2015 NBA Playoffs Day 4

Getty/AFP Jason Miller
Getty/AFP Jason Miller

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics @ Cleveland

Cavaliers lead 2-0

Cavaliers

For a title contender, they let their defense slip to below average levels at times today. It was worrying that, despite the Celtics struggling to find a flow on offense, the Cavaliers never really put them away until late in the fourth quarter. While that speaks volumes the character of this Celtics team, the Cavaliers need to gather the cojones to put the proverbial foot on the jugular and close out games earlier if and when they can. They also broke character or some ill advised shots, especially JR Smith. While they have the ability to rally and comeback against an underdog Celtics team, they will have a tough time against a more elite defensive team that will come out of the Bulls vs. Bucks matchup. Mozgov was brilliant today, rightly trailing behind every shot / layup to follow up with a tip in case of a miss. Love contributed defensively, something that one does not see often and something that the Cavaliers can most definitely use as they progress along the playoffs. The Cavaliers seemed to be using more off the ball screens today, an adjustment from on-the-ball screens between the Lebron-Kyrie-Love combination they used in Game 1. Lebron seems to have settled into a Chris Paul-like pace with his game, getting his teammates in volved for three quarter and taking matters into his hands in the fourth. This gives the Cavaliers the cushion to allow Kyrie, Love and the rest of the Cavalier team to find their legs and pace in playoff basketball.

Celtics

The Celtics are giving the Cavaliers everything they can handle, and then some. What was most impressive was even when, in the third quarter, the Cavaliers made a run and went up by 13, they stuck to their system and pulled back within 4 in almost no time. It spoke volumes of their character that despite of their struggles in the first half, the Cavaliers could not put them (the Celtics) away until late in the game. I’d like to see more movement of the ball on offense, something that worked for them in Game 1. They aren’t a team with stars and great one-on-one players, so stagnating the offense after a screen or two for a jump shot does not work for them and it showed early in this game. The moment they began to move the ball more in the second half they found the basket much easier, and made came back from 13 down to within 4 in almost no time. Stevens will look to run a few plays for Sullinger especially if he continues to make those threes and the Cavaliers do not switch / rotate on him.

 

USA Today
USA Today

Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards @ Toronto

Wizards lead 2-0

Raptors

I do not recognize this Toronto team. Gone is the comfort level they had in running offensive rotations during the regular season. Come playoff time, something in this Raptors team has switched, and I’m sure even they do not know what it is. They are struggling on both ends of the floor, with respite coming in spurts during brief runs spread across the duration of the entire game. It will be tough for them to win 4 out of the next five, especially after losing home court advantage. They look like the underdog in this series now. There are glimmers of hope…(Amir) Johnson is still as effective, Lou Williams struggled in this game but has the ability to snap out of his funk, Kyle Lowry is still an All Star and both Ross and DeRozan can pull their weight. This is still a team loaded with talent, question is can they come together and play as a team to at least win back home court advantage in Game 3? Whatever they need to do, they need to do fast because this Wizards team not only has the momentum, but it has Pierce, who is the veteran presence needed in the locker room to keep the Wizards humble in pursuit of that second round appearance. I certainly hope Casey spends the next few sleepless nights crafting a master plan to stop the Wizards in their tracks.

Wizards

I do not recognize this Wizards team. Gone are the deer-in-the-headlights offensive and defensive rotations that made them a team least deserving of a playoff spot in a very very long time. They had no business being here. Yet, here they are up 2-0, both road wins, against the higher seed who happen to be a very effective and established offensive threat in the East. I’ve said this before, the Wizards are surviving on sheer talent, the only difference in this game was all the talent moved like they had a purpose. They still played barely league average defense at best, but offensively they have found a groove that they are hoping will take them past the Raptors. Good things happen when John Wall is left by himself, something that the Wizards team (unintentionally / innocently) sabotaged in Game 1 by setting too many picks for him. Wall is among the top ten one-on-one players in the League, something he proved in this game by notching a 26-17 on 50% shooting. Beal was spectacular and so was Porter (and unusual but not surprising suspect), and if the Wiz keep playing with this sense of purpose, something Pierce is sure to lecture them on, look for a first round upset.

 

YAHOO! Sports
YAHOO! Sports

Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks @ Houston

Rockets lead 2-0

Rockets

The Rockets we built by mastermind Daryl Morey to play the way they played in Game 2. High lobs to Dwight. Harden at the line. Wing players like Brewer and Ariza making cuts and making threes, and Josh Smith doing everything he should be doing except taking threes. As much as I personally dislike the Rockets for Harden’s getting-cheap-calls-on-the-move style of play and Dwight’s dwightness, I must admit to enjoy watching the second half when they clinically took apart the Mavericks, one basket after the other. Josh Smith took quickly to being the facilitator on offense, and here’s hoping he realizes that he most effective in the low post area from where he can make those crisp passes to either of the wings or lob it to an undermatched (in this series) Howard. Don’t be fooled by his 20 pt games, because Harden hasn’t still taken over. It will be ugly for the Mavericks if he does and the other Rockets perform the way they did today. Nearly every aspect of their game was on point and you’d have to be a sucker for perfection to pick a single flaw. If anything, I’d like them to make adjustments on Barea who is proving to be the X-Factor for the Mavericks. But all in all, the Rockets played some beautiful basketball today. So uncharacteristic of them.

Mavericks

Everything went right for the Rockets. Nothing went right for the Mavericks. They looked out of sorts right from the whistle and it may have had to do with the psychological injury of not having Parsons on the floor. They were never a good defensive team, but they were beyond terrible today. They gave up on nearly every second possession, simply forgetting to rotate defensively. Of course the emergence of Smith as a “elite” passer in this game coupled with Dwight’s resurrection made it difficult to switch, but the least the Mavericks could have done is tried. There were possessions where Chandler, the only rim protector they have, looked so helpless deciding whether to help on a Harden-Smith pick-and-roll or stick with Howard lurking in the paint in search of lobs. Not having Chandler hurt them on both ends of the floor, but give credit where due, the Rockets choked them on defense, making sure they worked for every shot they took this game. Aminu was a bright spot, and if he can elevate his play the Mavericks may steal a game at home. But from the looks of it, the Rockets are gonna enjoy and feed off this new found efficiency. And for whatever reason they don’t, they’ll always have Harden.

2015 NBA Playoffs Day 3

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks @ Chicago

Bulls lead 2-0

Bulls

This was the perfect wake up game for the Bulls. Not that they took the Bucks lightly because, well, Thibs. Thibs wouldn’t take a high school team lightly, let alone the second best defense in the league. In all honesty though, the Bulls had to grind out this win, and in doing so (at the risk of sounding philosophical) found themselves. They don’t have the prettiest offense in the league, Gasol and Butler being their only legitimate threats on that end. What they do have is elite level defense, a defense that met is match in this series. The Mirotic injury becomes a concern if he misses a game in the series, especially since he brings that inside-out offense and the ability to draw fouls and get to the line that will be key to breaking a scoring drought that the Bucks can impose. Two things stand out from this game, one, the Bulls cannot take these “kids” lightly and two, the Bulls could not have asked for a better match up to “find themselves”.

Bucks

This game should have gone the Bucks way. I blame Sam Hinkie and bloody 76ers for this loss. With Rose clearly struggling, this was MCW’s game and match up to win. Only he just cannot elevate his game because at his core he still carries around the complacency that comes with playing for a terrible team that seeks to lose games. I cringed every time he posted up Rose, because a.) he could not make anything happen from there, and b.) the Bucks were perfectly fine moving the ball around the perimeter and getting those open looks. MCW isn’t the only one to blame. But as the point guard and commander of this team, he has to shoulder the most responsibility. Now much of this has to do with inexperience. The last thing you want to do, when a playoff veteran team like the Bulls is making a comeback, is change your offense. The Bucks did everything right on the defensive end for the full game and they could not have played the Bulls any better. Offensively though, they were punching above their weight in the 1st half moving the ball around and getting open like they were the veterans in the matchup. Sadly, on the 2nd half, they lost focus and played reactive basketball as soon as the Bulls made a run, when all they should have done is stuck to the same script and eventually the shots would have fallen. They always fall. Always. All I’m gonna say is this, if the Bucks play the next 14 of 16 quarters the way they played the first half today, expect an upset.

 

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

 

Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans @ Golden State

Warriors lead 2-0

Warriors

Both games today were similar in that the favorites (teams) got pushed to the edge. Facing a Pelicans team that brought the fight to them today, the Warriors had to play with their backs against the wall some time in this game. The difference though, between the Warriors and any other team in a similar situation, is that they know who they are, and simply carry on with the script. It is both scary and fascinating to watch this team come out of time outs (taken when they are down) and right every wrong that got them in the hole in the first place. They are a supremely confident team because they put their trust in a system that has worked for them all season, and they know will work for them in their pursuit of the Championship.

Pelicans

That they played 44 minutes to the absolute best of their ability is commendable for a team that is a rookie to the NBA Playoffs. However, it is precisely because they are rookies they lost hold of the game in the last four minutes. I’m sure that the Pelicans did to wish for it to end this way, and fully intended to play till the whistle. But not giving a 100% even on a single possession against a historically great team is suicidal. This is as good as the Pelicans can get, both defensively and offensively. With the exception of Tyreke playing hero when has on his team a certain Anthony Davis and Eric Gordon (who was blazing hot for the field, no less), the Pelicans hardly had any flaws this game. They closed out well on the three point shot, rebounded exceptionally well and stayed the course at every Warriors comeback run, except for well, the last one. Davis did look tired in that crucial period, but I’m against the call for having him rested more earlier. These are the playoffs, and if you want to be counted among the greats then this is where you lay it out. The Pelicans did miss Jrue Holiday, especially as the leader of that second unit and will look for him to return when they play at home. Look for Monty Williams (who is also punching way above his weight here) to deploy the small ball line up with Cunningham at four and Davis at five, for more minutes in Game 3. I sincerely feel the momentum in the favor of the Pelicans, and they can make a series of it if they take care of business at home

2015 NBA Playoffs Day 2

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
AP Photo/Mark Duncan

Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics @ Cleveland

Cavaliers lead 1-0

Cavaliers

For a team that has this unique mix of a 2-time NBA Champion who also happens to the best player alive, and two elite level playoff debutantes, the Cavs did a more than fair job of taking care of the “upstart” Celtics in Game 1. Both Love and Irving were very good and lived up to their regular season abilities. Irving especially impressed with this new found aggression on the defensive end. Something he (rightfully) took flak for almost his entire career. Lebron was, well, Lebron. His ability to do anything needed to elevate his team at almost any point of the game is something we have not seen since Magic Johnson. What impressed me is the maturity with which he handled the debut of Love, Irving and Mozgov, even saying while being mic’d up that it is normal to be excited, but they just needed to calm down and play their game.

Celtics

“Things are gonna go back and forth, just stay the course. Be back, purposeful offense.” – Brad Stevens

These guys aren’t intimidated and will not back down. It isn’t like they have irrational confidence guys like Stephen Jackson or Nate Robinson playing for them, but they don’t need those guys. They have Stevens in their corner. If anything, the comeback 16-2 run over a span of three minutes in the 3rd quarter was indication enough that these guys came to play. Their inexperience showed in places, especially when (they felt) calls were not going their way. Someone needs to tell them that thises are the playoffs. And you are playing Lebron at home in his first playoff game back as a Cavalier. Get used to not getting the calls you want. It is going to be an uphill task against a title contender so the Celtics would do well to stick to the basics and bring that heart, that system and that Stevens to every game.

Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images North America

Memphis Grizzlies vs. Portland Trailblazers @ Memphis

Grizzlies lead 1-0

Grizzlies

They continue to do what they do best, play stifling defense. They throttled the Blazers for nearly the whole game while making simple plays ending in high percentage shots at the other end. Conley struggled with his injury, but Udrih stepped in style to cover up for any shortage on the offensive end. Both Randolph and Gasol were as effective as expected and I am running out of thoughts for this paragraph. The Grizz did everything right. Nothing to see here…let’s move on.

Blazers

Surviving the regular season without Mathews was commendable, but they missed him and his phenomenal two-way play terribly in Game 1. If Portland cannot find a rhythm, look for Memphis to wrap this up earlier. The good news is that Memphis shot very well, something that history tells us isn’t going to happen in succession often. Portland also win the home crowd war in the series by a mile and then some, so look for them to take at least two games back at home. Alridge (although playing hurt) and Lillard both struggled significantly, something that does not seem likely to happen for four games back to back. Portland will need to be patient with themselves and trust that they can give the Grizzlies a run for the second round appearance. 

Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Atlanta Hawks vs. Brooklyn Nets @ Atlanta

Hawks lead 1-0

Hawks

If the Hawks were affected by the night club incident, they certainly did not show it. Yes, they are missing Sefolosha, and miss him even more when the move to the second round. As good as they still are defensively Sefolosha adds another level to it. Brooklyn aren’t a worthy competitor on any level, so the Hawks will have their way with them throughout the series, just like they did in Game 1. Coach Mike can use this series to test a few lineups / formations in preparation for whoever comes for them in the second round.

Brooklyn

Not much to be said after The Truth said it all last week. They make the playoffs only because they play in the weaker conference and the NBA refuses to budge on its stance on having the top 16 teams in the league make the playoffs as opposed to the top eight teams in each conference. There were some bright spots on the offensive end, especially from Deron Williams who still controls the heart of this team. Even the late run in the 4th quarter was a good sign for the Nets who look to make a series out of this. How successful they will be, is yet to be seen. 

Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Clippers vs San Antonio Spurs

Clippers lead 1-0

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this should absolutely not be a first round match up, and this first game showed us why. That one of these two elite teams will be eliminated in the first round because of a silly technicality is proof that the playoff seeding rules need to change. And change fast.

Clippers

CP3 was in assassin mode. He was determined the Clips stay in the game from whistle to whistle and took full advantage of banged up Spurs team. The other star for the Clippers was their defense which was beyond spectacular for large periods of the game. The Clippers are right to double up on Kwahi as soon as he touches the ball, but need to rotate quicker when he passes out of the double team. This may become a challenge as the series progresses since the Spurs, as a team, shift formations at great speed and no one adjusts better from game to game than Pop’s teams. Jordan needs to work on his free throws during downtime to eliminate Hack-a-Jordan, a strategy that takes away the Clipper biggest strength, transition offense.

Spurs

The Spurs struggled immensely, both from the field and the free throw line. That is both good and bad news. Bad because they are now down 1-0 against an elite team they should have ideally met in the second round. Good because it can only get better from here. That Parker ankle twist made me nearly crap my pants, and the way Paul’s been playing that’s the one injury the Spurs cannot afford at this time. In classic Spurs style they took their time coming out of the blocks, feeling their way around the Clippers before coming through at the start of the second quarter. As much of a purist he is, do not expect Pop to not take advantage of Hack-a-Jordan to break the Clippers flow. I’m all for taking advantage of an NBA player who cannot make at least 60 percent of his free throws. And let’s not forget that Duncan was there at some point in his career as well. The Spurs will bounce back. And let’s be honest, how many of us are willing to bet against the defnding Champions winning four of the remaining six.

2015 NBA Playoffs Day 1

In case you missed my playoff predictions you can find the East and the West here.

 

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Raptors vs. Washington Wizards @ Toronto

Wizards lead 1-0

If I were a nice guy, I’d say this game was downright ugly. But I’m not a nice guy.

What the hell was that Game 1 about?? I cannot remember the last time I saw such reckless basketball being played. Once sequence, 3 minutes into the 2nd quarter, looked like two lowly high school teams playing a finals game in a tournament sponsored by the local convenience store. Only these are two professional NBA teams that are in the NBA playoffs!

Wizards

If you needed more proof that Wittman needs to go, please watch this game. The Wizards won this game solely on the sheer talent they trot out on court. No one is surprised that Pierce is now the leader and coach of this team. You could see him actively leading in the breaks and timeouts, rallying this team that he knows has the ability to beat a team that is clearly better (although he will not admit it) than them. Wall and Beal were uncharacteristically ineffective, but that will change when they adjust to the defense in Game 2. They did play solid defense, impressively keeping all five Raptors outside the three-point line for large stretches of time. If they want to win this series they will need to throttle the Raps flow (like they did in spurts this game) for 48 minutes.

 

Raptors

This game was a colossal mess for a team that does not often struggle on the offensive end. The Raptors looked impatient, and seemed more concerned about living up to and going one up on last year’s post season run. This was clearly evident in the reckless possessions, missed layups, forced shots and shot-clock-expiring Hail Mary passes that were being thrown around. Even Lowry notching up 6 fouls well before regulation time was indication that he was trying too hard. Yes, this is the playoffs, and yes, I’d expect the Raptors to come out with increased intensity, but they have to be patient and trust their system. Come playoff time, patience and aggression are opposite sides of the same coin, and someone needs to remind the Raptors of this.

 

 

Thearon W. Henderson Getty Images North America

Golden State Warriors vs. New Orleans Pelicans @ Golden State

Warriors lead 1-0

 

It’s such a joy to watch basketball played the right way. To watch sublime movement off the ball. To watch sublime movement, period. No one thought the Pelicans would be a pushover in this series, but to watch them come together as a team and match the Warriors play-for-play for a full quarter in this game was hugely refreshing after that horrible TOR vs. WAS game.

 

Warriors

Jeff “The Sage” Van Gundy disagreed with Mike Breen. He (Van Gundy) said that this game was more a learning for the Warriors than the Pelicans, because, if they (the Warriors) did blow out the Pelicans in Game 1 at home, which in all probability they should have, Kerr would find it hard to pick apart their faults and prepare them for a Pelicans resurgence in Game 2. I could not agree more. Look, the Warriors looked impeccable for three quarters. They ran circles around the Pelicans both on offense and defense. I got frustrated just watching them toy around with the Pelicans, I can only imagine how the Pelicans felt. But the Warriors need to keep mercilessly pounding away in the first two rounds and get them over in five games each. Why? To get that much needed rest between rounds that will help them put up a fight against Pop and the Spurs. (Yes, I just revealed my Western Conference Finalists)

 

Pelicans

The Warriors were expected to dominate the game. They are after all playing at home where they are 39-2 and have the best offense and defense in the League. What was unexpected though, and feel free to call me skeptical, was the Pelicans’ response. I was ready to see them overwhelmed by the scale of it all, to be intimidated by the raucous Oracle crowd, to give up in the third quarter, 25 points down. What they did instead is show the world they belong here, and rightfully so. That they did not crumble under pressure showed tremendous character on their part. From being 25 points down to outscoring the Warriors 40-22 over the last 12:41 of the game, to Davis making it clear that his regular season fourth quarter antics aren’t a flash in the pan, the Pelicans matched up spectacularly and gave the Warriors everything they could handle in a Game 1. Put it this way…the Pelicans lost by seven and the Warriors had exactly four wide-open defensive-breakdown lay ups. You do the math.

 

 

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Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks @ Chicago

Bulls lead 1-0

 

Contrary to my prejudice, I quite enjoyed this game. Both teams were expected to be horrendous from the field, but while Milwaukee’s young team marginally struggled offensively, they did have a few good moments, while Chicago was finding its offensive flow just in time shooting 38% from 3-pt and 46% from the field.

 

Bulls

Watching Rose show streaks of his former self, going for 23 points in 27 minutes on 56% was easily the highlight of my weekend. One play in particular in the second quarter where he blows by MCW, who is ready for him, for a reverse layup brought back so many memories from his MVP season and the 2011 playoffs. What’s impressed me is that Chicago are playing at just the right pace to allow Rose back into the flow, both offensively and defensively. They have come a long way in his absence, something even Rose acknowledged, and being patient with themselves in Game 1 of the playoff, no less, shows a lot of maturity. If this Game 1 is any indication, the Bulls only get better and create a power shift in the East rankings this playoffs.

 

Bucks

They were everything they were in the regular season, a long armed, defensive team that struggles to score the basketball for large periods in the game. They aren’t intimidated, which is encouraging, so they can only get better from here. The high odds that they have one fairly solid shooting night means they will steal a game at home. This will also be aided by the Bulls playing at a comfortable pace for reasons mentioned above. This is the first series where I feel I may need to change my pick to say Bulls in 5.

 

 

dirk-nowitzki-nba-playoffs-dallas-mavericks-houston-rockets1-850x560

Houston Rockets vs. Dallas Mavericks @ Houston

Rockets lead 1-0

 

Rockets

The first quarter of this game showed everything that is right about the Rockets. The second showed everything that isn’t. Right from the whistle, it was clear that Harden and the Rockets took to heart Cuban’s words that they were a predictable, one dimensional (not very good) team built around Harden, his brilliance and his isolation plays. Nothing in the first quarter vindicated Cuban. Every Rocket contributed, whether it was Brewer slashing to the rim, Terry throwing lobs, and Howard with three blocks. That monster first quarter coupled with Brewer’s outburst in the fourth quarter helped the Rockets stay in the game and hold on to home court advantage. What has been established is that for Houston to succeed in the playoffs, Howard has to be on the floor since he is the only competent rim protector they have. This was glaringly evident as every Dallas comeback coincided with Howard on the bench. What is encouraging for Houston is that the pulled off this win with Harden barely cracking 20 pts on 4-11 shooting. That’s not gonna happen too often now, will it?

Mavericks

Cuban may not have been vindicated on his Rockets analysis, but his Rondo predictions seem to have come true, for this game at least. From a player who got suspended for arguing with the coaching staff, to 15-5 in 27 minutes in Game 1 of the playoffs, Rondo has come a long way and is, along with Barea, the x-factor in this series. What was frustrating to watch though, was the Mavs, including Ellis, often ignore the mismatch on Nowitski on the pick and roll, especially when he (Nowitski) was calling for the ball. It takes some level of idiocy to ignore a 7-ft All Star German screaming for the ball.

 

This game did make me wonder if the Mavs can take this series. For them to do that, two things need to happen, 1.) Ellis needs to straighten himself out and play at a much higher level, something that he is capable of, and b.) Nowitski needs to come down hard on the team, rallying them to believe that they can beat these guys.

2015 NBA Playoffs Predictions – East

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In case you missed the Western Conference predictions you can read it here.

Getting straight to the point…

Eastern Conference

Atlanta Hawks (1) (60-22) vs. Brooklyn Nets (8) (38-44)

Regular Season: Hawks win 4-0

I’m seething. I’m pissed off! I’m so upset as I write this preview that I may need a new keyboard when I’m done!!

Maybe the Hawks should’ve sat with JR Smith for lessons on what to do when partying past 4 a.m.

The incident in New York this last week could not have come at a worse time for a Hawks team for all intents and purposes should have been a title contender this season. Their seamless offense coupled with near impenetrable defense was set to become the stuff of legends as nearly every basketball fan was waiting with bated breath to watch them unleash this brand of basketball, the right brand of basketball, in the playoffs, only ever seen executed by the Spurs and the Celtics in the late 80’s. For crying out loud, they had five players named the Eastern Conference Player(s) of the Week! In the same week!!

Still, the Nets are a mess and continue to be so. That they sneakily made the playoffs upsets me even more. They are a terrible team posing as a competent one, and even more infuriating is that no one on that team even cares enough about the game. Right from Deron Once-Upon-A-Time Williams to Joe I-Had-my-Payday Johnson to their equally indifferent owner I dislike everything about the organization. The only saving grace is Lopez and even he has shitty ankles.

Enough of this upsetting matchup, Atlanta in 6. (should’ve been Atlanta in 4!!! Argh!)

Toronto Raptors (4) (49-33) vs. Washington Wizards (5) (46-36)

Regular Season: Toronto win 3-0

Anyone who ever told you that an incompetent coach cannot make the playoffs no matter how talented his group, show them Randy Wittman. To be fair, Wittman does draw up the occasional good play that make the Wizards look like a competent NBA Team. But, on most nights (read almost every night) the Wizards just stand around, looking at each other, trying to communicate with their eyes and hands, and failing miserably because no one player really knows what the other fellow is saying! Don’t get me wrong, the Wizards have a group of phenomenal and intelligent players. But how are these guys to play as a team if there is no actual play! The only way makes anything of itself is to immediately change their Head Coach

Still it is hard to bet against Wall and Beal, who can be legit starters for a title contender and Pierce, Gortat and Humphries who complete a perfectly competent supporting cast. With some playoff chops under their belt and The Truth to guide them, they will be no pushover in Round 1

The Raptors on the other hand, have been pretty stalemate this season. It isn’t like they had a terrible season, but a team’s current season is always measured against it’s previous season, and the Raptors have not done much to over shadow their surprising 2013-14 campaign. Lowry is still among the top ten point guards in the League and has emerged as the undisputed leader and franchise player for the Raps. I still don’t think you can win a championship with Lowry as your best player, but a team that is loaded with talent like (Lou) Williams, DeRozan, Patterson and bench guys like Hansbrough, and suddenly the Raps become a team you do not want to see in Round 2.

With Atlanta being incapacitated, this is as easy as it gets for the Raps to sneak into that maiden Eastern Conference Finals spot. Raptors in 6.

Chicago Bulls (3) (50-32) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6) (41-41)

Regular Season: Bulls win 3-1

This here is my favorite series for the playoffs. Not many would share that sentiment with me though. In the four times they played each other, no team shot more than 40%. And considering both teams are defensive minded, most folks are expecting a gritty and possibly ugly first round series. I, for one, am not complaining.

The Bulls are the hardest working team on court in the League. Not all of it by choice though. Thibs running his players to the ground is now an open secret. It is a major point of contention between him and the Bulls front office and is said to be the biggest reason for his possible departure in the summer. The Bulls play at a frenetic pace; sometimes treating the meaningless mid-January game like it was the playoffs. You would think that Gasol’s demeanor and his veteran understanding of “picking your spots” in the season would have slowed down the team. Not with Thibs around. This is not necessarily a bad thing, Gasol is having a semi resurrection with a near career year and covering up for a dip in Noah’s numbers this season, Butler is playing the best basketball of his life, and with Rose back, the Bulls are healthier than they have been in the previous couple of seasons.

The Bucks are the feel good story this season. They suffered, what seemed like at the time, a massive blow to their playoff aspirations with the Parker injury. For a team with slew of fresh faces and some strong role players, the Bucks went back to the basics and played some devastating defense, finishing second in the league in defensive efficiency, unprecedented by a team coming off a lottery season (I’m still looking this one up)

Just how much Rose will be able to fit back into the system just when things are heating up, and whether the Bulls have the legs to keep up with the Bucks is to be seen.

It is hard, though, to bet against Tenacious Thibs and his team of veterans. Sorry Bucks, Bulls in 6.

Cleveland Cavaliers (2) (53-29) vs. Boston Celtics (7) (40-42)

Regular Season: Tied at 2-2

Mother: What is the Opposite of Wittman?

Child: Stevens!

What a wizard! What. A. Wizard!! There is pure unbridled joy watching Stevens coach a team. At no point during season did the Celtics field a team that had any business being considered a sleeper in the Playoffs. To say this is the “only the East”, and discount the sheer magic that Stevens has worked with this Celtics team is sacrilege. I mean look at the starting five Smart, Bradley, Bass, Zeller, Turner with Thomas coming off the bench. None of guys, I repeat, none of those guys start for a title contender. Yet, here they are against all odds ready to face the potential Champs. The best part? There is not a soul that believes they will get swept when, in an ideal world, they should be.

The Cavs are getting there. It was always gonna take time. An incredibly gifted guard, who needs the ball in his hands, having to adjust to the best basketball player on the planet, and vice versa. And then both of them adjusting to one of the five best power forwards in the League and vice versa. Throw in an experienced coach who is but a novice in NBA ways, and a bunch of pieces that have to blend into a team that everyone expects to win a Championship in Year 1, and you have organized chaos.

Now that they have figured it out, the Cavs can, on a given night, put up an offensive clinic unparalleled by anyone League not named the Warriors. They still have glaring defensive issues (hardly surprising when two of your best three players are barely average defenders or less) thus making it difficult for them to stay in a game when their shot isn’t falling.

All things considered, they still have the best player on the planet. And while he may have relaxed a bit this season, let’s not be too hasty to forget that he is a 2-time Champion.

Just don’t write off Steven for a sweep. Just don’t. Ok? Cavs in 6.

 

2015 NBA Playoff Predictions – West

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How do you build up to a playoff prediction for a season that came down to the wire like it did this week. On day 169 of a 170-day NBA season, eight (8) of sixteen (16) seeds and seven (7) of the eight (8) matchups were yet to be finalized. Of course the tankers tanked and the rankers rested ranks. But just the thought that, on Day 170 a win here or a loss there could have changed the entire landscape of the playoffs as we know it (now). What if the The Brow does not put up the 31 against the Spurs and OKC snuck into the playoffs? (Answer: they would’ve gotten torched by GSW and we would’ve most likely been treated the highest scoring game total by a team in history) Or what if the Pacers beat the Nets in their head to head two weeks ago, go 6-1 the rest of the way, sneak into the playoffs with a healthy George to play the Hawks who are in a funk?

The bright side to all of this? There are only three legitimate title contenders this season. Well, there were four, until Sefalosha, Millsap and Antic decided to go partying. You’re not beating the best two-way player of his generation and his (near) transcendent guard sidekick in a seven game series when your second best player is injured and your back up center almost faced jail time. But I digress.

Does Chicago have it in them to upset the 2015 Big Three, or does Coach Kerr bring his playoff chops (and wear his five rings) to every playoff game inspiring GSW to close out one of the ten greatest regular seasons in the history of the League?

Say what you want about the regular season, and yes, it is important (blah blah), the Playoffs is where real men play real basketball. So, without further ado, let the games begin!

Western Conference:

Golden State Warriors (1) (67-15) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8) (45-37)

Regular Season: Warriors win 3-1

For those of you who are not aware, Davis cracked a 30 PER this year, making this the 11th time ever. The other ten times this was done, the players were named Hakeem, Kobe ad Jordan. Yes, I wanted to watch the ungodly Westbrook in the Playoffs. Yes, I wanted to see GSW torch OKC for a 180 point game.

But I’ glad.

I’m glad because, as exciting as a transcendent Westbrook vs. Curry matchup would have been (one for the history books), I am beside myself to see The Brow in the Playoffs. I’m glad because a postseason appearance is the perfect exclamation mark to what has been a mind blowing season from Davis. I’m glad because there could not be a better playoff lesson for Davis, going up against one of the ten greatest regular season teams and the best defense in the League.

All said and done, the Pelicans are playoff rookies with a mediocre (and that’s putting it mildly) coach albeit with a balanced side, while the Warrirors have a playoff series under their belt, with an incredibly talented team and a Coach of the Year candidate who has a fistful of rings.

In any other this scenario this series should have been a sweep, but watching Davis will the Pelicans into the playoffs on Wednesday, the last day of the regular season, against one of three title contenders playing at full strength and seeking home court for the Playoffs, tells me that he wins one game by himself at home.

I’m glad because this is where he Learns. This is where they Teach. Warriors in 5.

Portland Trailblazers (4) (51-31) vs. Memphis Grizzlies (5) (55-27)

Regular Season: Grizzlies sweep 4-0

The Blazers are a 2 seed if Mathews and Lopez stay healthy. The Afflalo signing would have nailed that Western Conference Finals spot as well. While injuries are a part of the game, I believe the Mathews injury has been more devastating for the Blazers than any injury on another team this season; even more than the KD injury for OKC. Yes, I said it.

On all counts this is a fair series. Portland (105.5) has a 2 pt. offensive advantage over Memphis (103.1), while Memphis (99.9) has a similar defensive advantage over Portland (101.4). Even their benches are equally bad with Memphis (31.3) vs. Portland (27.3) being the only playoff series to have both teams among the League’s ten worst. Also, both teams have exceptional coaches.

The cases against Memphis are,

  • Can they score in the face of mediocre defense? (The addition of Jeff Green, signed to lurk on the perimeter while Gasol and Z-Bo pound inside has not necessarily worked out the way they hoped), and,
  • Despite all that size Memphis are a woeful rebounding team (20th in the League. Portland are 2nd)

The cases against Portland is

  • Can they defend four quarters in case the Memphis gets red hot (Of course, Memphis being red hot for four straight quarters is unlikely) and,
  • Can the Batum / Afflalo / McCollum trio deliver in at least four games?

This one genuinely hard to call, but I go with Grizzlies in 7.

Los Angeles Clippers (3) (56-26) vs San Antonio Spurs (6) (55-27)

Regular Season: Tied at 2-2

I cannot possibly express how much joy this particular CP3 season has brought me. For years he played the (seemingly) second fiddle on his teams, only take over the last 5 minutes of a game when it mattered the most. This season, however, losing Griffin to injury, coupled with the (unwarranted) buzz that he wasn’t his old self, Paul took matters into his own hands and dished out a near career season with 19-10-5 along with ungodly 48-39-90 (shooting) splits. With Griffin missing 15 games and a bench that is fourth worst amongst playoff teams, the Clippers making the third seed should have automatically given Paul the MVP. Unfortunately (for Paul) and fortunately (for basketball fans) the League fields three gentlemen named Curry, James and Harden.

Griffin’s offense has dropped off significantly offensively as he tries to inexplicably become a playmaker (last season he inexplicably tried to become a mid range jump shooter) and the Jordan/Redick/Barnes need someone to bring the ball up. That leaves Paul as the only legitimate threat for the Spurs who will kindly counter with only the best defensive player in the league this side of the All Star Break, Mr. Leonard.

This is most definitely an exciting series. But, let us not forget, in the last 15 years (and counting) we know that no team prepares for the Playoff Battle the way the Spurs do. This is their Domain. This is Pop’s Lair. This is the Spurs backyard.

Picking the Spurs in 6 is too easy. Also, I think Pop is mad as hell he did not get homecourt. He’ll want to get this done in 4.

I believe Paul will spoil the plan.

For one game. Spurs in 5

Houston Rockets (2) (56-26) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7) (50-32)

Regular Season: Rockets win 3-1

When I set out to write this column, I wasn’t sure if I should go down the standings (1v8, 2v7…) or go along the brackets. When I saw the brackets on Wednesday though, I had my answer.

I honestly cannot remember the last time a series was so entertaining more because of off court drama between than on court ability.

If you haven’t, please take a few minutes off to read Mark Cuban’s Grantland profile here. What’s relevent to this column is how he clearly states that “There’s no more predictable team than the Rockets…they are very talented, and James Harden, I think, is the MVP…(but) that’s not a very good team over there”.

First of all, it is hard to argue with a 56-year old billionaire basketball aficionado (fanatic actually) and team owner who was the first to hire an analyst that eventually brought him the title when his aging team beat a team on the cusp of a “dynasty” of “not one, not two, not three, not four, not…” (Sorry Heat fans). Secondly, Mr. Cuban’s analysis is way too accurate to argue against, only because it’s a glaring truth, staring us in the face every night.

No one team stagnates its offense quite like the Rockets do for James Harden. Nearly three-quarters of the Rocket’s possessions are some form iso play for Harden where he gets fancy with the ball before either:

  • pulling up for a shot, or
  • driving to the hoop, or
  • drawing a foul on either of the above

That’s it! That’s what got the Rockets to the 2nd seed! Look, all the arguments for Curry to win MVP this year are valid: Warriors have put up one of the ten greatest regular seasons ever and Curry was at the center of it, Curry never took a night off and brought his A-game for every single game he played and Curry’s level of play is so lethal that teams change their entire defensive strategy when he is on the floor making him invaluable to the team.

But to not reward Harden, an insanely gifted guard who took the fans and expert’s jabs at his defense personally and has improved on that end by leaps and bounds, taking the Rockets to the 2nd seed when, in an ideal world, this woefully depleted team should’ve been fighting for the eight spot in the Western Conference is just plain ridiculous.

Back to the series.

Cuban still believes that the Mavs can make the Rondo situation work with Rondo getting more practice time with the team and Carlisle’s complex system. There is also hope that the Rondo-Ellis back court pairing and the dreamy Rondo-Nowitski pick and roll sequence will peak for the playoffs.

Even so, The Rockets 20-9 since the All Star break (as against Dallas’ 14-13), they have found a more than reliable sixth man in a (rejuvenated) Corey, and Howard seems to have embraced his “role” as defensive anchor and secondary scoring option on the team (for now at least)

And as always, with all things constant and both teams even in a series, the team with (clearly) the best player will win.

Rockets in 7.