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NBA Playoff 2009

And now the NBA goes from “fantastic” to “amazing” thanks to the start of the NBA Playoffs (tomorrow afternoon). This year, however, could be one of the more anti-climatic road to the Finals as there are two teams head and shoulders above the rest of the playoff group. Obviously, I’m talking about Cleveland and Los Angeles — or Kobe and LeBron if you wish. In the Eastern Conference, it’s, thanks to the troubled knee of Kevin Garnett, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the rest of the gang. Thanks to injuries, the two teams — Orlando and Boston — that would be in the best position to challenge LeBron and the crew, well, aren’t.

Out west, the Lakers reign supreme, and even though the Western Conference playoff “bracket” is chock full of good teams, are any of them capable of beating Kobe and the gang in a seven-game series? Doubtful. Not with a healthy Andrew Bynum to go with Bryant and Gasol. With all of that in mind, here’s our little preview of the first-round match ups. Starting with the West:

Lakers versus Utah: Things that will happen in this series: Deron Williams will be great for Utah, but the Lakers will win in five (got to give some love to the Utah crowd). Too much Kobe, Pau, Andrew, Lamar, Phil … the list goes on.

Denver Nuggets versus New Orleans Hornets: Chris Paul versus Chauncey Billups. Denver’s overall talent versus, well, David West and Tyson Chandler. I’m taking Denver in six. I’m also expecting Carmelo and West to go at it with an “enjoyable to watch” battle, but the Nuggets will prevail in the end.

San Antonio Spurs versus Dallas Mavericks: This and the Denver/New Orleans series has the makings of the most attractive first round battles. San Antonio’s injury issues have been well-documented, but that doesn’t mean a team with Tony Parker and Tim Duncan is not dangerous. Of course, Dallas has Dirk and Jason Terry to combat the Spurs, but don’t expect anyone to stop Tony Parker. This one’s a harder call than the others, but for some reason, I’m feeling the Mavericks in seven, regardless of this being an odd year or not.

Portland Trail Blazers versus Houston Rockets: It’s hard not to like what’s going on in Portland. Their youthful talent plays with an infectious zeal and Brandon Roy is a legitimate top-10 to 15 player in the NBA. However, Ron Artest, Yao Ming and Shane Battier want to get out of the first round, like really, really bad. Can all that Trail Blazers youth haunt them when the stakes are raised? Will the lack of Tracy McGrady help or hinder the Rockets in their quest for second-round immortality? It’s going to be close, but I’m picking the Blazers in seven.

Now for the Eastern Conference:

LeBron versus Detroit Pistons: Yes, the Pistons have experience and a championship mettle, but they don’t have LeBron James. Here’s a little reminder of what that means:

Cavaliers in four.

Boston Celtics versus Chicago Bulls: The potentially KG-less title defense starts with the upstart Chicago Bulls. People are expecting a repeat of the Boston/Atlanta series from last year, and without the Celtics spark plug, this could very well be the case. However, I’ll take the Paul Pierce/Ray Allen/Rajon Rondo triumvirate over the Derrick Rose/Ben Gordon-led Baby Bulls — but not without a fight. Celtics in six.

Orlando Magic versus Philadelphia 76ers: If Elton Brand was playing, I’d like the Sixers chances a lot more, but as it is, too much Dwight Howard. Although, the nagging injuries to Hedo Turkoglu might be troublesome. When Philly plays with energy and runs the court, they can be a difficult team to deal with, especially when Iguodala and Miller are at the top of their games. Alas, Orlando is the more talented team, but their late-season swoon may show its head again and make this a series longer than it should be.

Orlando in six.

Atlanta Hawks versus Miami Heat: Or Dwyane Wade versus the Atlanta Hawks. Will Miami’s one-man gang be too much for the Hawks to handle? I’m not sure who is going to guard Flash, but Mike Bibby and Joe Johnson don’t really strike me as lockdown defenders. We’ll see. If Wade can get some help from Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Udonis Haslem, we might just have a series on our hands. If not, Atlanta will win in five or six.

OK, that’s the first round, all nice and neat for you. Not a lot of upsets, or any actually, because I don’t consider Dallas beating San Antonio as an upset. The two-through-eight seeds in the Western Conference are too close together, record-wise, for a series to be labeled as “upset worthy.” Although, could you imagine the look on David Stern’s face if both the Lakers and Cavaliers actually lost in the first round?

His head might implode.