Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Portland Trailblazers (8): The Lakers are built to win a championship and are probably in their prime as a team. The Blazers could certainly win a championship, but a couple of years from now, not this season. The Greg Oden-Andrew Bynum matchup should be a great one between two of the best young centers in the game, but the series as a whole should be pretty one-sided. (Result: Lakers in four.)
New Orleans Hornets (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7): Three years ago, most people would have laughed at this matchup, saying the Hornets are no match for the Mavericks. Well, some people may laugh at it now, but for the exact opposite reason. Chris Paul has turned this team around and New Orleans finds itself as a real contender for the conference title. Dallas’ window seems to have closed, an occurrence that was not helped by last season’s Jason Kidd trade. (Result: Hornets in five.)
Houston Rockets (3) vs. Phoenix Suns (6): This is the year that Tracy McGrady will finally get out of the first round, but it will have more to do with Ron Artest’s presence on the court than his own. McGrady is wearing down physically and Artest is a beast. Phoenix has some life left in them, but not enough to win this matchup. I see this as the best series of the first round. (Result: Rockets in seven.)
4. Utah Jazz (4) vs. San Antonio Spurs (5): The Spurs will struggle somewhat without Manu Ginobili for the first couple of months of the season, but they’ll be rounding into form come playoff time. The Jazz are a really good team, and in the Eastern Conference they’d be a major threat. But I can’t see them beating the experience and know-how of this Spurs team, even if the San Antonio bench is shallower than a kiddy pool. (Result: Spurs in seven.)
Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. San Antonio Spurs (5): In a rematch of last season’s conference finals, the edge has to go to the Lakers once again. The Spurs are much less deep than they were during last season’s playoff run, while the Lakers were without blossoming center Andrew Bynum. Duncan, Parker and Ginobili can make this series competitive on their own, but they can’t win it on their own. (Result: Lakers in six.)
New Orleans Hornets (2) vs. Houston Rockets (3): Coming off what should be a tough series with Phoenix, the Rockets just won’t have enough steam to keep up with CP3 and company. The Rockets are capable of winning this series, but the physical and mental toll of a seven gamer will play a factor. Chris Paul just won’t let his team lose and will lead them to the conference finals. (Result: Hornets in six)
Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. New Orleans Hornets (2): Kobe vs. CP3, now those are NBA tickets that I’d love to get my hands on. Kobe took Paul’s MVP award last season, and now he’ll take the conference title. The Lakers are the best team in the conference and should go all the way to the NBA Finals this season. (Result: Lakers in six.)
Find your NBA tickets and more at http://www.stubhub.com/nba-tickets/.