We’ll be honest, it’s a lot more interesting thinking about the Western Conference playoffs, and teams we haven’t seen as much of than it is to think about the Eastern Conference side where we don’t expect a lot of intrigue until the Bulls/Cavs matchup in the Semis. It won’t be quite as exciting as last year’s games but the Clippers/Spurs matchup could be the best of the first three rounds.
Like in the NCAA Championships, we are looking for a few players to step out and establish themselves, noteably Chris Paul and to a lesser extent John Wall. It seems every playoffs features some breakout and those are the two non-Cavs players we expect to be on people’s lips after this post-season.
Without further ado…..
. This is the most awesome first round match-up imaginable. Chris Paul’s play has been great all year but especially since the all-star break, leading the Clippers to the third best point differential in that time behind the Warriors and, yes, the Spurs. During that time they’ve allowed the 4th-lowest eFG% behind the Bulls, Jazz and Pacers.
The problem is that the Spurs offense since the break is two points better than the Clippers’ and their defense had been a point better as well. We think this could really be the year for Griffin and Paul, especially with a second-year under Doc Rivers. The Spurs are getting older – but they have been for years. This is perhaps as close to a toss-up as possible. My gut tells me that this is the year that Paul and Griffin step out – but that would mean overturning a red-hot defending champion.
It’s incredibly hard to pick against a Spurs team that has played so well, but they’ve never won back-to-back championships and I feel like the mileage will catch up with them. Meanwhile Paul and Griffin must feel they need to make some noise, with Paul crossing thirty and Griffin just four years behind. I’m not convinced Parker will have the success he’s had before, though it could all come down to how badly DeAndre Jordan does on the line.
We don’t have a great reason to pick the Clippers except this – almost everyone expects the Clippers to lose. These are pretty well-matched teams, but very very few scribes gives the Clippers a chance. That makes my spidey-sense tingle. At thirty, Chris Paul really needs to make a statement. The Clippers aren’t as deeps as the Spurs, but in the first round that might matter less. CLIPPERS IN 7.
This has the great Texas rivalry that dovetails with the fact that Dallas signed Chandler Parsons away from Houston forcing them into Plan B, the year after the Rockets lured Dwight Howard over the Mavericks. Houston is sort of like the Thunder in that everything revolves around the guy with the ball in his hand.
James Harden accounted for 40% of his team’s points, which was good because they looked like a M*A*S*H* unit most of the year. They finished without starting point guard Patrick Beverley and sometime starting power forward Dontae Montejunas whose length and deft touch exposed oppponents’ slow-footed big-men. Truthfully, Rockets Coach Kevin McHale deserves some Coach of the Year recognition for the season he’s had.
On the other side, the Mavericks looked like the toughest offensive team in the league – even over the Warrriors – early in the season until they traded for Rondo. The Mavs gambled to help their defense, but it really didn’t help that much while their offense took a nose-dive thanks to Rondo’s poor range on his jump shot. The loss of key bench big Brandon Wright, who was in the top 10 of PER at the time, proved hard to overcome.
Dallas’ hopes are pinned on Rondo’s ability to find another, ‘playoff’ level, as he’s done in the past. He has some ably skilled partners but the chemistry on the Mavericks has been lacking since his arrival and expecting a 180 at this point seems excessively hopeful. While the Rockets have been battered by injuries, Harden’s played phenomenally and the return of Howard should help. ROCKETS IN 6.
This matchup was a godsend for the Grizzlies who like the Blazers have been banged up. While Wes Matthews won’t be back, it does appear Nicholas Batum, C.J. McCollum and Arron Afflalo are goes as are Mike Conley and Tony Allen.
The Blazers are a stupefying team to a certain extent from a statistical team-makeup. They have the third-lowest number of close shots/game in the league – right behind the Sixers and Knicks, and the lowest FTA/rate in the leaguge. They have the fourth-highest number of catch-and-shoot points, but they don’t shoot them all that well (39.3%, 12th), they don’t get a lot of assists (56.7%, 21st), and they make 1.5 more turnovers than they force.
It’s a little strange this team can score. They’re good shooters – 50.8% eFG, good for 8th – and they’re the second-best rebounding team in the league, led by LeMarcus Aldridge. But Memphis’ size should negate that to some extent. Jeff Green’s a nice versatile matchup against Batum and Conley should be able to force Lillard to play D – his weak point.
The Grizzlies didn’t post a great shooting percentage (eFG 48.9%, 20th) but Conley and Randolph missed 23 games between them and Gasol poses issues that Chris Kaman and Robin Lopez won’t be able to answer. They’re the fourth best defensive team in the league, and, honestly, it seems hard to believe a team that is last in free throw attempts and relies largely on jump shots can go very far, particularly with Batum and Afflalo at least somewhat compromised physically. Grizzlies in 5.
It will be nice to see Anthony Davis get some playoff burn. He deserves it after a great season. But the Warriors will make quick work of them. Warriors in 4.
. The Grizzlies are good but they’re not in the Warriors class. Their lack of three-point shooting (Memphis is 22nd in 3pt FG%) will be a problem against a team that can handle their size. Warriors in 5.
This is going to be Chris Paul’s great moment, and they will push their way past the somewhat beaten up Rockets. This will be a great series and Harden will ensure that every outcome goes down to the wire, but Paul’s on a mission. Clippers in 7.
The Warriors first real test, and they’ll pass as the Clippers’ lack of depth will be exposed. But Paul vs. Curry & Draymond vs. Griffin will make it one for the ages. Warriors in 7.
. These two teams have backslid considerably from their early-season glories. Since February 1st these two teams are 15th and 16th in net rating (difference between Offensive and Defensive points per possession) Neither of these teams has much of a chance, honestly. .We like the upset with the Wizards pulling it out and saving Head Coach Randy Wittman’s job regrettably. Wizards in 7.
The Nets don’t even really deserve to be here. That might be motivation, but not nearly enough. The Hawks will win, though former Hawk Joe Johnson will rise again to beat them at least once. Hawks in 5.
This will be a surprisingly competitive matchup. The Bucks are much more athletic than the Bulls and they have enough length to battle the Bulls’ size. If Rose isn’t fully back (he looks like he is) or there’s a setback (who’d be surprised?), or he doesn’t integrate back into the offense quickly, the Bucks could spring an upset. The problem is the Bucks offense is terrible, os if they’re not creating turnovers they can’t score, and they won’t be able to get into transition enough against the Bulls. Bulls in 6.
. People don’t realize how well Boston has been playing. They look at a team without a great scorer which has unloaded assets all season and they don’t see the strong foundation and good role players. Indeed, Danny Ainge has assembled an entire team of role players. They will surprise the Cavs, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see them win two games getting the press into a real hissy. Yet we don’t think that will happen. LeBron James will help steal a victory in Boston, and close them out at home. Cavs in 5.
. This will be a decent series. Not that the Wizards will win, but I’m expecting Wall & Beal to step up and outplay their Hawk counterparts. But the Wizards inconsistent frontcourt will doom them. Hawks in 5.
Having the extra home game will prove advantageous. The Bulls will give the Cavs everything they can handle especially inside. Derrick Rose and Kyrie Irving will really face off and Kyrie will be forced to raise his defensive game to contain Rose’s drives. Butler is a wing that can guard LeBron. Plus Gasol the type of big that can expose Mozgov’s lack of lateral quickness by facing him up outside the lane and beating him with a jumper or off the bounce. That said, the Cavs will persevere. They won’t crush the Bulls and people will question how good they really are because they underestimate the Bulls and Thibodeau’s resolve in his final season. Cavs in 7.
. LeBron will be in mission mode now that he can smell the playoffs and J.R. Smith and Kyrie Irving will each contribute an unconscious performance to allow the Cavs to stun the Hawks, who won’t be ready for the Cavs intensity following the Bulls triumph. Cavs in 6.
Warriors vs. Cavs.
We don’t want to guess what will happen, we just want to watch it.