The matchups are now set for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals. In the West the Los Angeles Lakers will play host the white hot Phoenix Suns and out East the Celtics, coming off their upset of the Cavaliers, will travel to Orlando to face the Magic. Many are already writing off the series in the West as Lakers manifest destiny grips many and blinds them to how well the Suns are actually playing. Orlando has seemingly not had a challenge at all during the playoffs as they have decimated each opponent they have faced. So how will the two series play out? Obviously we here at the Beef have no idea. (Look at all my previous predictions, I have been far from perfect.) However, it is obligatory to predict a winner in each series and since these are the last two predictions before the Finals we might as well have a little fun with it. So here they are: The Kobe Beef’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals Predictions.
Western Conference Finals
1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. 3. Phoenix Suns
Phil Jackson is at it again. Just like he did to start the playoffs he is complaining about the play of an opponent to try and soften up the referees. Instead of Durant’s parade to the foul line it is now Steve Nash’s tendency to carry the ball. Yeah, OK, Zen Master. Play your little outdated game. Honestly, have you ever seen Nash carry the ball on a consistent basis? I have not. Whatever, though, Kobe Bryant kicks his legs out to draw fouls, every veteran player does something to gain the advantage. If you want the game called more closely go coach in college. I am fairly certain that Kentucky is about to have an opening. Yeah, that’s what I thought.
With their drubbing of the Jazz in the second round the Lakers and the press that fawns over them recently moved up to cloud ten. Nine just was not good enough for them. They are from Hollywood, remember. Yet, the Jazz team that they swept was depleted and each player seemed to have a myriad of injuries. They were a walking infirmary. It would have seemed comical to attach I.V.’s to them and wrap them in white bandages but that is basically what it boils down to in terms of injuries. The Jazz were sitting ducks.
Phoenix’s second round sweep of the San Antonio Spurs was the more impressive victory. They demolished a Spurs team that was in the midst of trying to recapture their old glory. San Antonio looked to be heavy favorites to challenge the Lakers for a trip to the NBA Finals. The Suns made quick work of them and sent them back to the retirement home.
So just how well do the Suns match up with the Lakers. A look at the regular season meetings between the two clubs would show that the Lakers have an advantage having won three of the four meetings. However, this is not the regular season. Inside the Lakers are too big for Phoenix and should dominate the glass and the paint. Yet, that will not necessarily be what happens. The Lakers’ big men are lazy on the defensive side of the ball. They rely purely on their size and strength to overpower opponents. It is a proven, albeit haphazard, tactic. Their laziness on the defensive end of the floor will only play into the hands of Black Jesus. Expect early and frequent foul trouble for Andrew Bynum (what’s new there) and Pau Gasol. If the Lakers have to turn to their bench for extended minutes at any point during the series things could get ugly for them and quick.
Derek Fisher has been a constant source of defensive ineptitude for the Lakers in the playoffs. Opposing point guards have torched Fisher constantly forcing Kobe Bryant to shift over to guard the one. Now the Lakers will face the best point guard they have seen yet in Steve Nash, the former two-time MVP. Do you think Fisher can keep up with Nash and his constant probing of the defense and the dribble penetration he brings to the opposing paint? No, me either.
Phoenix is the matchup nightmare that Los Angeles has not prepared for. Essentially, the Lakers are just a different incarnation of the Spurs. Los Angeles’ defense will be spread out so that Nash and Black Jesus can work the pick and roll to perfection. Will Phil Jackson have a counter? He may, but no matter what it is, it is unlikely to work every time down the floor. However, there is always the Kobe factor. Grant Hill and whoever else is assigned to guard him will have their hands full.
Series Prediction: The Phoenix Suns will not be a cake walk for the Lakers. No, they will be their toughest opponent yet. This series will be about depth: the Suns have it and the Lakers do not. Their lightning attack along with improved defense will give the Lakers fits. Expect Kobe to get a technical foul in the first game. The Lakers are accustomed to being the royalty of the NBA and dining on cuisine fit for kings however at the close of the series it will be them who are dining on cake with the huddled masses. Phoenix will win in six games.
Eastern Conference Finals
2. Orlando Magic vs. 4. Boston Celtics
Boston has been on some magical carpet ride after stumbling backwards into the playoffs, but now they appear to have recaptured their old form as when they won the NBA championship two years ago. They just did the improbable by knocking off the overall number one seed, Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James. Just who do these Celtics think they are? Simply put, they are Rajon Rondo. Forget the big three, they should now be referred to as the four horsemen. Rondo is the white horse. He is the leader of the team now. Kevin Garnett inherited the title of leader when he came to Boston but it is clear that Rondo has usurped that position. It is his play that has got the team his far.
Cleveland may have been a gut check for the Celtics but they have not faced a juggernaut like the Orlando Magic. The Magic have plowed their way through the competition with ease and a ferocity that is unfound in any other team that is playing currently. Atlanta and Charlotte were mere sideshows and they expect Boston to be no different. Why should they? They have the number one ranked defense and their offense has looked unstoppable. One look at their scores and one would assume they were looking at the final score of a Harlem Globetrotters game.
On paper each team matches up well with the other. They are both strong at point, guard, forward, and center. Yet it is the intangibles that will dictate how the series will play out. Kevin Garnett completely shutdown Antawn Jamison in the series with Cleveland and will therefore naturally feel entitles to do the same to Rashard Lewis. They are not the same player, KG. Lewis prefers to operate around the perimeter and his will force Garnett out of his defensive comfort zone. He is not a wing defender. Forcing Garnett further from the paint opens up the lane so that Dwight Howard can operate in the post. If a double team drops down on Howard it opens up Orlando’s perimeter shooting, that is if Howard does not turn the ball over.
Boston will have to stay at home on the players they are guarding. There will be little, if no room for error as the Magic will capitalize on every open opportunity. If Boston switches on picks they will be in trouble, if they leave a man open they will be in trouble. The only legitimate depth off the bench that the Celtics have is in the frontcourt. (No, I am not talking about Rasheed Wallace.) They will need Kendrick Perkins and Glen “Big Baby” Davis to play well if they have any hopes of getting Howard into foul trouble. However, the Magic have shown that they are still unbeatable even with Howard on the bench. They are just too good from every angle.
Series Prediction: The matchup between Rondo and Jameer Nelson should go down as one of the better point guard duels in NBA playoff history. Rondo will likely get the better of Nelson in one on one situations. Boston is riding high on their magic carpet for now but it is the Magic themselves who will turn the Celtic’s carpet into a doormat. Orlando is too good at every position and has yet to even look like they could falter. Certainly, this will be a tougher challenge for the Magic than their previous two series but how much tougher we have yet to see. The fresh legs of the Magic will be key in the first game of the series and will be a catalyst for the rest of the series. Orlando will continue to play at an unmatched level and they will win the series in five games. (I’ll call it now; the game the Magic lose will be game four in Boston.)