Cleveland Versus New Jersey PreviewEastern Conference Second Round
#2 Cleveland (50-32) vs. #6 New Jersey (41-41)
Season series: Cleveland, 2-1
New Jersey can win if…the Nets get enough defensive stops to fuel their transition game, enabling Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson to thrive in the open court. At least two of those three must play very well in one of the games in Cleveland in order to grab homecourt advantage.
Cleveland will win because…LeBron James is the best player on either team and he will make the key plays down the stretch, which could mean scoring or could mean finding open teammates if he is trapped. Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden and Anderson Varejao should enjoy an advantage inside against the Nets' frontcourt.
Other things to consider: New Jersey is a dangerous team, even without versatile big man Nenad Krstic, who went down early in the season with a knee injury. The Nets went into Miami last year and took game one from the eventual champions, so New Jersey is not a team that can be taken lightly, despite their ordinary record (they have the worst won-loss mark of any first round series winner in two decades). It would not be surprising at all if New Jersey wrests homecourt away from Cleveland in game one or two only to lose it back when the series shifts East. This series figures to go at least six games, but Cleveland just looks at least a little better than New Jersey in several areas: the Cavs have the best individual player (James), won the season series between the teams, gained a lot of playoff experience last year (which puts them ahead of Toronto, New Jersey's first round opponent) and were the better overall team all season long.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:04 PM