EAST
(2) Boston Celtics v (3) Orlando Magic

Just 48 hours after concluding an epic opening round series against the Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics will face the Orlando Magic as they seek to extend their title defense.
The Celtics were pushed to the limit, needing seven games (and seven overtime periods over the course of the series, an NBA record) to dispatch Vinny Del Negro’s young and hungry crew.
In avoiding an early exit, Paul Pierce & Co avoided becoming the first defending NBA champions since the San Antonio Spurs in 2000 to lose in the first round of the playoffs.
Their reward now comes in the form of a match-up with the Orlando Magic who will come to Boston full of confidence after clinching their opening round series on the road against the Philadelphia 76ers – despite being without franchise player Dwight Howard who was serving a one-game suspension for throwing an elbow at Sixers’ center Samuel Dalembert in Game 5.
The Defensive Player of the Year will return to the line-up for Orlando who split the four-game series with the Celtics during the regular season.
Kevin Garnett missed the first loss through injury on March 8th and the last time he was on the court for the Celtics was coincidently in their second defeat to Howard & Co on March 25th.
The 14-year veteran has not played in a game since then and head coach Doc Rivers is trying his best to quash rumours that he might still return.
The Celtics are also without Leon Powe who tore a ligament in his left knee against the Chicago Bulls.
Meanwhile, the Magic will be without several influential player of their own. All-star point guard Jameer Nelson has been out since the All-Star break with a shoulder injury and rookie standout Courtney Lee will be sidelined for at least the first two games of this series after suffering a broken sinus when taking an inadvertent blow from Howard in the first round.
Lee has returned to practice and was cleared to play with a protective mask. Sharp shooter JJ Redick and swingman Mickael Pietrus are splitting the minutes in his absence.
Boston are shorthanded down low with Kendrick Perkins, Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis and Mikki Moore as their only legitimate inside players. Brian Scalabrine has seen minutes there too when the aforementioned three have been in foul trouble and could be a good cover against Rashard Lewis and/or Hedo Turkoglu.
Rivers will no doubt stress to Perkins and Davis in particular the need to avoid picking up costly and silly fouls (especially the offensive ones Perkins has been called for far too often this season) as they are the only players capable of slowing down Howard.
The Magic are plugging the gaps in their perimeter rotation by using the full extent of Turkoglu’s and Lewis’s wide array of skills. Turkoglu can handle the ball as well as any guard in the league and create open shots for his team-mates while Lewis can stretch the floor with his outside shooting, opening the floor for Rafer Alston.
The shortage of inside presence and power has forced the Celtics to play a more offensive game than they would usually like. Their trademark defense has not been the same without Garnett and Rajon Rondo has upped the tempo, turning them into a team that averaged 112.6 points per game in their series against the Bulls.
The key to winning this series for Orlando will be to exploit Boston’s lack of size inside and not rely too heavily on their outside shooting as has been their tendency during the regular season.
It is hard to see the Celtics getting past the Magic in this series. They are too shorthanded, have come off an exhausting first round series and Howard will wear out their thin frontline.
Trivia: Rivers’ first NBA head coaching job was with the Orlando Magic. He led them to a record of 41-41 in the 1999-2000 season despite not having any marquee player (his ‘star player’ was Darrell Armstrong). As a reward for surpassing all expectations, he was named Coach of the Year….The Celtics and Magic have met only once before in the playoffs. In 1995, Shaquille O’Neal led Orlando to a 3-1 first round series win.
Verdict: Orlando wins in 6.
WEST
(1) Los Angeles Lakers v (5) Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets ended a 12-year wait by beating the Portland Trail Blazers 4-2 in their opening round series.
A franchise that won back-to-back titles in the mid 1990s (1994 & 1995), the Rockets entered this year’s post-season having failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs six straight times.
Now they bid to reach the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1997, when Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler lost in six games to Karl Malone and John Stockton’s Utah Jazz.
However, making it that far will be no mean feat, especially as they now face last year’s Western Conference champions Los Angeles Lakers.
The Lakers reached the NBA finals in 2008 despite being without centre Andrew Bynum and clearly missed his impact. The 21-year-old has overcome two serious knee injuries to make it back onto the court in time for this year’s playoffs and is now set for a showdown with Yao Ming.
The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz in five games in the opening round and were able to take their time in bringing Bynum back into the rotation. With their own starting center Mehmet Okur sidelined, the Jazz forced the Lakers to play small ball and head coach Phil Jackson was only too glad to spare his seven-footer.
There will be no resting in this round though for Bynum. He will get the first real test of his young career as he matches up against one of the best centres in the game today.
Veterans Shane Battier and Yao are both getting their first taste of playoff success but they must get over that great feeling quickly and face up to the reality that awaits them. Battier, one of the league’s premier defensive players will have the tough task of guarding Kobe Bryant while Yao has his hands full with Bynum and/or All Star Pau Gasol.
Despite sweeping the season series 4-0, The Lakers will be only too aware that without the injured and disgruntled Tracy McGrady, the Rockets are a different opponent – a less predictable one.
LA will also have taken notice that Houston strolled into the Rose Garden and beat Portland 108-81 in the first game of their opening round series. So there is no room for complacency and arrogance.
Ron Artest has rewarded the Rockets for taking a chance on him by proving himself to be a mature leader, one willing to put his ego aside and do whatever his team needs from him in order to succeed.
Luis Scola has been a pleasant surprise too, averaging a team-high 16.2 points to go along with 6.7 rebounds in the series against the Trailblazers. LaMarcus Aldridge was at a loss against the Argentine, falling victim to his every fake and unable to figure out his impressive footwork. But the 29-year-old will now find his match against Gasol who has some of the same tricks up his sleeve.
Houston enter the series as clear underdogs but their achievements and potential to cause an upset shouldn’t be downplayed as they have made it to the post-season and have now a series win under their belt, despite playing without McGrady and Rafer Alston (whom they traded to Orlando).
Guards Aaron Brooks and Von Wafer have exceeded all expectations and so far haven’t shown to be in any way daunted by the pressure of playing in the playoffs. Von Wafer offers a great boost off of what is an otherwise weak bench. Carl Landry is the only alternate for Yao and Scola while Rick Adelman has preferred to go with the young Kyle Lowry rather than the experienced Brent Barry in the backcourt.
Conversely the Lakers are spoilt for choice and have both experience and depth in both quantity and quality thanks to Bryant, Gasol, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom. Trevor Ariza and Shannon Brown have shown they can be counted on and the latter has even supplanted Jordan Farmar as Fisher’s back-up.
Ultimately, the Lakers’ experience, depth and poise – as well as Bryant’s obsession with winning the title at all costs – will prove too much for the Rockets to handle.
Trivia: LA beat Houston 4-1 in the opening round of the 2004 playoffs, the last time these two teams went head to head in the post-season. That was the last of the one-two punch of Yao and Steve Francis, as the latter was traded that offseason to the Orlando Magic in return for Tracy McGrady. It was also the last playoff push for the duo of Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq was traded to Miami for Odom, Caron Butler and Brian Grant after the Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in the finals.
Verdict: Lakers in 5.

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