Warriors-Rockets Preview

If you asked the question, how efficient can efficiency get?  Then this series would be your answer.

Has there ever been a series like this?  All the threes, all the weird, crazy offensive strategies these teams employ?  All the points?

The answer is no.  We’ve never seen two offensive giants like this collide before.  We’re looking at three top 35 players of all-time in this series and the 11th best offense ever (The Rockets, per Offensive Rating).

So what’s gonna give?  Will the Warriors lukewarm effort give Houston an edge?  Can we trust the Rockets defensively?  What about James Harden and Chris Paul being really good at melting down in the playoffs?

What certainly won’t give: Points.

Western Conference Final: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

This series could be as simple as who goes cold when the other team shoots well.  The Warriors and Rockets have both had their poor shooting nights this postseason, with Golden State actually having more bad than good nights from beyond the arc.  In nights that are considered bad (In my opinion, 35% from three or less), the Warriors have managed to go 5-2.  Out of the 10 games the Warriors have played in this postseason, they’ve shot well in only three of them.  They’re still 8-2 in the postseason despite that.  That’s pretty dang good.

Houston has shot well in 50% of their games this postseason, and went 4-1 in games where they didn’t shoot well from behind the three point line.  That’s also pretty encouraging.

But it’s not all about threes for the Warriors.  Sure, injuries and effort probably contributed to it, but Golden State only took the 6th most threes in the league this year.  The Rockets took around 10 more a game than Golden State did.

That’s because Golden State is capable of playing multiple styles.  Their ridiculous versatility, athleticism and speed allow them to run cuts, move the ball and slow it down if need be.  Golden State blowing out New Orleans and San Antonio by locking down defensively and letting Kevin Durant takeover was only one dimension of this team.  They’ve held onto dimensions all season, and have probably hid some.

The Rockets have only a couple ways of playing.  Heavy isolation by whomever and swinging it around the arc to the next guy if the other can’t shake-and-bake his defender, or the classic James Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll.  Those are essentially the offensive sets the Rockets have.

The Warriors should be able to contain it to an extent.  If it’s a low effort night, or a poor shooting outing, Houston will be able to put points up.  But at their full potential, the Warriors have enough to slow down Houston.  They’re more skilled defensively than any team the Rockets have played.  Klay Thompson isn’t stopping Harden, but he can make him work, and force even more choke-jobs.  The Warriors can hide Stephen Curry on Chris Paul or Eric Gordon.  Paul’s scoring outbursts recently make that a little tedious given that Curry isn’t the most supreme defender, but Houston’s slow pace could actually benefit Curry, who isn’t the greatest athlete on that end of the court.  Plus, Curry has owned CP3 over the years in playoff series.

Durant is a juggernaut defensively in this series.  The Warriors can put him off the ball, taking out someone like Trevor Ariza, assign him to Harden, which could go either way matchup wise, or even play him at some center to help defend Capela on the PNR.

The Rockets don’t have a LeBron James or Kawhi Leonard.  They don’t have a go-to wing guy that KD will be tasked with stopping.  That could be a blessing for Golden State.  KD’s learned to make his defensive impact felt anywhere.  This will be the perfect series to showcase that.

Despite Golden State’s defensive excellence, it may not be enough.  The Rockets are the best at making those “I can’t believe he just took and/or made that shot” shots.  Their range and volume of threes has taken the whole league by storm.  It’s essentially the Warriors from 2014-2016 on steroids.

And the problem for the Warriors is that those shots go in 35.3% of the time.  But if anyone knows that they have to defend Houston three feet out from the arc, it’s Golden State.

The way games will be won in this series will be based on who shoots poorly in one game and who shoots well in that same game.  It could really be that simple.

But there are gonna be nights where both shoot well, or both shoot poorly.  Then what happens?

Houston’s whole offense is based off that three point shot.  The other set they have is the Harden-Capela PNR.  With Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green in the rotating cast of guys tasked to defend that, good luck Houston.  The shots better go in.

I’m also dubious of Houston defensively.  They did finish 6th in defensive rating and rank 2nd for the playoffs.  Adding PJ Tucker, Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute did what it was supposed to.

But where is Houston hiding Harden?  What about CP3’s horrible history defending Curry?  Are the wings enough to contain KD, who’s been ridiculous all postseason?

The answer is partially.  Houston has to keep switching on KD.  Trevor Ariza (Who did well on Donavan Mitchell in the 2nd round), Mbah a Moute and Tucker are all pretty viable options.  Switching every possession like Boston did against LeBron in Game 1 yesterday could work to slow Durant down.

That would defer offense to the Splash Brothers, who should be able to feast on CP3 and Harden.  Harden’s defense hasn’t improved despite his team’s improvement.  Donavan Mitchell torched him all of last round.  And the CP3 resume on Curry is problematic.  If KD is limited, those two should be able to run the show.

The Warriors five out system will also limit Clint Capela’s defensive value.  As athletic and smooth as he is, he’s not able to guard the Draymond Green-type, a sneaky quick athletic power forward who can put the ball on the deck.  Capela handled Karl-Anthony Towns in the first round, but him and Draymond are two different players.

The Rockets should switch Capela onto open shooters, that way his long arms can help close-out, rather than have him defend Draymond on the corner or the wing.  Green’s athleticism will get him by Capela, or force a pass to an open shooter as Green draws help.

The Rockets’ 6th ranked defense won’t look like it against this Warriors team.  The ball movement and superior talent of the Warriors will prevail.  On the other end, the Rockets might make a ton of threes.  Harden will more likely than not get by Thompson and go off.  It’s hard to switch against Houston, because they don’t move the ball, and for that split second when the shooter is open, he’ll take it and probably make it.

But when the shots don’t go in for Houston, there will be trouble.  It’s their only source of offense they can rely on.  Houston may play a creative style, but they don’t have creativity within it.  The Warriors are too good defensively to let that beat them.

I’m trusting Golden State to make shots when shots need to be made.  The Harden+Paul combo of playoff meltdowns and the heavy, heavy reliance on isolation and three pointers makes me worried.  Why can’t Houston just go to the rim and force Golden State to make an effort on help side?

The Rockets will have at least two games where they shoot the lights out and nothing else will matter.  But the Warriors ability to be more effective defensively, move the ball offensively and take advantage of Harden, Paul and Capela on the defensive end is the difference.  They just have more talent.  For a series that’s all about numbers, it’s really just as simple as that.

Prediction: Warriors in 6

Cavaliers-Celtics Preview

Remember when the Kyrie Irving trade went down in August?  Our first thought was “Man, the East Finals are really gonna be something.”

Somehow, after Gordon Hayward snapped his ankle five minutes into opening night, after Cleveland blew up their whole team at the trade deadline, which included shipping out the No.2 asset they received from Boston in the Kyrie trade, and after watching that same Kyrie Irving guy who we’ve already mentioned three times go down with a season-ending knee injury, we’re here.  We still got the Cavaliers and Celtics in the East Finals.  Are you sure you want to leave this conference, LeBron?

All that being said, it hasn’t been easy for LeBron James.  The Pacers took Cleveland to seven games in round one, thanks to the Cavs having no one to slow down Victor Olidipo and having no defensive effort whatsoever.  LeBron took on the ultimate workload, putting up 40 point triple doubles like it was nothing.  He hit one of the most cold-blooded game-winners I’ve ever seen against Indiana, and then somehow topped it against Toronto when he decided to take a one legged floater from the left side of the court that didn’t even hit the white square on the backboard.  Seriously, if the basketball doesn’t hit that exact spot on the glass, it tips the front of the rim and doesn’t go in.

The LeBron impact has wrecked two teams this postseason, one of which came oh-s0-close and one of which completed combusted, in the least surprising twist of the playoffs.  So can Brad Stevens and Boston be the first team to overcome it?

Eastern Conference Finals: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics

Boston’s biggest key coming into these playoffs was to get unexpected, large offensive contributions.  So far, that’s happened.  Terry Rozier has been phenomenal scoring the basketball.  Jayson Tatum hasn’t played like a rookie.  Jaylen Brown has hit his ceiling, and can give the Celtics five threes in a game if they need it.  Against certain matchups, Al Horford can bang down low and get easy buckets.

Nothing is preventing that from happening in this series.  The Cavaliers defense has slightly improved, but it’s still the same group that finished in the bottom five in defensive rating this season, and remains undoubtedly the worst group left in the playoffs.  The sweep of Toronto wasn’t really due to a good defensive performance out of the Cavs.  It was horrible play down the stretch by Toronto and a complete incompetence for doing anything to slow down LeBron.

We may not be able to blame Toronto for that second part though.  LeBron is at least the 3rd greatest player of all-time now.  What are you supposed to do?  Toronto’s best option was a rookie!

The argument for Boston in the series is this:  The Cavs’ defense is bad enough to allow these sporadic, unexpected offensive outputs from guys we just can’t believe are doing this a playoff series while the Celtics have dudes to throw at LeBron and possessed the best defensive rating in the league this season.  Makes sense, right?

But we’re at the point with LeBron where “having dudes to throw at him” just isn’t enough.  Nobody, nobody, is slowing that dude down right now.  The level LeBron is currently playing is 2nd to only that crazy winning streak he had in Miami.  That’s it.  LeBron is 33, in his 15th season, and is having possibly the 2nd best stretch of his career.

Good luck Boston.  Marcus Morris is certainly in for a wake-up call.   Jaylen Brown actually did quite a nice job on LeBron in very few possessions in last year’s East Finals, but LeBron wasn’t playing like this and could defer to Kyrie for offense.  Jayson Tatum has gotten better defensively throughout the year, but isn’t nearly competent enough to take LeBron every possession.

Boston has the option to go big against LeBron.  Guys like Semi Ojeyele and Guerschon Yabusele have insane athleticism for their size.  The Celtics also switched Al Hoford onto Ben Simmons in the Sixers series, which made Simmons hesitant to drive.

James isn’t going to be as reluctant as Simmons though, and can blow by Ojeyele, Yabusele and Horford.  Perhaps the constant switching can throw him off a bit; Boston should switch to get fresh legs on LeBron every possession.  LeBron and the Cavs hasn’t faced this type of depth at the wing position in these playoffs yet.

It’s still not going to matter.  You can’t stop, slow down or even somewhat limit LeBron.  There’s two guys in the league who have shown the capability to do that: Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard.  Boston doesn’t have either of them.

If B0ston wins this series, it’s going to be due to an amazing defensive display by the guys I listed above.  Jaylen Brown will have to break out as one of the league’s three best perimeter defenders.  Tatum’s gonna have to stay focused.  Marcus Morris will somehow have his words backed up.

It just feels too unlikely.  Boston will be able to match Cleveland offensively; their lineup creativity can cut, post-up and score one-on-one against the Cavs at any time.  Rozier isn’t Olidipo, but Cleveland proved in the Indiana series they have no one to contain a crafty guard who can get to the rim.

I worry about Boston in close games though; I don’t trust Rozier’s and Marcus Smart’s antics down the stretch.  With LeBron on the other side, he’ll make you pay.  You just can’t have a bad possession late.

This series is not a wash for the Celtics.  They’ll get the Jaylen Brown 25 point game, the You’re Not Stopping Jayson Tatum game, and possibly a We’re Coming Back From Down 20 game.  Their defense will make LeBron do everything, which will probably still be enough for Cleveland in the end.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 7

Sixers-Celtics Preview + West 2nd Round Synopsis (So Far)

The NBA starting the 2nd round series on the weekend wasn’t smart.  People are busy on the weekend!  It’s hard to write previews on the weekend!

So, with those series already started, I decided I’ll do what “What I saw in Game 1” section along with breaking down why I made the pick I did (Trust me, they were official).

Also, here is a preview for Sixers-Celtics, which starts tonight.

Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics 

Make no mistake about it.  The 76ers are the best team in the Eastern Conference.

That doesn’t mean they’re gonna make the Finals.  All season, we were searching for a team in the East to pull away.  A team to really impress us and make us go “OK, they’re for real.”

For awhile, it was this Celtics team, which found itself in Game 7 against the just miserable Bucks.  Boston is a lot better than Milwaukee, but the fact that they allowed the Bucks to take them to seven is a little concerning.  Especially when they’re now pitted against this Sixers team.

Before the Jaylen Brown injury, this series was a risky one for the Celtics.  Sure, Boston actually has some options to throw at the Ben Simmons-Joel Embiid menace, like Brown, Al Horford and Marcus Morris (I guess?).  But the Sixers have shown us this postseason that they’re gonna be able to do whatever they want offensively; Miami was more equipped than Boston to slow them down and failed to do so.

The Sixers’ pace is stunning, and it’s all set up by Simmons.  Him flying down the court and attacking the rim is impossible to stop due to his freakish stature; him and Giannis have two of the most ridiculous bodies in the league.  But add in the court vision and tantalizing passing and you’ve got someone who’s literally unstoppable.  He can make any pass from any position in the air or any place on the court.

Brown was Boston’s best option.  He’s long and could possibly get a little rough with Simmons (It’s the one thing no one has tried!).  But now he’s out for Game 1, and the only thing coming out of Boston’s mouth is that he “could return later in the series.”  That doesn’t sound encouraging.

The surprising yet devastating impact of Brown’s injury comes on the offensive end.    When Brown was drafted, his ceiling was an excellent defensive player who could hopefully be effective as a wing on the offensive end.  We’re there, and the ceiling is only getting higher.

In Game 2, Brown had 30 points.  He hit five threes, but more importantly put the game away.  He was Boston’s closer, a role they desperately miss with Kyrie Irving out.

Boston’s struggles offensively with Kyrie out have been well documented.  With Terry Rozier’s hit-or-miss game, the Celtics have had to rely on rookie Jayson Tatum, Brown, and this out-of-nowhere Marcus Morris isolation game that has came about this season.  When Rozier’s not dribbling too much, Tatum hasn’t hit the wall and Brown is putting up Game 2-like performances, the Celtics are unstoppable due to how they play on the other end.  Unfortunately, the numbers don’t say that happens too often.

Even on Philly’s worst nights, they still have the advantage.  It’s hard for Embiid to have a bad game unless he turns the ball over seven times single-handily.  Horford will make him work, but who’s really shutting him down?  The Sixers medical staff making him wear the facemask?

We also forget that the Sixers are freakishly good defensively as well.  Robert Covington hasn’t been there offensively in the postseason, but should be able to make Tatum hit the wall again.  Embiid has the athletic edge over Horford if Boston decides to do the old-school game and bang down low for easy points.

Turning it over to Rozier isn’t the smartest move, but it might be the Celtics only chance.  Josh Richardson was able to take advantage against the defensively challenged JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli in the Miami-Sixers series.  If Rozier can play a little more efficiently and hit shots, the Celtics could steal a game or two.  But they don’t have as big of a coaching advantage any more, and they’re relying on guys just as young as Philly.  The Celtics just won’t be able to get away with it anymore.

Prediction: Sixers in 4


I wasn’t able to write previews for the Western Conference 2nd round series’ since they had to start on the weekend (Thanks NBA!) and my weekend was jammed packed with homework and high school baseball scouting.  So let’s run through each West series so far so I can explain the pick I made and breakdown what I’ve seen.

Why I picked the Rockets in five…

Proof: 

It was much more to do with the firepower problem.  As good as Donavan Mitchell has been, there’s gonna be a point where him alone is just not enough.  The Jazz got through OKC because the Thunder still couldn’t figure out the crunch-time responsibilities, Ricky Rubio supplied some surprising shot-making, and Mitchell’s excellence.  Now Rubio will miss multiple games and Houston knows what they’re doing.  Once again, it’s just Mitchell out there.

In Game 1, it was proved that he just wasn’t enough.  The Jazz were a top two defense in the league this season and got schooled by Houston.  One of my concerns with the Rockets was their lack of ball movement.  Sure, their offense was historically efficient, but that doesn’t mean that there is no need for ball movement, or that ball movement and fast-paced basketball is inefficient.

Houston didn’t play at any cranked up pace Sunday, but they did get a little creative with their offensive sets instead of isolating and passing around the arc four times.  The Rockets and Chris Paul were swinging it around, getting Utah defenders distracted to Paul and James Harden, which left guys like PJ Tucker wide open in the corner.

Houston also went to the classic Harden-Clint Capela pick-and-roll, which is a play that Utah should be somewhat equipped to defend with Rudy Gobert at the rim.  That didn’t go Utah’s way either.

If Utah is going to struggle defensively, they’re really screwed.  Offensively, we knew the struggle to keep up was gonna be very real.  Making it easy for Houston offensively gives the Jazz almost no chance.

Why I picked the Warriors in six…

Proof: Uhhhhhhhhh

I may or may not have proof that I made this pick.  But it happened and we’re rolling with it.

Round One and Game 1 alleviated concerns about the Warriors regular season.  There is definitely a switch, and it most definitely works.  Golden State manhandled the Spurs; they had no one to stop Kevin Durant and just couldn’t keep up offensively.

Saturday night looked like a similar problem for the Pelicans.  But it’s much more about the matchup rather than the state of the team.

See, the Warriors’ guards actually care about defense.  They shut down Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo Saturday night.  Plus, ya’ll forgot about Dray (You like that reference??).  Sure, Draymond Green hasn’t been as impactful on defense this season.  But he’s still one of the league’s five best defensive players, and he helped control Anthony Davis.  The Warriors are one of the few teams that have someone who can at least slow him down.  The offensive explosion we witnessed from New Orleans in Round One was part Pelicans, part crappy Blazers defense.

This series could be shorter than six games, but I still expect Davis to carry New Orleans one night in 45 point effort, and Golden State can easily go cold in a game.

2018 NFL Mock Draft

Four quarterbacks in the top ten?  Another scandal involving a projected top pick breaking on draft day?  Two generational talents available?

In some ways, this draft is just like all the others.  Three of the quarterbacks are gonna suck and two will be stars, and nobody really knows which those will be.  (Seriously.  After every draft, GMs always go “We never saw this coming,” no matter which way their development goes).  In other ways, it’s completely different.  We have 4-5 first round caliber quarterbacks whose value has never been debated more; individually and worthily to a respective team.  We have two generational talents available as well.  In the top six picks, we could be looking at five superstars. That’s rare.

The rules for the mock draft have slighty changed.  I’ll address that later.  As always, the mock draft is part what I think should happen and part what I think will happen.  I usually identify where that difference exists.

The 2nd rule was always no trades.  There’s some really tough spots in my mock draft, where teams just don’t really need someone who’s available.  I broke the rule once today.  Consider it a treat.

No.1, Cleveland Browns: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming

This offseason drove me insane.  Teams spent $10 million more than they needed to on a quarterback and then still plan to draft one, or gave up a fair amount/too much for in a trade for a QB and are still gonna take one.

The Browns fit the last half of that sentance.  If you hacked the inner trenches of hippelsportshub, you’d find a 3,000 word column on free agency that included 1,500 words about the Tyrod Taylor trade that was never posted.  I loved the Taylor trade; I think putting him with weapons makes him an above average quarterback.  He never had anything to work with in Buffalo!  No one believed in him!

The Browns made may not believe in him either, which makes it strange that they gave up a 3rd round pick in order to get him (Just another example of the over-importance placed on quarterback.  You’re giving up a 3rd round pick for bridge guy?  NICK FOLES JUST WON THE FREAKING SUPER BOWL!!!).

That’s why I think Cleveland is in a picky spot here.  They don’t really need a quarterback.  They just gave Carlos Hyde a contract that will pay him $5 million a year, a pretty good price for a No.1 running back who has had injury issues.  Even though Saquon Barkley is a generational talent, you’re once again doubling down.  And though Quenton Nelson is also a generational talent, taking an offensive lineman at No.1 when you have two franchise QBs and a stud running back on the board seems like something that’s gonna piss off your already tortured fan base.

Again, this is a combination of what I think is gonna happen and what should happen.  Josh Allen is my QB1, and though I like the prospectus of Taylor, he’s also a member of the Cleveland Browns and isn’t winning you a Super Bowl with this current roster.  By the time this roster is ready, he’s well out of his prime.

The completion percentage of Allen’s is very concerning.  But his stature and natural presence in the pocket is attractive.  When I watched Allen in the pocket this season, he seemed the most comfortable.  When he threw the ball, he looked like a quarterback.  Him and one other guy have that in this draft.  If I ran Cleveland, I’d trade down and get a chest of future assets.  But they’re the Browns, and John Dorsey is gonna want his guy.  I’m okay with that.

No.2, New York Giants: RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State

Quarterback feels weird here.  The regime that benched Eli Manning is gone; owner John Mara was not gonna let that one slide.  Though Manning is totally washed, taking a quarterback at 2nd overall and having him sit for 2-3 years just isn’t worth it.  You have two generational talents to choose from.

The question is, which one?  Both are huge needs.  Part of the Giants’ horrendous offense the past few seasons has been due to the fact that Eli’s had to do too much; they’ve had no primary running back who they could give 25 carries too and rack up 125 yards.  It’s been a bunch of guys who get 12 carries and five receptions a game for a total of 80 yards.

But the offensive line has also been just as bad.  Ereck Flowers has been a complete bust so far (Good luck trading him by the way!).  John Jerry is washed.  They paid Nate Solder big bucks though, and adding Nelson makes 2/5 of the line above average.  Solder can use his experience to help out Flowers, and if he improves, you’re looking at a much better offensive line with two superstars.

But that’s a reach, and even though Nelson feels like one of the safest picks in the draft, the Giants haven’t had the best luck drafting offensive lineman lately.  Plus, watching Barkley score touchdowns and mowing dudes over isn’t gonna be fun when he’s not on your team even if Nelson turns into a Hall-of-Famer someday.  Make the fans happy and take Barkley.  He’s the best college running back I’ve seen.  Him in New York City with Odell Beckham Jr?  Sign me up (PS: I’m 95% sure the Giants are taking him.  The quotes from GM David Gettleman and the lack of hints about the QBs really make me think they’re set on him.  You’re not hearing anything but Barkley connected to them).

No.3, New York Jets: QB Josh Rosen, UCLA

“Wait!  I thought you didn’t like teams doubling down on quarterbacks?”

Oh I’m sorry.  I didn’t know Josh McCown counted as an actual NFL QB still.  I mean, if he’s getting paid $10 million this season (Puke), I guess we have to count him.

I mean…  what the raging F was that contract?

And as much as I’d like to think Teddy Bridgewater is a franchise QB, the odds are limited.  He signed with the Jets out of all teams.  There’s no way the Jets are rebooting Bridgewater’s career.  They should release him and now let him sign with Arizona or Buffalo, just to give him a chance.

The Jets taking a quarterback here makes sense because they’re a team that actually needs a quarterback.  They didn’t significantly overpay someone (Here’s the thing with McCown.  If the contract was for $9 million, it doesn’t look nearly as bad), or make a panic trade.  They need a quarterback, and have to take one.  Only them and Buffalo are in that scenario.

Rosen is the best one available.  He has a rocket arm, is great in the pocket has the “It” factor to him.

If you look at all the scouting reports on Rosen, there are no football related negatives.  Zero.  It’s durability and personality concerns.  The guy is a special talent.  He just has to stay focused and keep himself healthy.

Those are big concerns though.  Being drafted in New York probably isn’t the best scenario for him (Is it the best for Baker Mayfield, though?  No…).  After what Johnny Manziel had to say about the Browns not realizing how he wasn’t really focused on football, you have to be concerned about Rosen’s focus.

And why did his coach not have anything all that flattering to say about him?  Sure, Jim Mora might be kind of an idiot, but still?  What is holding you back from defending the kid as much as you can?  That was also a little concerning.

But the problem I have with this criticsm is that it’s coming from a bunch of old white dudes in NFL front offices.  They look at players like robots.

Who cares if Rosen’s woke or not?  If he’s a future top ten quarterback, who cares?

Rosen is gonna have to add some muscle.  He’s 6’4 218; a literal stick.  The durability is a viable concern.  But he has the talent.  The Jets should gamble on it.

No.4, Cleveland Browns: DE Bradley Chubb, NC State

This is the easiest decision the Browns have to make all draft.  You’re getting the chance to pair Bradley Chubb with Myles Garrett?  Yes please.

Chubb might be the 2nd best edge rusher I’ve evaluated besides Garrett.  The hype for Chubb would be so much greater if Garrett wasn’t drafted just a year ago.

Just take him, Browns.  The decision isn’t hard.  You’re making life hell for the opposing quarterback every week with this pick.

No.5, Denver Broncos: TRADE:  Broncos trade No.5 to Buffalo for No.12 overall, future assets, Bills take QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma 

I broke the golden NFL mock draft rule I’ve used all four times I’ve done this.  We’re doing a trade.

I haven’t done trades ever in my NFL Mock Drafts because if I was running each team, I’d be trading down almost every single time, because I’m a value/future assets guy.  If I were Cleveland, I’d be shopping No.1 like crazy.

I couldn’t figure out the right pick for Denver.  Quenton Nelson falling to No.6 seems absotluely crazy, but the Broncos have Ronald Leary on a big contract at one guard spot and Max Garcia is only 26 years old.  There’s no real need to replace him.

It’s a little early for someone like Tremaine Edmunds or Roquan Smith, and the Broncos need middle linebacker more than another dynamic edge rusher or athletic linebacker.

Denver could go quarterback here, but why?  You have Case Keenum at $18 million a year.  Bridge quarterbacks don’t get $18 million a year!  He’s your starter.  You believe in him.  Why take a quarterback so high?  Plus, you wiffed on Paxton Lynch just two short years ago!  You really trust yourself to develop someone?

Trade the pick and collect some extra assets.  I’m not gonna guess on what those are; I’ll let the teams hammer that out and evaluate it later.

I mentioned earlier that two teams actually needed quarterbacks: Buffalo and the Jets.  Cross both off.

The Bills currently have Nathan Peterman and AJ McCarron.  Yikes!

Baker Mayfield is my QB3.  The height and characteristic concerns take him down.  But the guy is a baller.  He’s pinpoint accurate.  He makes big plays.  His arm, like Allen and Rosen’s, is a cannon.

But Mayfield isn’t a 100% football sound like Rosen.  Sometimes he likes to force it. He’s short, which has a boom or bust history.  And the character is questionable, even though he feels like one of the most mature guys when you listen to him talk.

Being short didn’t affect him college.  But Mayfield was in the most perfect offense for his skills at Oklahoma, and didn’t have to deal with edge rushers like the ones he’ll face in the NFL.  Short QBs are Russell Wilson or Drew Brees.  Who else is there?  They don’t exist.

It’s concerning, but Mayfield has the star power to get over it.  Being in Buffalo won’t get him caught up in the limelight.  As long as the Bills invest in weapons, Mayfield is their QB of the future.

No.6, Indianapolis Colts: OG Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame

What an incredibly lucky pick for the Colts.  They’d be ecstatic to land Nelson.  There’s a good chance he is gone by now, though, depending on how trades shake out.

The Colts offensive line is awful, and with Andrew Luck hopefully (???) returning from a shoulder injury, he’s gonna need protection.  Nelson is a once in a generation prospect.  He mows 300 pound defensive tackles and slams edge rushers pulling.  Drafting offensive linemen high has been shaky lately, but Nelson is a guaranteed hit.

No.7, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: S Derwin James, Florida State

Not taking Minkah Fitzpatrick here hurts.

He’s been my guy all throughout the college football and draft season.  I’ve had friends nudging me on him.  Some of my most trusted football people say he’s the best defensive player in the draft (I found that a stretch, by the way).

But the Buccaneers can address a more immediate need by taking Derwin James, a hard hitting safety out of Florida State.  Sure, taking Denzel Ward or Fitzpatrick gives you the future after Brent Grimes and his wife leave town, but those two guys are over-qualified for the Bucs.  They need to get as many snaps as possible and get thrown to the fire like Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker did last season.

This is high for James.  Tampa Bay could trade down and get him later.  But he’s the better fit.  Taking the best player available isn’t always the smartest move in the NFL.

No.8, Chicago Bears: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama

He’s a stud.  He can play practically anywhere.  He’s a play-maker.  He’s amazing in coverage and is physical at the same time.

The Bears can use an upgrade at all of their secondary positions.  Minkah Fitzpatrick provides all of those.  He’s a quick cornerback and a bruising safety at the same time.  Prince Anakuamara was a nice bridge guy for a year and worth a flyer, but now it’s time to build for the future.  Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over Adrian Amos or Eddie Jackson at safety as well.

No.9, San Francisco 49ers: CB Denzel Ward, Ohio State 

The 49ers secondary is the weakest part of their improving defense.  Denzel Ward is the latest stud Buckeye secondary member to be a first pound pick.  He’s a lockdown cornerback who’s incredibly athletic.  I expect 7-8-9 to be a run of the top defensive backs.  San Francisco will be fine with whoever is left.

No.10, Oakland Raiders: LB Roquan Smith, Georgia

A perfect Oakland Raider.  Smith is a nasty, physical linebacker who can bullrush lines and drop back into coverage.  He’s a hard hitter and an athletic beast.  The Raiders lack these type of guys on their below average defense.  Smith should be able to come in and make an immediate impact.

No.11, Miami Dolphins: LB Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech

Edmunds fits the modern, hybrid type linebacker mold perfectly.  At 6’5, he’s a massive presence in the flats and can drop back to defend the middle of the field.  Coverage is his specialty, which will help out a Miami secondary that struggled last season.

No.12, Denver Broncos: LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama (Pick from Buffalo’s trade up)

It’s still hard finding the right pick for the Broncos.  I’m trying to trade down again here if I’m them.

Their defense is loaded, but there are some possible upgrade spots in the linebacking core.  Evans is another dynamic linebacker, who’s a hard hitter and can drop into coverage.  He’s a perfect Bronco.

No.13, Washington Redskins: CB Josh Jackson, Iowa

Another lockdown cornerback off the board.  Ward goes ahead of him due to the extreme athleticism.  But Josh Jackson hunts footballs.  He was an absolute ball-hawk at Iowa, and made life hell for the Buckeyes in that massive upset in Week 10.  I thought the Redskins biggest weakness was their secondary last season.  Sliding Jackson in locks down at least one side of the field.

N0.14, Green Bay Packers: WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama

Signing Jimmy Graham was one my favorite moves of the offseason, but besides him, the Packers are looking at an underwhelming selection of weapons for Aaron Rodgers.

Davante Adams and Randall Cobb are always hurt.  When they’re healthy, they’re threats, because they are not at all bad receivers and Aaron Rodgers is their quarterback.  But if they’re not there, then no one is there for Rodgers besides Graham, who probably just needed a fresh start and a new offense, but hasn’t been nearly the tight end he was in New Orleans the past two years.

Picking Calvin Ridley gets you a big, outside the numbers receivers to get the ball downfield to.  When everyone is healthy, you’re loaded.  When you’re banged up, at least you now have some consistency.

No.15, Arizona Cardinals: OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame

If Sam Darnold goes high and one of the other three quarterbacks slips all the way here, I’m game.  At the end of the day, my QB big board is really more like this: Not Darnold.

I’ll get into that when he’s picked.  Arizona has options here.  They may trade up for a QB (Please no), settle for one here (I’m okay with that) or can select from a massive pool of offensive or defensive linemen.

I chose to go with the best offensive linemen left.  Mike McGlinchey certainly isn’t his teammate, but is a massive 6’8 tackle who can move.  DJ Humphries can’t stay healthy and hasn’t been good even when healthy, and Andre Smith doesn’t give me any more hope on the other side.  The Cardinals have worked to improve the middle.  Now it’s time build out.

No.16, Baltimore Ravens: OG Will Hernandez, UTEP

This year’s offensive lineman class is Nelson and everyone else.  “Everyone else” is mid-round talent.  Here they start to come off the board.

The Ravens can go inside or out with this pick.  I find Hernandez to be the next best lineman available, so the hole at left guard can be filled.  Him and Marshall Yanda smashing A and B gaps?  I don’t want to deal with that.

No.17, Los Angeles Chargers: LB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise State

This is another tough choice.  I considered Sam Darnold here (If a QB falls, the Chargers should consider taking whichever one does).

However, Phillip Rivers is the type of guy who’s just gonna be awesome until he’s 40.  That’s four years from now.

They can wait.  This is a roster that is incredibly talented.  You go over it and think “How did this team not make the playoffs?”  Plug the holes and move along.

Vander Esch plugs one of those holes.  He’s a big middle linebacker who moves like someone who should be playing on the outside.  Hayes Pullard wasn’t great last season in this spot.  Vander Esch provides immediate play-making and creates a threatening force over the middle of the field.

No.18, Seattle Seahawks: DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama

This Seahawks roster went through a tumultuous offseason, which means a big draft will be needed to account for what could be some serious regression next season.

Seattle could go wide receiver, offensive line or cornerback here.  Seattle has built their identity on their secondary since 2010, but it’s possible that this is Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor’s last season in Seattle.  Why not shift the focus up front if that’s the case?  …Especially considering that defensive line is turning into the most valuable position group there is, and that the Seahawks already have a nice core up there.

Payne is a massive human who’s stunningly athletic for his size.  He blows up run plays and forces double teams.  He would make Seattle’s line deadly.

I like Carlton Davis here for the Seahawks as well.  The best corners are gone, but Davis is a first round talent.

No.19, Dallas Cowboys: WR Cortland Sutton, SMU

If I were Dallas, I’d consider trading down here.  I feel like wide receivers and running backs get drafted too high; there’s just too many of them!

The Cowboys could opt to go defense; Carlton Davis makes some sense, but Dallas needs safety more they need cornerback (Boy would they love to trade up and get Derwin James).  Sean Lee is always hurt, but after Vander Esch the market for linebackers really falls off.  Pass rushers are still available, but the Cowboys are talented and deep there.

For Dallas’ defense, it’s about staying healthy.  They’re more talented than most give them credit for.

That’s kinda the same case offensively.  I think this wide receiver core is good!  Even after Dez Bryant being cut, Dallas has dudes.  Allen Hurns is incredibly underrated. Cole Beasley is a bad man, and Terrance Williams is a decent target.  Plus, Jason Witten is still kicking it.

The Cowboys have to replace/upgrade upon the void that Dez left: A big, physical wide receiver.  Cortland Sutton is that.  He’s 6’3, big and strong, and can muscle through tacklers.  He’s got a little Calvin Johnson in him.

No.20, Detroit Lions: OG Isaiah Wynn, Georgia

The Lions offensive line is getting better, and selecting Isaiah Wynn would put one of the finishing touches on.  He’s very versatile and can play either tackle or guard.  I’d slot him in at left guard for now (Kenny Wiggins is not the answer), but his ability to play both positions could come in handy down the road.

No.21, Cincinnati Bengals: DT Vita Vea, Washington 

A little bit of a fall for Vita Vea, who will probably end up going much higher than this.  Vea is one of those guys who is just a massive human being.  He’s 6’4, 347 and plays bigger than that.  He’s a run stuffer and creates chaos in the middle.

The Bengals are aging up front.  Offensive line might be a bigger need, but it’s too high for Orlando Brown.  If Wynn falls here, they should take him.

No.22, Buffalo Bills: WR DJ Moore, Maryland

If I were Buffalo, I’d trade down to try and make up for the trade up to get Mayfield.  They need linebackers and offensive line, but both are reaches at this point.

The Bills receiving core is good on paper.  Kelvin Benjamin, Rod Streater, Andre Holmes, Zay Jones and Charles Clay?  Not bad!  But Benjamin and Clay are never healthy and are inconsistent, and Streater isn’t more than a 3rd option.

Getting DJ Moore makes a healthy core loaded and provides depth incase someone goes down (Very likely).  He isn’t the most talented receiver, but projects as a solid 2nd option on a good offense.

No.23, New England Patriots: DE Harold Landry, Boston College

The Patriots go local and take pass rusher Harold Landry out of Boston College.  Landry is a pure pass rusher; nothing else.  But his long arms and quick feet allow to put sick moves on opposing linemen.  The front seven was New England’s biggest weakness last season.  Landry gives them at least a presence up there.

No.24, Carolina Panthers: CB Carlton Davis, Auburn

There’s a lot of cornerback depth in this draft, so it’s really about who Carolina likes here.  No matter what, it’s a need.

I watched more of Davis than I did Mike Hughes or Jaire Alexander, so that’s the reason for the bias here.  Davis is big for a corner and plays like it; he’s physical with his hands and uses the first five yards effectively.

No.25, Tennesse Titans: DE Marcus Davenport, UTSA

The Titans have run stuffers in Jurrell Casey and Daquan Jones.  The outsides of the line however, are weak.

Here, Tennessee goes with the next best pass rusher available.  He’s a physical freak at 6’6, and uses that size to bullrush opposing linemen.  He’s a little raw in some areas, but his ceiling is too high for Tennessee to pass on.

No.26, Atlanta Falcons: WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

Essentially the Taylor Gabriel replacement.  Christian Kirk certainly isn’t as fast Gabriel, but his speed on short routes over the middle provide a similar target.  He also plays bigger than he is, which at 5’10 makes him a feisty cover.

No.27, New Orleans Saints: DT Taven Bryan, UCLA

The Saints don’t need a lot.  Any acting like they lack offensive weapons is underestimating Drew Brees’ ability to make anyone awesome.

They’re in best player available mode, and Taven Bryan is that guy at this point.  He’s a hassle in the trenches, and has supreme pass rushing skills for a defensive tackle.  The Saints adding Bryant gives them a scary rotation of guys on this line.

No.28, Pittsburgh Steelers: S Justin Reid, Stanford 

The Steelers also don’t need a lot.  It’s fair to question how Morgan Burnett will preform at safety, so taking Reid here gives Pittsburgh some insurance and a long term plan.

No.29, Jacksonville Jagurs: QB Sam Darnold, USC

Lets gooooooooo.

I am aware that there is a zero percent chance of this happening.  I do not believe Sam Darnold will get past Arizona at 15.

By doing this, I am trying to make a point. Darnold is my QB5.  I am not a fan.

Yes, he’s tall, which I and front office people like.  But he has such an awkward frame and body that it makes him look lanky when he’s dropping back.  Combine that with the weird arm motion, and Darnold just doesn’t possess the look.  The other guys do.

He was a sneaky turnover machine in college, which is a trait that usually translates to the pros pretty well.  It also makes him a fine Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback.

It seems like the Jags figured out how to make Blake Bortles not terrible: A strong running game, good coaching, and easy throws.

But what if this was just a weird outlier year from Bortles?  What if he’s like a streaky baseball player who just can’t do anything good?

The Jags did lock up Bortles on a contract, but there’s many outs incase he regresses back to what we thought he was.  Darnold would give them a long term option.

Again, there’s no way this happens.  If he falls, he doesn’t get past Arizona.  Even with my strong disliking, there’s no way he’s not a first round pick.  The Jags were the only team that made realistic sense.

No.30, Minnesota Vikings: OG Connor Williams, Texas

I’d expect a trade down here, since the Vikings really don’t need anything, and Williams is a reach.  Guard is one of the few needs the Vikings have.

No.31, New England Patriots: QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville 

Oh yeah!  It’s getting wonky in the back!

I don’t think this is the right move on New England’s part, but there’s been too much noise about them attempting to move up that I believe they might surprise some people.

I also think there’s no way Jackson gets out of the first round.  He’s my QB4, and there’s too much talk that he could go much higher than we imagine.  Him slipping here probably surprises you.

The Patriots drafted the right man to succeed Tom Brady in Jimmy Garappolo.  The problem was that they did it too early.

Now is the time they should have done it.

If Jackson goes to the Patriots, I’m all the sudden much higher on him.  New England has consistently shown that they can squeeze 110% out of any quarterback.  The same case goes for Jackson, who’s supremely talented but may not have the total package.  The Patriots can work on these things.  He’s got a good mentor.

No.32, Philadelphia Eagles: WR DJ Chark, LSU

The Eagles lost some weapons in free agency, so getting DJ Chark, a big, downfield receiver will pair nicely with Alshon Jeffrey.  His value is a lot higher than this.

Part Four Of The NBA’s First Round Playoff Preview

These will be very short and concise since my flight landed right as Game 1 of Jazz-Thunder was starting.

No.5 Utah Jazz vs. No.4 Oklahoma City Thunder

How the Jazz can win the series:  Donavan Mitchell is unstoppable.  The Thunder have multiple options for him (Russell Westbrook, Paul George, Terrance Ferguson).  It’s gonna be tough, but Mitchell could end up being a top ten player in the league someday.  This is only the beginning.

Utah ranked 2nd in defensive rating this year.  They are a literal wall.  If you put Ricky Rubio on Westbrook and Joe Ingles on Paul George, you’re in good shape.  Rubio’s tenaciousness can pester Russ, leading him to take more bad shots and try to do more than usual (Or, more than he already does).

That will happen at least once this series.  Russ will take 25 shots and hit eight or nine of them.  Will it happen four times?  Ehhhhhh

How the Thunder can win the series:  They have much more firepower than the Jazz.  When Russ is on, he’s unstoppable.  When Paul George is hot, he’s unstoppable.  When Carmelo Anthony is standing in the corner, he’s standing in the corner.

The Jazz’s defense is amazing.  But the bowling ball that Russ is should be able to get through it.  I would put a no jumpshots allowed rule on Russ.

Who wins?:  Oklahoma City in seven.  I think the Jazz are gonna make the Thunder work.  Mitchell will go off once, Russ will suck once or twice, and Utah will give OKC a “scare”.  I don’t like Oklahoma City enough to consider them heavy favorites in this series.


No.8 Minnesota Timberwolves vs. No.1 Houston Rockets

Why the Timberwolves can win: Ummmmmm…. because the Rockets offense isn’t one that takes advantage of bad athletes?  Even though Houston’s offense is a historic one, it’s not only that’s really hard to guard.

Here’s what I mean:  Houston literally puts five guys around the arc.  Either James Harden or Chris Paul start with it and try to shake-and-bake someone.  If they do, it’s a bucket!  If they don’t, they pass it to the guy standing 10 feet to their left or right and he either shoots a three or tries to isolate.

Because of this, the Wolves aren’t getting their defenders put in pick and roll or ball screens.  They have to defend one-on-one and close-out on guys.  That should be a little easier for them.  I’m looking right at you, Andrew Wiggins!

None it matters though.  The Timberwolves still won’t play defense, and even if they did, Houston is still gonna nail 28 foot threes in their face, which the Wolves won’t be able to counter.

What happens if Harden and Houston choke this series, carrying on the Rockets’ tradition?  How would you explain that?

This is why Minnesota can’t win.

Why the Rockets can win: I really have to think hard about this.

Jimmy Butler can only guard one of Harden or Paul.  The Wolves are close to the bottom of the league in three point percentage.  Houston plays defense.  Yeah, it’s not hard.

Prediction:  Houston in five.  The Rockets will shoot cold one game, and Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns will take advantage.

Part Three Of The NBA’s First Round Playoff Preview

Sorry for this preview being so broken up.  Being on vacation means using hotel, airport and Starbucks Wifi to write, and not having much time in general.  Anyways, here is previews for today’s early games.  Previews of Thunder-Jazz and Timberwolves-Rockets will be up later.

No.7 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No.2 Boston Celtics

Just another brutal first round series.  Had not for Kyrie Irving’s season-ending injury, this would have been at least watchable.  Kyrie vs. Giannis would’ve been a delight.

Now, we’re watching a Boston team that can’t score vs. a Milwaukee team that’s honestly just bad at the fundaments of basketball.

I told you this was gonna be a brutal series.

I’m just salty about Milwaukee.  I had them winning 55 games, Giannis contending for MVP, Jabari Parker being awesome again and everything coming together.  Nope.

First of all, coaching hasn’t helped them with any of their deficiencies.  Jason Kidd had no idea how to rotate guys defensively or clock reasonable minutes.  The offense relied too heavily on Giannis, although as we’re still seeing it wasn’t Kidd’s fault entirely.

Joe Puntry hasn’t done a better job.  Nothing’s gotten better, and the Bucks are now the underachieving 7th seed that everyone wants to play.

The Bucks have serious issues, yet they’re so simple and so dumb.  The Bucks are like that 4th grade community league team that your son is playing on, and the refs are high schoolers and the coaches are Dads.  Their play is a mess.  They can’t catch passes.  They make dumb plays.  They have no awareness.  You get the point.

That’s the Bucks.  They don’t turn the ball over a lot, but when they do it’s at the most critical time.  It’s stuff like Khris Middleton accidentally stepping out of bounds, or Giannis taking a jumpshot when he shouldn’t.

Brad Stevens has to be licking his chops.  This is a suicide mission for the Bucks from that point of view.  Joe Puntry sounds like the owner of your local farm store.

The Celtics don’t really have anyone primed for Giannis (Who does?).  I guess you slap Jaylen Brown on him and hope that switching can catch him off guard and force bad shots (Not hard in Milwaukee’s offense).  That would force the ball to go elsewhere, which, given the play of Milwaukee’s offense lately, sounds like a pretty good plan.

But in a vacuum, the Bucks should be much better.  They have fiery guards in Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon, both who are crafty with the ball and can shoot off the ball, though both have been in that 35% gray area from beyond the arc this season.  Middleton is an excellent scorer, and hasn’t regressed like others this year, but may not be suited for a secondary role.

The Bucks have to get guys to step up.  Getting this banged up Boston team was their only chance of winning in the first round.  The story of the Bucks has been when the ball isn’t in Giannis’ hands, things don’t work out.  That can’t be the case in this series.

Boston may not be able to totally slow down Giannis, but as this season has taught us, Giannis himself isn’t enough.  Couple that with the shortcomings on Milwaukee’s defensive end, and the Bucks are looking at a poor matchup.

What Milwaukee does have that Boston doesn’t is a closer.  The Celtics offensive rating plummeted to 101.9 when Kyrie was off the court this year, compared to 108.7 when he was on it, per NBA.com.  Now the Celtics are staring at that first number 100% of the time.

Without Kyrie, the Celtics are looking to Terry Rozier dribbling the ball just a little too much, 20 year old Jayson Tatum, and Gordon Hayward’s Players Tribune videos for offensive production.  I would include Marcus Smart, but he’s not scheduled to come back from his own injury until Game 6, if the series gets that far. Smart, even though he’s a loose cannon, would be a huge upgrade over anyone the Celtics currently have on the offensive end.  The shots don’t always go in, but when they do, they’re at pivotal points in the game.  That alone would give Boston a chance at the end of games.

The offensive concerns I have about Boston may not matter though.  They could go old-school, and bang down low with Al Horford and Aron Baynes.  The Bucks pretend that rim protection doesn’t exist.  They have to put Giannis down there half the time, since John Henson just isn’t strong enough to contest shots, and Thon Maker seems like a swing and miss on a potential home run pick (Which, is okay.  It was worth it).

Boston will have to take what it can get offensively, which could be enough given Milwaukee’s likely overall disarray.  Tatum probably won’t be consistent, but he will have moments.  And those moments are gonna be the ones that carry Boston.  I expect Horford to get the ball a lot, Rozier to be subdued a little bit, and Tatum have plays ran for him.  No matter how basic or weak it is, Milwaukee won’t be able to guard it.  They’re just that bad on that end.

Picking against Giannis is scary.  Picking against Brad Stevens is terrifying.  In close series, systems give the edge.

Milwaukee will get a couple games.  Giannis is too good, and Boston will have a game where the ball just doesn’t go in.

Prediction: Celtics in 6


No.5 Indiana Pacers vs. No.4 Cleveland Cavaliers

I don’t think we talked enough about the fact that a LeBron James led team fell to the 4th seed in the East.  The Sixers had a better record!

What the Cavaliers did at the deadline certainly helped, but it didn’t really bring them above and beyond.  Getting back to normal was probably the first goal, and it was met, but any reach above that level would have been nice.

It didn’t happen, which led to LeBron going into one-man wrecking crew mode and putting up insane stat-lines night after night.

Indiana has also been a one-man wrecking crew, with Victor Olidipo running the show.

That might be as simple as this series gets.

The Pacers are fine defensively.  They don’t have many of the stretchy, three-and-d wings the league possess right now, but their alternative has gotten them this far. The Pacers love to play three guard sets, with a stretch 4 in the corner and Myles Turner anchoring down low.

What that means is that they don’t have someone they can just plant on LeBron.  Sure, no one does, but some teams have a rotation of guys who can at least make him work.  Indiana’s best bet is probably Olidipo, which is problematic given the offensive load he must supply (30.1% usage rate this season).

This is a bad matchup for Indiana.  If you maximize your resources for LeBron, then you’re leaving shooters open.  This is a Cleveland team that can catch fire quickly.  If you don’t put pressure on LeBron, well, he’s torching you.  That alone may not work for the Cavaliers later on this postseason, but it will in this series.

Cleveland needs to let LeBron do everything.  It’s not great for durability and enjoyment purposes, but it’s the best option they’ve got.  And more importantly, it will work.

Defensively, stick George Hill on Olidipo.  The Cavaliers backcourt has been trash, but Hill is a pest defensively.  This is why you went and got him.  The biggest advantage every team will have over Cleveland is the guard play.   Indiana has that as well, but they lack the firepower around Olidipo for it to matter. LeBron may not get to the Finals, but Indiana won’t be the team to knock him out.

The Cavs horrific defense will give up at least one game up. They have that special ability to get absolutely ran in any game. Olidipo will put up 34 one night, and maybe Bojan Bogdanovic hits seven threes in another game and forces Cleveland’s hand.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6

Part Two: A Pelicans-Trail Blazers Mini Preview

The rest of the first round previews will go up tomorrow morning.

No.6 New Orleans Pelicans vs. No.3 Portland Trail Blazers

This series is a matchup of late-season bloomers.  The Pelicans seemed done after DeMarcus Cousins went down.  Portland was stuck in the middle until Damian Lillard went to another level, and elevated the Trail Blazers like Isaiah Thomas did to the Celtics last Spring.

The difference is that one of these late season runs made sense.  Portland frustrated me.  When Lillard and CJ McCollum were off the floor, they were screwed offensively.  They didn’t have any reliable shot-makers, or any sort of system.  That was until Shabazz Naiper started playing like UCONN Shabazz Naiper.

For Portland, it was all about guys finally reaching their potential.  We had been waiting for this.  We had been waiting for Portland to turn into a contender.

That was not the case with the Pelicans.  Ever.

What Anthony Davis did over the last 30 games of the season was magnificent.  It was a MVP performance, yet won’t get any credit since there were 2-3 other late MVP runs being made (Dame, Russell Westbrook, LeBron).  It was the classic put the team on your back performance.  Sure, Jrue Holiday started playing better and the Nikola Mirotic trade helped, but those guys aren’t capable of handling the load AD had.  AD took it on and powered through.

The bad news for Portland is that they will struggle to guard Davis, like anyone else would.  The good news is that they have all the firepower in the world, and that no matter what Davis does offensively, it won’t be enough.

The Trail Blazers’ best bet is probably Zach Collins.  Slapping a rookie on one of the eight best players in the league in a playoff series is usually a poor decision.  But Jursurf Nurkic is too lumbering to even attempt the task.  Davis doesn’t play down low; he sets up on the perimeter and goes to work.  Collins has quicker feet; he can defend more actively out there than anyone else on Portland.

Portland can also switch Al-Farouq Aminu onto Davis, but in that scenario Davis will post up from 15 feet out and back Aminu down.

Portland’s defensive play has risen this year.  They ranked 9th in defensive rating, stunningly good considering how bad Lillard and McCollum are on that end and how variable Nurkic can be.  But when Nurkic’s on, he’s a monster at the rim.  That, combined with their versatility from guys like Aminu, Mo Harkless (Who’s gonna miss the beginning of this season) and Evan Turner have plagued teams.

That’s gonna be a problem for New Orleans, who struggles to shoot three and has trouble getting the offense going without Davis.  Sure, playoff Rajon Rondo is incoming, but he won’t be able to match the firepower of Lillard, McCollum and the three-and-D wings of Portland.  Plus, the Pelicans are horrific defensively.

The Pelicans will have to feed Davis when he’s on the court and hope it’s enough.  Davis may put up massive numbers, but the end result won’t be pretty.

Can they get a game?  Possibly.  They’re gonna have to hope Portland goes cold, and Davis would have to put up 50-15-11 with five threes and six blocks to go along with it.

Prediction: Trail Blazers in 4