Alley-OOP & the SCOOP on what’s going on Around the NBA Hoop:

 2009 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Special Edition

By: Brandon “Scoop B” Robinson

 The 2009 NBA season has been exciting, and it’s been a joy to see NBA players and teams emerge. The Western Conference, as far as seeding, was a dog fight until the last regular season game. And the Eastern Conference has been dominated by the Cavaliers. The emergence of this young Portland Trailblazers team has been encouraging, the improvement of the Denver Nuggets has taken your breath away, and the Lakers dominance has been unsurprising.

The first round of the NBA Playoffs is upon us and many are wondering- are any surprises going to take place? Well maybe a couple.

Without further ado, here’s the Scoop:

Eastern Conference

1 Cleveland Cavaliers (66-16) vs. 8 Detroit Pistons (39-43):

 On paper you’re intimidated by these two team names right? You’re thinking of the LeBron James heroics in the 2007 Eastern Conference finals when he scored 48 points and 29 of Cleveland’s last 30 in a double OT victory over the Pistons. Remember that game when Rasheed Wallace threw a temper tantrum? Yeah, that’s the same Rasheed Wallace but a different Pistons team who Frank Lucas’ed (“American Gangster” for the movie-challenged) their way into the playoffs. The team has dealt with a lot of internal confusion season with trades, and lineup malfunctions. But this team played so-so toward the end of the season.  The roster make up is a little different too. Chauncey Billups is no longer a Piston. Rodney Stuckey has stepped into Billups’ role and done quite well averaging 13.4 points per game and 4.9 assists per game.
 Oh yeah, but what about the Cavs? The 66-16 Cavs, own the NBA’s best record in the league and are expected to be crowned NBA Champions at the end of the year. LeBron James, the favorite to win the NBA Most Valuable Player Award has been unstoppable this year and is averaging 28.4 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists. But it’s not been just James doing all of the work, unlike in years past. He’s got a demolition crew to work with. Fellow NBA all star teammate Mo Williams has been putting in work averaging 17.8 points per game, along with center Zydrunas Ilgauskas who is averaging 12.9 points per game. Delonte West and Anderson Varejao are also plentifully contributing to the Cavs success.

Although the Pistons are aging, don’t expect this series to be an easy one for the Cavs. The Pistons have always delivered when looked down upon. Don’t you remember the 2004 NBA Finals when they beat a Lakers team with Kobe, Karl Malone, Shaq and Gary Payton? However I still see this series as Cleveland’s.

Prediction: Cavs win in 6

2 Boston Celtics (62-20) vs. 7 Chicago Bulls (41-41):

 Is Kevin Garnett playing? That’s what everyone in Beantown wants to know. But the misconception is that Garnett’s status in the series predicates the Celtics success. Let’s not forget that there are 2 All Stars in the starting lineup in Ray Allen and 2008 NBA Finals NBA Finals MVP Paul Pierce who are more than capable of taking over games themselves. And Boston is 18-7 this year without KG. What is most impressing is the developing maturity of former LSU standout Glen Davis in Kevin Garnett’s absence. Davis has stepped up where it has mattered most (in the interior) since Kevin Garnett’s injury on February 19 against the Utah Jazz.

Cal-Berkley product Leon Powe will also be a key contributor in this series. Let’s not forget that the Celtics also signed Mikki Moore and Brooklyn, NY legend Stephon Marbury for a reason. This team will be okay in the first round.

 The Chicago Bulls, however are no sleepers. The Bulls, considered underachievers last year nabbed Derrick Rose, a Chicago native in the 2008 NBA Draft from Memphis. Rose has had a phenomenal NBA season averaging, 16.8 points per game and 6.3 assist per game, and garnering serious consideration as this year’s NBA Rookie of the Year. The Bulls season gained some serious upside when they organization made two trades at the trading deadline  and acquired John Salmons, Brad Miller and Tim Thomas.
 Yet exciting to watch, this team will not have enough power to defeat a well oiled machine in the Celtics.

3 Orlando Magic (59-23) vs. 6 Philadelphia 76ers (41-41):

 This is the iffy game. Philadelphia’s talent is not reflected in this 41-41 record. The team should be holding rosary beads and saying 100 Hail Mary’s somewhere in a church on the Mainline of Philadelphia thankful that they are in the playoffs. This team struggled at the end of the season as they were trying to find their way with new players. Subsequently, Mo Cheeks was fired and Tony DiLeo took the helm as interim coach of the Sixers. Point guard Andre Miller did a heck of a job with this team. The former University of Utah star averaged 16.3 points per game with an impressive 6.3 assist per game. Lou Williams also strung together some stellar games this season for them.

The 59-23 Magic had a stellar season. They’re led by All-Star Center Dwight Howard who leads the NBA in double doubles, averaging a whopping 20.6 and 13.8 rebounds per game. They also have Hedo Turkoglu who has had a great season and all-star Rashard Lewis who’s benefited greatly in Stan Van Gundy’s offense. Let’s not forget point guard Rafer Alston who was acquired before the NBA trading deadline and saved the Magic from having a not-so great season after St. Joe’s product Jameer Nelson was sidelined with a dislocated right shoulder.

Philadelphia is still the favorite, because Orlando has some deficiencies. The primary concern is the severity of Hedo Turkoglu’s injury that he sustained against the New Jersey Nets a week ago. Secondly, how well with Rashard Lewis play after coming back from his bone bruise injury.

These two teams do match up very well. They both play run and gun and up tempo offense. The point guard matchup between Rafer Alston and Andre Miller will be very exciting to watch. Let’s not forget the swingman battle between Andre Iguodala and rookie Courtney Lee. The difference maker in this game will be how well Dwight Howard plays and collectively how Sixers centers Samuel Dalembert and Theo Ratliff handle Howard.
 In the end I still believe that the Sixers have the upper hand because they are simply a tougher and rugged team.

Prediction: Sixers in 7

4 Atlanta Hawks (47-35) vs. 5 Miami Heat (43-39):

 This game is also Must see NBA TV. Nobody believed in the Atlanta Hawks last year, and they took it to the Boston Celtics in the first round. Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Al Horford and company have gotten better and shown people that they can play team ball under head coach Mike Woodson.

Dwyane Wade is playing basketball like it is going out of style. The 2006 NBA Finals MVP has been putting on a clinic nightly. His stat line: 30.2 points per game, 5 rebounds per game and 7.5, makes you wonder (like Stevie) is it the shoes?

First year Heat Coach, Erik Spoelstra, has done a phenomenal job in guiding this young team to success. He’s young, inexperienced, but hungry for success. I still look for the Hawks to have the better hand.

Prediction:  Hawks in 7