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Lenstradamus On The Playoffs (2.2/2)

Okay, time for the main event. Playoffs. 16 teams (debate to your heart's contempt the fact that there's a team 14 games over the Mendoza Line sitting at home watching right now) and one big gold trophy to the winner. I'll start with the Least first, since well, it's requiring a lot less thought for me to rush through and pick winners.

- Where Deja Vu Happens. Alright, for those of you who aren't aware of this, or forgot, Atlanta has a basketball team. Yes, it's true. Now granted they haven't played a game into late April since 1999 give or take, but still, they are here by the grace of mediocrity and the fact that simply put... the Eastern Conference is NOT good. Normally, people will try and convince you of why each team has a chance to win each series. Honestly, Dominique Wilkins could have me at gunpoint and I just can't come up with any ways feasibly possible the Hawks win this series. I can't. Even if the Boston Three Party were to sit out this series, Games 1 to 7, Boston's remainder can still walk by Atlanta.

I know they don't technically have "byes" in the NBA, but this is as close to a bye as you'll ever see a team get. Oh and the 'Deja Vu' part of this comes from this stat. Back in the 80s, these two teams met back when the Eastern Conference was really a conference and the Hawks had a team that people outside of Georgia cared about. The Human Highlight Reel and Larry Legend would meet generally in the second round and despite some hellacious games by the Reel, it'd be shorted out by Larry and his crew.

Cleveland/Washington II
- Where Payback Happens. I'm calling this Round 2 because last year was ridiculous. There was no Arenas, no nothing for Washington. How Cleveland didn't just get a pass into the second round last year, defies logic. So having Rocky V'd last year's scrimmage, this is the epic rematch between Agent Zero and the most overhyped SOB in sports today...LBJ. Prince James against the man with the best damn blog on the internet (mine being second :P). I know there's probably not a single person around these parts that will bet against Cleveland losing this and I know practically every so called expert has all but booked Boston/Cleveland for the second round, but don't do it. Remember when Arenas went down how bad the Wizards were supposed to be? How their season was supposed to be dead to rights? Or how the acquisition of Ben Lemon was supposed to make the Cavs so much better? Well...Washington managed just fine in spite of Agent Zero's absence and in some regards, got better as a team without him. Ben Lemon on the other hand, managed to make little to no difference whatsoever even when everyone got healthy, as most around here boldly and foolishly believed.

The last time these two teams met up, it went 6 games. I'm calling 7 this time. Agent Zero doesn't let Prince James psych him out and they exact a most fitting revenge on the Have Nots. Cleveland fans that have an IQ over 100 start the running countdown until LeBron files his first ever change of address card. :-) I laugh at their misery.

- Where Networks Caring To The Sum Of Zero Happens. I want people to consider this for a brief second. On paper, I think this might actually be the best series that doesn't have a LBJ, KG or Sheed in it. We're gonna get one of the best bigs matchups in quite some time between C-Bosh and D-Dunk (new name for Dwight Howard, for making me care about the Slam Dunk contest for the first time in years). Yet, the majority of this series with Game 6 being a question mark...will be on NBA TV. Want a good gauge to measure how important a series is or how most perceive it will be, look at how many games will be on NBA TV and you'll have your answer. The majority of this series will be broadcast on NBA TV, meaning if you don't have satellite, you're out of luck.

What's truly sad about this is, I really like this series. Toronto's got a quietly good team and Orlando for most of the year was really good. Bosh/Howard's going to be great to watch and although Toronto's really good (frightening if they get hot), I can't see the Magic losing this series. Magic in, make it 7 damnit. I want to see the final one on TNT. :-)

- Where Redemption Beginning Anew Happens...for the Pistons. As good as it is that Mo Cheeks has gotten this team to the playoffs for the first time since A.I. was sent packing, it's running into the giant that I really believe when on, won't be beaten this Spring. Not by the Celts, not by anyone. The problem with the Pistons, is that they're linked in with their mercurial best player, Rasheed Wallace. Last year's Conference Championship exposed their one tragic flaw, being as Rasheed goes, so do the Pistons. As long as Rasheed is interested and playing like he gives a crap, they're tough to beat.

So if you're a Pistons fan, hope this series ends quickly. Hope it's brutal and hope there's enough time for Sheed to rest before the Conference Semis begins. Because it's gonna be a long haul to get back to the Promised Land. Pistons in 5.

Alright, now considering that the West is significantly deeper than JV, I'm doing a totally different spin here. Rather than each series, I'm gonna break down why each TEAM has a shot to win it all because for the first time in recent memory...every team does. Seriously.

Alright, now considering that the West is significantly deeper than JV, I'm doing a totally different spin here. Rather than each series, I'm gonna break down why each TEAM has a shot to win it all because for the first time in recent memory...every team does. Seriously.

Los Angeles Lakers
- Where Redemption For Kobe Happens. Kobe hasn't seen a ring in close to five years. Ever since The Big Trophy aka Shaq left, he hasn't seen one since. Come to think of it, he hasn't left the first round since. This year, amidst a heavy cloud of trade rumors and the like, it looks like Kupchak and Buss were listening. In February, they basically convinced the Grizzlows to part with Pau for a few nothings. All was great until...Bynum went down. Now, their hope for a ring rests on believe it or not, Andrew Bynum coming back healthy. And before anyone says it, if he's not 100%, they win zip. Just about every team with few exceptions in between have a post presence and can pound the Lakers down low inside, their first round opponents included.

Kobe doesn't get another ring THIS YEAR if Bynum's not back to his old self from earlier in the year. Note, I said 'this year'. Next year, they're definitely the pre-eminent favorites in my book even in spite of whomever might win it.

New Orleans Hornets
- Where Happy Endings Happen. For the city, a title for New Orleans would be bigger than the Giants winning the Super Bowl in February, even the Sawks winning another title this year. For Byron Scott, the man who was run out of New Jersey could definitely validate the success he had there by winning one this year. Oh and for CP3, it would only serve to put every Hawks fan (all 5 of them) on suicide watch and ensure Billy Knight has armed guards by his side 24/7 for passing on the guy who got the Hornets a title.

For those of you wondering why I'm so high on this team, here's what you do. Go back to the two teams that New Jersey had when they went to the Finals and then take a good look at this team. Notice the similarities and then notice the two things that really stick out. A good coach, a great point guard. Their bench isn't bad and honestly, the whole inexperience thing that will be played up to the nth degree actually helps. They're not supposed to know how big this is and as a result, they will go out and have fun. Something the Warriors did a year ago against the same team they have this year and yeah, I'm predicting the same result.

San Antonio Spurs
- Where Repeat Performances Happen. Every year that the Spurs have tried to repeat, they've been stopped cold. I picked this team to repeat earlier in the season and right now, I'm shaking like a fiend on withdrawal about it. I didn't forsee the Lakers getting Gasol, the Suns getting Shaq or the Hornets evolving into mutoids killing anything that moves. While others panicked about the Spurs in the earlier part of this year, I didn't because I knew what everyone else forgot. This is the time of the year that they work towards. You don't win rings in November, December & January. You win them in April, May and June. With virtually the core intact and Manu being better than expected this year, it's really, really hard not to bet against the Spurs doing it again.

It really is, even without homecourt after the first round save for IF the Hornets and Lakers are both ousted.

Utah Jazz
- Where Quietly Scaring People Happens. Honestly, I don't know if there's a quieter pretender in this or any other sport that does what Utah has done and nobody knows a thing about them. I'm in full agreement with the Sports Guy about the spirits of Malone and Stockton inhabiting the bodies of D-Dub (Deron Williams) and C-Booze (screw Cleveland Carlos, you did the right thing holmes!). Of all the teams that could win it all, this is hands down the most unassuming contender of the bunch. Their team is good from top to bottom and all told, a run back to the conference finals isn't totally out of the question in my mind. I think they can matchup rather nicely with either the Lakers or Nuggets and beat either.

The combination of Boozer and D-Money are about as lethal a PG/PF combo as you'll find. In all honesty, the productivity of Booze combined with how good D-Money is just puts them over CP3/D-West. Not by much though.

Houston Rockets
- Where Reality Happens. Alright, I know everyone was all jacked over their record breaking winning streak and all, but it's time to come back to reality. I know that I said every team in the West has a chance to win it all, but the truth is...with Houston, three things do them in. There's the lack of Yao, the fact that T-Mac's not built for this time of the season and of course...Adelman's your head coach. If you're unclear what that means, go up to any Kings fan and ask them about 2002 when the Kings had the Lakers dead to rights and blew it. Ask any Blazers fan about those infamous Rip City teams that just couldn't get the job done in 1990 or 1992. Reality bites, Houston. Sorry.

Phoenix Suns
- Where Big Time Redemption Happens. Honestly, I don't have a clear cut favorite in these playoffs. But if I were to do a Top 10 list, with one being the most likely to win and 10 being the least, Phoenix would be Top 5. Whether people realize this or not, the move of Marion had to happen. Look, when you hit a ceiling with a certain unit as these Suns have, it's time to reshuffle the deck. Or in Poker when you keep getting the same hand and keep getting the same losing result each time, perhaps you need to trade in a card or two in hopes of getting that Ace or King that puts you over the top.

Props to Kerr for seeing this and making it happen. Cause say what you will about Shaq's playing habits of recent years and the like, fact is, when motivated...he wins rings. So yes, for four times in his career, (three in Hollywood & one in South Beach) he has been motivated. I think the combination of the following things...

- Having a great point guard for the first time in his career...
- Wanting to get this team to the Conference Finals where he could potentially see the team that sent him out of the West to begin with...
- Being around men who have NEVER seen what Shaq has (S.T.A.T., Big Stevie Cool & Grant), will be playing their hearts out to get one.

Are why the Suns are increidbly dangerous this Spring. Stoudemire playing his natural position makes him very dangerous and Shaq's presence will ensure the Suns don't get muscled like they did a year ago.

Dallas Mavericks
- Where Karmic Payback Happens. Okay, I see two teams that won't go anywhere. Ironically, both are from Texas. The Mavs had a fairly high ceiling they hit in 2006 and then were dropped under last year. Ever see a team's ceiling for potential growth shrink in the span of two years? I know everyone's gonna fawn over these guys just cause they're the Mavs, but I'm sorry, I'm not sold. Their one big "grab" will hurt them more than help them. He can't shoot, he can't defend and simply put, he's just not that good anymore. Aside from that, Dirk's already proven that as a '#1" he plays like a #2. When you go from being a half quarter away from being up 3-Summer (as in you'll be enjoying your Summer break real soon) two years ago to not being able to keep your team from being just the third #1 in recent memory to get bounced out of the first round...there's something really wrong.

Sorry Cubes, well not really, Coach Killin' Kidd ain't the answer. Enjoy another first round exit.

Denver Nuggets
- Where Schizomania Happens. I don't think there's a bigger "if" team in the playoffs than the Nuggets. If Melo and A.I. play past their potential together and all goes as it should, they run to the Finals and become the first #8 to win it all. Carmelo one on one is virtually unguardable and I don't see anyone in the JV being able to run with Iverson. Then again, maybe this team shows why they weren't able to overtake Utah for the division crown and they become fodder for the Lake Show. I'm not sure which is which with these guys. All I do know is that these boys can upset the Lakers and they're more than capable of getting to the Finals. Lest we forget, George Karl has been there before with the Sonics and he took the Bucks a few years ago to within a few games of that point.
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