Season In Review
The NBA season this year was full of surprises. In the East, while bad as expected, had just as many teams fighting until the end for the 7th and 8th seeds as it had teams in all-out tank-a-palooza. The Celtics and Nets beat out the competition, but the Pacers, Heat, Hornets, and Pistons all made it competitive. The Sixers, Knicks, Magic are all vying for top lottery picks since they all finished with less than 25 wins. As for the teams that made the playoffs, the Bucks surprised a lot of people and definitely were the NBA’s most improved, led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, and finished in 6th place. The Bulls struggled through injuries and the Raptors and Wizards were solid but not great, allowing the Cavaliers to underperform in the first half of the season and still finish with the #2 seed. The real shock of the Eastern conference came from the Atlanta Hawks, taking a team of slightly above average players and creating a well-oiled machine, prolific on offense and stout on defense.
The Western Conference was as excellent as expected, causing good teams like the Thunder, Suns, and Jazz to have deflated win totals and miss the playoffs. The Nuggets and Kings seem to be stuck in NBA purgatory, as they were nowhere near good enough to make the playoffs but also not bad enough to grab a high lottery pick. The Lakers and Timberwolves were clearly tanking, and should each hold Top-5 picks in the draft. On the other side of things, the Pelicans squeaked into the playoffs on the back of Anthony Davis and barely beat out Russell Westbrook’s MVP campaign. The Mavericks, Spurs, Grizzlies, and Trailblazers are all very good teams that finished within one game of each other, providing for great matchups across the board in the 1st round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Clippers finally played up to their potential to take the #3 seed and the Rockets rode James Harden to 2nd place. The Warriors shocked the whole league and drastically improved under new coach Steve Kerr, and due to the incredible backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson finished with the best record in the league and have looked nearly unbeatable all season long.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs New Orleans Pelicans (8)
The underdog Pelicans, led by power forward all-star Anthony Davis, finished the season strong and barely attained the 8th seed over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the very competitive Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors headed into playoffs as one of the hottest teams in recent years. The Warrior’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, also known as the Splash Bros., seem to have carried their team’s regular season success into the playoffs, as they swept the Pelicans in a swift four-game series. Despite Davis putting up an individually incredible fight against the Bay-area powerhouse, the Pelicans would simply not have the talent on the roster to defeat such a strong basketball team.
Houston Rockets (2) vs Dallas Mavericks (7)
Led by the veteran power forward Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas headed into the postseason as they have in most years: as underdogs. However, it is always difficult to count this team out as they have historically carried out deep playoff runs despite mediocre regular season records. Unfortunately for the Mavs, MVP-candidate James Harden and his Rockets were too much of an offensive obstacle, despite Dallas’ best efforts. With big-man Tyson Chandler out for the end of the series, a heated dispute between Coach Carlisle and guard Rajon Rondo, and an increasingly injury-prone Dirk, the Mavs ultimately fell to Houston in a 4-1 series.
LA Clippers (3) vs San Antonio Spurs (6)
This series was, without doubt, the most exciting series in the first-round for this year’s NBA playoffs. Somehow, an ultra-competitive Western Conference pitted two of the three hottest teams at the end of the regular season against one another. As expected, the defending champions Spurs and the “championship-less” Clippers would battle it out till the very last seconds of Game 7. Ultimately, the deep and fundamentally sound team of San Antonio would fall to an exceptionally skilled Los Angeles starting five. With all-star guard Paul banking in a field goal with one second left, the Clippers would go on to win the series 4-3.
Portland Trail Blazers (4) vs Memphis Grizzlies (5)
The Trailblazers finished the season on an underwhelming note. After starting the regular season as one of the best teams in the West, Portland slowly made their way down the rankings, only able to secure the 4-seed because they were at the top of a relatively weak division. Their apparent good fortune would not take them far in the playoffs as the big-man oriented Grizzlies would stymie the Blazer’s lackluster efforts in a 4-1 series. The Trail Blazers roster will likely evolve substantially this offseason as there are already many trade rumors, especially those regarding guard Damian Lillard.
Golden State Warriors (1) vs Memphis Grizzlies (5)
After a sweeping the Pelicans in the first round of the playoffs, it would seem that the Warriors are ready to carry their regular season success into the postseason. With one of the best starting fives in the NBA (lead by the high-scoring “splash bros.”), it is difficult to predict anything but a series win for Golden State. However, the Grizzlies have proven that they are able to play team basketball with a unique ability to adapt and incorporate a successful playing style to attack any team’s weaknesses. With star power from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and young talent from Jeff Green, the Grizzlies could win one if not two games. Prediction: Warriors 4-2.
Houston Rockets (2) vs LA Clippers (3)
NBA fans should be excited for yet another exhilarating Western Conference matchup as two of the most offense-oriented teams face off against one another. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are coming off an impressive Game 7 one possession game win, knocking the defending champion Spurs out of the playoffs. The tenacity they have already shown will likely take them far. On the other hand, James Harden has shown that individual talent should not be as underrated as it has been recently. Harden’s offensive skill may be the deciding factor in what will likely be an extremely close series. That and Houston’s Dwight Howard’s growing prominence in the paint. Prediction Rockets 4-3.
Conference Finals (Golden State Warriors vs Houston Rockets):
Any prediction regarding the outcome of an undecided Western Conference Finals is definitely premature, as all the teams still in the playoffs still have reason to consider themselves contenders. However, if the Warriors and Rockets do square off in the finals, it will be an exciting MVP-candidate standoff. Coincidently, there has recently been much debate over who deserves this prestigious title- Steph Curry of Golden State or James Harden of Houston. Perhaps the argument may be settled in this series. As for what team will come out on top, it is likely that the Warriors’ deep roster and their better ability to play team basketball may carry them past the Rockets. Prediction: Warriors 4-2.
Atlanta Hawks (1) vs Brooklyn Nets (8)
The Nets finished the regular season strong, winning 13 of their last 19 games to grab the 8 seed. The Hawks had a rough ending to the regular season: they finished below .500 in their last 15 games and lost their best defender Thabo Sefolosha. However, with an average offense and a defense that allows over 100 points per game, the Nets do not pose a major threat to the Hawks.
Toronto Raptors (4) vs Washington Wizards (5)
The Wizards swept the Raptors. The Raptors started the season 24-7 but were just an average team since then, finishing 25-26 in the last 51 games. While the Raptors were a decent team in the East during the regular season, they lacked the experience and defense to win a series. The Wizards possess athleticism, a top-10 defense, and the leadership of Paul Pierce, which will help them going forward.
Chicago Bulls (3) vs Milwaukee Bucks (6)
The Bulls have one of the most talented starting-fives in the NBA, as well as a strong bench. Although a healthy Derrick Rose is not the same as the Derrick Rose from his MVP campaign in 2011, he will provide the team with play-making ability and leadership. On the other hand, the Bucks have exceeded all expectations for this season. Much of Milwaukee’s success can be accredited to Jason Kidd, who has gotten the most out of a roster that has no all-stars. While the young Bucks do not have what it takes to beat the Bulls in a seven-game series, they will be a threat in the future.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs Boston Celtics (7)
The Celtics are a gritty and tough team who got hot at the right time of the regular season but were just too overmatched when faced with the star power of the Cavaliers. Trying to stop LeBron is hard enough, but add Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love on top, and for a team of solid role players, winning a game in the series was a near impossibility.
Atlanta Hawks (1) vs Washington Wizards (5)
The Hawks have a dynamic starting lineup: Jeff Teague is an athletic guard, who can force turnovers, Kyle Korver is one of the best three-point shooters in the league, Demarre Carroll plays lock-down defense on the perimeter, and the frontcourt tandem of Al Horford and Paul Millsap can dominate the paint. Although John Wall and Bradley Beal is the most exciting backcourt in the East, Washington fails to run an efficient half-court offense on a consistent basis. Like the Spurs in the West, the Hawks have played excellent team basketball this year. The Wizards may steal a couple games, but the Hawks should win the series within six games.
Cleveland Cavaliers (2) vs Chicago Bulls (3)
The loss of Kevin Love will hurt the Cavs. Still, Kyrie and Lebron have the ability to take over a game. If Derrick Rose can take care of the ball and Jimmy Butler can consistently shoot the ball well, the Bulls should win two or three games. But, with more rest heading into the series, favorable position match-ups, and a solid bench, including top-defender Iman Shumpert, the Cavs should still be in a good position to win this series.
Atlanta Hawks (1) vs Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
Although the Hawks may have a more well-rounded team, Lebron James knows how to get to the finals. The Hawks pose some problems for the Cavs, as they can force turnovers and protect the rim. However, as teams go deeper into the playoffs, having a reliable superstar becomes increasingly important. While guys may be able to occasionally step up, the Hawks lack a player, like Lebron, who can single-handedly win a game. The Hawks will put up an exciting fight, perhaps pushing the series to seven games, but much to the chagrin of the Eastern Conference, Lebron James will be in the finals once again.
Predicted NBA Finals Matchup: Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers