With both Conference Finals finally set, I am here to give you my preview of the upcoming series. Today I will start with the East and tomorrow I will do the West.

Eastern Conference Finals

Boston Celtics (1) vs. Detroit Pistons

To steal from ESPN.com’s scouts inc., this is the series we have all been waiting for on the Eastern Side since the playoffs began. These are the two top teams in the Eastern Conference and both have a legitimate shot of winning it all against whoever wins the West.

Guards: Advantage Detroit (but only if Billups is healthy)

I have always really liked Rajon Rondo and to me, he really proved his worth during the series with Cleveland. He ran the offense efficiently and played good defense. Ray Allen on the other hand has collapsed into being the worst starter left among the four teams (yes worse than Vladimir Radmanovic). Everyone knew that he could not defend or drive coming into this season. However, his deadly shooting has rendered him about as useful as a poopy flavored lolli pop. In order for the Celtics to have any sort of chance in this series, he really needs to step it up.

Detroits guards on the other hand have really played well. Billups has played like the professional we all know he is. When he went down, Richard Hamilton really stepped up his game and carried the Pistons into the third round. Right now, there is nobody better coming off a screen and shooting a jumper (which used to be Ray Allen’s job).

Forwards: Advantage Boston

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are what makes this team go. The impact Garnett has had on this team is unbelievable and has made Bill Simmons (ESPN’s the Sports Guy –> and yes, I am gunning for that job, which will be mine some day) turn into a teen-aged girl at an N’Sync concert (wow, I am really dating myself with that reference). Pierce, on the other hand, has been on this team forever and is the only player left from the pre-Danny Ainge days. As much as Garnett brings to the table, he is the heart and soul of this team. His game seven performance against LBJ was amazing and shows that he can take over a game against anybody who tries to defend him.

Detroit’s forwards are not weak though. Sheed and Tayshaun Prince are excellent players who have the experience necessary to win. Prince has become one of the elite defenders in the NBA and regularly guards to the opposition’s best perimeter player. He is also effective at using his long arms on the offensive end of the floor where he is deadly from the corner and has a good understanding of his own personal strengths and weaknesses. Rasheed Wallace has become the Piston’s best three point shooter in the playoffs and has the “balls” to take that last shot (even though Chauncey does have ice water running through veins). His ability to knock down that jumper spreads the floor and gives space for Billups and Prince to take it to the hole.

Center: Advantage Neither

Kendrick Perkins of the Celtics and Antonio McDyess of the Pistons are both big men who stick to the low post and offer defense and rebounding. Neither is much of a scorer but both teams need to be wary of offensive rebounds. Also, neither of these players are playing huge minutes right now. However, McDyess used to be an excellent player, I would look for him to make a huge difference in one game.

Bench: Advantage Boston

I really like the depth and talent of Boston’s bench. Eddie House was a revelation in Game 7 providing great energy. Leon Powe, Big Baby Davis, and PJ Brown offer great depth and versatility for the front line and can throw a myriad of different styles at Detroit’s big men. James Posey is the three point shooter off the bench and can match up against Detroit’s best perimeter player on the defensive end.

Detroit does have some interesting options though. Jason Maxiell is a more experienced and explosive version of Leon Powe and has pretty much taken over for McDyess as Detroit’s low post option. Rodney Stuckey proved he can play when he filled in for Billups over the last two games of the Orlando series. He will be an interesting matchup for Boston because of his ability to play both backcourt positions. Beyond those two, two veterans who provide a steady hand, Theo Ratliff and Lindsey Hunter, add shot blocking (Ratliff) and a reliable fourth guard (Hunter).

Coaching: Advantage Detroit

Let me just say that these are possibly two of the worse coaches in the NBA (them being Doc Rivers and Flip Saunders) and I am not going to waste mine or yours going into the details of this mind game match up. I just want to say that I hope Doc Rivers sticks to a rotation and redeems himself for one of the worst coaching jobs in the history of the playoffs in round one (how do you go to seven games against ATLANTA?????).

Key Matchup: Paul Pierce vs Tayshaun Prince

If game seven of the Cleveland series showed us anything, its that Paul Pierce is the most important player on Boston. Yes KG was excellent but this always has and always will be Paul’s team. If Tayshaun can play Pierce even, then the Pistons will walk away with this series. If not, then Detroit is going to be in trouble. I would look for Detroit to utilize Prince’s long arms to try and lock him up one on one and offer little or no help as they will try to keep the ball out of KG’s hands.

X-Factor: Sam Cassell, PG Boston Celtics

Yes, he did not play in game seven. Yes, he has been horrendous so far in the playoffs. Yes, he is perhaps the ugliest human being in the world and yes, he may not even be human. But that does not matter. If he can provide ten-fifteen minutes of solid basketball then Boston should count there blessings. However, if he reverts to his ball-hogging style, then watch him ride the pine for the rest of the playoffs, leaving Boston dangerously thin in the back court.

Prediction: Celtics in Seven

I believe that is about as even as a matchup one could hope for. Both of these teams play solid fundamental basketball and great defense. I just see Boston having just a little bit more on the offensive end. And even though Boston just went through a highly exhaustive and emotional series with Cleveland, I don’t see KG and Paul Pierce letting this team down and playing with low energy..

BEARD

Red Sox Pitcher Jon Lester Pitches No-Hitter

By: Sean Speirs

As Boston Celtics fans had a sigh of relief this past weekend, Red Sox fans were witnessing poetry in motion.

 

Last night, 24-year-old Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester proved once again that he is not done pulling off miracles, as he threw a no-hitter against the Kansas City Royals in a 7-0 win at Boston’s Fenway Park.  Lester, who has a win-loss record of 3-2 and a 3.14 ERA, ended the night with nine strikeouts, two walks and one error with a total of 103 pitches thrown.

 Jon Lester Pitching Against Royals--MSNBC.com

Lester’s shut-out marked the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history, which is the second most shutouts by any team. However, this accomplishment is not the only feat that this pitcher has pulled off in his life. 

 

In 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer, most notably a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  Throughout the following year, Lester continued to condition himself into proper pitching form as he was getting chemotherapy treatment.  With such dedication and multiple treatments, Lester conquered this rare disease, which was completely cured.

 

After a full recovery, the young lefty pitcher proved his true heart and strength to the fans of Boston last October, when he had his first Red Sox postseason start against the Colorado Rockies in Game 4 of the World Series.  Lester threw five shutout innings to win the game and seal another championship season for the Boson Red Sox.

 

In conjunction with Lester’s pitching streak against the Royals last night, much credit still goes to the rest of the Boston Red Sox team, as outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury, shortstop Julio Lugo, and first-baseman Kevin Youkilis backed up Lester with impressive fielding plays that kept the shut-out game going.

 

Once Lester’s final pitch, clocked at 96 mph (the fastest pitch of the night), struck out Royals’ second-baseman Alberto Callaspo, the Red Sox team came together and lifted Lester in the air as fans congratulated him with a standing ovation that was ongoing since the seventh-inning.

 

While Lester puts down another astonishing achievement within his list of life accomplishments, this game will not only forever be remembered by Boston fans as another reason why the Boston Red Sox are “the best in the league”, but it will also be rightly viewed as an inspirational story for any athlete playing in a competitive sport while juggling life’s obstacles. 

 Lester after pitching no-hitter--YahooSports.com

According to columnist Jeff Passan, during the news conference after the game, Lester said, “I threw a couple [no-hitters] in high school…but [this] one is a little different.”

 

Little does he know, this game will never compare to any others he has pitched.  The road Lester had to endure to reach such a life career will be one of the top encouraging stories in sports history. 

 

If anything, Lester’s tale teaches those to never give up; something that all athletes need to understand when standing toe-to-toe with competition.

 

Sean Speirs

 

SportsZone Fact:  Unfortunately, for the Kansas City Royals, this is not the first time they have been told “no-no” from a pitcher.  Their first given shutout was delivered by pitcher Nolan Ryan in 1973 when he played for the California Angels.  That same no-hitter game was marked the first out of seven no-hitters Ryan will go on to pitch throughout his career.

 

Images Courtesy of MSNBC.COM and YAHOOSPORTS.COM