Cleveland Cavaliers vs (8) Chicago Bulls
Wow, the Cavs already won Game 1 without much of a hiccup. Stop the presses. Is this surprising to you? Well, it shouldn’t be. The Cavs played great with Shaq back in the lineup. O’Neal looked like he didn’t miss a beat after sitting out most of the second half of the season. His performance was reminiscent of the Shaq of old rather than old Shaq.
The testy but valiant Bulls may actually catch the Cavs asleep and steal a game but that seems like wishful thinking. Did you see how focused LeBron James was? He finally has the fire in his belly to compete for a championship. James learned a thing or two from Kobe Bryant during the Redeem Team’s Olympic run – talent isn’t everything, it’s inner drive that makes you a great basketball player and wins you championships.
Confidence will not be enough for the Chicago Bulls. Cavs advance to the second round in four games.
Orlando Magic vs (7) Charlotte Bobcats
This is probably the most intriguing match-up in the playoffs. The versatility of the Bobcats against the new look, but still motivated Magic. Vince Carter and Rashard Lewis against defensive minded Gerald Wallace and the unpredictable Stephen Jackson. With so much focus on how Vince Carter will perform in the playoffs, the Magic’s real key to success is Jameer Nelson. Nelson wasn’t close to a hundred percent in the Finals against the Lakers, this year he’ll get the chance to prove how valuable he is to Orlando’s title hopes. He needs to attack the rim and hit his threes, similar to what Rafer Alston did for the Magic last year.
Orlando is a deeper team with Matt Barnes, Ryan Anderson, Jason Williams, Brandon Bass and Marcin Gortat as their bench players. They also have bigger and more athletic players – expect them to outmuscle Charlotte in the paint. Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown will keep things interesting, but his team lacks the fouls to use on Dwight Howard.
Dwight Howard’s size in the middle will be too much for Charlotte. The Magic advance to the second round in six games.
Atlanta Hawks vs (6) Milwaukee Bucks
The Hawks came out the gate and blitzed the undermanned Bucks in the first half – they scored 62 points and held the Bucks to 40 points. A ton of blocks and defensive stops paved way for the Hawks fast break points.
Atlanta’s first half performance was nearly perfect, but they almost wasted it with a lackluster second outing. The Bucks outscored the Hawks 52 to 40 in the second half. Rookie Brandon Jennings carried most of the scoring load with Andrew Bogut and Michael Redd suffering season ending injuries. Jennings scored 34 points and there was not one Hawk who could guard him. Jennings may have to score 55 points again for the Hawks to even have a chance in the series.
Jamal Crawford scored 17 points in his playoff debut. All five of the Hawks starters scored in double digits.
The Hawks inability to close out opponents almost haunted them in Game 1. The Bucks might actually steal a game before succumbing to the deeper and more talented Hawks. Hawks in five games.
Boston Celtics vs (5) Miami Heat
Dwyane Wade had a great game against the Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series. He scored 26 points on 11 of 18 shooting, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out six assists. Despite throwing the ball away seven times, he was efficient both ways of the floor. That’s the main problem why the Heat lost. Only Wade had a great game. Quentin Richardson was the other Heat player who scored in double figures. Miami’s other starters, Carlos Arroyo, Jermaine O’Neal and Michael Beasley combined to make nine of their 27 shots for 20 points.
If I were D-Wade, I’d already be asking if LeBron James is willing to go to New York with me. Miami has failed to surround Wade with the supporting cast he has been asking for all season. If Miami gets swept, there’s no doubt that Wade will bolt to another team this summer.
Kevin Garnett scored 15 points, grabbed nine rebounds and threw one elbow that hit Richardson’s jaw. Things got chippy after Paul Pierce fell in front of the Miami bench. Richardson stood directly above Pierce and Garnett took it as disrespect.
With Wade doing everything for Miami except the laundry, the Celtics will likely wear him down in a seven game series. O’Neal and Beasley will have two big games to keep Miami from getting swept. Other than that, the Celtics will beat Miami in six games and win their last playoff series with the Big Three.