At first glance, the 2010 edition of the NBA playoffs looks to be one marked by firsts -- for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Charlotte Bobcats, and maybe for LeBron James or Dwight Howard, two players seemingly poised to grab their first ring. However, this year could also be the closing chapter for several teams.
It may be the last run for an aging Mavericks team. The sun is also setting on the Spurs. And what of the Suns? With Amare likely leaving, are they headed into rebuilding mode? Could this be the last we see of James and Dwyane Wade in their current uniforms? And what about the Lakers and Phil Jackson? With Kobe starting to show signs of age, will L.A. ante up on Phil's huge salary or look to the future?
Questions abound for one of the most wide-open playoffs in recent memory. So, now it's time to put away the addicting ESPN Playoff Predictor and come with us as we break down all the first-round series:
Before we do that, though, we're going to tell you who we think will be hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy in June:
Cavaliers 4, Suns 2
I'm tempted to pick the Magic, but I don't trust Vince Carter, and the Cavs seem to have fixed the deficiencies that sunk them against Orlando last year. On the other side, the Suns are the hottest team in the West, with Nash having another career year and Amare playing out of his mind during the second half of the season. If they get Robin Lopez back healthy by the second or third round, Phoenix will have a great shot to get back to their first NBA Finals since 1993.
Magic 4, Lakers 2
The popular finals match-up is going to be Lakers vs. Cavaliers, but even with a healthy Shaq, Cleveland still doesn't look like a team that can get past the Magic, who's squad looks just as deep if not deeper than it did last season. With Orlando once again squeaking past the Cavs to earn a spot in the finals, the world will be treated to a re-match of last season's championship series. Unfortunately for the Lakers, the outcome will be dramatically different. While it's tough to bet against Kobe and Phil Jackson, Orlando just looks like a team that has all the components to take the title.
Out West the Lakers look as vulnerable as they have in two years, and winning the incredibly deep Western Conference for three straight year is just too tall of a task. Meanwhile, the Mavericks appear to have the pieces in place to make one final run at the championship. The Cavs appear to be the best team in the league, and look like they should walk to the Finals (of course, many people -- myself included -- thought the same thing last year). This year, the Cavs break through and setup a match-up of Wizards All-Star cast-offs in the Finals, with Antawn Jamison and the Cavs holding off Caron Butler and the Mavericks.
Cavaliers 4, Mavericks 1
There are six different teams that have a legit chance to make the Finals in the West, but I'm picking the Mavs. They are the most well-rounded team in the West, and I don't think the Lakers are ready to repeat. Do you know how long it took Jordan to win his first championship? Seven years. Do you know how many years LeBron has been in the NBA? Seven years. The Cavs will have a cake walk through the East with the Magic being the only possible hurdle, but I don't even see that lasting more than six games. The King is ready to ascend to his thrown and win his first NBA Championship.
Lakers 4, Cavaliers 3
Man, you kids have a short memory. Back in the day when the shorts were short, wine coolers were in vogue and the Berlin Wall was still in active use, people thought the 1988 Lakers were washed up, too. They went 9-10 right before the end of the season and looked spent limping into the playoffs with a geriatric Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing center. Guess what? They survived back-to-back-to-back seven game series and repeated as champs anyway. This year's Lakers aren't nearly as old and the West isn't as tough as it seems. L.A. will find a way to get it done, especially when Kobe sees Shaq on the other bench in the Finals.