A mere five and a half months since my prediction of a Clippers-Cavs NBA Finals, and let’s not forget my wise calls for a Bears Super Bowl victory and a UCLA national title, either, it’s playoffs time in the NBA, which means that it’s time for some more spot-on, can’t-miss predictions from yours truly.
p. **EASTERN CONFERENCE**
The bottom three seeds of the East — the New Jersey Nets, Washington Wizards and Orlando Magic — will all make quick exits. The Wizards are a sad case, because with a healthy Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler, they would have had a legitimate shot at making it to the Finals on the strength of their tremendous scoring ability.
p. The Chicago Bulls got the raw end of the deal this year, as they get stuck in the no. 5 seed and will battle the reigning NBA champion and fourth-seed Miami Heat, despite having a better record than both the Heat and the third-seeded Toronto Raptors. The second-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers will make quick work of the inexperienced Raptors in the second round, advancing to the conference finals. I expect the Heat to be too much for the Bulls to handle, with Shaquille O’Neal playing as well as he has in years. However, the top-seeded Pistons’ experience and balance will carry them past the Heat in the second round, thereby avenging last year’s loss in the conference finals. In a rematch of last season’s conference semifinals, the Cavs and Pistons will once again play a seven-game series, only this time with Cleveland besting Detroit, as LeBron James takes over at the end of games just when the Cavs need him to.
p. **WESTERN CONFERENCE**
Let’s be honest, this is the real NBA Finals. Even die-hard fans of other teams must be secretly praying for a matchup pitting the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns against each other. They each could be in for a bit of a test in the first round, however, as the seventh-seeded Los Angeles Lakers and eighth-seeded Golden State Warriors are more than capable of playing up to their competition. Both Dallas and Phoenix should advance, however, as should the San Antonio Spurs in the three seed. The Spurs better hope they make quick work of the mediocre Denver Nuggets (how’s that Allen Iverson trade looking now?) so that they can rest up before taking on the fast-paced Suns. Don’t forget about the four vs. five match-up, however, as the surprising Utah Jazz host the Houston Rockets. I’m going to go with Houston in this one – McGrady has just been too good this season, even in Yao’s absence. In the second round, I expect the Rockets to push the Mavericks hard in the first couple of games, but eventually succumb to a Dallas squad too deep for the Rockets to handle. While I’m reluctant to ever count the Spurs out of a series, I can’t see the Suns to San Antonio in their second round match-up. Not only are the Suns a fast break waiting to happen, but Amare Stoudemire is now once again capable of taking over a game in the half court after his remarkable comeback from injury.
p. This brings us to the Western Conference finals, a dream of a series between the Suns and the Mavericks. It’s really hard to pick a winner in this one, as both teams are capable of going on streaks during which they are unstoppable, and each has several game-changing performers in Leandro Barbosa, Raja Bell, Shawn Marion, Steve Nash and Stoudemire for the Suns and Devin Harris, Josh Howard, Dirk Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse and Jason Terry for the Mavericks. In the end, though, I like the Suns. The demons of last year’s Finals collapse are apparently still dogging Nowitzki, as he has faltered at the end of several big games thisseason. Also, with Stoudemire back in the mix and their transition game thriving, the Suns can put up plenty of points even when their outside shooting is off. This series should go seven ultra-competitive games, with the Suns finally coming out on top.
p. **NBA FINALS**
The Suns will prove to be too much for the over-matched Cavaliers, running them ragged up and down the court. Stoudemire wins the MVP trophy as the Suns take the series in five.