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!
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.