The 2010 playoff season has failed to disappoint so far. Strong contenders like the Denver Nuggets and Dallas Mavericks – two teams considered to be a formidable challenge to the L.A. Lakers, have already brought out their golfing gear. The Lakers themselves, seem to lack the fire and hunger of the team that won it all last year. Even in defeat, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Milwaukee Bucks have shown the potential they have for the near future. And the Cleveland Cavaliers continue to run roughshod over the league in the playoffs much like they did during the regular season. So with postseason off to an entertaining start, here is what NBA fans have to look forward to in the second round.
San Antonio Spurs vs Phoenix Suns
This long storied rivalry has the Suns chomping at the bit for the chance to finally knock off their proverbial thorn in their side. In past series the Suns were thwarted by the Spurs toughness and stifling defense. What might change the outcome this time around is that the Spurs do not have the dominating D they once had, and age has become an increasingly major factor the last couple seasons that is getting harder to ignore. While rookie big man DeJuan Blair’s size and brute power may wreak some havoc for the Suns smaller frontcourt, the Suns return to their run-n-gun attack may finally be enough to wear out the aging Spurs.
Suns in seven.
Utah Jazz vs L.A. Lakers
The Lakers have not looked like dominant defending for quite some time now, and that has continued right into postseason. They barely got by the young upstarts, the Thunder, in a hard-fought game 6 which needed a last second rebounded tip-in by Pau Gasol to clinch the first round series. But despite their overwhelming play, the Lakers have caught a break with this matchup with the Jazz. The Jazz are fueled by the duo of Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer, who are combining for over 40 points a game so far in these playoffs. But the Jazz have always struggled against the Lake Show, always being overmatched by the long frontcourt of Gasol and Andrew Bynum. The injuries to center Mehmet Okur and forward Andrei Kirilenko have left the Jazz even further depleated. There may be some team in these playoffs that has a great chance to dethrone the defending champs, but it likely will not be the Jazz to stop them.
Lakers in five.
Boston Celtics vs Cleveland Cavaliers
The Celtics will no doubt give their all in this series, and push the Cavs as far as they possibly can. But the harsh reality is the Celtics are getting long in the tooth, and Father Time remains undefeated. The Cavs are far too determined this year. And with the additions of Shaq and Antawn Jamison to bolster their already formidable attack, nothing will deny LeBron the chance to play in another Eastern Conference Final. What will keep this series interesting is watching Rajon Rondo furthering his hands on the future reigns of the Celtics as the Big 3 go out in a blaze of glory.
Cavs in five.
Atlanta Hawks vs Orlando Magic
This series will feature the age-old debate of rest versus rhythm. The Magic have played in a week while the Hawks are coming off are long grueling seven game series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Magic may have some rust to dust off and the Hawks have had little time to shake off the fatigue. Something will have to give here, and the Hawks have to prove that they are not a shaky playoff team just because the Bucks gave them such a good run. But the Magic also have to prove themselves to a degree as well. Vince Carter has to be consistent and aggressive this series, something that has been an issue throughout his career. And perhaps the biggest key to the series will be Dwight Howard. Will foul trouble keep him off the floor, or will his sheer dominance of an undersized Hawks frontcourt make the difference in this series? If Howard can keep the whistles from blowing on him, and the Magic can get hot from the perimeter, their playoff experience might be enough to propel them to the conference finals. But the Hawks’ athleticism and defense of Josh Smith and Al Horford and the scoring of Joe Johnson, Mike Bibby and Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford will certainly not make it easy for Orlando.
Orlando in six.