiners you’ll find in the NBA. Thankfully, there’ll be a box of tissues courtside just in case either player loses control. *And finally, Kevin Garnett’s faces. Many people hate them and think he’s obnoxious. Garnett is obnoxious, but I love his “I’m clinically insane” faces and the intensity he brings to the game. Trash talking, gusto, leadership; Garnett brings it all. What’s not to like?

Prediction: Magic in 6. Why? I don’t know.

Western Conference (3) Phoenix Suns vs. (1) Los Angeles Lakers

Favorite Player: Adam Morrison. Morrison is the most underrated player in the league. He’s the purest shooter, grittiest defender, and has the heart of a champion. If I were to pick one pla… just kidding. That was fun though, no? I really don’t have a favorite player in this series. If I had to choose, I would go with Nash because of his toughness. He’s also a phenomenal (and underrated) shooter, great leader, and an amazing point guard. I would probably like him more if he didn’t send the Spurs home.  By the way, if Nash offered to shake my hand as he exited the court after a game, I would respectfully decline. How many times does he have his hands on the ball, another player, the floor, or his hair before he elegantly licks his fingers prior to a free-throw? There’s no way I’m touching his hands. No way.

Rooting For: I’m more likely to root for a sequel to Doubt than either of these teams. I despise the Lakers for three reasons. 1. Phil Jackson-can’t stand him. 2. Pau Gasol-can’t stand him. 3. Phil Jackson-I REALLY can’t stand him. I guess with that said, I will be rooting for the Phoenix Suns. While rooting for Phoenix won’t be enjoyable, it would be nice for Grant Hill and Nash to reach the finals. Although seeing Amare Stoudemire and Jared Dudley (whom I’ve disliked since his Boston College days) along for the ride will be tough to swallow. I’ll also spend a little energy rooting for Kobe. He’s a class one a-hole but so was Jordan, and it’s hard not to admire his will to win. If LeBron had half of Kobe’s will, the Cavs would still be around.

What/who will be the Difference: Andrew Bynum and Gasol will make life very difficult for the Suns. Their size and power down low should control the tempo of the game and limit the Suns’ fast break opportunities. If Bynum and Gasol are effective, Phoenix will need to shoot a high percentage and limit their turnovers just to hang around. While the Spurs lacked a superior defender, the Lakers have Ron Artest and if need be, Kobe. Furthermore, Phoenix won’t get as many second opportunities as they did in their prior series because of LA’s size, so again, it’s important they’re shooting above 50%. Similar to the eastern final, this series is the Lakers’ to lose. To advance, Phoenix must find a way to goat Kobe into taking too many shots and ignoring LA’s obvious advantage down low.

Notables: TNT’s pregame, halftime, and postgame coverage is infinitely better than ESPN’s because Charles, Kenny, and CWebb make you feel like you’re hanging out with your friends. Listening to Doug Collins during the game is fun too. It’s like when your dad speaks at the dinner table-everyone stops to listen. I love Doug Collins. I secretly wish he were my second grandfather. *To protect my TV and yours as well, I’ve already written the NBA requesting they limit airtime given Adam Morrison’s mustache. I’m not sure what look he’s going for, but “creepy pedophile guy” is the one that comes to mind. Or the Sydney Crosby look, whichever you prefer. *Channing Frye will undoubtedly shoot less than 30% from beyond the arc this series for two reasons. 1. He shot 54% to knock out the Spurs. And 2. I picked him for our playoff competition. *Last but not least, good old Jack Nicholson. I don’t understand why referees take grief from him. There must an agreement with the league or something. If he were any other fan, he would’ve been ejected a zillion times by now. I’m a devoted Sixers fan with a crush on the Spurs, but I will blindly follow any coach that draws up an inbound play right in front of Jack where the ball is inbounded and then immediately chucked back to the inbounder, only the inbounder ducks and the ball sails into Jack’s face. That’s not too much to ask, right?

Prediction: Lakers in 7. While the Suns have an aura about them, I don’t think it’ll be enough, so picking LA in 7 makes me appear like I know what I’m talking about.

LeBron James

As we all know, LeBron once again made an early exit from the postseason a la Alexander Ovechkin. Most of the writers I’ve read have covered all the significant points of LeBron’s latest failure. I agree with just about all of them too, especially the ones that detailed LeBron’s nonchalant demeanor as his season and tenure in Cleveland went down in flames. Since I have no original thoughts on the matter, I thought I would gloat and share this little piece I wrote up in March for a gentleman that wanted my opinion on LeBron James’ chances at a 2010 title. I missed on the Celtics part, but I think I was right on about the Cavaliers…

“Though we continue to ignore the truth, the seventh year of the LeBron James experience will end in similar fashion to its predecessors. It’s hard to argue otherwise too. Yes, LeBron James is the most gifted player in the NBA. Unfortunately, he’s also the only premiere player on his roster. We’ve seen this screenplay before: Incredibly talented superstar surrounded by average contributors. While it may make for an enjoyable regular season, the ending is anticlimactic, predictable, and downright lame.

While a repeat ending is imminent, mainstream media will undoubtedly spend the next few weeks convincing you and I that James and the Cleveland Cavaliers have enough to claim the title. Don’t listen. As good as he is, James doesn’t have the firepower to overcome the depth of his competitors. Shaquille O’Neal hasn’t been relevant in four years. Antawn Jamison came to town a year too late. Even Mo Williams and Delonte West are struggling. Just to get out of the East, the Cavs will need to get by the Orlando Magic and maybe even the Boston Celtics. James can handle the decrepit Celtics, but Orlando’s depth may derail Cleveland’s championship train. Furthermore, even advancing past the conference finals would match James against one of the heavy hitters from the Western Conference. Checkmate. There are just too many obstacles to overcome. LeBron’s teammates won’t be up to the challenge.

Great players lead teams to championships, but rarely carry them entirely. Kobe Bryant had Pau Gasol. Paul Pierce had Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Even the great Michael Jordan had Scottie Pippen. LeBron’s alone. That isn’t going to change, at least not in time for the 2010 playoffs. ”

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