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NBA

Fan-Tastic 2010.

Like last year, I’ve been something of a lousy NBA fan this season, partly because the Knicks stink and partly because I don’t get MSG anymore anyway. (I was going to plunk down for the NBA League Pass last fall, until I found out the games aren’t shown in HD ’round here. Not much point in that.) In any event, tradition is tradition, and since the first game’s already started, I should probably get up this year’s playoff picks…

[2000|2001|2002|2003|2004|2005|2006|2007|2008|2009]

The East

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Chicago Bulls (8): Even if the Bulls weren’t down 19 in Game 1 at the moment of this writing, I’d have the Cavs mostly sailing through the first round. King James is not only rested right now — He’s hungry after missing the Finals last year. And while Shaq is nowhere near the force he once was, and I don’t think Antawn Jamison is the consistent second scorer Cleveland needs, this is the best squad LeBron’s gone to war with over his young career. (If they had an automatic 3-point shooter to spread the floor and keep the triple-teams off James, oh my.) Meanwhile, this iteration of the Bulls looks worse than the team that threatened Boston in the first round last year, and are really only in the playoffs because Toronto got sloppy down the stretch. Cleveland in 5.

Orlando Magic (2) v. Charlotte Bobcats (7): On paper, this is a better Orlando team than the one that made the Finals last year. But playoff games aren’t played on paper. And in the real world, I would much rather have last year’s Hedo Turkoglu in my corner than any iteration of Vince Carter, who’s more likely to crumple up under the basket like he’s been gut-shot after a touch foul than gut any team to a much-needed playoff victory. All that being said, Michael Jordan and Larry Brown’s Bobcats are a work in progress, and I don’t see Dwight Howard’s team having much trouble with Captain Jack, Theo Ratliff, and the like. Orlando in 5.

Atlanta Hawks (3) v. Milwaukee Bucks (6): This is a wild-card matchup for me — I don’t think I’ve even seen either of these teams play. But word on the street is early rookie of the year contender Brandon Jennings has been slumping something fierce lately, and Atlanta’s Joe Johnson will be wanting to show off the free agency goods to all the many losers of the LeBron-Bosh-Wade sweepstakes. (See also: Knickerbockers). So I’ll go Atlanta in 5.

Boston Celtics (4) v. Miami Heat (5): I’m not a big fan of Wade, whose game depends a lot on the zebras getting him to the line, or of Miami (residual distaste from the Alonzo Mourning/Tim Hardaway wars — It’s a Knicks thing.) But, with Garnett and Rasheed aging in dog years now, this version of the Celts has looked bad for awhile. The Celts are like the team of Old Guys (Garnett, ‘Sheed) and knuckleheads (Rondo, Nate) you don’t want to play in pick-up — calling ticky-tack stuff while shivving you in the paint, etc. etc. And, with that in mind and since the refs love them some D-wade, I’ll go Miami in 7.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Oklahoma City Thunder (8): The Lakers beat the Supersonics? Well, sort of. Although they haven’t deteriorated as badly as Boston, the title-defending Lake Show has a few screws loose right now also, with Andrew Bynum, as always, touch-and-go. I’m really hoping this series is a coming-out party for Kevin Durant, and Phil Jackson’s most recent head games totally backfire. But, much as I loathe Kobe, I gotta go with the champs in the first round. Lakers in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (2) v. San Antonio Spurs (7): After a decade of dominance, Tim Duncan and the Spurs are finally fading. Meanwhile, Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks should still have a chip on their shoulder about getting robbed by the refs in the 2006 Finals. While I expect Tony Parker will be pretty much torching Jason Kidd this series, the Mavs have time on their side. And with Caron Butler and Shawn Marion added to Dallas’ arsenal, they can come at the aging Spurs in waves. Dallas in 7.

Phoenix Suns (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): Two fun teams to watch here, and this would’ve been a great series, with a slight edge to Phoenix. But if Brandon Roy can’t play on account of the bum knee, that swings things in the Suns’ direction considerably. I don’t think Steve Nash’s team are good enough to contend for the championship, but they’ll probably dispatch a severely weakened Portland squad pretty handily. Phoenix in 6.

Denver Nuggets (4) v. Utah Jazz (5): After giving away Camby for nothing and shutting down the Iverson experiment, the Nuggets are another team that have probably taken a step back personnel-wise in recent years. Still, if his head is in the right place, I wouldn’t bet against Carmelo in a first-round series, even with coach George Karl sidelined for health reasons. Meanwhile, Deron Williams is a legitimately great point guard and Jerry Sloan is a legitimately great coach. But, as usual, the Jazz have already over-performed to get this far. Denver in 6.

The Rest

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Miami Heat (5): It’s the Batman versus Robin series, as 2006 co-champs Shaq and D-Wade square off against each other. But, let’s be honest: This series is about Superman and, with all due respect to Dwight Howard, King James is gonna roll right over the Heat. Cleveland in 4.

Orlando Magic (2) v. Atlanta Hawks (3): Howard’s no slouch either, of course, and while I still think Vince is Orlando’s weak link, I don’t have enough of a sense of the Hawks to pick them here, and everyone wants to see the Cleveland-Orlando Eastern Finals. Orlando in 6.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Denver Nuggets (4): Kobe returns to the scene of the crime. Part of me kinda wants to knock LA out in the next series, against the Mavs. Denver is a maddening team that never quite plays to their potential, and it’s hard to envision George Karl out-coaching Phil Jackson anytime soon. But, screw it, I’m picking an upset — Don’t let me down, ‘Melo. Denver in 7.

Dallas Mavericks (2) v. Phoenix Suns (3): Used to be my homey, used to be my ace. But there can be only one, and Dirk Nowitzki’s got considerably better back-up than Steve Nash. It should be interesting to see how Shawn Marion plays in this series. Dallas in 5.

EAST FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Orlando Magic (2): LeBron versus his 2009 nemeses, except now Shaq’s around, and he should have enough left in his tank (not to mention 12 fouls with Big Z) to keep a body on Dwight Howard in the paint. King James will be looking to exact his revenge, and I suspect he’ll be playing out of his mind. And this is where I highly suspect that Vince Carter will pull his folding chair routine at some disastrous point in the clutch. Cleveland in 6.

WEST FINALS: Denver Nuggets (4) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): If Denver does pull off that upset over LA (you heard it here first), I still see them running into a wall against the Mavs. Dallas is hungry and they’re deep. I would even have them beating LA in this spot, although it might take seven games. As it is, Dallas in 5.

FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Dallas Mavericks (2): Last year, I picked Cleveland over LA just because I couldn’t in good conscience pick the Lake Show. But this year, I’m picking Cleveland because they’re the best team. Speaking as a Knicks fan, I’m thinking it’s probably better for me if the Cavs get knocked out at some point, so that LeBron won’t feel the need to stay in Cleveland for a title defense. But, quite frankly, I don’t see that happening. The Mavs came close once again, but in the end, I’m going Cleveland in 6, for LeBron’s first — of many — rings.

And, hey look, they already won Game 1. Now let’s see how wrong I can be…The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic!

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