The Cavaliers are gone for the summer. Oh, well. The show must go on. Time to suck up my ego and deliver the next round's predictions.
Eastern Conference Finals
Detroit Pistons vs. Miami Heat
Home games: Pistons 1 and 2, 6 and 7 if necessary; Heat 3 and 4, 5 if necessary.
With some difficulty on Detroit's end, the East Finals matchup we all thought would occur at the end of April did, in fact, occur.
The Cavs might actually have done the Pistons a favor by waking them from their midspring daydream. The Pistons were the sleeping giant Miami was desperately hoping Cleveland would knock out. Didn't happen.
Now, the Heat, with a banged-up Shaq and a banged-up Dwyane Wade must go on the road and try to at least split the first two games in Auburn Hills against a Pistons team that appears to have snapped to.
The Pistons seem to need a fabricated challenge in order to truly get up for a series, so it is entirely possible the Heat will be in this thing at least through Game 5. I wouldn't be surprised if they grab a series lead much like Cleveland did. But the Pistons are just too dang good at closing out games and series with stifling defense to let this one wriggle away.
Prediction: Pistons in six
Western Conference Finals
Phoenix Suns vs. Dallas Mavericks
Home games: Mavericks 1 and 2, 6 and 7 if necessary; Suns 3 and 4, 5 if necessary
While the East Finals churn out the same-old, same-old, the West Finals bring us a new underdog to root for.
The Mavericks have finally slayed the dragon that is the Spurs, outlasting them in a Game 7 overtime on the road. The Suns, meanwhile, are the big-bully dream killers, ousting everybody favorite underdog -- the Clippers -- in another Game 7 Monday night.
The Mavs get a bum rap because of owner Mark Cuban and his tendency to grate on people in positions of power. But you have to admire their perseverance to finally get to a place where they are playing a team other than San Antonio for the right to go to their first-ever NBA Finals. For nearly a decade, the Mavs have constantly cranked out 50-win seasons in a tough conference, only to be slammed by a more powerful team -- usually the Spurs -- come playoff time. But this year, armed with a ratcheted-up defense employed by coach Avery Johnson, the Mavs are a legitimate title contender, not just a team that puts up sexy numbers.
The Clippers showed how the Amare-less Suns can, at times, be dominated by superior frontcourt play. The onus in this series is on the Mavs frontcourt to back up Dirk Nowitzki's inside-outside game with some physical play down low.
If DeSagana Diop has a monster series, the Mavs are going to the NBA Finals. If Shawn Marion is an unsolvable riddle (and he shouldn't be), the Suns will go to the Finals for the first time since 1993.
I am going with the deeper team that just scaled their own personal Everest. Say hello to Rasheed Wallace for me, Dirk.
Prediction: Mavericks in seven