Right about this time of the year, my head spins. Hockey playoffs vs. NBA playoffs. Since I have only pledged allegiance to my ballers in the yellow and gold, the NBA comes out on top (NHL playoffs relegated to highlights depending on who's playing). With this being said, we look to the first round of the NBA playoffs and fans are certainly getting their fill. There is so much to say about the 2010 NBA Playoffs, but if I had to choose, here are my top four match-ups: Bulls/ Cavs, Lakers/ Thunder, Portland/ Phoenix and Charlotte/ Orlando. These are the games I have a vested interest in and will provide for some lively debate throughout the playoffs. Ok ladies and gentleman, let's kick it.
Chicago Bulls vs Cleveland Cavaliers (Cavs lead the series, 2-0)
Lebron James. So he gets 40 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds Tuesday night, including a spectacular line drive and jam. This is just Lebron being Lebron. But if any of you were watching with a close eye, you may have seen his elbow being slightly higher than the rim on that jam. Absolutely fantastic. Conversely, this is also what frustrates me about the Cavs. I wanted to see more from them in this series instead of the Bron Bron show. You rarely see Jamario Moon in the highlights as the guy who made the difference or provided a turning point for the Cavs in any win, but he did Tuesday night. Every time the Bulls tried to challenge the Cavs, Jamario was "Moon"ing them with receiving passes and knocking them down four out of five tries. And I think this is where the Bulls got caught. Chicago has being playing like they were going to steal a game with playing good defense and getting good playoff mileage from Joakim Noah who had a career play-off high 25 points, 13 rebounds. The Bulls weren't expecting Jamario to be the play maker and that is what will be the key for Cleveland. The Bulls are challenging and stepping up their game but it may not be enough if they don't keep their eyes open.
Portland Trail Blazers vs. Phoenix Suns (Portland leads 1-0)
This series has been interesting so far. I would have liked to see a lower seeded team beat a higher seeded team in game one of the series between the Cavs and Bulls but I'll take it here. Just no more, ok? Surprisingly, Portland won the first game of this series and this is huge considering the Suns had gone 23-6 since the All-Star break. If you look at the Suns scoring stats for the regular season, they have had some trouble when playing Portland. The Suns have averaged a league-leading 110 points per game overall compared to the 98 points they have averaged against the Trail Blazers. So what is it about Portland that makes Phoenix nervous? For this series, maybe it's because Portland has found a way to guard Amar'e Stoudemire. Or just doing a better job defensively and controlling the game through Andre Miller. He had 31 points, including being 10 for 10 on free throws. Or with Marcus Camby - he was solid on defense but also pulled down 17 rebounds and three blocks for Portland. I know history seems to be on their side, too - game one winners have gone on to win best-of-seven series 79% of the time since 1947. When the ball is with Steve Nash, the Suns and the stars are aligned since that's when they perform best and win games - when they are in control. The Phoenix Suns are on notice.
Charlotte Bobcats vs. Orlando Magic (Magic leads 1-0)
It was the nerves. If you don't keep them at bay in any playoff series in any sport, the opposition will eat you for dinner. That's what happened to Charlotte in the first half of their opener against Orlando. The Bobcats were trailing by 22 points early in the second half before the tag team of Gerald Wallace and Raymond Felton took over. Felton hit 2 free throws and got the Bobcats as close as four with less than four minutes left. Scoring pretty good on the excitement meter for the first time the Bobcats have ever played in the post season. Think back to what your coach told you in grade school: when you see your opponent is playing nervous apply pressure and watch the fireworks. Especially in the playoffs. And it didn't help when Stephen Jackson was pushing through the first three quarters with the pain of a knee injury. He finished with 18 points and 9 rebounds and played less than three minutes of the fourth quarter with a hyper extended left knee. Yikes. Another key to this game? Jameer Nelson. He had 14 points in the first half and dropped a buzzer-beating 35-foot bomb giving a 59-43 lead to the Magic. I think this made Orlando fans forget Vince Carter's shooting woes - 4 for 19 - even if just for a minute. Charlotte needs to just worry about their defense first and re-group if they are going to steal a game or two in this series.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Oklahoma Thunder (Lakers lead 1-0)
I saved the best for last. You know from being with me for the season, the Lakers have been my team since the beginning of my time on this earth. This is not the reason I picked them to win this year but the fact they have more depth and experience than the Cavs. Sure, I have been told by many they would love to see Lebron win one. I love Lebron, don't get me wrong but I have said it before and I will say it again. I don't believe championships should be won for one player or by one player - it's no fun that way. The best TEAM deserves to win. And the Lakers have all the ingredients. We were talking history when discussing the Blazers and Suns, so I will throw out another little bit out there for you. When Phil Jackson's team wins Game 1 of any length of series, he is 44-0 (Chicago 24-0 and Lakers 20-0). Nice right? But also look at their defensive intensity and how Bynum comes off a 13 game absence with a strained Achilles' tendon and finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks while on the floor for a collective 30 minutes. They have to watch their rhythm, though. The Lakers should have put up more points on the board to take the first game by more than a score of 87-79. Kobe can't be happy with his performance - he was 7 for 12 from the free throw line and 6 for 19 on shooting. Not good. The Lakers will need to watch their turnovers in transition and keep up their intensity through 4 quarters or else the Thunder may squeak out a game or two.