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On Air: The Official Blog of WSJU Sports

From the beginning of the season, analysts and experts alike were picking the Cavaliers, led by reigning MVP LeBron James, to win the NBA title, and deservedly so. In the off-season, they added Shaq to a solid core of young players, including point guards Mo Williams and Delonte West. Half way through the year, they added swingman Antwan Jamison, a guy who seemed to be a Pippen-esque complement to LeBron and the NBA championship looked all but signed, sealed, and delivered.

Cleveland came into the playoffs as the 1 seed in the East, dominating their first round playoff series against Chicago, winning 4-1. Questions arose about LeBron’s elbow, which he injured in the final game against the Bulls, but, still, everything was looking up for the upcoming Conference Semi-finals against Boston.

Because who were these Boston Celtics? Yes, champions from 2008, but undoubtedly an aged team. The Big Three of Pierce, Garnett, and Allen all seemed a bit slower, often-injured, and overall not as capable of winning a 7 game series as the Cavs. But, what happens? The youngest gun in the Celtics holster, Rajon Rondo, plays up to the All-Pro caliber that many believe he has in him, and the Celtics win the series. On they move to take on Orlando, the new favorite to win the East.

In this corner, opposite the Boston Celtics stand the Orlando Magic. They have flown through the first two rounds of the playoffs, sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats and then the Atlanta Hawks to get to this point. The key for them has been their point guard, Jameer Nelson, who was absent for their run to the Finals last year, and seems to be back in full force this year. This is how I look at the series:

FOR BOSTON

KEEP YOUR SWAG TURNED ON
The reason the Celtics won the championship in 2008 was not only because they were the most talented team, but also because they KNEW they were the most talented team. I’m not one to wallow in the intangibles and how this affects that and this affects that, but there was something about the 2008 Boston Celtics that set them apart from the rest. They finally put together a team that was capable of winning a championship and they showed that every time they stepped on the floor. Against the Cavs, they began to show that swagger again, playing stingy defense that suffocated the potent game of MVP LeBron James and turned defense into offense. That brings me to my next point…

TURN DEFENSE INTO OFFENSE
The Celtics, and Rondo in particular, did a fantastic job of forcing turnovers against the Cavaliers and, not only that, but running the floor and turning them into points. With scorers on Orlando like Nelson, Vince Carter, and Rashard Lewis, who can all put points on the board in a hurry, defense is where the Celtics are going to excel. It won them a championship in 2008, and it’s the same script this year.

LET RONDO RUN THE SHOW
Rajon Rondo has shown that he can be “the guy” more than anyone else on this Celtics team. There were question marks even during the ’08 title run as to whether or not he could orchestrate the offense of a team under the pressure of a post-season. There is little more than a 29 point, 18 rebound, and 13 assist game to prove the critics wrong. With no one predicting it, he outplayed LeBron and he is the number one reason the Celtics stand where they are right now.

FOR ORLANDO

KEEP HOWARD OUT OF FOUL TROUBLE
If there was one sore spot that you could find in Orlando’s four game sweep of Charlotte, it was the fact that Dwight Howard, the most talented and most important player on this team, was on the bench in foul trouble. Luckily for them, in the following series against Atlanta, Howard learned his lesson and played a smarter brand of basketball that kept him on the floor. If there is a place that Orlando can dominate Boston, it is down low with Howard, on both the offensive and defensive ends. But, this all doesn’t matter if he can’t stay on the floor.

USE ALL OF YOUR WEAPONS
Orlando is lucky because there are legitimately three to four scoring options on the floor at a time for them. Nelson, Lewis, Carter, and Howard can all carry the offense. Because of this, there’s no need to think that one guy has to do it all. If Carter happens to be off, try Lewis, try Nelson. If Howard isn’t coming up big, spread the offense around and success will come somewhere.

LIMIT TURNOVERS
Just like it was a key for the Celtics to get points off of turnovers, it’s going to be Orlando’s job to be smart with the basketball. An offense that runs off of creating turnovers can be deadly for the opponent because 10-0 or 12-0 runs are not uncommon. When things snowball, it gets bad quickly. Nelson, at the point, needs to distribute the ball but keep it away from the sneaky hands of Rondo, Tony Allen, and Paul Pierce.

KEY MATCHUP
NELSON vs. RONDO
These two guys have been the centers of attention for their respective teams, and now we as fans get the pleasure of seeing them go head-to-head. Rondo, the defensive wizard, will try to limit the offensive explosion that Nelson has put on lately. On the other side, Nelson will also have to limit what Rondo has done offensively (impressively so) of late. My view is, whoever gets the best of this matchup will win the series. That is how important the point guard position has become.

PREDICTION
At almost every position, these two teams match up perfectly. Both have great offensive options, a strong bench, and the ability to score. The difference for me is who will play the best defense and score off of that. For that reason, I’m going to take the underdog Celtics in 7. I think they will find a way to get Howard in foul trouble, moving his presence out of the lane, which will benefit both their offensive and defensive efforts. In an NBA post-season that has been relatively uneventful, this will prove to be one of the best series to watch. Enjoy.

-Dan Martin

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