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Michael Taylor 18th May 2009 - 11:48

NBA Championships – Conference finals betting

It business time in the NBA as the four best franchises in basketball have fought their way through to the best-of-seven games Conference finals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic may have all had different paths through to this stage in the season but the goal for all is now very much the same - win the NBA Championship.

But which franchises are best placed to progress and get their shot to write their names into history?

Eastern Conference

Cleveland Cavaliers v Orlando Magic

LeBron James was kept quiet as the Cavaliers fell short in last year's Conference finals against the Boston Celtics - do NOT expect the same to happen this time around though.

The 2009 MVP has been simply incredible, firstly in the regular season and even more so in the play-offs. What's more, for the first time since joining the Cavs, James has a team around him worthy of going all the way.

Mo Williams has been lethal from the point while Delonte West has consistently chipped in with valuable contributions, and you always know what to expect from the likes of Anderson Varejao and fans favourite Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

Add into this the fact that Cleveland have swept the Detroit Pistons and the Atlanta Hawks in the first two play-off rounds then you get a good idea of just how well they're playing.

This is not to say a sweep of the Magic is likely.

After all, Orlando managed to win two of the three games between the sides during the season and, most importantly, in both of those games LeBron James never fully found his rhythm.

It wasn't even as if these games were towards the start of the season either. The last one was as little time ago as 3 April and the 29 point difference in that game represented the Cavs worst loss of the year.

This is sure to be what Magic manager Stan Van Gundy will be feeding to his hard-working under-dogs in the lead up to each game.

The message will be, take advantage of their awesome strength on the boards, don't give LeBron any time to run the show and get the ball to Hedo Turkoglu and hope he's at his best.

And of course Dwight Howard will have to dominate on the defensive rebounds - if he doesn't then hand the series straight to the Cavs.

Prediction: Cleveland to win in six               Championship prices: Cavaliers 4/6, Magic 14/1

Western Conference

Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets

At the beginning of the season when you trade away the 2008 NBA Defensive Player of the Year and one of the most iconic figures of the modern era many people will write off any Championship hopes - the Nuggets have shown the danger with this logic though.

Marcus Camby and Allen Iverson departed Colorado for pastures new, a move General Manager Mark Warkentien made to gain some salary cap flexibility, but, in return for AI, Detroit allowed Chauncey Billops to return to his spiritual home.

Cue a rise to the top echelons of the NBA.

The eternally team-minded Billops has since sparked up a great combination with Carmelo Anthony which could very easily provide all the offence required to pass the patchy LA Lakers.

Their play-off leading field goal percentage, average points scored and 3-point percentage tells you all you need to know about a finely balanced offence with strong inside and outside threats.

Add in Billops play-off experience - he saw it all in his time in Detroit - then you begin to realise why Nene Hilario and Kenyon Martin are proving adept at giving Carmelo the space he needs to flourish.

It's no wonder they made a very good Dallas Mavericks team look so ordinary in the semi-finals.

Of course Denver's hopes will dramatically fall if the Lakers play at the top of their game but their recent series with a Yao Ming-less Houston Rockets hardly inspired me to lump money on them claiming a 30th Conference title.

Kobe Bryant has been typically impressive, as has Pau Gasol but being taken to a game seven by the under-strength Rockets is a sign that something isn't quite perfect in Phil Jackson's camp.

More suggestions are arising that if Kobe doesn't find his rhythm then the Lakers are nothing and looking at certain areas of their starting line-up you'd have to agree with the critics.

More particularly, questions have to be asked about Derek Fisher's ability to run the point. Ok so Kobe generally dictates the Lakers play but Fisher's lack of point and assist production still has to be of concern.

This isn't me completely ruling LA out I hope you realise, I just think Denver have the momentum and if they can steal a game early at the Staples Center then they will be extremely hard to peg back.

Prediction: Nuggets to win in six              Championship prices: Lakers 13/8, Nuggets 13/2

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