1.Spurs – Hornets. That old saw about the importance of playoff experience was certainly proved yesterday as the Spurs played with poise and the Hornets didn’t. I could hardly believe that this was the same team that had dominated the Spurs in the first three home games. It was as if Chris Paul, David West and Co. suddenly realized that this was the seventh game of the series and tightened up. All of a sudden, Paul stopped penetrating , the outside shooters went cold and the Spurs beat the Hornets to the loose balls. Even the home crowd seemed to be doubting their team’s ability to pull it off.After Bob Horry’s hard foul on David West I had been rooting for the Hornets but it wasn’t to be ( Okay, okay, I admit it. In the back of my mind I was also thinking the Lakers would be better off playing the Hornets rather than the Spurs.) Still , Byron Scott and the young Hornets can look back on the season with satisfaction. They will be a force for years to come and Chris Paul will be the MVP very soon.
2. Celtics- Cavaliers. Not having watched the Celtics in the regular season, all I knew about them was their glittering NBA-best record and their trio of superstars. However two successive series in which they were pushed to a seventh game have exposed the cracks in their arsenal. The papers here are calling the 7th game of this series a ” game for the ages’. I didn’t think it was. Am I the only person who thinks this way ? Is my antipathy towards the Celtics ( as a die-hard Laker fan ) clouding my judgement ? I don’t think so.Paul Pierce had a magnificent game as did LeBron James but the others ( except for Kevin Garnett ) stunk. Essentially it was Pierce and James going at it while the others stood around. There was no passing to speak of and the Celtic defense consisted of fouling anyone that got close to the basket. Ray Allen in particular looked very old.
3. Lakers. Before the playoffs started, I didn’t think that the Lakers, in the absence of Andrew Bynum, could advance beyond the second round. As the playoffs have progressed they’ve made a believer out of me. Gasol is not having monster offensive games but he has been quietly effective.For a big man, his passing is superlative and while he can be pushed around by beefier centers there aren’t any of those left in the semifinals. Gasol’s defense is better than expected , Odom has come into his own, Fisher provides stablity and Bryant is unmatched in his determination and will to win. If the bench is able to play up to it’s potential and hits it’s outside shots, the Lakers can go much further… Maybe all the way ?
4. Eastern finals. Once the Pistons got their act together they’ve looked very good, winning on the road in Orlando and then closing out the Magic with Chauncey Billups in street clothes sitting on the bench.They also have a pretty good road record to offset Boston’s home court dominance. If Billups is healthy, I look to the Pistons to upset the Celtics. Pistons in 6.
5. Western Finals. Yes , the Spurs are the defending champs and they are a formidable opponent. Manu Ginobili is in his prime , Parker will give the Lakers fits with his speed and Duncan, while on the downslope, is a smart player who picks his spots. Bruce Bowen will play Kobe tough and the bench with Michael Finley ,Robert Horry and stealth bomber Ime Udoka is very good. However, the Lakers match up well with them except in the Parker-D.Fisher matchup and Phil jackson will not be outcoached by Popovich. Trevor Ariza is back and hopefully will add to an under-rated Laker defense. IF the Laker reserves can hold their own, I look for a Laker win in a hardfought series… Lakers in 7.
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