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News » Two easy roads to NBA Finals


Two easy roads to NBA Finals


Two easy roads to NBA Finals
If you're angry when someone tells you about a movie before you've seen it, stop reading right now.

The NBA playoffs started Saturday. Problem is we already know the outcome ... at least which two teams will survive and advance to the NBA Finals.

The only unsolved mystery is what happens at the end. Everything else is a warm-up.

There are mixed opinions on who will win the NBA title, but it will be shocking if the Lakers and Cavaliers don't square off in early June.

It goes far beyond both teams owning home-court advantage.

The Lakers have no real competition in the West. They were the favorite before Andrew Bynum returned. With Bynum back, the Lakers are overwhelming favorites.

In the East, Kevin Garnett's injury ruins Boston's chances. The harsh reality is the Celtics would have been underdogs with KG.

The Cavs are 39-2 at home. LeBron James watched the last home loss from the bench, so that doesn't really count.

And for those who still like the Celtics, here's a sobering stat - in the Boston-Cleveland series, including the playoffs, the home team has won the last 16 games.

Even if the Cavs drop a home game, LeBron, Mo Williams and the Cavs can win on the road.

Out West, it's difficult to single out which team is most dangerous to the Lakers.

Denver earned the No. 2 seed, which is why George Karl is a Coach of the Year candidate. Chauncey Billups has championship experience. Carmelo Anthony is a star. But the Nuggets might not even reach the Western finals. If they do, they're overmatched.

Houston could be the biggest threat to the Lakers. The Rockets, though, fell to the No. 5 seed. They have to win on the road in every round. They don't have the Tracy McGrady first-round jinx hanging over them since McGrady is out, but it's tough to win three series on the road.

San Antonio has won titles in odd-numbered years (2003, 2005 and 2007). But Manu Ginobili is out for the playoffs. Tim Duncan is hobbled. Drawing Dallas was a blessing compared to Houston or Portland. Still, the Spurs would be no match for the Lakers.

Portland is as hot as any team. The Trail Blazers have improved late in the season on the road. This young team doesn't have playoff experience, but red-hot Portland is one of the more intriguing playoff teams.

With Chris Paul, New Orleans is always dangerous. But Tyson Chandler hasn't been 100 percent. The Hornets have been inconsistent all season, losing 13 home games. After last year's magical run, they could upset Denver but can't win three road series.

Dallas was hot down the stretch but is 10-16 against Western Conference playoff teams. Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd have playoff experience, but the Mavericks will be lucky just to get past the Spurs.

Once Utah got healthy, the Jazz got on a roll. The past month has been a different story. Utah faded down the stretch and draws the Lakers. Adios.

The real drama is, if the Lakers and Cavs reach the Finals, which team wins the title?

Cleveland would have home-court advantage. But that one home loss before the home finale? You guessed it. The Lakers.

Look for Phil Jackson to get his record 10th NBA title.

FIRST-ROUND PREDICTIONS

Mike Baldwin previews the first round of the NBA playoffs: Western Conference

→Utah at Lakers: The Jazz has enough talent to push any team, but Utah hasn't played well (7-11 the last month) and has the worst road record among the eight Western Conference teams, the second-worst road record among the 16 playoff teams.

Prediction: Lakers in 5

→New Orleans at Denver: The Nuggets have lost five consecutive first-round series, but this is the first time since 1988 that Denver owns the home-court edge. The Hornets gained invaluable playoff experience last year, but Chauncey Billups-led Denver has been more consistent.

Prediction: Nuggets in 7.

→Dallas at San Antonio: They split the regular-season series. Dallas finished strong, and the Spurs will be without super sub Manu Ginobili. San Antonio's playoff experience proves to be the difference. Prediction: Spurs in 7

→Houston at Portland: Some feel these two teams might be the biggest threat to the Lakers. The winner is expected to face the Lakers in the second round. Portland lacks playoff experience but is tough at home.

Prediction: Blazers in 7 Eastern Conference

→Detroit at Cleveland: The Pistons have reached the Eastern Conference finals the past six seasons. That streak will end. Cleveland is 39-2 at home and won the season series (3-1). Detroit has proven veterans but has been mediocre all season. Prediction: Cavs in 5

→Chicago at Boston: The Celtics, trying to win back-to-back titles, might not have Kevin Garnett throughout the playoffs. John Salmons, acquired in a trade, has given the Bulls a lift. Boston is vulnerable but should survive the first round. Prediction: Celtics in 6

→Philadelphia at Orlando: The Magic has faded down the stretch but began coasting once Boston took control of the No. 2 seed. The Sixers can be pesky, but Dwight Howard and Orlando are now the favorites to face the Cavs in the Eastern finals. Prediction: Magic in 6

→Miami at Atlanta: One of the best first-round matchups. The Hawks won the season series (3-1) and had a solid young team that pushed the Celtics to seven games last year. MVP candidate Dwyane Wade will find a way to lift Miami.

Prediction: Heat in 6

THE Q&A

John Lucas Jr.

John Lucas Jr., former NBA player, coach and general manager and father of former Oklahoma State All-American John Lucas III, answered questions about the Thunder.

What are your impressions of the Thunder's roster?

I really like their young talent. They'll get better. With a lot of young kids getting a lot of minutes, sometimes it costs you some wins that end up being losses.

What about the Thunder's future?

They started playing better and will continue to get better. I know Sam (Presti) will have some money that will be available for some free agents and will continue to build through the draft. They're headed in the right direction.

How good can Kevin Durant become?

I love Kevin Durant. He's going to be a special talent. He's consistently gotten better.

How well do you know Scott Brooks?

He never played for me, but he played in Houston (where I live). Coaching is based on talent. If the talent gets better you'll see his win-loss record get better. It's simple. When you have good players you win games. I know he has the energy for it, that's for sure.

What's the most difficult aspect to being an NBA head coach?

It's changed. General managers are more involved. Sometimes it's not always about winning right now. In that process sometimes coaches have to die. Young guys are allowed to play through mistakes that wouldn't normally be on the court. Guys like (Russell) Westbrook wouldn't be playing near as many minutes on a winning team. On the other side, you see the results of playing him a lot of minutes.

LOTTERY UPDATE

11.9

Percent chance the Thunder will land the No. 1 overall pick in the June 25 Draft. Oklahoma City finished with the fourth-worst record and will have 119 of the 1,000 ping pong balls in the May 19 Draft Lottery.

On Friday, ties were broken for teams that were tied. The Wizards and Timberwolves won the tie-breakers.

Listed below are the bottom eight teams, their final win-loss record, number of ping pong balls each team receives and odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick, presumably for OU star Blake Griffin.

Team W-L Balls Odds 30. Sacramento 17-65 250 25.0 29. Washington 19-63 178 17.8 (tie) LA Clippers 19-63 177 17.7 27. Thunder 23-59 119 11.9 26. Minnesota 24-58 76 7.6 (tie) Memphis 24-58 75 7.5 24. Golden State 29-53 43 4.3 23. New York 32-50 28 2.8

INSIDE SCOOP

Carter sticking around

→The Nets probably will be "stuck" with Vince Carter. Because of Carter's $16.1 million salary, New Jersey had difficulty moving the 32-year-old All-Star before the trading deadline and doesn't expect to fare any better this summer.

Dwyane Wade became Miami's first player to win the league scoring title, averaging 30.2 points. It's a major reason the Heat won 28 more games this season to earn the No. 5 seed in the East after finishing 15-67 last season.

→Boston coach Doc Rivers predicts the Wizards and Raptors could easily return to the playoffs next season, citing injuries as the primary reason both teams fell short this season.

→Cavs forward LeBron James has said he might recruit Atlanta guard Joe Johnson when both are free agents in 2010.

Dwight Howard became only the fifth player in league history to lead the league in rebounds and blocks.

→James became just the fourth player in league history to lead a 50-win team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals, joining Larry Bird, Grant Hill and Kevin Garnett.

BY THE NUMBERS

95.2

The free-throw percentage for Ray Allen, a Boston Celtics record, surpassing Bill Sharman's mark (93.2) set decades ago. Ironically, Allen didn't even win the NBA free-throw title. Toronto's Jose Calderon set the league's record by shooting 98.0 percent. Calderon missed only three free throws all season, draining 151 of 154.

WORD ASSOCIATION

'Most underrated'

Thunder players and other NBA players and personnel address an NBA topic each week. This week's subject - the most underrated player in the NBA.

Desmond Mason: Rashard Lewis

Kobe Bryant: Lamar Odom

Mark Cuban: J.J. Berea

David West: Tyson Chandler

Nick Collison: Paul Millsap

Byron Scott: Marcus Camby

Kevin Durant: Kevin Martin

Jeff Green: Jeff Green

Kyle Weaver: Joe Johnson

Robin Lopez: Brook Lopez

Malik Rose: Kevin Durant

Danny Granger: Chauncey Billups

Scott Brooks: Marcus Camby

Grant Long: Jeff Green

Greg Oden: Travis Outlaw

Robert Swift: Rashard Lewis


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: April 22, 2009

 

 
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