After 82 hard-fought games, the moment has finally come where the eight best teams in each conference have been decided. For some (you know what I’m saying Warrior fans), the road was easy. For others (Pelicans fans), fate was decided in the final hour. And for the Thunder, an absolutely incredible Russell Westbrook simply wasn’t enough. Nevertheless, the brackets have been decided and the teams are ready to go. The fans are ready to go. I’m ready to go. So, without further ado, allow me to introduce each matchup along with who I believe will advance and perhaps, win it all.
Let’s start with the East:
The first round matchups are as follows:
#1 Atlanta Hawks (60-22) vs. #8 Nets (38-44)
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29) vs. #7 Celtics (40-42)
#3 Chicago Bulls (50-32) vs. #6 Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)
#4 Toronto Raptors (49-33) vs. #5 Washington Wizards (46-36)
Only one of these series has the potential to move past 5 games. I’m sorry to be blunt, but it’s true. The Nets and Celtics are in danger of getting swept. The Bucks and Celtics do have the potential to snare a win on their home court, but otherwise these games will end quickly. The Raptors-Wizards matchup however is an intriguing one. Although a 3-0 sweep in the regular season, the once mighty Raptors had struggled with health at some point late in the season (lost 9 of 10 over a 3 week stretch in late February-early March). For them to regain their dominance, Kyle Lowry has to become the man again, even if it’s at the expense of Demar Derozan. They had more success that way earlier on when Derozan was nursing a torn adductor longus. On the other side of the ball, the Wizards also hit a mighty slump post All-Star break, going 2-9 over a very critical stretch from early to late February. Both teams are similar in that regard.
But the Raptors ended strong winning four of their final five. The Wizards lost three of their final four. Let’s also talk styles of play. The Raptors are offensive oriented (104.0 points per game, 4th in NBA). The Wizards, not so much (98.5 points per game, 17th in NBA). Both teams get to the line a lot, however the Raptors convert more of their freebies (.787 2nd in NBA vs. .742 21st in NBA). In the playoffs though, defense wins games. Sounds cliché but entirely true. The Wizards own that matchup (T-9th in NBA, 97.8 PPG allowed vs. T-18th Raptors, 100.9 PPG allowed).
Simply put, depending on how hot Toronto is on a given night, this series could very well go down to a game 7. They better hope they don’t go cold.
My final four out East is:
#1 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Washington Wizards (sorry raps but defense wins games)
#2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #3 Chicago Bulls
Well, that was fun, but the real fun starts now in the West:
#1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. #8 New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)
#2 Houston Rockets (56-26) vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
#3 Los Angeles Clippers (56-26) vs. #6 San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
#4 Portland Trail Blazers (51-31) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)
I want to take a minute and admire those matchups. If we’re talking food, this is the most savory, succulent lobster bisque I’ve tasted in my entire life. The East, by default, is a stale piece of bread. Two of these matchups are worthy of upsets and three of these series can easily push to 6 games. I believe all of these series will also go to a game 5. To dissect these series, I’m going to need more space.
Alright matchup one: Dubs vs. Pels. Both teams have young stars. Stephen Curry is undoubtedly the MVP of the league in my mind and the Chris Kyle of the modern NBA, an absolute sniper from deep (after you break your own record you’ve earned that right). It also doesn’t hurt that Klay Thompson is also pretty gosh darn good at sinking treys. Couple that with a fantastic supporting cast (Draymond Green, the leagues Most Improved Player in my mind, savvy vets Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut, the reason for the Dubs’ great D this season) and you’ve got yourself a title contender. But don’t sleep on the Pelicans. They’ve earned their spot in the postseason and are also relatively unproven seeing how Jrue Holiday, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon missed enormous amounts of time nursing injuries. Tyreke Evans needs to have the ball in his hands. His playmaking ability (career high 6.6 assists per game) has been huge for this team. In order to make this series more interesting though, Anthony Davis has to be a monster. He has to average over 35, 13 and 4 (points rebounds, blocks) for them to get to a game 6. In the end, Oracle is too difficult to play in and this series may already be in the books. What is certain is that this will be a fun, colorful series for teams who have not even reached their pinnacle yet.
Next up the battle of Texas: Houston vs. Dallas. Question is, does Houston have a problem? This will be an offensive-oriented series. Both teams will score and score high. They’ll be running around, jacking up a ton of threes. This is the epitome of a shootout. Chandler Parsons and Jason Terry also go up against their former teams (not a bad ancillary storyline). But who will play defense? James Harden (1.90 steals per game) has responded in a big way to the “no defense” criticisms he faced after last year’s exit in the first round. But this is a different Houston team. They’re better. They’re deeper. Josh Smith is their 6th man. Corey Brewer is their 7th. They have talent coming off their bench, something that can’t be said for Dallas. But Dallas has championship pedigree. Nowitzki, Rondo, Chandler and Barea have experienced that feeling before and have gone far in the playoffs. They are going to put in the work and Houston has to come prepared. They also can’t let this series slip through their fingers. This could be déjà vu all over again (with Ellis knocking the dagger). I fortunately am not a believer in that. Houston has the slight advantage in this series, but don’t be surprised to see this series go to 6, maybe even forcing a game 7.
Dear god these are getting harder to choose. The following two teams are separated by a single game (56-26 vs. 55-27) and this series will definitely go to 6 or 7 games. This is a matter of flash vs. substance. Which will prevail this year. Honestly, it’s so close you could flip a coin to determine who wins this one. Both teams have excellent coaches (Rivers and Pop) with great coaching staffs. Both teams have great shooting (Danny Green, Redick, Leonard, Chris Paul (surprisingly)). But this may be the Clippers’ year. Charles Barkley always has called them soft, but this team has toughened up, and they have the battle scars to prove it. It won’t only be Chris Paul leading the charge. This series will be physical and emotional. The Clips have also suffered too many early exits to let this one happen. At the same time, the Spurs have hit their groove at just the right time. They’re 9-1 in their last 10 and after a disappointing Rodeo trip, their recent success has completely erased their early on mishaps. As for who could sway the series, Deandre Jordan is simply a different player from last year. Even though the stats are similar, he killed it while Griffin was out. So too is Kawhi Leonard. Pop has entrusted him with more of a workload and he has responded nicely to the challenge. In the end, it’s too hard to choose. San Antonio has more depth. LA has more flare. I’ll leave it to the reader to make this pick.
The Portland- Memphis series is a lot like the Washinton- Toronto series. At least that’s what I’d have said last year. Then, Memphis boomed (for them) on offense to complement their already stingy defense. Mike Conley has gotten better each and every year to the point where I’m calling him a top 10 point guard. Marc Gasol is the best center in the game (if you consider the Brow a PF). Vince Carter was an absolute steal off the market for a team looking for shooting. Courtney Lee has also contributed to that. And how about the trade of the year, acquiring Jeff Green at the trade deadline. What wonder that has done for a team sorely lacking in youth and athleticism. Portland however, has also improved, this time on defense. Batum is a monster with his long, flailing arms, although his offense has greatly regressed. With Wes Matthews sidelined for the season, they’ll need him to step it up on both ends. Especially with CJ McCollum, not a proven defender at his side. We know what to expect from Lillard and Aldridge. The Grizzlies know full well, keep the ball out of the former’s hands during crunch time. All of these games will be close, like many games out West. It’ll be physical, with Robin Lopez and Marc Gasol inevitably throwing elbows and Conley and Lillard getting down and dirty. McCollum may have a big series if he’s matched up with Courtney Lee. He has to take advantage of that matchup because that’s the only kryptonite in that stellar defense. Memphis has more playoff pedigree, so I’m going to roll with them (on the skin of their teeth) but don’t be surprised if I’m wrong. This one couldcome down to the little things.
Wow! That was tough… my Final Four out West is
#1Golden State Warriors vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies
#2Houston Rockets vs. #6 San Antonio Spurs
Til’ next time, my friends!!!!!