Atlanta and Orlando open their semi-final series tonight, while Utah takes another crack at the champs in LA. I have a feeling if the underdogs lose these games, especially out West, it’ll be a quick end to the series.
Starting with the Eastern matchup, Orlando needs to roll through the Hawks and show they had a right to be in the finals last year, and through the addition of Vince Carter, they’re ready to take the next step and bring a title home to Orlando. For that to happen, though, Dwight Howard must wake up and lay off the fouls. It was embarrassing to watch him get called over and over like he were a rookie in round 1. The Hawks are a tough team, led by the dynamic, explosive Joe Johnson. You can expect Johnson to dump in at least 20 ppg in this series, and don’t think you and I were the only ones watching the highlight tapes of Howard getting into foul trouble. The Hawks will find Horford the ball early and often (averaging a respectable 14 ppg). Whether Howard can stay out of foul trouble will be a major factor in this series. The Magic will want to win it in 5, but I see it going 6. But if Orlando can’t contain the Hawks, they’re going to have major trouble against either the Cavs or Celtics.
Out west, the Jazz put up a great fight getting out of the first round, but as Kobe quickly showed them, it’s a new ballgame now. Should the Jazz have won game 1? They had their opportunities. Unfortunately, the Game 2 hangover for situations like this tends to go poorly for the almost-ran. Lakers also won’t want to repeat the same mistake and get up early so they can rest Kobe for the road. I do expect a blowout here. The line will be something like Lakers by 9, and the only reason they won’t cover is if the Jazz make it interesting in the last minute of garbage time. Also, Lakers finish this series in 5 without question.