1. Cleveland vs. 8. Chicago
The Bulls are a mediocre team. The Cavs are a mediocre team without LeBron James. I can't believe that with all of the efforts Cleveland's management have made towards getting a great supporting cast for LeBron that Antawn Jamison and Shaq are the best they could do. That said, the Cavs win this series easily, thanks to the guy who's going to win the MVP. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are good players, but not great.
Cavs in 4.
2. Orlando vs. 7. Charlotte
The Charlotte Bobcats are one of the two teams I've seen play in person this season. While they lead the league in opponents' points per game, unfortunately, defense is only half of the equation, and they are third worst in points scored per game themselves. This is mainly because their offense is predicated on Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson creating shots for themselves. Wallace and Jackson are good players, but they are second bananas, intended to play next to an alpha dog like Wade or Garnett or Kobe.
Orlando has actually taken a step back this year, essentially trading Hedo Turkoglu for Vince Carter. Hedo was huge for the Magic last postseason, nailing clutch shots for them time after time. Vince has playoff experience, with 42 postseason games under his belt, but I don't see him coming through like Orlando will need him to to make it back to the Finals.
That said, the Magic don't need Vince to score 30 a game to get past Charlotte.
Magic in 6.
3. Atlanta vs. 6. Milwaukee
One of the biggest stories of the year was Milwaukee's arrival on the scene as a pretty good basketball team, thanks in no small part to center Andrew Bogut's performance. Bogut averaged 15 points and 10 boards a game with 2.5 blocks, to boot.
Unfortunately, Bogut busted his elbow in a pretty horrific way a couple weeks ago and is out for the rest of the season. Atlanta isn't exactly a world-beater, but Josh Smith and Al Horford are more than enough to deal with this Bucks team. If Brandon Jennings' shooting percentages hadn't fallen off the face of the earth after a quick start this season (shooting 37% on the year now), I might have predicted a different outcome.
Hawks in 5.
4. Boston vs. 5. Miami
The Celtics are finished. Garnett is injured/old, Pierce is injured/old and Ray Allen is still Ray Allen, but it'll take more than he and Rajon Rondo to beat Wade and the Heat. I'm not in love with this Miami team, but #3 is amazing enough that he can win this series all by himself.
The Celtics mortgaged their future for a ring two seasons ago, and right now, the future is collecting on that debt. If it weren't for Rondo (who manages to average a triple double in the playoffs every year somehow), I'd be tempted to predict a sweep for the Heat.
Miami in 6.
1. Lakers vs. 8. Thunder
Here's the irony about this matchup: I think the Thunder easily win the backcourt matchups. Durant is more than a match for getting-old-and-he's-injured Kobe in scoring, and apparently Oklahoma City's Thabo Sefolosha has the potential to limit the Black Mamba quite a bit. Take the time to read that link... it's pretty involved. In addition, Russell Westbrook clearly outclasses Derek Fisher (unless the Fish can turn back into Playoff Derek Fisher for a few games).
The problem for the Thunder is that they can't hope to match up with the Laker big men. Gasol and Odom are difficult enough to deal with, but assuming Bynum is healthy for this series, that's just not fair. Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Nenad Krstic are all decent players, but defensively they have little hope of slowing down the Lakers near the hoop for an entire series.
Lakers in a surprisingly close 6 games.
2. Dallas vs. 7. San Antonio
The Spurs are done. Duncan is at the tail end of his career, Manu isn't the same guy he was five years ago and Tony Parker relied heavily on those two guys to get his rings. Meanwhile, Dallas is peaking right now with Dirk, Kidd and Marion all playing pretty well these days. If Jason Terry can provide 16 points a game, this series will be quick and ugly. A motivated Dampier (contract year) and fairly effective Haywood shore up the middle for Dallas. Watch for Mav guard Rodrigue Beaubois in this series. He's got a bright future in front of him.
Dallas in 5.
3. Phoenix vs. 6. Portland
I have never seen a team be as injury-cursed as the Blazers this season. Seems like every single player on their roster went down for an extended period at some time over the last six months. But perhaps no loss was bigger than watching Brandon Roy sit out thanks to a knee injury. Roy will certainly miss this series, but he may return if Portland advances.
Unfortunately, that's one series too long for the Blazers. The Suns are on a roll right now, with Nash playing as well as he ever has (at 36!), Amare looking more and more like pre-microfracture surgery Amare every day (I've missed that guy) and the role players shooting lights out.
Phoenix doesn't have the defense to win it all this year, but they can take care of an utterly devastated Portland team no problem.
Suns in 5.
4. Denver vs. 5. Utah
Denver in 5.
So there you go. I'm looking forward to TNT's "40 Games in 40 Nights" thing, though my wife probably is not. If I had to pick a team to win it all this season, I'd have to give a tiny, tiny, tiny edge to the Cavs, depending on how well Shaq can deal with Bynum and company.