I’m sure everyone knows of the excitement coming to the Staples Center this weekend. No, I am not speaking of Britney Spears. Although, I’m sure the recently resurrected pop star will warrant a little excitement. But, with the help of its operations crew, Staples will welcome the Utah Jazz, who will surely fall victim to the Lakers in the first round of the NBA Playoffs.
The Jazz were at Staples Tuesday night and by securing a win, could have avoided packing up for another flight to Southern California. Get packing Salt Lake City. The Jazz couldn’t get it done in what should prove to be a preview of things to come over the course of next week. The Lakers should take the series in five games tops.
Jazz point guard Deron Williams is dangerous and can keep the Jazz close. Williams finished Tuesday’s game with 25 points and 13 assists and a number of highlight worthy passes, shots and down the lane slashes (including one stutter-step drive past Pau Gasol and dunk over Andrew Bynum). The kid looked hungry. Still, Williams can’t do it alone and I’m not convinced his supporting cast is ready to take on the Western Conference’s top seed.
Carlos Boozer has found some rhythm late and found his place in the Jazz’s starting lineup. Paul Milsap is technically sound, athletic and has something to prove. The duo could prove threatening.
But, and I don’t say this lightly, the Jazz could be without center Mehmet Okur who missed Tuesday’s game with a strained hamstring and did not practice Thursday. Moreover, the Lakers have also welcomed a coveted big man back into their lineup.
Andrew Bynum has become progressively better since his return a few weeks ago. He looked like his old self on Tuesday, scoring 22 points. He is expected to see more minutes as the playoffs ensue, and as minutes increase, so should his level of play. What’s more is that Lamar Odom continues to play well off the bench. Odom and the surging “Bench Mob” will provide the Lakers with that extra push late in games.
There is some good news for the Jazz. The Lakers didn’t sweep the series, taking it the Jazz 2-1, the one loss coming at Energy Solutions Arena. Yes, 2-1 is the good news. The team went a dismal 15-26 on the road, lost seven of their last nine, including Tuesday’s loss at Staples and hasn’t beaten Los Angeles at home since 2006. So, an unlikely win in the first two games could make for a different series entirely. Well, fans might move from denying the possibility of Utah taking the series, to doubting the possibility.
The Lakers are rested, healthy and ready to continue where they left off a year ago. Los Angeles started the season on a mission. After 15 games, they were 14-1. Finishing 65-17 (third best finish in franchise history and second best record in the league) including 7-3 in their last ten isn’t too shabby. They should make their way back to the finals and have a great chance of adding another championship banner to the Staples rafters.
The Lakers could face their greatest challenge in the second round if the fourth seed Portland Trailblazers are able to get past the fifth seed Houston Rockets. The Rockets are shallow in the back court and the Trailblazers’ speed and youthful excitement give them an edge.
A rematch of last year’s NBA Finals (Lakers – Celtics) is possible, but unlikely. Boston should be able to overcome the inconsistent Bulls. But that might be it for the Big Three, who recently became the Big Two. Celtics Head Coach Doc Rivers revealed that the Celts may go without center Kevin Garnett in the postseason.
Moreover, the East is really up for grabs. Cleveland will likely roll over Detroit and it’s anyone’s guess of which Philadelphia team will show up to face Orlando. Orlando could have their hands full but should be seeing Boston in the second round.
Atlanta nearly let the fourth seed slip away before winning four of their last five. Dwyane Wade is making a strong case for MVP and has been here before. However, he will find it difficult to get over Cleveland.
Orlando has been good all year and with the addition of Rafer Alston, has become a well-rounded squad. The Cleveland Lebrons are obviously expected to do well in the post season. I don’t believe that King James can carry his monarchy to the crown. I feel Orlando will face the Lakers in the NBA Finals. Expect to see a few more Lakers flags hanging out driver side windows come early summer.
Predictions – Eastern Conference:
Cleveland over Detroit, 4-1.
Boston over Chicago, 4-2
Orlando over Philadelphia, 4-2
Miami over Atlanta, 4-3
Cleveland over Miami, 4-2
Orlando over Boston, 4-1
Eastern Conference Finals
Orlando over Cleveland, 4-3
Predictions – Western Conference:
Los Angeles over Utah, 4-0
Denver over New Orleans, 4-3
San Antonio over Dallas, 4-1
Portland over Houston, 4-2
Los Angeles over Portland, 4-3
Denver over San Antonio, 4-3
Western Conference Finals
Los Angeles over Denver, 4-2
Los Angeles over Orlando, 4-3