Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) is held by...

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) is held by Utah Jazz center Kyrylo Fesenko during the second half of Game 4 of the NBA Western Conference. (May 10, 2010) Credit: AP

Despite the hype and hysteria over the early exit by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA would like you to know that the playoffs are still going on. The pro version of the Final Four is here.

The Boston Celtics somehow became an afterthought on the night they advanced to the Eastern Conference finals, but the Orlando Magic, who are 8-0 in this postseason, can't afford to overlook the fact that the Big Three - Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen - look just as tough as they did in the 2008 championship season and perhaps even tougher with the dynamic play of guard Rajon Rondo.

And while LeBron mulls where he should sign this summer to continue his quest to win his first championship, Kobe Bryant is eight wins away from snaring his fifth NBA title, which would move him one behind the modern day standard, Michael Jordan. The Phoenix Suns, with former two-time MVP Steve Nash back in the system he thrived in under Mike D'Antoni and Amar'e Stoudemire dominating again, are seeking their first trip to the NBA Finals in 17 years.

The King may be out, but a champion still awaits to be crowned.

No. 2. Orlando Magic vs. No. 4 Boston Celtics

The Magic were certainly expecting to meet the Cavaliers again in the conference finals and, despite the lower seed, may not be all that happy to see the Celtics instead. The main reason is Rajon Rondo, who gave the Cavs fits and certainly will be a challenge for Jameer Nelson. But Stan Van Gundy could utilize Matt Barnes as a Rondo-stopper to help solve that issue. Then there is Kevin Garnett, who looked rejuvenated in the Cavs series, and should win the power forward matchup against Rashard Lewis.

Are you getting the trend here? This series will be all about defense. Mikael Pietrus on Paul Pierce will be another matchup to watch. The enigmatic Vince Carter, who has never gotten this far in the postseason, has looked engaged and could be an X-factor. Why wouldn't it be Dwight Howard? Because you can expect the Celtics bigs to use their fouls on him between Kendrick Perkins, Rasheed Wallace and Glen Davis and make it very physical.

If the Magic are going to win, they will do it in transition and from the perimeter. For the Celtics, it'll be the same formula as the Cavs series: frustrate the superstar and let Rondo control the game. Orlando's bench should make the difference, though these games will be close.

Prediction: Magic in 6

No. 1. Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3. Phoenix Suns

Phil Jackson, the master of the Jedi mind trick, did it again. He used his pulpit to float the theory that Steve Nash often carries the ball and the referees do not call it. You recall before the first-round series with the Thunder, Jackson bemoaned the amount of whistles young phenom Kevin Durant drew, which, of course, was meant to get into Durant's head just as much as the officials. Nash isn't as susceptible, but these two teams have met before in the postseason and, with the Suns, Nash is 2-0 against Jackson's Lakers, with consecutive first-round wins in 2006 and '07.

The Suns are again playing the Mike D'Antoni style - pick-and-roll, three-point oriented - that got them to back-to-back conference finals appearances in 2005 and '06, and the perception is that their team defense is much better. The Lakers had a few alarming moments in the first round series against the Thunder (Kobe Bryant pulled a LeBron and got curiously passive) but things started to click in the sweep over the Jazz. Their length, with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, was too much for Utah, but the Suns feel Amar'e Stoudemire will be a physical nightmare for Gasol.

But the Lakers have the league's ultimate closer in Kobe, a deep rotation and a physical Derek Fisher, as long as he can keep up with Nash. The Suns will need Nash to be what he was in the Spurs series - on the attack - while perimeter shooters such as Channing Frye have to knock down shots to pull the Lakers size out of the paint.

Prediction: Lakers in 5

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