NBA Power Rankings: Lakers rise, Heat fall

1- San Antonio Spurs (49-11)

The San Antonio Spurs continue to play consistently well as the sit atop the NBA power rankings once again. Not only have Tim Duncan and company been able to keep their loss total to just 11, which is pretty impressive to say the least, but they are considered to be the team to beat in the Western Conference from here on out.

The Spurs did suffer a slight setback recently with former All-Star point guard Tony Parker going down with a calf injury, but if San Antonio can continue to play at this level with George Hill at the point over the next month or so, they will almost certainly clinch the number one seed in the West.

Gregg Popovich has coached the San Antonio Spur ...
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2- Dallas Mavericks (44-16)

The Dallas Mavericks have played an excellent brand on basketball as of late and are just five games behind the league leading San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference, but unless Greg Popovich’s squad starts to struggle without Tony Parker, the Mavs will probably stick at the number two spot.

Mark Cuban made another key addition recently by picking up the recently bought Corey Brewer. This could prove to be a key in the final stretch of the season as Brewer provides an extra scoring punch off the bench.

3- Chicago Bulls (41-17)

There more people doubt this team, the more success they seem to have. Along with All-Star point guard Derrick Rose quickly turning into a legitimate superstar in this league and leading the way in the NBA MVP race, the Chicago Bulls have become arguably one of the best teams in the league.

Whether or not D-Rose and company can compete with the likes of the Celtics, Heat and Magic during the playoffs remains to be seen, but with wins over the Spurs, Lakers and the Heat earlier in the season, the Bulls could be dangerous to say the least.

4- Boston Celtics (43-15)

Not quite sure why the Boston Celtics are this far down this list of the NBA’s best, but I’d bet they will almost certainly rise higher and higher as we get closer and closer to playoff time. The Celtics did make a bold and questionable move by trading away arguably their best defensive big man in center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder, but they should be able to continue to hold their own as long as they can stay healthy.

Things will get very interesting heading towards the playoffs as we see how well the Celtics can adjust to life without Perkins.

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5- Los Angeles Lakers (43-19)

The two-time defending NBA champions have had their fair share of struggles this season, but they have been able to get back to form recently with five straight wins, three of which over playoff bound teams. This veteran team might still be headed for disappointment come playoff time, but right now they look about as good as it gets in the Western Conference.

6-10: Miami Heat (43-17), Orlando Magic (39-22), Oklahoma City Thunder (36-22), Memphis Grizzlies (34-28), Denver Nuggets (35-26)

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NBA Trade: Celtics trade Kendrick Perkins to Thunder for Jeff Green

BOSTON - NOVEMBER 12:  Kendrick Perkins #43 of...
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The Baron Davis trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Los Angeles Clippers was just the first of many deals made on the NBA trade deadline on Weds. Feb. 24, but the one trade that might have the biggest impact is the one that the Boston Celtics made with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There is no doubt that the Oklahoma City Thunder is one of the most promising young teams in the league led by the league’s leading scorer Kevin Durant, but they have had some serious issues in the paint with the inability to compete against big teams like the two-time defending Los Angeles Lakers. With that being said, the Thunder decided to make a bold move on Wednesday by acquiring one of the best big men in the league in center Kendrick Perkins.

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Over the past couple of years, Perkins has been the Boston Celtics main man in the paint as he is more than willing to do all the dirty work and concentrate on cleaning up the glass. Along with the ability to bang with the best of them in the key, Perkins can be an offensive threat with his back to the basket or as a jump shooter.

Ironically enough, the Boston Celtics have used Kendrick Perkins as somewhat of a scapegoat for their loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 NBA Finals. With Perkins suffering a season-ending knee injury, the Celtics just weren’t able to contend with a much bigger Lakers squad in the paint.

Fortunately, the Celtics were able to get their defensive-minded center back on the floor recently, but in an interesting twist, Celtics GM Danny Ainge decided to trade the big man to the Oklahoma City Thunder for forward Jeff Green.

Perkins takes to the hoop
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The core of this deal is without a doubt Kendrick Perkins and Jeff Green, but the Celtics also traded away backup point guard and spark off the bench in Nate Robinson. In my opinion, this deal makes absolutely no sense for Boston as the Celtics get smaller and lose one of the better backup point guards in the game. Jeff Green is a solid player and a could be a very good addition to this team in the future, but as for right now, this trade could seriously affect Boston’s chances of contending with the Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls and the Orlando Magic in the playoffs.

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Other parts to his deal include the Thunder sending forward Nenad Kristic to Boston. Even though Kristic is considered a “big man” he is more of a shooter and isn’t a player that plays with his back to the basket like Perkins.

Personally, I believe this deal is an awful one of the Boston Celtics and a steal for the Oklahoma City Thunder, but Celtics GM Danny Ainge must have something up his sleeve as Boston is one of the Eastern Conference superpowers and could be well on their way to an NBA title. With that being said, Ainge must have plans to sign some veterans or something else in mind.

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2010 NBA Three-Point Shootout: Ray Allen the favorite?

2010 NBA Three-Point Shootout participants:

Paul Pierce, Boston Celtics (defending champ)

Paul Pierce won the 2010 Foot Locker Three-Poi...
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Last year Paul Pierce entered the 3-point shootout and many people were shaking their heads as he isn’t really considered to be amongst the elite players in the league from beyond the arc. Even though the consensus was that the Boston Celtics leading scorer would be knocked out in the first round, The Truth proved everyone wrong as he beat out rookie Stephon Curry and won his first 3-point contest.

This year he will be defending his title against some pretty solid opponents, but it will be his teammate Ray Allen that he will be worried about stealing his crown.

Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers

The Cleveland Cavaliers may have gotten the best of the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers in the last game before the NBA All-Star break, but they are still without a doubt the worst team in the league this season as they just can’t get anything going with LeBron James running the show in Cleveland.

Fortunately, despite all the negative press coming out of Cleveland, the Cavaliers might get some positive vibes coming from their sharp shooter Daniel Gibson who will be looking to win the 3-point shootout.

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Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder

The Oklahoma City Thunder are at it again this season as they are arguably one of the best teams in the Western Conference for a second consecutive year, but they will have their work cut out for them if they want to go deeper in the playoffs this time as the West is as tough as it gets this time around.

Fortunately, even though the competition has gotten better out West, the Thunder are still firing on all cylinders with the league’s leading scorer Kevin Durant leading the charge in Oklahoma City. Along with going for the All-Star game MVP on Sunday, Durant will try and prove that he is amongst the best outside shooters in the league in the 3-point shootout.

James Jones playing with the Miami Heat
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James Jones, Miami Heat

This season the Miami Heat have gotten a lot of exposure for being one of the best teams in the league with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James leading the way, but they wouldn’t be as good this year without the outside shooting of James Jones.

As one of the underdogs in this contest, no one will be expecting much from Jones, but he could be a dark horse in this competition.

Dorell Wright, Golden State Warriors

The Golden State Warriors are one of the best offensive teams in the league as they can light up the scoreboard on any given night with scorers like Stephon Curry and Monte Ellis, but they are also deadly from outside with Dorell Wright.

Much like James Jones, Dorell Wright won’t be given much of a chance in the 3-point shootout, but he might be able to surprise some people.

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Ray Allen, Boston Celtics (won in 2001)

Just recently against the arch rival Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics sharp shooter Ray Allen became the league’s leader in 3-point field goals made all-time by passing NBA great Reggie Miller. Not only was this a well deserved accomplishment for arguably the best pure shooter of all-time, but it has cemented his legacy and he will look to add a second 3-point shootout victory to his resume this Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Ray Allen is the favorite to win this competition, but I won’t be surprise to see Paul Pierce give his teammate a run for his money!

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NBA Matchup: Los Angeles Lakers @ Boston Celtics

Los Angeles Lakers at Boston Celtics Thurs. Feb. 10, 2011 8 p.m. EST

As one of the few heated NBA rivalries to stand the test of time, the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers and the defending Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics always give each other a run for their money every time they go head-to-head during the NBA regular season.

A few weeks ago, the Lakers and the Celtics faced off for the first time since Game 7 of the2010 NBA Finals. Obviously, Kevin Garnett and company still had a bitter taste in their mouths considering how close they came to get the best of the Lakers once again on the NBA’s biggest stage and winning yet another NBA title.

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Even though these two teams were considered to be equals on the basketball court heading into this showdown at the Staples Center, that wasn’t the consensus around the league once the final buzzer sounded at the end of the fourth quarter. The Lakers may have been in control in the first half with reigning NBA Finals MVP Kobe Bryant lighting up the scoreboard for 22 points heading into halftime, but the second half was a different story altogether.

Once the second half began, Paul Pierce really started to get hot in the third quarter and finished with a team-high 32 points. Pierce’s big third quarter was the turning point in this game as the Lakers were able to keep it close, but losing control after the Celtics’ leading scorer took over.

Boston Celtics forward Kevin Garnett shoots ov...
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Kobe Bryant tried to rally his boys back in the fourth quarter, like he had done countless times during his Hall of Fame caliber career, but the Black Mamba’s season-high 41 points turned out to be not enough to lead the defending champs to victory over their arch rivals.

On Thursday night, the Lakers will travel to Boston and enter an extremely hostile environment at the Garden. Even though Phil Jackson’s squad struggled to compete with the Celtics late in their last meeting, the Lakers will come into this game with a must win mentality as a loss to Boston could devastate this team’s confidence against the best of the best in the league.

Over the past few days, there have been a lot of trade rumors circulating around the Lakers as players like Ron Artest and Andrew Bynum appear to be on the block. The Lakers have recently been linked to superstar Carmelo Anthony and a trade with the Denver Nuggets, but it is all speculation at this point.

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If the Lakers do lose to the Celtics for the second time this season on Thursday night, the defending champs will almost certainly a make deal to improve their team and their chances of pulling off the three-peat in Phil Jackson’s farewell season.

Personally, I believe the Lakers still have some fight in them as all they need to do is starting playing up to their potential, but this team seems prone to quitting when the chips are down. A win over the Boston Celtics could be just what they need to get right back on track!

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A Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics NBA Finals rematch on the horizon?

Staff Writer for Basketball Betting - A true Lakers Fan
Staff Writer: Ryan Ward

There are only a few really heated rivalries in professional sports today that despite whether or not you actually a fan of either team still make it really enjoyable to watch as you see two teams that don’t like each other battle it out.

The one rivalry in baseball today that gets a lot of attention and justifiably so, is when the New York Yankees face off against the Boston Red Sox. No matter who you are, matter what team you support in the MLB, there’s a good chance that you as he watched the Red Sox /Yankees game at some point in your life. Players may come and go on these storied baseball franchises, but the rivalry is always there and extremely heated to say the least.

Unfortunately, no other rivalry in any other professional sport really comes close to the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, but the one that has started to come back as one of the best rivalries in sports is the Los Angeles Lakers go head-to-head against the Boston Celtics.

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A couple of seasons ago, the Boston Celtics completely revamped their team by adding to superstars into the mix in Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Not only was the addition of these two players she which to say the least, but the Celtics also drafted a promising young point guard in Rajon Rondo.

Needless to say, Rondo has come into his own playing alongside superstars Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett and is arguably the best point guard in the league today. With this team as complete as it could be, the Boston Celtics went on to win an NBA title in their first year with the superstars and young point guard together.

The one thing that made this even more interesting than it already was is the fact that they won that NBA title with a victory over Kobe Bryant and the arch rival Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

Back in the 1980s, Magic Johnson led his Los Angeles Lakers won multiple titles over the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird. Not only do the Lakers win a few titles during that decade, but so did the Celtics and their rivalry intensified more and more with every passing season.

The rivalry is still pretty heated at this point, but probably will never reach the intensity of the 80s as it was a different game a different time. Even though this is most likely the case, the NBA Finals could shape up to be a very entertaining one this season as the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are favorites to reach the NBA championship once again.

Back in 2008, Boston Celtics basically dominated Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals and went on to win an NBA title in somewhat convincing fashion, but since then Kobe Bryant and company have really come on strong and will be the defending champs this time around if they can get past the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.

The Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers meeting in the NBA Finals for a rematch of 2008 is by far the most desired matchup of any combination of teams left, but both teams still have to finish off their current opponents in order to make their rematch happen.

More than likely though, we will see Kobe Bryant and company try to avenge the 2008 loss against the Boston Celtics In the NBA Finals this season.

Are the Boston Celtics for real?

Staff Writer for Basketball Betting - A true Lakers Fan
Staff Writer: Ryan Ward

It was not long ago when the Boston Celtics were considered arguably the worst team in the NBA. They simply had no hope for the future or for the struggling superstar in Paul Pierce who was trying to do all he could just to get them into the playoffs.

Unfortunately, Paul Pierce’s efforts to lead his team back to greatness fell short every single year and even though he had some promising seasons alongside Antoine Walker, the Celtics never seemed to be able to get over the hump compete with the best teams in the Eastern Conference.

Even though the Boston Celtics have been down in the dumps ever since the days Larry Bird in his prime, Paul Pierce was still dedicated to winning and had no intentions of leaving town. Fortunately, despite many people thinking he was crazy for not wanting to go elsewhere, he stuck around just in time to see Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett come to Boston and help lead the way to an NBA title.

With a complete turnaround in just one season, the Boston Celtics went from the worst team in the league to arguably the best and did it all with some impressive lockdown defense.

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Not only was the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen godsend for the Boston Celtics, but these two players was just what the doctor ordered moving forward and winning one NBA title was not enough for these NBA superstars.

Ever since winning the NBA championship back in 2008 against their arch rivals in the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics have been plagued with injuries and have failed to get back to form over the past two seasons. Despite struggling at times during season with injuries to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics seem to have gotten healthy just in time and seem ready to contend for a title once again.

In the first round playoffs, the Boston Celtics had a relatively easy team to face in
the Miami Heat. The only player of any real concern for the Celtics in this series was Dwyane Wade. Much like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, Dwyane Wade has the unique ability to put a team on his back and lead them to victory single handedly. Even though Wade had his best playoff game in his career with 46 points during the series, the Heat posed little or no threat to actually win the series and were knocked out after just five games.

The same cannot be said for the second round the playoffs for the Boston Celtics as they had to deal with LeBron James and the Eastern Conference favorites in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Coming into the playoffs, the Cavs were thought to be the team to beat with all the right pieces finally coming together and LeBron James’s best chance of winning an NBA title in Cleveland.

Even though no one had the Boston Celtics pulling off the upset of the Cleveland Cavaliers in second round, that is exactly what happened as Kevin Garnett and company got back to their fierce defense and dominated LeBron James and company in six games.

This was a shock to say the least for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the entire NBA for that matter as no one saw it coming or even anticipated the fact that the Cavs would not be playing in the NBA Finals this season.

Despite the victory over the Cavs for the Celtics being arguably their biggest achievement since winning the NBA title in 2008, Doc Rivers’ squad had another tough task ahead of them in the form of Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic in the Eastern Conference finals.

Throughout the NBA playoffs no team has been more dominant than the Orlando Magic as they have failed to lose a single game in the first two rounds of the playoffs against the Charlotte Bobcats and the Atlanta Hawks. Despite Dwight Howard and company being flawless coming into game one of the Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics were ready for them and hadn’t missed a step from their previous series by beating the Orlando Magic on their home floor.

Whether or not Kevin Garnett and company can beat the Orlando Magic in a seven-game series remains to be seen, but they have definitely got off to a quick start and are officially title contenders once again in my opinion.

Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Orlando Magic

Staff Writer for Basketball Betting - A true Lakers Fan

Staff Writer: Ryan Ward

The most intriguing matchup of the NBA playoffs so far has been Boston Celtics against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round as Doc Rivers’ squad showed that they aren’t as old as everybody has said they are and they could very well be on the way to another NBA title.

Not only did the Boston Celtics dominate LeBron James and company in this series in almost every aspect of the game, but that classic Celtics lockdown defense that we saw in their 2008 championship run seems to be back in Boston.

Even though the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James were arguably their toughest test of the entire season, the Orlando Magic pose another threat entirely as they are extremely talented on the offensive end of the floor and have arguably the best defensive player in the league the in the paint in Dwight Howard.

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There’s no doubt in my mind that the Boston Celtics can compete and beat the Orlando Magic in a seven-game series, but it will be no easy task as they don’t have just one player to shut down in the series against the Magic.

Obviously, when you play the Cleveland Cavaliers the defense focuses on LeBron James and if the defense can shut down arguably the best plan the league, the team forces the role players to step up and get it done. In Eastern Conference finals, the Boston Celtics focus on shutting down Dwight Howard in the paint, but unlike the Cavs, the Orlando Magic have multiple offense of weapons with players like Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis and Jameer Nelson which can pick up the slack and hurt opposing defenses in many different ways.

The one great thing about this Eastern Conference finals playoff series will be that is a classic matchup between the great offense and a great defense. The cliché in professional sports these days is that defense wins championships and even though I believe the defense plays a pivotal part in winning championships, especially in the NBA, I do believe an unstoppable offense can be just as good if not better than a lockdown defense.

Even though the Boston Celtics defense might be the key to this series against a relentless Orlando Magic offense, the one thing that I can see that will be the X-factor is the heart and soul of the Boston Celtics in Kevin Garnett.

Over the past two seasons Kevin Garnett has been plagued with injuries, really for the first time in his NBA career, but the future hall of famer is finally healthy and he displayed that fact against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round.

Obviously, Kevin Garnett will have his hands full against Dwight Howard which will test him on both ends of the floor, but KG has a heart, drive and a never say die attitude that will propel his team into the NBA Finals once again.

Another key matchup to watch during this series is at the point guard position with two very young and talented players going at it. Jameer Nelson of the Orlando Magic has played a big role in their success this season and throughout the postseason, but will have his hands full against arguably the best point guard in the league in Rajon Rondo.

Not only does Rondo have the advance on defense against Nelson in my opinion, but I believe he might also have the same advantage on the offensive end of the floor. Nelson is the better shooter, there is no doubt about that, but Rondo is a great playmaker which might be the difference.

Needless to say, this playoff matchup could quite possibly be the best match of left in the NBA postseason and without a doubt a must watch for any avid NBA fan.

Series Prediction: Boston Celtics 4-3

Can the Boston Celtics compete with LeBron James and company?

Staff Writer for Basketball Betting - A true Lakers Fan
Staff Writer: Ryan Ward

The first round of the NBA playoffs was a fairly easy one for the Boston Celtics as they made quick work of Dwyane Wade and the Miami Heat in just five games. At times the Heat looked like they could give Kevin Garnett and company a run for their money, but once the Celtics turned on the defensive pressure and showed that they had no intentions of going home early, the series was over and Boston moved on to the second round to face LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In the first game of this second round series, the Boston Celtics absolutely dominated the Cleveland Cavaliers through the first three quarters, but in the fourth the Cavs turned it on and pulled away from the Celtics to win convincingly.

Despite the disappointing loss, the Boston Celtics showed that they could play and compete with Mike Brown’s squad as they had no fear of the conference favorites.

In game two, Kevin Garnett and company showed why they aren’t done yet as they proved to the Cleveland Cavaliers, on their home floor at Quicken Loans Arena, that they can hang and beat this team in a seven-game series. It was an absolute blowout and an embarrassing loss in from the home crowd for the Cavs and really made people doubt whether or not the Cavs could compete for an NBA title.

Even though the chips were down and many people were starting to believe that the Boston Celtics were the better team in the series, game three was another story altogether as LeBron James just flipped the switch and crushed the Celtics in the first half with 28 points. After LeBron went off, the Celtics had no hope of getting back into the game and eventually lost by 29 points and will head into game four down 2-1.

Personally, I believe the Boston Celtics still have what it takes to pull off the unlikely upset over the Cleveland Cavaliers as Doc Rivers’ squad does one thing exceptionally well, play defense.

The Boston Celtics obviously have no answer for LeBron James, neither does any team for that matter, but they do have an answer for the rest of the Cleveland Cavaliers and if they can force the role players to step up then they have a good chance of advancing to Eastern conference finals.

Heading into game four of this series, the Celtics will be in a must win situation as heading back to Cleveland down 3-1 will be devastating and almost an unwinnable situation.

From here on out it will be extremely difficult for the Celtics to actually compete in the series, but with all the veterans on this team with playoff experience I believe they can do it. Game four will be a big deciding factor in the series as you will see whether or not the boys in green have what it takes to consistently beat the Cavs and show that they are ready for one more title run before the big three either leave town or decide hang them up.

NBA Playoff Preview: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Staff Writer for Basketball Betting - A true Lakers Fan
Staff Writer: Ryan Ward

The first round of the playoffs was fairly easy for the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Boston Celtics as they faced inferior opponents and lost no more than one game in their series. The second round however will be a daunting task for both of these Eastern conference heavyweights as they will face their toughest test of the season when they go head-to-head.

Heading into the playoffs in the Eastern Conference, there are only two teams that were thought to be able to make it all away to the NBA Finals. The Orlando Magic have had a repeat performance of their great season last year and were thought to give any opponent in the playoffs run for their money, but the Cleveland Cavaliers are the team that everyone believes can beat anybody in a seven-game series.

Last year the Cleveland Cavaliers absolutely dominated in the regular season and everyone was already crowding them as NBA champs before the playoffs even began, but Dwight Howard and company had other intentions as they came into the Eastern Conference finals full confidence and ready to advance to the NBA Finals.

Unfortunately for the Cavs, this exactly what happened as they went home early in the postseason was an absolute disappointment as they were dominated by the Orlando Magic.

As a way of trying to be able to contain Dwight Howard in the paint if they end up facing them in the Eastern Conference finals this season, the Cleveland Cavaliers went out and traded for future Hall of fame center Shaquille O’Neal. Out of all the centers in the league, Shaq is the only one that can really go up against Howard and come out on top or limit his ability to take over the game.

Even though a Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic rematch in the Eastern Conference finals may happen, LeBron James and company have to deal with the Boston Celtics first who are looking a lot like a team that won the title in 2009.

A couple games during the series with the Miami Heat, the Boston Celtics look old and flawed just like many people thought they would be coming into the playoffs. Fortunately though, Paul Pierce and company were able to turn things around and ultimately looked like a title contending team once again with physical play and lockdown defense.

From here on out is no way the Boston Celtics will be able to dispute the fact that they are an aging team with only a few chances last to contend for a title. Despite this being the is truth, the Celtics are a passionate team that never give up and I believe they will give two-time MVP LeBron James and company a run for their money in the second round series.

Ultimately, the Cleveland Cavaliers will most likely advance to the Eastern Conference finals, but I do believe the Boston Celtics have what it takes to beat the Cavs in a seven-game series if they can remain dominant on their home floor.

One key to this series will be the health of LeBron James who sustained an elbow injury against the Chicago Bulls in the first round. Reportedly, it is a bone bruise on his elbow and LeBron will be good to go for game one, but it is his right arm which is his shooting arm and could affect his shot and overall game.

If LeBron does struggle with this injury, I believe the scales will tilt severely in the Boston Celtics favor, but if LeBron can get back to form I see them advancing and six games.

Series Prediction: 4-3 Cleveland Cavaliers

NBA Playoff Previews – Eastern Conference

Staff Writer: Jeremiah Ira Yap

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.