Time Is Now for LeBron James to Lead Cavaliers to NBA Title

Time Is Now for LeBron James to Lead Cavaliers to NBA Title LeBron and Kobe. Kobe and LeBron. Anyone else I'm forgetting?

In the eyes of many, it's almost a forgone conclusion. When the dust has settled, when all's said and done, it'll be LeBron James' Cavaliers and Kobe Bryant's Lakers fighting to the bitter end for the NBA championship. It's the game's two biggest stars and its two best teams — they're destined to duke it out in the end.

But wait — didn't we think the same thing last year?

This league always has a surprise or two in store for us when springtime rolls around, and it's hard to expect this year to be any exception. So what happens this spring? Do we finally get our marquee LeBron-Kobe matchup, or is there a Cinderella waiting in the wings?

Here goes.

Eastern Conference
Cavaliers (1) vs. Bulls (8)

All right — it begins. This is LeBron James' last chance to win a title before his contract in Cleveland is up. Everyone will be playing with championship urgency — LeBron wants to win now, Cleveland wants to prove to LeBron he can win here. This is a man, and a team, on a mission. The Cavs cruised through the first round last year, and there's no reason we shouldn't expect more of the same now.

Prediction: Cavaliers in four

Magic (2) vs. Bobcats (7)
It's an interesting matchup for the Magic — the Bobcats have tons of able-bodied big men they can throw at Dwight Howard, and they have athletic defenders they can use against Orlando's many shooters. But in all likelihood, Orlando just has too many weapons. Even if Charlotte can neutralize Howard, expect Vince Carter, Rashard Lewis, Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick to overwhelm the Bobcats in the playoffs.

Prediction: Magic in five

Hawks (3) vs. Bucks (6)
The Hawks have five spectacularly athletic young players — Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams, Jamal Crawford. The Bucks? Well, they've got Brandon Jennings. That's one. The sad truth is that the Bucks are a bit of a fraud as an Eastern Conference playoff team. They got here on the strength of Andrew Bogut's play down low, and with Bogut now out for the year, they're in big trouble. Don't expect the Bucks to last long.

Prediction: Hawks in five

Celtics (4) vs. Heat (5)
Of the four East first-round series, this is the only one with real upset potential. But even Boston doesn't look that vulnerable, really. There's no doubt that Dwyane Wade is fantastic, but the C's will counter with the speedy, athletic, agile defense of Rajon Rondo, and they've got such a strong ensemble cast that you can't imagine the Heat outlasting them. Wade's going to carry this team on his back, but how far? Expect Miami to steal a couple games in this series, but that's about it.

Prediction: Celtics in six

Western Conference
Lakers (1) vs. Thunder (8)

Has there ever been a one-versus-eight series that's this much of a toss-up? The Lakers enter the postseason with countless questions to be answered. Can they bounce back from an awful end to their season, when they lost seven of their last 11? Can you still win a title with Derek Fisher as your point guard? Can the Lakers get anything from their atrocious second unit? Can they stop Kevin Durant if he goes off in the postseason? All these questions will haunt the Lakers for sure, but their size and their experience should give them just barely enough to sneak past OKC.

Prediction: Lakers in seven

Mavericks (2) vs. Spurs (7)
The window is closing on Tim Duncan. This could be the Spurs' last chance to make a deep run in the playoffs, and you can't like their chances with a loaded Mavs team waiting for them in the first round. The additions of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood have added to the depth of an already strong Dallas team — add them into the mix with Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd, Shawn Marion and Jason Terry, and the Mavs just have too many weapons.

Prediction: Mavericks in five

Suns (3) vs. Blazers (6)
Fun matchup, but you have to give the slight edge to Phoenix for three reasons. One, Steve Nash has the smarts and the leadership ability to carry this team on his back. Two, he's got Amare Stoudemire. Third, Brandon Roy won't be playing, turning Phoenix from a slight favorite to a lock.

Prediction: Suns in six

Nuggets (4) vs. Jazz (5)
This is a great matchup of two Northwest Division rivals who each won 53 games this season. The Nuggets have Chauncey Billups at the point, but the Jazz have Deron Williams. Advantage Jazz. The Jazz have a dominating offensive force at forward in Carlos Boozer, but the Nuggets have Carmelo Anthony. Advantage Nuggets. But it's the supporting cast that sets Denver apart — expect Kenyon Martin, J.R. Smith and Nene Hilario to make the difference in this series. Denver's got this one.

Prediction: Nuggets in seven

Eastern Conference semifinals
Cavaliers (1) vs. Celtics (4)

The C's are on their last legs; the Cavs are on a mission. You tell me who's winning this one. Boston will put up a fight, but there will be no stopping LeBron in this series. Cleveland rolls on.

Prediction: Cavaliers in six

Magic (2) vs. Hawks (3)
The Magic will have a couple of cold-shooting nights, so the Hawks can steal a couple. But the fact remains that the Magic still have just too many weapons. Orlando is headed to the Eastern Conference finals again.

Prediction: Magic in six

Western Conference semifinals
Lakers (1) vs. Nuggets (4)

Finally — here comes an upset. The Nuggets have all the right pieces in place to steal this series. Billups will humiliate the Lakers' point guard rotation of Fisher and Jordan Farmar. The Nuggets will take Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom out of the game with brutally physical play inside. And as for Ron Artest, he can stop one of Carmelo or Smith, but he can't stop both. The Nuggets will find a way to overwhelm the defending champions this time around — they made a series of it last year in the West finals, and they've improved just enough that this time. They can get over the hump. Believe it.

Prediction: Nuggets in seven

Mavericks (2) vs. Suns (3)
The Suns have a dynamic offense with Nash and Amare running the show, but the Mavs are the deeper, more complete team. Expect Marion and Terry to step up for Dallas in this one, as the Mavs show off their depth and cruise past Phoenix to the West finals.

Prediction: Mavericks in five

Eastern Conference finals
Cavaliers (1) vs. Magic (2)

The Magic were able to beat LeBron last year, and it made him mad. So mad, in fact, that he stormed off the floor with no handshakes and out of the arena with no interviews. He's itching for revenge. With that much talent and that much motivation, there's just no stopping him. The Cavs are headed to the Finals.

Prediction: Cavaliers in six

Western Conference finals
Mavericks (2) vs. Nuggets (4)

Dirk and Kidd have both been to the Finals before, and they're itching to get back. They'll have to bring their A-game to overcome Denver, but the Mavs have the veteran presence to rise to the occasion in a big series, and they have the edge, ever so slightly, over Carmelo and the Nuggets. This one could go either way, but the Mavs are the better team and should make it through to the Finals.

Prediction: Mavericks in seven

NBA Finals
Cavaliers vs. Mavericks

LeBron vs. Kobe? Please. Try LeBron vs. Dirk. It's got the makings of a classic matchup, since both guys have been to the Finals before and lost, and both are dying to find redemption on the game's biggest stage. But this is the Year of LeBron, and it can't end in any other way but the first championship in Cavaliers history.

Enjoy it, Cleveland. You waited a long time for this one.

Prediction: Cavaliers in six

NBA Finals MVP: Sebastian Telfair. I don't know — just a hunch. He just seems due.

Just kidding.

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