The Warriors started their playoff campaign with a lot of excitement as they got Kevin Durant back for the last few games of the season after suffering a MCL sprain just over a month ago. The Warriors had also just gone on a winning streak without Durant that erased all doubt that they’d be ready for the playoffs and even encounter any trouble with the Portland Trailblazers.
The NBA Playoffs only started a week ago and its opening series kicked off the festivities with the Cleveland Cavaliers against the Indiana Pacers at Quicken Loans Arena. Heading into the series the tale of the 2 teams was one that lead by LeBron James ended the season as the 2 seed and a questionable defense as well as a poor record after the All-Star break. The other was a Pacers team that boasted some young and some veteran talent that only just managed to punch a playoff ticket after being in a triple-threat season finish with both the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat.
The West has been set for few the last week now and there are a whole lot of storylines going on the West that will make for some great playoff meetings. With the Warriors boasting their All-Star, Olympic, Duel-MVP starting 5 is there a team that will be able to knock them off?
The NBA season has finished and at least for the Eastern Conference it took all 82 games to decide the fate of the 7th and 8th seed. With that now finalised, it’s time to look ahead to the Playoffs and try to predict even though history will continue to prove that we really don’t know what can happen. This year more than any other, the East has begun to feel less and less predictable posing the question – are we starting to see a new generation of teams on the rise?
I can’t tell if time seems to be going quicker as I get older or the NBA season is also starting as quick as its ending. When the Christmas day game between the Warriors and Cavaliers had ended I must admit I wanted to fast forward to the playoffs and finals right away. As usual though, I reminded myself why we watch the regular season and that it sometimes goes by extremely unappreciated.
However, as I write this (April 3rd) playoffs prediction/preview the standings could change as the East decides its fate with teams being 1 game or less apart from each other. The West on the other hand is more or less decided and so far this years playoffs teams look to be vey exciting with some of the better first round match-ups in the last few years.
Boston Celtics (1) vs. Miami Heat (8)
I will save my recent indulgence into the Cavaliers conspiracy for now, but it seems that the Celtics will manage to swipe the first seed from Cleveland and at this point would face the Miami Heat. The Heat are having one of the most amazing seasons for a team that should really be an 11th seed looking from the outside in. Somehow though, the Heat have rattled off some amazing wins, even going on a 20+ game winning streak at one point.
The Celtics have also had their own amazing year, with Isaiah Thomas coming into his own in his new home in Boston. Thomas has fit so well into the team that he propelled himself into an MVP caliber player as he lead the C’s to victory after victory in what may be the best collection of 4th quarter performances the league has seen in years. The Celtics once again have a true leader and a player that drives the rest of the team with his sheer will to go against any opponent.
Even with all of this said the 1 seed in the East won’t know its opponent until the last day of the season unless one of maybe 4 teams go on an undefeated streak to lock up the last spot. Even more so, the one seed is still up for grabs for both Boston or Cleveland, which then again will swap the matchups and could have huge implications on the road to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Washington Wizards (4) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (5)
For purely selfish reasons I hope that the Wizards and Bucks do not move positions in the East because there is possibly no better first-round match-up in the East that will beat this series in entertainment value. This series would have it all, the pace, the athleticism, the shooting! Everything about this series is must-see NBA, and it is very evidently selfish that I would want this series to push to a full 7 games.
The Wizards have been very underwhelming the last few seasons as they continued to look like they were ready to become a force in the East boasting some of the best young talent the East has to offer. But year after year they fell short, that even looked to be the case as this season began when the Wizards racked up losses at an alarming rate. As the questions began to surround the team, it seems as though new Head coach Scott Brooks had something to do with the full 180 that this team would soon see as they approached the end of 2016.
Almost just as much as I’m excited for Wizards playoff basketball, I’m equally excited for the Bucks to make an appearance especially when the possess one of the greatest players of the next generation after LeBron retires. The Bucks have been a bit up and down this year and it’s heartbreaking that Jabari Parker won’t be joining them for this series. I believe that the Bucks can give the Wizards a legit series if not by matching their talent then by matching their athleticism and youth.
Toronto Raptors (3) vs. Atlanta Hawks (6)
Don’t count on me watching this series closely much less at all as the team that makes it out of this series should logically be Toronto with all their late season acquisitions and projection that Kyle Lowry will be available. I’ve been on the skeptical side of things when it comes to the Raptors after watching last years playoffs and my position hasn’t been swayed enough to change.
But in a series with the Hawks they shouldn’t lose this series, but I wouldn’t been mind-blown if it happened. The Hawks have a record that poorly reflects their overall greatness in the East and in some ways is a testament to the low level of basketball in the East. However, I am being kind to both sides here giving the Hawks 2 games where they can steal one on the road due entirely to the Raptors having one of those Raptor-like games that has been a big fork in their regular season and playoff road over the years.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs. Chicago Bulls (7)
I’ll try and keep this part short because for the most part you’ve probably had it in your mind that while LeBron lives and breathes on a hardwood court and resides in the East, that his Finals ticket is booked.
The theory here is that the recent slide in wins for the Cavaliers is all front to avoid a potential 8th seed series with the Heat or Pacers, then a potential second-round match with the Buck or Wizards. See the problem there? If the Cavs stay in the 2nd seed it will almost definitely give them the easiest road to the Eastern Conference Finals given that they’ll meet with either the Raptors or Hawks in the second-round. It’s possible that this theory is true but after 2 strong wins by the Cavaliers it seems that they’re trying to recapture that playoff mode that everyone thought they’d all of a sudden lost.
As far as this series goes, much like the Celtics, due to the unknown of the 7th, 8th and 9th seed its hard to tell who the Cavs will eventually meet but if the Bulls grab the 7th it shouldn’t be long before the Bulls vacation starts. The Bulls did beat the Cavs in one of their TNT Thursday extravaganza’s where they’ve seemed unbeatable for some reason, don’t expect that Bulls team to show up in mid-April. With LeBron in full “Zero Dark 23” mode, the unstable mix of Butler and Rondo without Dwyane Wade will only go so far.
Like most of theses early predictions I feel I’ve been generous to some teams by spotting them a game or 2 here and there, but when it comes to the Cavaliers, much like last year they know how to finish a team early to get that much needed rest. So while I’ve got the Bulls taking one at home, don’t be surprised if the brooms come out in the Windy City.
ON THE FRINGE: Chicago Bulls (7th Seed), Miami Heat (8th Seed), Indiana Pacers (9th Seed)
|MIAMI HEAT||CHICAGO BULLS||INDIANA PACERS|
|@ Charlotte Hornets||@ New York Knicks||[HOME] Toronto Raptors|
|WIN | 112 – 99 (8th seed)||LOSS | 100 – 91 (7th seed)||WIN | 108 – 90 (9th seed)|
|@ Toronto Raptors||@ Philadelphia 76ers||[HOME] Milwaukee Bucks|
|LOSS | 96 – 94 (9th seed)||WIN | 102 – 90 (7th seed)||WIN | 104 – 89 (8th seed)|
|@ Washington Wizards||@ Brooklyn Nets||@ Orlando Magic|
|WIN | 106 – 103 (9th seed)||LOSS | 107 – 106 (8th seed)||WIN | 127 – 112 (7th seed)|
|[HOME] Cleveland Cavaliers||[HOME] Orlando Magic||@ Philadelphia 76ers|
|WIN | 124 – 121 (9th seed)||WIN | 122 – 75 (8th seed)||WIN | 120 – 111 (7th seed)|
|[HOME] Washington Wizards||[HOME] Brooklyn Nets||[HOME] Atlanta Hawks|
|TBD – 000 – 000 (* Seed)||TBD – 000 – 000 (* Seed)||TBD – 000 – 000 (* Seed)|
Alot has happened over the last few weeks in the NBA and if you are like me, you keep your ear to the court to get your updates on whats going on around the association.
Below are a few topics that have shaken up the NBA lately:
ABC Primetime has its second “sit-out” game
Not even a month removed from the headlining Spurs vs Warriors match-up the Cavaliers decided to rest their trio of James, Irving and Love in their game against a fully healthy Clippers squad in Los Angeles. This stirred up a somewhat deserved outcry from fans who were once again duped out of a highly entertaining game in a nationally televised spot with ABC/ESPN. The Cavaliers just recently came off of a great win against Utah at the Q on Friday so their was no real claim for a back-to-back resting spot to fall back on to justify the sit-out.
Irving has been delaying with some knee issues, LeBron continues to play high-volume minutes and Kevin Love has only just returned from his surgery on his knee to round out the report on the 3 stars. Something interesting that was brought up during the broadcast however (which was pure entertainment in itself) was to question why the Cavs chose this game to rest rather than the game against the Lakers the very next night. It would seem logical to do it this way as the Lakers have openly began tanking and a Cavaliers team without their big 3 should be able to handle themselves, as well as this the game is not being nationally televised and the Lakers aren’t drawing the same eyes the Clippers and Cavs are this year by any means.
So how should we feel about the stars resting? Is it fair to the fans, who are being deemed as the group that are suffering the most from this tactic. Is their a solution that the NBA could implement to stop this from happening? For right now, it doesn’t appear that answer is anywhere near being clear and for the time being it doesn’t appear to be stopping as more teams try their hand at the whole “resting” thing.
Most Valuable Question
The battle continues with MVP talks and it does’t appear to be stopping as we inch closer to the playoffs so heres my quick take of the 2 front-runners as of late:
Westbrook: It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny Westbrook of having an MVP season with the most insane stat lines game after game and showing absolutely no signs of slowing down. But even after all the stats and amazing performances somehow the Thunder are finding themselves with a chance to capture a 5th seed in the West. Let that sink in and combine that with the projections for how the Thunder would fair this year and you’ve got a very worthy candidate for MVP.
Harden: Sometimes I can’t help but feel bad for the guys in the MVP race this year, and that certainly applies to Harden some nights more often than not. Harden’s game has been thrown into a complete 180 after coming off a year that had alot of people questioning his leadership skills both on the court and off the court with his teammates. The saviour that is Mike D’Antoni broke out some fresh batteries and stuffed James Harden with them and set him to complete floor general mode. Much like Westbrook, Harden is the beginning and ending for the Rockets, however Harden may have a slight edge over Russell when we look at efficiency and overall selfishness to unselfishness ratio.
With both guys dominating the games for their teams respectively, this is shaping up to be one of the closest MVP races in a long time. So who do you have winning and as the topic of winning record continues to factor in, does that sway your overall choice?
As quick as Kevin Durant went down just a few weeks back, the panic button was hit immediately. Almost just as quickly the Warriors 2 best shooters somehow became human and developed a slight shooting slump, so much so that Curry shot 23-76 while Klay shot 25-66 since Durant’s departure.
While everybody thought the world was ending, its not as if Steph and Klay fell off the face of the earth as the sharpshooting backcourt both averaged 25.9 (Curry) and 23.9 (Thompson) between the Wizards and recent Bucks win. If the Bucks performance is anything to go by, then it would appear that they’ve both reverted back to normal and perhaps could be finding that magic that they both shared during the 73 win season.
With Durant now back with the team and travelling as well as making an appearance at the Warriors training facility with a heavily wrapped left knee, perhaps KD’s return can be held off a tad longer. The Spurs are yet to close the gap on the Warriors for the 1 seed as they now hold 2 games for the top spot. Does the time with Durant appear to be a good or bad thing for the splash brothers?
The 2017 All-Star starters were announced and as always there are disagreements with who made it and who was snubbed.
This week we’ll see Game 2 of the 3 game regular season match up between the Warriors and Cavaliers. As we’ve done since this rivalry started in 2015 each game has been magnified and broken down so much that we think it really has an effect on how the Finals will eventually end.
But does it really matter in the end?
Week 1 provided some great scoring performances and had us wondering who had entered this season with a new purpose. As we regathered ourselves from the opening week hangover, some teams dropped games while others started gaining some traction.
The second week of the NBA lead with the Golden State Warriors having an overwhelming week of games as well as media coverage that stayed at the forefront for most of the week. However, there were some other teams that deserved to be mentioned with some notable games that captured our attention.
Jazz – 106 | Spurs – 91
Just when you thought the Spurs looked to be ready to go on a run on the league, the Hayward-less Jazz stepped up to the plate and handed the Spurs their first loss and it just happened to be on San Antonio’s home floor.
By the end of the first quarter the Jazz had run up a 10+ point lead on the Spurs and didn’t look to be letting that go anytime soon. Utah gained the lead thanks in part to some very solid 3 point shooting, something that if the Jazz can find some consistency in will make them a threat as the 3 point shot becomes more and more valuable. The Spurs had a different idea as the second quarter started, dashing Utah’s lead of 15 at one point in such quick fashion that it had Patty Mills trying to break the hardwood with his towel.
The last 5 minutes was something that I hope the Jazz continue and should even increase their success once Hayward is included back into the starting line-up. It was their unselfishness and finding the best shot available, and making the shots they found. George Hill kicked it off for the Jazz and eventually with things going so well a Trey Lyles 3 pointer made an appearance. The execution that the Jazz displayed throughout this game looks very smooth for a team that has gained a few new addition, and it is because these additions of Hill and Johnson that they don’t need time to fit into the Utah system.
Warriors – 127 | Blazers – 104
After a win over the Suns and Pelicans coming off of their embarrassing loss to the Spurs the Warriors had the Blazers in their sights as one of the better teams they’ll face this year.
This game had the expectations of a close game and as far as analysis goes, it was anything but that. The Dubs looked reasonably calm from the start and something that stole the show was the Warriors bench and a little bit of crazy Steph shooting. One player that stepped up for the Warriors was back-up point guard Ian Clark who dropped in 22 points from the bench and was seemingly everywhere for Golden State.
On the Blazers side of the ball, they just let the game slip too quickly, as they kept the game close for the most part of 3 quarters, by the time the 4th quarter started the Warriors had begun their margin of separation. One of the biggest “lightning in a bottle” moments was Blazers rookie Jake Layman who stepped into garbage time and dropped 5-7 from three and in just an 8 minute span tallied 17 points. So who is this Jake Layman guy!
Suns – 118 | Blazers – 115
Taking my early vote for the best back and forth, bucket-trading game of the season was the Suns defending homecourt against a pissed off Blazers team who were coming off a loss at the hands of the super-team of Oakland.
It was quite a shock to see just how much better the Suns have been this year with a huge improvement from TJ Warren and guards Bledsoe and Knight. The team still seems to be finding offensive cohesiveness, but in the meantime they can still crush poor transition defensive teams, which caught the Blazers a few times here and there.
In a huge “monkey off my back” moment Brandon Knight threw down a momentum shifting dunk that may have slightly removed him from the NBA doghouse – but who are we kidding, even Brandon knows he’s never going to shake off the run of lowlights he accumulated over the last few years.
I was actually watching this game as it happened and the ending was so worth it, after PJ Tucker got gifted a trip to the line he missed his second free throw to win the game and couldn’t have set it up any better. I was anticipating a Dame Time moment – ok I’ll admit I had some money on the game – but nonetheless it was all set up for the moment.
Well that moment never came and as Lillard fumbled the ball the Suns went back to the other end producing a Bledsoe running banked layup. As I sank into my seat realising it was all too late the man named Meyers answered my prayers.
Overtime was a whole ‘nother beast and that beast was Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe contributed almost half of the OT point scoring and they were the most important 7 Phoenix could have asked for. The Suns have something cooking and what I once thought was a team full of guards, it seems now that the roles have been assigned and everyone knows what their role is on the team.
Warriors – 122 | Thunder – 96
The game that everyone was waiting for in Week 2 arrived with no shortage of media coverage and speculation of what team would do what and who would shake whose hand.
Westbrook’s photography vest shade throwing aside, The Thunder entered the game hot with a 4 game winning streak with the only noticeable win over an oddly distracted Clipper team the previous night.
The game kicks off and the Thunder kick off with great energy getting a headstart on the Warriors by a few points here and there. Almost instantly the team was being questioned and Russ was being elected as the most energetic and hungry player on the floor. By the end of the first we actually had a game, a Jeremy Grant dunk on Durant and a block by Westbrook good enough for a Sportscenter top 10 highlight.
Their were 2 possibilities to how the Warriors came out for the second quarter – either somebody gave transcripts of the hot-takes being given across twitter and halftime shows or Kevin Durant made it his goal to destroy the Thunder’s chances and every other Warrior just followed in his footsteps. It seems that whatever it was Durant made it his mission to get the W before heading back to OKC where I’m at least hoping for a more fired up Thunder team.
Knicks- 117 | Bulls – 104
The Bulls hosted the Knicks in spectacular fashion as longtime Bulls Noah and Rose returned to the place that they managed to build back in 2010 but then struggled to maintain for the years following. That struggle was evident as the fans rained down on Rose as he was introduced with a mix of cheers and boo’s.
As for the game, Rose looked to be in his element, in fact, all the Knicks seemed to be playing extremely well almost as if they finally had a purpose to be competitive. It was exciting to hear Noah audibly screaming at every move to the hoop by his teammates which is something that him a Carlos Boozer should be reunited just to keep me entertained and locked into a Knicks game.
Honestly speaking, even with the loss the Knicks seemed to have the inability to stop Dwyane Wade as he got anywhere he wanted and showed off the type of shooting that will have you rubbing your eyes to make sure you’re not seeing someone else.
My biggest take away from this game – GIVE PORZINGIS THE BALL!. The Latvian phenom was everywhere and it’s crazy to see someone his size, with his skill set not being exploited more in the Knicks offense.
Lakers – 117 | Warriors – 97
Before I even mention the game, we must take a second to acknowledge the Lakers throwback uniforms that they chose to bust out on the ESPN game night. The Lakers went all the way back on these ones and in a way I’d like to think it gave the young Laker team a little more juice that night.
Theres no analysis or detailed breakdown for this one unfortunately, but it had the feeling of a Warriors team that was starting to get rolling and a Laker team that was still getting things in place. I’m not sure what it is about Lakers games, but this is now the second time that the Warriors have been upset by a young and fairly inexperienced Laker.
A lot of Laker fans on twitter throughout the game were quick to appoint Luke Walton the “real coach of the Warriors” making jabs at Kerr during his time spent away from the team when Luke assumed the interim spot. Honestly, it was getting hard to argue the point after seeing the baby Lakers producing great ball movement, cutting, screening which were all things that we see the Warriors do to this day.
With all that said however, this was not the reason the Warriors lost this game.
The Dubs lost this game on multiple defensive lapses, poor rebounding and one giant shooting slump that plagued both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Thompson hasn’t really looked right to start the season, and this game was no different as the Warriors continued to try to find the 3 point shot but to no avail. The single slump was so bad that it broke Steph Curry’s streak of 3 point field goals in consecutive games of 157!
Call it what you want, perhaps the Lakers got a break and compounded that with great play and the Warriors simply had an off night. Either way everyone should panic as we watch the super-team go down in flames.