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Armstrong: Best time of the year starting up in the NBA

Jack Armstrong
4/16/2009 6:54:59 PM
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Here we go!

The best time of year is starting up right now in the NBA. No more back-to-backs, four games in five nights, long plane trips and major fatigue setting in. You know your opponent in front of you - you're playing them in a best-of-seven series and you're getting a day off between games to prepare. Different deal altogether.

Now the hard part: Just win, baby!

The style of play changes in the playoffs; it slows down a bit and becomes more of a physical defensive-oriented half court game. Can you play that style? Do you have the toughness, game breaking players and the discipline/experience to win the big games??

Here are my picks for the 1st round of the NBA Playoffs.

EASTERN CONFERENCE:

Cavaliers (1) vs. Pistons (8): The Pistons have been a mess this season and the Cavs are on a roll. LeBron & Co are on a mission. Pistons might be able to get a game at home but I see this one over quick - in five games.

Celtics (2) vs. Bulls (7): The news of Kevin Garnett possibly being out for this round and throughout the playoffs are a major blow to the C's. The Bulls blew the 6th seed with a horrible home loss to the 33-49 Toronto Raptors. The Bulls have been a different team since the pickup of Brad Miller and John Salmons. They'll give the Celts a series, but too much defensive toughness, experience, and will from guys like Paul Pierce and Ray Allen to allow a first round meltdown. Celtics in seven.

Magic (3) vs. 76ers (6): Orlando enters the season banged up. No Jameer Nelson, and Rashard Lewis and Hedu Turkolu are nursing injuries but the Magic have been an awfully good team this year. It doesn't end now. The 76ers will be bolstered having Thaddeus Young back in lineup (love his game) but I see this series going six games and the Magic getting it done.                            

Atlanta (4) vs. Miami (5): The best series of the four in the East. This is going seven games. Dwyane Wade can carry a team for a round all by himself but the Hawks experience last year versus Boston will help them squeak by the Heat. Joe Johnson can ball with the best of them and Mike Bibby was brought in last year to provide stability, leadership, and shot-making ability at the point. He'll deliver. Hawks in seven.

WESTERN CONFERENCE:

Lakers (1) vs. Jazz (8): The Jazz are a very tough 8th seed. They'd be the fourth best team in the Eastern Conference. Jerry Sloan's squad is very tough in Salt Lake City but horrible on the road. The Lakers are loaded, deep and have Andrew Bynum back in the lineup. The Lakers are in no mood to mess around in the 1st round because Rounds two and three will be a bear. Lakers in six.

Nuggets (2) vs. Hornets (7): Nuggets are on a roll right now. The Hornets have been a bit sketchy this year with injuries and inconsistent play. Don't sleep on them, though. Nuggets have better front court players, Melo is a major league scorer in the half-court game and Chauncey Billups will hold his own against Chris Paul. Nuggets in seven.

Spurs (3) vs. Mavs (6): Rick Carlisle has done a wonderful job with the Mavs this year. He's a man with little charisma, but he can coach. Gregg Popovich's club is banged up with Manu Ginobli out for the playoffs and Tim Duncan isn't right. Dallas has the ability with the scoring of Dirk, Josh Howard and Jason Terry to hang tough with the Spurs. Key for the Mavs is three-point defense. No easy three's for Roger Mason, Jr, Matt Bonner and Michael Finley. If so, Mavs have a shot. Mavs in seven in an awesome series.

Blazers (4) vs. Rockets (5): Can't wait for this series. The up-starts against the team that has never been able to get it done for long in the playoffs. Something's gotta give. Rockets can guard you (Battier and Artest are warriors) and Yao Ming is a load to deal with inside.  Blazers have home court and they'll need it. Brandon Roy can flat out play and the depth and strength of this roster has improved throughout the season. LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden have to play big and the guard play beyond Roy is essential. Rick Adelman coached the Blazers and did a wonderful job there during his run. This is purely on a gut feel. Enthusiasm, energy, momentum will be huge. I like the young Blazers in seven.

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