I hate to say it, but it might be LeBron’s year.
Derrick Rose’s ACL tear has given the Miami Heat what seems to be a free pass to the Finals for the second straight year.
In fact, the Heat has been dominating the New York Knicks in the first couple games of this year’s playoffs. Now up 2-0, the Heat and Knicks make their way to New York for the third and fourth games of the series.
With defensive specialist, Iman Shumpert out for the season (ACL), Amare Stoudemire out at least two games with anger management issues that led to him destroying his hand on a fire extinguisher casing, and Jeremy Lin out for at least a couple more games of the series, things are not looking good for the Knicks.
Carmelo Anthony and defensive player of the year, Tyson Chandler have a big hole to dig themselves out of if they even want a remote chance of success in the rest of this series. The Knicks will need to win the next two games in Madison Square Garden, and take at least one more game in Miami to have a shot.
Judging by the fact that the Knicks have not won a playoff game in the last ten years, don’t expect it to happen any time soon. Since 2002, the Knicks have made the playoffs three times, including this year. In the 2003-2004 season, the Nets swept them, and last season it was the Celtics who took the series in four games. Being 0 for 10 in Playoff games in the last decade makes me think, ‘Sorry Knicks fans.’
Fast-forward to the second round of the Playoffs and the Heat will face the winner of the Indiana Pacers, Orlando Magic series. With Indiana up 2-1 in its first round series, and Dwight Howard out with some back problems, I see the Pacers wrapping up the series in six games, max. Then, Danny Granger will lead the young, but resilient Pacers against the Heat. Depth will be Indiana’s best bet in the Playoffs, but I see the Pacers falling short to the Heat, as the team lacks the fire power to win in a seven game series. I doubt this series goes more than six games, ultimately with the Heat moving ahead to the Eastern Conference Finals.
While the Chicago Bulls still have hope that they can win a trip to the finals, the lack of reigning MVP Derrick Rose has put a huge hole in the Bulls chances to make it that far. And with the recent performance against the Philadelphia 76ers, it might be a little harder than anyone expected. In spite of all of this, I still think the Bulls make it to the second round where they will face the winner of the Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics series. Even without Derrick Rose, the Bulls are flat out better than Philadelphia.
With Boston tying up the series in game two without point guard Rajon Rondo, I think the Celtics easily put the Hawks away with him back in the lineup after serving a one game suspension for bumping into a referee.
Bulls, Celtics in the second round is a toss up. I think the Celtics have the upper hand based on the whole “no Rose” predicament. However, the Bulls defense and youth might be too much for the aging Boston players. I am going to go with the Bulls here, and let my bias show. It would make quite the story if the Bulls made it that far sans Derrick Rose, and I think it is possible, but not quite probable.
A rematch in the Eastern Conference Finals would have been great with both teams at full strength. However, the big three and Miami will be way too much for the Bulls. With LeBron James having by far one the best statistical seasons of his career (debatably of all time) and the Heat’s defensive force, the Bulls will lack the scoring that they need to compete. Chicago will be pesky and emotional and put up a fight in every game, but I cannot see the series taking more than five games.
LeBron will lead the Heat to their second straight finals appearance, where the only team that has a great shot at beating them, is themselves. In last year’s Finals, LeBron disappeared (especially in the fourth quarters, surprise, surprise) and let his team down again. He will need to step up and prove that he is a winner for the first time in his NBA career in order to bring not only his talents, but also a title to South Beach. While all NBA fans are dreading this moment, it seems to be imminent.
The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Lakers present decent matchups for the Heat, but I have a hard time seeing any of these teams beating the Heat when playing up to their potential. Most fans would love to see Kevin Durant get a ring before LeBron, and while it is certainly a possibility, I think they lack the defense to beat the Heat, and going point-for-point with LeBron and Dwyane Wade, especially in transition, is not a recipe for success. The Spurs are playing fantastically, as Tony Parker is having an MVP-caliber season. But I think San Antonio has passed its prime and will not have enough in the tank to stun the Heat. The Lakers do present a matchup problem for the Heat. Andrew Bynum is on fire and the Heat have no one to stop him or fellow frontcourt player, Pau Gasol. Kobe is a big shot maker, and the L.A has a chance, but I still think the Heat come out on top.
As much as it pains me to say it, LeBron James may win his first NBA title this year, and truly enter the pantheon of NBA greats. Things would have been different with a healthy Derrick Rose, or if Chris Paul ended up on the Lakers as opposed to “Lob City.” But all hypotheticals aside, the Heat are the unfortunate favorites to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy this season.