The whole world is anticipating a showdown between Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, and we concur.
Just about the entire basketball world is looking forward to a Los Angeles Lakers, Cleveland Cavaliers NBA Final series as if it is a foregone conclusion that those teams will square off, but is it really?
Well, while it may not be as easy as many people think, we will now grudgingly join the masses and predict that the dream series will indeed come to fruition. That would certainly make television executive happy, as a matchup between Kobe Bryant and LeBron James could result in some of if not the highest NBA ratings in history.
Now admittedly, we were in the minority before the playoffs started, as while we did pick the Lakers to win the NBA Championship, we also went on record predicting that the Orlando Magic would upset the Cavaliers in the Eastern Finals. However, after seeing how the first round of these playoffs has played out, we now concede that the Cavaliers will represent the East, although we still stand by out Lakers championship prediction.
That said, we do not feel the road to the Finals for these teams will be as easy as many are making it out to be. Now the general consensus is that the Cavaliers have the harder road because they are one of three top contenders from the East while the Lakers are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the West. Well, in reality, we feel that the Cavaliers have the clearer path
This is because Cleveland catches a break in that the other two East contenders, the Magic and the Boston Celtics, would face each other in the next round if the Celtics can get by the scrappy Chicago Bulls.
Thus, after easily disposing of the Detroit Pistons in a four-game sweep in the First Round, the Cavaliers will now get the winner of the Hawks/Heat series in the next round. Well, the Cavs were a combined 6-2 against those teams this season losing once to each club on the road, and we feel that there is an 80 percent chance that Cleveland goes on to the Eastern Finals.
This is where they will finally face some competition for the first time, provided we are right about the Magic being their opponent. Now we have soured on our opinion of Orlando winning the East because of the struggles they have had with the Philadelphia 76ers this opening round, but they have asserted themselves defensively the last two games and we do expect them to advance.
Next up for the Magic would be a series vs. either the Garnett-less Celtics or the Baby Bulls. If the Bulls shock the Celtics in the first round, we feel Chicago may feel a sense of satisfaction and have a bit of a letdown, which would be lethal vs. this Orlando team. If it is the Celtics that advance, we feel that the Magic can steal a game in Boston just like the Bulls did, only we do not feel the Magic would give home court right back like Chicago.
That would ser up out Cavaliers, Magic series, and we picked the Magic before the playoffs because we felt they were playing the best defense in basketball at the time. However, while they still may be, their offense has left much to be decided, so they are not as well balanced as the Cavaliers.
Now, Orlando is one of the few teams to have a winning record vs. Cleveland this season at 2-1, but the home team won every game and we would expect that pattern to continue in the Playoffs, giving Cleveland the edge. We would gave the Cavaliers around a 70 percent chance of advancing through the Magic, and close to a 90 percent chance vs. anyone else in the East.
Meanwhile, the Lakers may be facing the second best team in the West when the face the winner between the Rockets and Blazers next round, and we feel that will pose a bigger challenge for them than when they face the winner of the Nuggets/Mavericks series.
Thus, we give the Lakers a 70 percent chance to prevail in each of their next two playoff series. So why do we feel they will beat a Cavaliers team that owns the best record in basketball? Well, for starters, we do not feel they will as challenged in their conference finals as much as the Cavaliers will be by Orlando. This, we expect the Lakers to be somewhat fresher.
More to the point, it was the Lakers that handed the Cavs their only meaningful home loss all season, so if any team can steal a game in Cleveland, this is it. And if the game they steal is one of the first two, it is the Lakers that would have the huge advantage of the middle three games in the final series coming at home.