If you blinked you might have missed three out of the four series in the second round of this year’s playoffs. The Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks and San Antonio Spurs were all trounced quickly disposed of, as the Jazz were overmatched by the LA Lakers once again, the Hawks barely showed up against the dominant Orlando Magic, and the Phoenix Suns ran circles around the San Antonio Spurs, as Steve Nash and Amare Stoudemire finally vanquished their long time foes as the aging Spurs’ decade long run appears to be drawing to a close. There was only one truly competitive series in this round and in some ways appeared to be an upset, as the Boston Celtics took out the Cleveland Cavaliers in six games, with the last two games showing the Celtics imposing their defensive will and the Cavs putting up little fight before bowing out. The stage is now set for two rematches of recent playoff matchups. The question now remains, will the outcomes be different?
Boston Celtics vs Orlando Magic
After labouring through the season, the Celtics limped into the playoffs looking old and beat up. Many thought they would be lucky to even make it out of the first round. What they ended up doing is proving that it is not always about who has the hottest regular season, but who is the hottest, come playoff time. And the Celtics showed the Cavs, who had the best regular season record with 61 wins, how important it can be to peak at the right time. The Celtics are in the zone right now. Kevin Garnett is playing better than he has all season, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen are putting up solid numbers, and Rajon Rondo is putting up the MVP type numbers that LeBron James was supposed to. They now go up against the red hot Magic, who look like a team possessed to steamroll right to the NBA Finals. Up until now, that looked like a sure thing, but the Celtics might have something to say about that. Granted, the Magic did defeat the Celtics in last year’s playoffs, but that was with Garnett on the sidelines. Right now, the Celtics are healthier than they have been all year, and their defence is on the level it was two years ago when they won the title. While Dwight Howard cannot truly be stopped in the paint, Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and sixth man Rasheed Wallace are good enough defenders to give him fits. Pierce has done an admirable job on LeBron and Kobe Bryant in the past, and should be solid against Vince Carter as well. And look for Rondo to give his counterpart Jameer Nelson a rough time. Yes, the Celtics are a year older, but they are showing that they still have gas left in the tank – and are determined to get one more shot at the title.
Celtics in six.
Phoenix Suns vs LA Lakers
Ah, an old rivalry revisited. The Lakers were expected to be here. The Suns weren’t. And even though Shawn Marion, Raja Bell and Kurt Thomas are no longer on the team, this Suns team is playing with a lot of confidence and Nash looks as good as ever. However, the Lakers are a much better team than the one the Suns used to beat up on a few seasons back. The major difference will be the length and size of the Lakers frontcourt – something that will be an issue for the Suns as they have always been undersized. The Suns will put up a great fight against the Lakers, as they will score in bunches. Stoudemire will be a force as usual, but he and frontcourt mate Channing Frye will have their hands full dealing with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in the paint. Sun’s center Robin Lopez, who has been out with the past few weeks with an injured back, might return in this series and his size will be much needed. And then there’s the Kobe factor, as pesky defender Bell is no longer around to make Kobe miserable. These factors might make the difference in this series, despite the expectation that Nash will play like his usual MVP calibre self. It would not be a huge shock if the Suns win this series, as the Lakers have not always looked motivated and in top form in these playoffs, and it will most likely be a long one. But if the Suns can’t slow down Kobe during this series and Gasol and Bynum dominate down low, it may pose to be a challenging series for the Suns.
Lakers in seven.