Give Orlando plenty of credit for playing above its heads this season. In virtually any other season, the Magic would be a lock for the conference finals.
Not this year. It's hard to imagine any other outcome than a Cleveland-Boston matchup, with a trip to the Finals on the line. After seeing both clubs this weekend, I give the slight edge to the Cavs.
Boston's defense is terrific, as is its offensive execution. Winning the championship last season didn't take away any of its hunger. In fact, it may have made the Celtics even more determined to prove they weren't one-hit wonders.
Watching LeBron now, bigger and stronger than ever, I just don't see how any team is going to stop him in a best-of-seven format. He's become a complete player now with his dedication to defense. There was nothing surprising about his 33 points or eight assists Sunday against the reeling Pistons. But seeing him guard Rodney Stuckey and holding the Pistons' future All-Star point guard to six points was a revelation.
Cleveland's depth is also slightly better. The Pistons were outscored 24-6 when LeBron rested, in part because the Cavs have the always-dangerous Daniel Gibson coming off the bench. And Anderson Varejao is a better player than any of Boston's reserve bigs.
LeBron's going to win his share of titles over the course of his career. The year 2009 will probably be remembered as his breakthrough season.