After a long, physically and emotionally tolling 82 game season, the seemingly longer, definitely more tolling NBA playoffs are upon us. Nearly three months of clutch shots, big time performances, and four rounds of seven game series. The Spurs will defend their title, while 15 other teams gear up to snatch it from them. Not many postseasons are as scrutinized as much as the NBA playoffs– seemingly every All-Time Great has made a lasting impact on the NBA in April, May, and June more so than from November-March. Here’s a full preview for the NBA Playoffs.
The East is a very tough conference to pick. On one hand, you have the top seeded Atlanta Hawks, who stunned the NBA world by being absolutely incredible all season long. The Hawks sustained success, however, still has not quieted doubters of the team, who feel that their lack of a bona fide superstar will come back to haunt them in the end. Others will point to their four All-Star Players, their brilliant head coach Mike Budenholzer, and his pass-heavy system that has led to the 6th most efficient offense in the NBA, and say the Hawks are absolutely championship contenders. The road, however, will not be easy.
The Hawks know from experience that the 1-8 matchup is anything but a cakewalk– the Hawks were the #8 seed a year ago and took top seeded Indiana to seven games. Atlanta, like any other team, are vulnerable, and might not roll through their first round matchup as easily as some might think. Their are also four other teams in the East capable of knocking them off. The Bulls, who are just getting Derrick Rose back healthy, have the pedigree and defensive discipline to win any 7-game series. Pau Gasol, Nikola Mirotic, and Jimmy Butler all put together brilliant campaigns, and they are still probably the Bulls 3rd, 4th, and 5th best players. If Rose and center Joahkim Noah are healthy, Chicago has as good of a chance to come out of the East as anyone else. Then there are the Wizards, who have stumbled in the seasons second half, but still boast one of the best young backcourts in the NBA.
John Wall and Bradley Beal were instrumental in the Wizards run to the second round last year, where they knocked off Chicago and then took top seeded Indiana to six. Add a clutch, playoff savvy Paul Pierce and great front court size in Nene and Marcin Gortat, and you have a team that nobody wants to play. The Toronto Raptors are also a team to watch out for– Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan are both All-Star caliber players who have a very good supporting cast around them.
With a legion of loyal fans, led by rapper Drake, Canada’s only NBA representative has a good chance to at least reach the East Finals. And then, of course, are the Cleveland Cavaliers. The NBA’s most scrutinized team have been playing brilliant basketball of late. Rookie head coach David Blatt has come under fire all season, but he has still kept this team under control and playing well.
They have the NBA’s best player, an unbelievable offensive point guard, an All-Star power forward, and a loaded supporting cast. No matter how good Atlanta is offensively, no matter how good Chicago is defensively, no matter how explosive Washington and Toronto’s backcourts are, if LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love play to their full potential, it’s Cleveland who will come out of the East. The Cavs represent the only real shot the East has at winning the title, and despite not being the top seed, they should be favored to come out of the NBA’s weaker conference.
The West is straight up impossible to predict. 6 of the 8 teams in the NBA with over 50 wins ply their trade in the West, despite playing against crazy difficult schedules. It’s been a bloodbath all season long, and the playoffs shouldn’t be any different. The standout team? The Golden State Warriors, who boast the best record in the entire NBA.
Rookie head coach Steve Kerr has his men playing the best ball of their collective careers, including MVP frontrunner Stephen Curry, who really is becoming the most unguardable player in the league. His splash brother teammate Klay Thompson, along with defensive player of the year candidate Draymond Green, look like the favorites to advance out of the West, but it will still be incredibly difficult to get to that point. Standing in their way?
The San Antonio Spurs, for one. The defending champions have been cursing all season, and have just started to kick it into high gear. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, and Kawhi Leonard are as dangerous a trio as any, and Gregg Popovitch is by far the best coach in the NBA. If you look at offensive firepower, pedigree, and experience, no one comes close to the Spurs, who are the most likely team to come out of the West, regardless of their spot as the 6 seed. Don’t forget about the other elite teams in the West, however: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the Clippers have the star power and the experience to contend.
The Portland Trail Blazers arguably have the leagues best starting five, and their midseason acquisition of Arron Afflalo finally gives them a viable bench threat. The Memphis Grizzlies downhill style of play is perfect for low-scoring, defensive playoff series. The Houston Rockets may have lost their starting point guard for the season, but James Harden’s incredible year and the return of Dwight Howard make them a legitimate threat to go deep in the postseason. 7th seeded Dallas, led by a stacked starting five, and 8th seeded New Orleans, led my MVP candidate Anthony Davis, are no pushovers either.
The West may be the most unpredictable conference of all time, which means the journey to the finals will be excruciating to experience and fascinating to watch.
First Round Matchup to Watch:
In the East:
Raptors and the Wizards. I wouldn’t expect any of the other first round series in the East to extend past five games, so naturally this is the pick. Both teams have struggled mightily since the All-Star Break, but both teams are also very talented. For each team, it starts in the backcourt– John Wall and Bradley Beal for the Wizards, Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan for the Raptors. Wall is one of the leagues most explosive point guards, and Bradley Beal’s shot has improved tremendously. Meanwhile, Lowry started the All-Star Game for the East, and Derozan is a year removed from an All-Star appearance. This series will be won on strength of supporting cast, as well as home court advantage. While veteran and NBA Champion Paul Pierce is certainly a viable candidate to change the series, Toronto has by far the best bench. Lou Williams, Patrick Patterson, and Greivis Vasquez all play huge roles, and the Raptors win in seven.
In the West:
The Clippers and the Spurs. This is an absurdly good matchup-so good, that I predicted it to occur in the Western Conference Finals. The Spurs are hot at the moment, having won 11 of their last 12. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all as playoff tested as possible, Kawhi Leonard is probably the best perimeter defender in the game, and the Spurs excess of strong role players and abundance of ball movement have made them overwhelming favorites in this series, despite being the lower seed. But the Clippers are no lame duck, either. Chris Paul just quietly turned in one of the finest seasons of his career, including leading the NBA in assists. DeAndre Jordan led the NBA in rebounds with 15- yes, 15- per game, and Blake Griffin continues to rise up the ranks of NBA stardom. The prospects of this series are truly, truly mouthwatering. Paul v.s. Parker at the point. Griffin and Jordan v.s. Duncan and Leonard down low. Ginobili v.s. Jamal Crawford off the bench. And two of the NBA’s best head coaches, Doc Rivers and Gregg Popivitch, attempting to outmaneuver one another on the sidelines. In the end, I have to go with the defending champions– the Spurs are too good and experienced to lose in the first round. I’ll pick San Antonio in 7.
Player to Watch:
East: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
West: Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors
Predicted Eastern Conference Champion: Cleveland Cavaliers
Predicted Western Conference Champion: Golden State Warriors
NBA Champion: Golden State Warriors
Finals MVP: Curry
Playoff Pick ‘Em:
First Round, East:
#1 Hawks v.s. #8 Nets: Atlanta in 4
#2 Cavaliers v.s. #7 Celtics: Cleveland in 5
#3 Bulls v.s. #6 Bucks: Chicago in 5
#4 Raptors v.s. #5 Wizards: Toronto in 7
First Round, West:
#1 Warriors v.s. #8 Pelicans: Golden State in 5
#2 Rockets v.s. #7 Mavericks: Houston in 7
#3 Clippers v.s. #6 Spurs: San Antonio in 7
#4 Trail Blazers v.s. #5 Grizzlies: Memphis in 5
Second Round, East:
#1 Hawks v.s. #4 Raptors: Atlanta in 6
#2 Cavaliers v.s. #3 Bulls: Cleveland in 6
Second Round, West:
#1 Warriors v.s. #5 Grizzlies: Golden State in 6
#2 Rockets v.s. #6 Spurs: San Antonio in 6
#1 Hawks v.s. #2 Cavaliers: Cleveland in 6
#1 Warriors v.s. #6 Spurs: Golden State in 7
#1 Warriors vs.. #2 Cavaliers: Golden State in 6