Shanoff's WUC: NBA Playoffs All About LeBron

Today's Calls: LeBron vs. Dwight Howard, Kobe vs. Kevin Durant, Big Ben vs. the Rooneys, Rams vs. Browns, Robinson Cano vs. Jackie Robinson, Ben Sheets vs. Francisco Liriano, NCAA Taunting Rule vs. NCAA Tebow Rule, LaceDarius Dunn vs. Willie Warren, Eddie Jordan vs. Larry Brown, Tiger Woods vs. Quail Hollow and More. ↵

↵LeBron JamesThe Opening Pitch: It is Chip or Bust for LeBron, as I said earlier this week. ↵

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↵That is the focal point of the NBA Playoffs, starting this weekend. ↵

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↵— "Can Ron-Ron help Kobe repeat?" ↵
↵— "How will Kevin Durant do in his postseason debut?" ↵
↵— "Is Vince Carter the next Hedo Turkoglu?" ↵
↵— "Is this the limping end of the Celtics?" ↵

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↵These are all compelling playoff plotlines along the way, but the legacy of the 2010 playoffs is about LeBron: If he wins, it is his career-affirming first title; if another team wins, the story is that LeBron didn't win the title. ↵

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↵On paper, the Cavs should be the favorites. Then again, the Cavs were the favorites a year ago and were summarily dismissed by the Magic. The linchpin a year ago? Orlando's "Stretch-Four," Rashard Lewis. You could see the Cavs' playoff matchup with Lewis as the driving factor in acquiring Antawn Jamison at the trade deadline. ↵

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↵The Magic had their own matchup to deal with: Replacing 2009 playoff X-factor Turkoglu with Carter. They also fortified their frontline by re-signing Marcin Gortat — a playoff revelation in limited minutes a year ago — and the underutilized Brandon Bass, who could be this year's X-factor. ↵

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↵When it comes to playoff predictions, there is only one that matters: Cavs over Magic or Magic over Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals? I will forecast epic disappointment for Team LeBron: Magic over Cavs in 6. ↵

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↵LeBron loses. Does anything else matter this year? ↵
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↵Complete NBA Playoff Predictions: ↵
↵East ↵
↵(1) Cavs d. (8) Bulls in 7. ↵
↵(4) Boston d. (5) Miami in 7. ↵
↵(2) Magic d. (7) Bobcats in 5. ↵
↵(3) Hawks d. (6) Bucks in 5. ↵
↵Semis: CLE d. BOS in 5; ORL d. ATL in 7. ↵
↵Finals: ORL d. CLE in 6. ↵

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↵West ↵
↵(1) Lakers d. (8) Thunder in 5. ↵
↵(4) Nuggets d. (5) Jazz in 7. ↵
↵(2) Mavs d. (7) Spurs in 7. ↵
↵(3) Suns d. (8) Blazers in 7. ↵
↵Semis: LAL d. DEN in 7; DAL d. PHX in 5. ↵
↵Finals: LAL d. DAL in 7. ↵

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↵NBA Finals: LAL d. ORL in 7. ↵

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↵NBA Offseason: 16 teams are headed for the playoffs. What about the rest? Let's discuss the biggest offseason story lines for the non-playoff teams: ↵

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↵— Knicks. LeBron is priority No. 1. And when he doesn't work out (and he won't), then it's on to Wade (who won't either). They will get Chris Bosh and a second-tier name like Joe Johnson — or put it off until 2011, with Carmelo, the new LeBron. ↵

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↵— Rockets. The only question: Whither Yao? If Yao gets healthy, the Rockets instantly become a contender in the West. If not, it's another offseason of Daryl Morey trying to find undervalued gems in the marketplace. ↵

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↵— Nets. Here's a dream scenario: They get Wall or Turner in the lottery. They sell Bosh on Newark as almost New York (or, if the Knicks get Bosh, scoop up David Lee). They snag Rudy Gay. Lopez and Harris are still around. ↵

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↵Big Ben Watch: The Rooneys are not happy. And, if you read the police report on The Smoking Gun, you wouldn't either. Yikes. Let's just say that no one would find a suspension by the NFL to be out-of-line. ↵

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↵NFL Draft: Is it really a surprise that the Browns — desperate for both a franchise QB and a franchise "face" — would ask the Rams about trading up for Sam Bradford? (And is it really a surprise that the Rams asked for so much in return that the Browns backed away?) ↵

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↵It's not like the Browns are going to turn into contenders overnight. If they aren't happy with Clausen or Tebow, why wouldn't they rely on their woeful 2010 season (but good draft position) to get a QB from the class next year? (Heck, why not just tank the season and ensure they have Jake Locker for the next 8-10 years?) ↵

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↵Team Needs: Breakdowns of each team's needs heading into the draft. (Hard to take seriously that they don't even mention Tebow in the Vikings entry.) Be sure to check out SN's 7 rounds of mock draft goodness. ↵

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↵MLB Talking Points: ↵

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↵— Robinson Cano HR on Robinson Day ↵

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↵— Hey, the Astros finally won one! ↵

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↵— Cantu Watch: 10 G w/ H-RBI combo ↵

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↵— That's a big 1st win for Sheets ↵

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↵— Fantasy Stud: Francisco Liriano (7 IP, 0 ER, 8 K) ↵

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↵CFB Offseason: The NCAA has no conception of "unintended consequences" as it passes a rule that will let refs take away touchdowns that feature taunting en route to the end zone. Better to toss the player out of the game than this. ↵

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↵Oh, and then there's the "Tebow Rule," which doesn't allow players to put messages — religious, secular, zip-code or otherwise — on their faces. Another inane attempt to stifle on a bunch of 21-year-old college kids expressing themselves. ↵

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↵Interviews: Is this the next Heisman Trophy winner from a national championship team? ↵

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↵Merchandise: I like the commemorative T-shirts that the NBA produced to celebrate Kevin Durant winning the scoring title, but I would have rather the shirt simply read "30.1." ↵

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↵NBA Draft: LaceDarius Dunn is coming back to Baylor, bucking the trend of declaring for the draft by ... well, basically everyone. Dunn would be a great pick for Big 12 Preseason Player of the Year, and could be in the mix for All-America status. (Although, like Oklahoma's Willie Warren last year, he will find he misses Ekpe Udoh and his other departed teammates drawing defenses' attention.) ↵

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↵Coaching Carousel: Eddie Jordan got the axe in Philly, presumably to make way for Larry Brown. Between his ending in D.C. and his treatment in Philly, Jordan has not had a good couple of years. ↵

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↵The Last Word: Quail Hollow. Tiger will play there in late April, and the event features the two words that will make it arguably more exciting than the Masters — "general admission." ↵

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↵Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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