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Phil Jackson

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A Rose is a Francis is a Marbury.

In the most recent attempt to revivify the moribund Knickerbockers — who, with the possible exception of 2012/13, have been terribad for as long as GitM has existed — Phil Jackson and new coach Jeff Hornacek decide to take a page from the 2010-2011 Chicago Bulls, adding PG Derrick Rose and very likely C Joakim Noah to the current nucleus of Melo and Porzingis.

Uh…yeah, hope springs eternal and all, but this doesn’t seem like it’s going to work. We already did the former-All-Star-PG-on-the-back-half bit with Steve Francis and Stephon Marbury, and those were not good years. And, to put it charitably, both Rose and Noah have Mr. Glass tendencies at this point. I know Rose, at worst, is a one-year-loaner, but wouldn’t it make more sense to build young around Porzingis?

The Knicks Reset. | But Melo’s in the Mix.

“‘Watching them play, I saw guys that looked at each other like, you didn’t back me up, you weren’t here when I needed help,’ Jackson said. ‘There just wasn’t the right combination or feel [where] it felt like everybody was in sync all the time.'”

Just prior to this year’s draft — very classy move by Commissioner Silver with the Isaiah Austin pick last night — Phil Jackson pulls the trigger on a long-awaited Knicks overhaul, sending Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Jose Calderon, Samuel Dalembert, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, and two second round draft picks, which later became Cleananthony Early and Thanasis Antetokounmpo.

I always liked Chandler — Felton, er, didn’t really pan out — but it definitely seems like time to completely hit the reset button on the franchise.

Same goes for Carmelo Anthony. It’d be great if the Knicks could keep him, but, were I in his shoes, I’d sign with Chicago or Dallas too. The Knicks are now in full rebuilding mode with an untested coach. The Bulls and Mavs have more pieces to really make a run at a championship right now. So no harm, no foul, ‘Melo — Do what ya gotta do.

“I will always remember this chapter in my life. In the end, I am a New York Knick at heart. I am looking forward to continue my career in Orange & Blue and to work with Phil Jackson, a champion who builds championship teams. Madison Square Garden is the mecca of basketball and I am surrounded by the greatest fans in the world.”

(The bigger paycheck probably didn’t hurt either.) In any event, Carmelo will remain a Knickerbocker, and apparently even took a slight pay cut to allow for more cap space next year. We’re gonna need it – Unless the league has forgotten how to defend the triangle, the Knicks still look to have at least another year of waiting before we’re even a second-round contender in the playoffs. Still, good to have Melo aboard for the long haul.

Teach a Fisher, Man…

“The Knicks’ particular big-market pathology has historically been the acquisition of players whose names look great on the building marquee…The James Dolan era took this existing predilection, distilled it down to its essence, and smoked it in a crack pipe using lit $100 bills. While previous Knicks regimes chased name players, they also seemed to know some details about those players beyond just their names.”

Upon the signing of journeyman guard, former Laker, and Jackson disciple Derek Fisher as the new Knicks coach, Grantland‘s Netw3rk evaluates what it means for the troubled franchise and concludes it’s probably a good thing: Phil’s taking over. “If you’re a Zen Master trying to reform a soul-dead wasteland, you don’t need high priests; you need acolytes. And if Jackson’s freedom to make moves translates to on-court success, who knows, maybe it even lasts.”

Woodson Nixed.

‘I have a tremendous amount of respect for Mike Woodson and his entire staff,’ Jackson said. ‘The coaches and players on this team had an extremely difficult 2013-14 season, and blame should not be put on one individual. But the time has come for change throughout the franchise as we start the journey to assess and build this team for next season and beyond.”

In his first significant move as Team President, Phil Jackson fires Mike Woodson and the entire Knicks coaching staff after the team fails — again — to make the playoffs. (Woodson did lead them there last year, but it ended badly in the second round.) Yeah, unfortunately for Woodson, it did seem to be the time.

That reminds me: I’ve once again neglected to write up this year’s playoff bracket here. But, since the Knicks have been terribad all season, I haven’t been keeping up with the league much this year. Suffice to say, I hope we see an more interesting finals than Heat-Thunder or Heat-Spurs. And here’s to better luck in 2015, although I’m not terribly enthused with the idea of head coach Steve Kerr.

Zen Master Comes Full Circle.

“Basketball contains larger truths for Jackson, and the triangle is the key to unlocking those truths. Any team that hires him should be prepared to install it and commit to it. Anthony is a beautiful scorer, an underrated passer/cutter, and a viciously dangerous catch-and-shoot player. He has the all-around skill set for the triangle, with its cuts, dribble handoffs, and instant reads. He can fit into the Michael Jordan or Kobe Bryant pinch post role, directing the offense and making reads from the spot at which those guys made their scoring careers. The rest of the roster is an awkward triangle fit.”

With Phil Jackson apparently on the verge of returning to NYC, Grantland‘s Zach Lowe breaks down how his hire as Team President could impact the Knickerbockers. “[T]he Knicks clear the Bargnani, Chandler, and Amar’e Stoudemire contracts off their books in the summer of 2015 and hungrily look to replenish. And this is where Jackson’s great value might lie — as a Pat Riley–style free-agency magnet.”

Even riding a five-game winning streak, this season looks lost, especially given that we don’t have a first-round pick. So I can’t really imagine Jackson having much of a short-term impact, especially since he’ll be spending most of his time in LA. Still, I guess it can’t hurt to have him on the payroll, and there’s something very Zen about finishing the journey where you started.

Fan-Tastic 2011.

Since it’s that particular Saturday morning in April again, time for this year’s NBA playoff picks. (Note: accuracy of picks may well be impacted by the return of the Knickerbockers after seven years of ignominy.) Here we go…


The East

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Indiana Pacers (8): What a difference a year makes. This time in 2010, Cleveland was the Court of King James and the Eastern powerhouse everyone was watching, while Chicago was the lowly 8-seed that everyone expected would just be happy to be there. Now, Cleveland is fighting it out with Minnesota for lottery balls, and it’s Derrick Rose’s multifaceted Chicago Bulls with the targets on their back. As in the past several years, the Eastern Conference 8-seed is an iffy squad — Indiana went 37-45 and are coming in on a 2-game losing streak — so I don’t expect Chicago to be tested here. Chicago in 4.

Miami Heat (2) v. Philadelphia 76ers (7): This was looking like a return to the Knicks-Heat series of old before New York went on a late-season streak and the Celts faded down the stretch. Anyways, the Heatles (Wade, LeBron, and Bosh — does that make Mike Miller Ringo?) have been a combustible squad all season, and, after watching LeBron mentally check out of the Boston series last year, I have much less faith in his multi-ring playoff potential than I used to. Still, they were designed with the post-season in mind, and the Sixers are only slightly better than Indiana. Gonna have to go Miami in 5.

Boston Celtics (3) v. New York Knicks (6): Hey, look, it’s the Knickerbockers! Now, all the smart money has the Celtics in this match-up, and my head tells me that’s probably true. In fact, they’ll probably take the Knicks in five or six — New York is still a work in progress, and we’re really one more star and 2-3 more role players away from really contending. Still, after an ugly March, Amare and Melo seemed to be finding their groove in the last few weeks of the season, while Boston — a team I’d root for in most other situations — has looked haggard and ornery ever since they traded Kendrick Perkins away at the deadline. And, hey, it’s been seven years, so why not say New York in 7.

Orlando Magic (4) v. Atlanta Hawks (5): Like the Mavericks in the West, Orlando is a team built around a force of nature (Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard) that I’m starting to think is never going to put it together. That being said, they’re facing a team they swept last year, and one who has been struggling (10-17) since the All-Star break. Orlando in 5.

The West

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Memphis Grizzlies (8): Much credit to the Spurs — Their transition has been extraordinary. Even as Tim Duncan’s era of dominance fades, the Spurs have been consistent all season and even managed to win the West. I don’t see them having much trouble with the Grizzlies. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. New Orleans Hornets (7): Ironically, this is the first season in a long time where I might have rooted for the Lakers. Should they manage to make it to the Finals versus Cleveland, sure, I’d root for Phil Jackson to get his twelfth ring. But, like Boston, they have been showing their age down the stretch, and Bynum being hurt — again — doesn’t help matters. They’ll beat Chris Paul and the Hornets, but I’m thinking they won’t make it to June this year. Los Angeles in 6.

Dallas Mavericks (3) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): As I said in the Orlando section, I have my doubts that they’re serious contenders anymore. Unfortunately for Dirk, who’s a consistently impressive and gutty player, I’m starting to think he’s going to end up like Barkley or Ewing, a star without a ring. Especially when they’re facing a young, hungry, and dangerous Trailblazers squad, the team nobody wanted in the first round. Portland in 6.

Oklahoma City Thunder (4) v. Denver Nuggets (5): With a legitimate second option in Russell Westbrook and a playoff veteran manning the paint in Kendrick Perkins, it seems about time for Kevin Durant’s OKC to make the leap. Still, after watching Gallinari, Felton, et al play for the first half of the season, I have a soft spot for “Knicks West.” Denver in 7.

The Rest

Chicago Bulls (1) v. Orlando Magic (5): One would think Orlando might have a slight advantage here because they’re a playoff-tested team. Unfortunately, they’ve failed most of those tests. Meanwhile, the Bulls enjoy the benefit of a great and hungry coach in longtime-assistant Tom Thibodeau, a superstar floor general in Rose, a dangerous set of second and third options (Boozer, Deng, Noah), and guys who know their roles all the way down the bench. (For example, Brian Scalabrine will happily wave a towel, Kurt Thomas will pay 10 minutes, flagrantly foul Howard, and scowl, etc. etc.) Chicago in 6.

Miami Heat (2) v. New York Knicks (6): See, this is what being a Homer gets you. Now I have the Knicks outperforming the first round only to play the hated Heat in the second. And damned if I’m going to pick Miami — particularly this Miami team, the most easily dislikable since the Mourning-Hardaway outfits of the late-90’s — to beat New York, even if, you know, that probably makes a lot more sense. New York in 7.

San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Denver Nuggets (5): Like I said, I like this Denver team — but they’re gunners. If the shots aren’t falling, they are going to stink up the joint. And when you move deeper into the playoffs and the tension builds, those rims will start to clank more often than not. Plus, I have a feeling, even if the Spurs are built on speed attack these days, that Gregg Popovitch will figure out how to close Denver down with not much trouble. San Antonio in 5.

Los Angeles Lakers (2) v. Portland Trailblazers (6): WIth or without Bynum, I suspect Kobe has the killer instinct to put LA on his back and get them past the Blazers (or, at the very least, he’ll yell at Pau Gasol until he does it.) Still, LA may win this season, but Portland is going to tire them out, and that’s going to be a factor in the next round. Los Angeles in 6.

EAST FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. New York Knicks (6): Ok, I think here’s where reality sets in. Even if New York makes it this far, they will have had to knock off two of the three main contenders from the East. Meanwhile, Chicago has had a pretty easy road of it — nobody’s really imagining Indiana or Orlando to go anywhere deep. Plus, let’s face it, the Knicks have a lot of exposed holes still…like Denver, they rely on offense and offense only. But wait ’til next year — Chris Paul will look great in the blue-and-orange. Chicago in 6.

WEST FINALS: San Antonio Spurs (1) v. Los Angeles Lakers (2): You again, I see — The two best teams of the last decade meet for yet another go-round in the Western Conference finals. And, this year, Tim Duncan has more fresh legs on his side than Kobe. San Antonio in 7.

FINALS: Chicago Bulls (1) v. San Antonio Spurs (1): Ok, they’re both one-seeds, but a lot of you have the Heat and/or Lakers here, right? Anyways, it’s hard to bet against Gregg Popovitch and Tim Duncan in the NBA Finals. But it’s also hard not to like this Bulls team, who are both well-rounded and deep. I’ll keep it real for the East and say Chicago in 7.

So, looking back on this, I actually find myself rooting for the Bulls and the Lakers at various points. Strange times we live in, strange times. Anyway, Game 1 is starting right about now, so let’s go to it! The NBA, it’s faaaan-tastic.

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…


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!

Fan-Tastic 2009.

These are actually a weekend late now, and my knowledge of the league now that I’ve left New York (and thus haven’t been watching Knicks games) is at an all-time ebb. Then again, broadcasting uninformed opinions is pretty what much the Internet was created for, so, without further ado and as per tradition, some quick NBA playoff picks…


The East

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Detroit Pistons (8): As per the last few years, I still don’t think King James’ supporting cast quite matches up to the moment. (I like Mo Williams, but he’s no Scottie Pippen, and “Big Z” — Zyldrunas Ilgauskas — is definitely no Dennis Rodman.) That being said, Lebron is pretty much playing to his amazing potential and then some, and it’s clear that — while he may still be Jordan circa ’89-90 at the moment — his dynasty is right around the corner. Conversely, the Pistons look old, tired, and broken. Particularly without Allan Iverson on hand, they would seem to be in the shoes of the mid-00’s Kings: a former title contender now obviously in eclipse. Cavaliers in Five.

Boston Celtics (2) v. Chicago Bulls (7): The Game 1 upset was a certifiable coming-out party for all-around player and Rookie of the Year PG Derrick Rose. (The facet of his game that most needs work: post-game interviewing.) But, let’s remember: The Bulls won Game 1 because Paul Pierce uncharacteristically missed a clutch free throw. With Kevin Garnett reportedly out for the playoffs, I think Boston is dead in the water this year — it’s just a matter of time (And, to be honest, that’s fine with me. They deserve some horrible mojo after swooping up Stephon Marbury as they did.) But they’re still a better team than Chicago and, remember, they had trouble with Atlanta early on last year too. Boston in Seven.

(By the way, was anyone else annoyed with the dubious and oft-repeated stat that Chicago hadn’t beaten Boston in a playoff game since 1948? Uh, well that may partly be because the Celtics were atrocious from the time Larry Bird’s back gave out until Michael Jordan retired. It’s not like the Bulls are the Bobcats, Wizards, or some other legitimately underdog franchise.)

Orlando Magic (3) v. Philadelphia 76ers (6): I’m fond of Superman (Dwight Howard), but, for all the hype surrounding Orlando mid-season, blowing an 18-point lead at home against the lowly Sixers is not something a real title contender would do. And, in the one (nationally-televised) Knicks game I have caught recently, the Magic looked terrible. But I’m not a particularly big fan of this Sixers crew either, so I’ll give ’em the benefit of the doubt and say Orlando in Seven.

Atlanta Hawks (4) v. Miami Heat (5): To be honest, I don’t know the first thing about this iteration of the Hawks: I hadn’t seen ’em play until yesterday, and the last news I heard about their franchise was when Josh Childress went to Europe. But they looked pretty dominant yesterday, and they’ve got a proven clutch performer, Mike Bibby, running the point. So, even though the refs love them some D-Wade, I’ll go with Atlanta in Six.

The West

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Utah Jazz (8): Always a tough call, for, as longtime readers well know, neither Kobe Bryant nor the Mormon church tend to be in my Fave 5. (And Carlos Boozer is his own case of bad mojo.) Still, the Lakers are deep, Kobe is an undeniable talent, and he’s got arguably the most underappreciated No. 2 in the league right now in Pau Gasol. I think, barring injury, this could very well be the Lakers’ year. In any case — sorry, Jerry Sloan — Deron Williams, Andre Kirilenko, & co. won’t stop ’em. Los Angeles in Four.

Denver Nuggets (2) v. New Orleans Hornets (7): This is one of those series where all my old intel isn’t of much use. Chris Paul and the Hornets looked deadly last post-season — exactly the type of team you didn’t want to run into early on. But I haven’t seen them play this year and don’t know if they’ve lost a step or if they’ve found a way to score when Chris Paul gets triple-teamed. Meanwhile, on paper Chauncey Billups running the Nuggets seems like a huge boon for them — he’s had experience managing hotheads (Kenyon Martin, meet Rasheed Wallace) and can successfully distribute shots among a bunch of players who all need the ball. But is he really enough to stop a George Karl team from choking early on? Given that they’re already one up, I’ll say Denver in Six.

San Antonio Spurs (3) v. Dallas Mavericks (6): With Ginobli out, the aging, injured Spurs got a spot of luck when they matched up against another fading West Coast giant, the Mavericks. I doubt the Spurs are good and/or healthy enough to get to the Conference Finals this year, but I don’t have much confidence in Dallas either. San Antonio in Seven.

Portland Trailblazers (4) v. Houston Rockets (5): I’ve gotten the impression from various sources that Portland is a much better team than they displayed in Game 1. And they’ve certainly got an impressive core of young talent in Roy, Aldridge, Oden, etc. (I kinda wish Channing Frye had continued to develop, but oh well.) Still, just by the law of averages, I think Yao et al are due to break out of the first round. (And there’s a certain irony that they’d finally get to do it after perennial loser T-Mac sorta checked out on them.) Houston in Seven.

[Hmm. With one exception, I picked the top seed every time again. Way to go out on a limb.]

The Rest

Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Atlanta Hawks (4): LeBron and the Cavs have pretty much been playing a higher-level of basketball than the rest of the East this year, particularly at home. And I think King James is too focused this year to screw things up in the second round. Cleveland in Five.

Boston Celtics (2) v. Orlando Magic (3): Like the Spurs-Mavs, I don’t have a lot of faith in either of these teams at the moment. But, while I had Boston winning this at first, I think I’m going to switch to the Magic. Perhaps the first round will work out the hiccups for Stan Van Gundy’s team, and — without Garnett on Boston — I’ll go with youth and energy over age and guile. Orlando in Seven.

Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Houston Rockets (5): I’m going to be rooting quite hard for Yao Ming and the Rockets here. But, as with the Cavs in the East, the Lakers are just operating at a different level right now. Los Angeles in Six.

Denver Nuggets (2) v. San Antonio Spurs (3): Unless they psychologically implode, and there’s always a chance of it with this combustible squad, I have to think Denver has enough weapons to take care of injury-ridden San Antonio. Denver in Five.

EAST FINALS: Cleveland Cavaliers (1) v. Orlando Magic (3): Third verse, same as the second and first. The Cavs are playing better ball that most everyone in the East at the moment, and James will not be denied. Cleveland in Five.

WEST FINALS: Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Denver Nuggets (2): With Phoenix, Dallas, and San Antonio on the way down, Denver now looks to be one of the premier contenders in the West. But, unless Carmelo has the type of break-out, monster playoff performance that many think he’s capable of but that we’ve yet to see, I don’t see this being all that close. Los Angeles in Five.

FINALS: Los Angeles Lakers (1) v. Cleveland Cavaliers (1): If you read what’s come before, you may have noticed that I deemed this the Lakers year a few paragraphs ago. And that’s probably true — they’re hungry, they’re experienced, and I don’t see how Cleveland’s going to manage once Phil Jackson uncorks his own version of the Jordan rules on LeBron. But, I’ve gotten pretty far in life rooting against the Lake Show…so, no reason to stop now. Cleveland in Seven.

So, there you have it — Cleveland rocks. And, if they’re this good now, just wait until James get some legitimate help…I just hope it all happens on the Knickerbockers’ watch.

The Finals Countdown.

A programming note: Game 1 of the throwback Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals is tonight at 9pm, and ESPN is setting the stage with several “Finals Factors”: Kobe | The Celtics D | Paul Pierce | Home Court | The Benches. The smart money seems to be picking LA, and after watching most of these playoffs I’m inclined to agree with them: While Boston has been wildly inconsistent against suspect teams, particularly on the road, LA has been marching inexorably through the stronger, deeper West. Still, I’ll stick with my original prediction (and my general rooting interests for the East, for Garnett and Allen, and against Kobe & the Lake Show) and say Celtics in 7, even if said outcome will make egregious Homer Bill Simmons that much more insufferable.

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