While thinking taxes and the NBA, I couldn't help reminisce about Otis Birdsong, the former All-Star sharp-shooter for the Kansas City Kings and New Jersey Nets, who once called the three certainties of life: "Death, taxes and my jump shot."
Now that Otis has settled into retirement, I'll make an executive decision and change that to "Death, taxes and LeBron." We are all just squirrels searching for a nut in Mr. James' world.
It's time for the coronation of the "King," and it begins this weekend.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at this year's opening round matchups...
(1) CLEVELAND vs. (8) DETROIT
Cavs in 5
(2) BOSTON vs. (7) CHICAGO
Beantown woke up to some horrible news Thursday morning when Celtics coach Doc Rivers informed everyone that Kevin Garnett's balky right knee may keep him on the sidelines throughout the playoffs. Conventional wisdom said that the defending champs have been on cruise control and spent the last month of the regular season resting "The Big Ticket" as a precaution for the playoffs. No K.G. means no repeat, but Rivers' team still has more than enough to best a Bulls team that turned on the jets late behind the presumptive Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose, and the league's best pickup at the trade deadline, the unheralded John Salmons. Chicago has some talent but a rookie coach (Vinny Del Negro) and little practical playoff experience are no match for a team that can still throw Paul Pierce and Ray Allen at you.
Celtics in 5
(3) ORLANDO vs. (6) PHILADELPHIA
With nothing to play for, Orlando faltered a bit down the stretch. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was even worse. Don't let the Magic's missteps fool you, however. The East features the haves and the have-nots and it's pretty clear which is which in this series. Dwight Howard is a monster inside and Stan Van Gundy has a host of competent-to-superlative three-point shooters that can stretch any defense to its breaking point. Meanwhile, Philly is the worst three-point shooting team in the league and needs to create offense off its defense in the transition game. This is just a terrible matchup for the 76ers. Tony DiLeo's club really struggles with perimeter defense and it's ability to drive and get to the foul line will be nullified by Howard's presence in the middle. Expect the Sixers to play jobber for a talented Orlando team. Think the Unpredictable Johnny Rodz vs. Hulk Hogan.
Magic in 5
(4) ATLANTA vs. (5) MIAMI
Dwyane Wade has had a spectacular year and can take over any basketball game, but Atlanta has played great in Philips Arena this season and has its own cold-blooded finisher, Joe Johnson. Home-court and the play of veteran point guard Mike Bibby will prove to be the difference in what should be an evenly- matched series.
Hawks in 7
(1) LA LAKERS vs. (8) UTAH
This is not your typical one-eight matchup either. In fact, the Jazz are one of the most talented eight seeds in history. Injuries hamstrung Jerry Sloan's club for most of the year, but you look up at the end of the season and Utah still had 48 wins. That said, the Jazz are no match for Kobe Bryant and company. Two things killed Utah this season, the inability to win on the road and their awful play in back-to-back games. Utah finished 15-26 away from home and had a miserable 3-18 record in the second game of back-to-back sets. Only the woeful Washington Wizards had fewer wins (two) in those situations. The NBA playoff format will nullify the back-to-back problem but can't help the road woes. Meanwhile, since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, No. 8 seeds have gone 3-47 in the first round, with only Golden State in 2007, New York in 1999 and Denver in 1994 pulling upsets. Translation...
Lakers in 5
(2) DENVER vs. (7) NEW ORLEANS
Billups has been the difference in the Rocky Mountains but as good as "Mr. Big Shot" has been this season, he's no match for the Hornets' Chris Paul. Unfortunately for CP3, a lack of depth hurt New Orleans all year and don't expect that to turn around in the postseason. Carmelo Anthony, the red-hot J.R. Smith and the Pepsi Center will be the difference in this series.
Nuggets in 7
(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Dallas
If you are looking for an upset in the first round, you have to look long and hard at this series. The Mavs have played very well down the stretch while the Spurs are without their finisher, Manu Ginobili. I still think a veteran-laden San Antonio club, with all its championship experience, will have enough to oust Dallas in a Game 7 set for the Alamo City. But, anytime you are in a do- or-die situation and staring at Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry on the opposite bench, things could go wrong.
Spurs in 7
(4) PORTLAND vs. (5) HOUSTON
Houston was the big loser on the final day of the NBA season. The Rockets had a chance to win the Southwest Division and snare the No. 2 seed but blew a 14- point lead against the Mavs, losing home-court advantage in the process and drawing the West's most talented team outside of Hollywood in the young Portland Trail Blazers. Nate McMillan's team has everything a championship contender needs but experience. Portland's size, shooting ability, defensive intensity and finisher (Brandon Roy) will send the Rockets packing in the first round again. In fact, maybe those three certainties should be death, taxes and Tracy McGrady's team will lose in the first round, whether he's around or not.
Blazers in 6