NBA playoff preview

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The Spectrum

The NBA playoffs begin this Saturday and the matchups are now set. After 40 games in 40 nights, we'll have several questions answered after a long NBA season.
Will "King James" finally take a seat on his thrown? Would a championship ring be enough to keep LeBron in Cleveland?
Can Kobe Bryant return to the top of the mountain once again and inch closer to the legacy that Michael Jordan left behind?
Can Jason Kidd and Dirk Nowitzki capitalize on a key mid-season trade to win their first ever NBA Title?
Here at The Spectrum, we'll take a look at the first round matchups and look forward to the NBA Finals.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #8 Chicago Bulls
Typically, the No. 1 versus No. 8 matchup is an afterthought. This series may be no different, but there are a few interesting storylines.
Chicago and Cleveland split the season series and Chicago took the last meeting against a Lebron-less Cavalier team, 109-108.
Derrick Rose is a force and showed in last year's playoffs that he can lead a team when the Bulls fell just short of beating the No. 2-seed Celtics, 4-3. If the Bulls can steal a game in Cleveland, this could be an interesting series. But Cleveland has too much firepower to suffer an upset. Cavs in five

#2 Orlando Magic vs. #7 Charlotte Bobcats
Charlotte is a young team on the rise and has a great coach in Larry Brown. With that being said, they have no chance in this series.
Vince Carter looks like he found a time machine this season and is playing like the all-star he once was. Dwight Howard is as dominating a force as any other player in the league today, and the Bobcats will be no match for either of them. Magic in four

#3 Atlanta Hawks vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks
About three weeks ago, this series would have been an early favorite for best first round matchup. Unfortunately, Bucks' star center Andrew Bogut went out for the season with an injury, thus rendering the Bucks helpless.
Brandon Jennings and John Salmons are good players, but they will not be enough to take out Joe Johnson and the Hawks. If Josh Smith plays well in this series, it could build some confidence and help the Hawks advance in later rounds. Hawks in five

#4 Boston Celtics vs. #5 Miami Heat
This may be the most interesting series in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Dwayne Wade is an elite talent in this league and has shown on a consistent basis that he has what it takes to lead his team deep into the playoffs.
Kevin Garnett and company aren't getting any younger, but if they play with a chip on their shoulder, the Celtics will be tough to beat. The series will come down to who wants it more and whether or not the Heat can get enough production from their role players. Boston in seven

WESTERN CONFERENCE

#1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. #8 Oklahoma City Thunder
This is going to be a fun series to watch. Kevin Durant, this season's scoring champion, has been incredible in his third year as a pro. With a core of young, talented teammates accompanying Durant, the Thunder have the assets to give the perennial Western Conference champs a run for their money.
While the Lakers took three of four in the regular season from Oklahoma City, there are some serious question marks surrounding Los Angeles. Injuries have hurt the yellow and purple, and they will need a healthy Andrew Bynum if they want to win another title.
Kobe Bryant will be the focus of the series, but watch for Jeff Green of the Thunder to be a key player. If he provides scoring and solid rebounding, the Lakers are going to have their hands full. As good as Durant is and as bright of a future he has in store, it's not his time to shine yet. Lakers in six

#2 Dallas Mavericks vs. #7 San Antonio Spurs
The Mavericks have one of the most talented teams in the league from top to bottom and the Spurs pose little threat to Dirk and company.
Long-time all-star Tim Duncan has showed a bit of wear and tear this season and Tony Parker is less than 100 percent. With a less than stellar supporting cast and little depth, Manu Ginobili will not be able to take out the Mavs single handedly.
Jason Kidd doesn't have much time left and will be motivated to grab his first ring. Mavs in five

#3 Phoenix Suns vs. #6 Portland Blazers
If Brandon Roy were healthy, this would be the best Western Conference quarterfinals series. Roy is so dynamic and his play makes everyone around him better.
As Roy's status remains in question, Steve Nash and Amare Stoudamire should be able to handle the Blazers and move on to the conference semifinals. Suns in five

#4 Denver Nuggets vs. #5 Utah Jazz
The Nuggets really hurt themselves down the stretch with poor play. The bad stretch dropped the team to fourth in the West and cemented their spot in a slugfest with the Jazz.
Both teams feature great point guards and if the Nuggets can shake off the cobwebs, they should be able to take out the Jazz. Carmelo Anthony is an assassin and knows how to win. If Denver can get out of the series, head coach George Karl will return to the bench for round two – just in time for the Lakers.
The Nuggets could ride a wave of emotion to the NBA Finals, but they have to be willing to pay the price against a gritty Utah squad. Give the slight edge to Anthony and the Nuggets. Nuggets in seven

Predictions
East Final: Cavaliers over Magic
West Final: Mavericks over Lakers

NBA FINALS: Cavaliers over Mavericks in seven games