The first round wasn’t great. There was only one Game 7, compared to five last year. Turns out the Western Conference wasn’t all that dominate, but is going to provide some ridiculous second round matchups. With the way the schedule worked out, I wasn’t able to write true previews for two of the four series. Below are the matchups that start tonight. Underneath those are recaps of the Game 1s yesterday, along with predictions for the rest of those series.
Cavaliers vs. Bulls
Poor Boston. I ripped them to shreds for making the playoffs, making my case that Indiana would have been a more fun team to watch. Turns out I was wrong. Even though Boston got swept by Cleveland, they made that series fun. They hung around in games, being pesky for the first half. The Celtics fell apart in the second half of games, when Cleveland’s offense got going. Slow starts aren’t what Cleveland needs in this next series.
The Boston series left Cleveland without Kevin Love for the rest of the postseason, who dislocated his shoulder after going for a ball besides Kelly Olynyk. The play wasn’t dirty. I can tell you that. That game was ugly, but Olynyk wasn’t trying to hurt Love. It was simply two guys going hard for a basketball in a playoff game. Get over it. And shame on the NBA for suspending Olynyk. Had Love not been hurt, I highly doubt he (Olynyk) would have been suspended. Game 4 was an ugly one, but that wasn’t the dirtiest play.
To many, Chicago didn’t play well in the Milwaukee series. They won the series in six, but were up 3-0 at one point. I nailed this pick, having the Bulls in six in my preview. The Bulls won by 54 points in Game 6, closing out the series with a bang. That game was chippy, with Giannis Antetokounmpo getting thrown out in the second quarter. I’m not sure how hard the Bucks tried that night, but they played the Bulls tough. The media (including me, I had them with 15 wins) underrated them before the season, and did again with this series (I didn’t). Perhaps Jason Kidd is actually a really good coach, and this could be a really good team next year. Watch it happen.
As for Cavaliers-Bulls, this series took a big turn when Cleveland lost Kevin Love. I have done nothing but trash how Kevin Love fits with the Cavaliers all year long, but this now becomes a big blow. How?
Chicago is a big and long team. They have bodies, lots of them. They have a three-headed monster with Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol, and Joakim Noah. Mirotic has been hurt, but returned for Game 6 against Milwaukee. With him fully healthy, that creates a tough matchup for Cleveland. I’m sure that’s who Love would have been on.
Basically, Cleveland has struggled with rim protection all year. That’s been Chicago’s strength. They have the defense down low to shut down Timofey Mozgov and Tristian Thompson. Thompson has great footwork, and is gonna get paid this Summer, but could struggle in this series. I’m worried for the Cavaliers down low in this series. It could be a big enough problem that it causes Cleveland to falter.
As I said in the first round preview, Chicago’s guards are just kinda there. I mean, Derrick Rose has played well, but is no match against Kyrie Irving. Irving should be able to shut him down, and depending on how much the Cavs switch, he could end up with Iman Shumpert on him. I don’t see Rose as a huge factor in this series.
Without Love, this is time for Lebron James to step up. He needs to be the perennial scorer since the Cavs’ problem will come from down. Creating space against guys like Jimmy Butler is tough. I’m not saying Butler will be on Lebron full-time, but that matchup is one that’s coming. Cleveland, to try and limit the problem down low, will have Lebron on one of the three Chicago big guys for most of the game. It’s small ball, which is tough to play against Chicago, but it leaves the back-court for Cleveland open, giving them shots.
I expect lots of scoring to come from jump-shots and threes. The paint will clogged for the Cavaliers, which puts a burden on Kyrie, Lebron, and Iman Shumpret to make shots. J.R. Smith is someone who will be spotty. You never know what you’re getting. A big game from him will give the Cavs a boost.
Overall, this is gonna be an excellent series. I’m expecting at least six games. I had Cleveland coming out of the East in the beginning of the year. Everyone did, and everyone still does. However, Chicago poses matchup problems that Cleveland doesn’t have answers for. While the Cavs will win games from jump shooting, they don’t have a lot down low. That’s how Chicago wins games. That’s how they win this series.
Prediction: Bulls in 7
Rockets vs. Clippers
The Rockets beat Dallas easier than I expected. Houston out-shot Dallas in every game, while causing chaos on defense. The Mavericks actually started Raymond Felton in a game. That sums up that series.
Unlike Houston, the Clippers series was fantastic. It saved the first round. I mean, every game was competitive. Both teams were matched up insanely well. I’m gonna get into it more below.
For this series, it comes down to whether Houston can play good enough defense down low. With Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, that gives the Rockets huge matchup problems. Dwight Howard has played very well, and dominated Dallas, but he’s their only big guy, and he’s the only one who can guard Blake and/or DeAndre. That’s a problem.
Dwight will most likely be on Jordan, which is an easy matchup. Jordan is a liability on offense. All he does is throw up baby shots that barely go in. And don’t even get me started on free throws and Hack-A-DeAndre. My take: Learn to make free throws. Don’t change the rule.
The Rockets take and make a ton of threes, and that’s how they’re gonna have to win games. When LA’s subpar bench comes in, that’s when the Rockets can experiment with lower percentage shots. It’s not like the Clippers are gonna comeback at them tough with their second unit. Dwight will have room. Really, Houston has to build a lead when the Clippers starters are on the bench. And when Chris Paul and Blake come back in, keep shooting. The paint game won’t work for Houston when LA has their best players in.
The Clippers can do anything on offense. Shoot threes, throw it down low. Mid-range jump-shots is what they need to avoid. Houston plays very good defense at the perimeter. LA can throw it to Blake, who’ll, oh man, this is gonna get really ugly for Houston. They have no one to guard him. No one fits that mold. If we’re gonna finally see the monster Blake Griffin series, this is the time for it to happen.
I really think LA is gonna win this series, even though I went against them hard in the Spurs series. The West is all about matchups, and this is the wrong matchup for the Rockets. With no one down low but Dwight, the Clippers big men are gonna wreak havoc. However, Houston will get two games from a combination of Hack-A-Whoever (with this series, there’s gonna be Hack-A stuff every game), and a game where they’re on fire from deep. Look, I know I’m being hypocritical after going against LA in the first round, but this is what happens in the West. It’s a bloodbath, and decisions are tough.
Prediction: Clippers in 6
What We Saw This Weekend, And What To Expect Going Forward:
The following series began yesterday. Here’s what I saw from those Game 1s and what to expect going forward with them. They’re sorta previews.
Warriors vs. Grizzlies
Yesterday’s game said a lot. I really thought this was gonna be a tough series for the Warriors, and yesterday kinda shut that thought down. My original pick on this was Golden State in 7. Game 1 sure didn’t lead me to believe that’s gonna be the case.
Memphis’ problem has to do with their inability to shoot and make threes. They don’t shoot much outside at all. The Grizzlies were 29th in the league in three point attempts per game this year. They don’t shoot threes, because in most of their games, they didn’t have to. All they did was throw it down low to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. They tried that Sunday. Problem is, you need more than that in the playoffs.
We know what Golden State is. They have the now MVP and take a ton of threes per games. And boy do they make them. Memphis’ strategy of throwing it down low works most of the time, but this series is different. Three is a bigger number than two (duh), and since the Warriors hit threes, two’s don’t keep Memphis in the game. They fall behind when the paint game isn’t working.
Z-Bo (Zach Randolph, in case you’re not aware of the nickname), has a great advantage in this series. There isn’t anyone who will guard him tough, like LaMarcus Aldridge did last series. Aldridge made him work. The Warriors switched between Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut on Z-Bo Sunday. He played very well with 20 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists (FYI: Guess what his +/- was for the game? -17! See, I love advanced analytics, but man, are there some faults.), but Memphis lost by 15 points.
This is the problem. The Grizzlies have a great duo down low, and play great together. However, when Golden State is hot, there’s no way Memphis can catch up because they don’t have the three point shot. It’s amazing that this series could be determined by the simple equation. 3>2.
However, Memphis is gonna get a game. They have to. I mean, Z-Bo and Gasol are gonna be too much at some point. They’ll get a game, but this series looks more and more like a breeze for the Warriors. Also, though they hate each other, the Clippers just did Golden State a big favor.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
Hawks vs. Wizards
What a weird Game 1 this was for the Hawks. They played great in the first half. They were playing team ball like usual. Moving the ball around, making passes. It was something they didn’t do much in the Nets series. They looked like their regular season selves.
Then the second half hit, and Washington’s offense got infused with non-Randy Wittman stuff. They were moving the ball around and being smart. That continued, and Washington built a lead. The Hawks really never came back.
Going forward, Atlanta has to stick to their original offense, and not worry about what the Wizards are doing on the other end. Washington is gonna be pesky, but there will come a time where that offense is just a mess, and then the Hawks will take over. John Wall and Bradley Beal got banged up in the Game 1 win, but still produced. Beal might actually mean more to this team, since he’s more of the scorer. With those two healthy, the Wizards will get another game.
However, the Hawks are eventually gonna find themselves, and playing a Randy Wittman-ran offense will help them. This is the series they should resemble their regular season-selves. If they don’t, then this season is a disappointment.
Prediction: Hawks in 6
On Spurs-Clippers Game 7…….
Saturday was a great sports day. Those only come around once or twice a year. Spurs-Clippers was the best event on that day, beating out the Kentucky Derby (which was very fun) and Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, which didn’t quite live up to the hype.
My family hosted a party that night, based around mostly the fight, but we turned to Spurs-Clippers before the main event, which didn’t start till 11 PM CST. I watched the whole game. And I mean, the whole thing, and I’ll tell you: That might have been one of the best basketball games I’ve ever watched.
These teams coming in were so evenly matched. And Game 7 was example #1,475,987 of it.
Chris Paul, who played the game on one leg, was amazing, and hit the game-winning shot, a beautiful floater off the glass with one second left. The shot didn’t even hit the white square, and had it not of gone in, we would’ve headed to overtime. Paul finished with 27 points, 6 assists, and 2 rebounds totaling for a +/- of +6. And again, he played on one leg due to a hamstring that acted up. That injury will keep him out of Game 1 tonight.
It was a legacy game for Paul, even though he’s never made a conference finals. The guy is an amazing competitor, and Saturday night was only another showcase of it.
As for the Spurs, I mean, what are you going to do? They played great defense on that possession. It was just one ridiculous shot by the alpha-dog that ended their season. Nothing you can do.
San Antonio is gonna be an interesting team this summer. There’s a lot of possible change for them. Tim Duncan is 39. Manu Ginobili is 37. Kawhi Leonard is a free agent. A lot could change. Or nothing could change.
I turned off Game 7 Saturday night under the impression that Tim Duncan was playing basketball again. I mean, the guy is still incredible, and can still do it all. I saw him in person in January, which resulted in a 108-93 Spurs win against the Timberwolves at Target Center. It wasn’t my first time seeing him live, but I’ll tell you what: There was no difference between now and three years ago. He’s still the same. He might even still be in his prime. Duncan averaged 13.9 points, 9.1 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1.9 blocks a game this year. That’s close to a double-double average, at 39 years old. I would be shocked if Duncan hangs it up, especially after how this season ended. You can’t go out like that.
Though Ginobili is younger, he’s more likely to retire. He battled injury this year, and didn’t play to well. The Spurs would like him back, but honestly, Ginobili is more likely to retire than Duncan. When you watch him play, it’s that simple. He’s old and ain’t great anymore.
Kawhi is an interesting wrinkle to this. He’s a free agent, and is getting the max from someone. I’ve thought all along that he was coming back, but now I really think he could leave. Here’s why:
Oh! Look! You wanna know why? It’s what you just read above. Tim and Manu are running out of years. Who knows when Gregg Popovich will step down! If I’m Kawhi, I’m not thrilled with the long-term outlook of this team. Sure, I could be the alpha-dog, but I wanna win, and that situation in the next three years doesn’t look great. I’m not gonna speculate where he will go, as I foolishly tried to do at school today, and failed as I realized there aren’t a lot of options that make sense.
So again, a lot could change, or nothing could change. We just have to see.
On the Thunder hiring Billy Donavan…..
You know how I felt about the Thunder firing Scott Brooks. This hire doesn’t make me feel any better about that team this coming year. Billy Donavan was a great coach at Florida, and had multiple NBA players come through there. He’s experienced, but this is the NBA, and he has much different players.
My main disagreement with the hire has to due with the transition. College basketball is similar to the NBA, but there’s a lot of difference. Adapting could take time, and that’s not what Oklahoma City needs. They’re coming into the most important season in franchise history, with Kevin Durant’s upcoming free agency. This is a must win season for the Thunder. They have to succeed, and bringing in someone brand new, who has no NBA experience is a tad frightening.
I think this will work out, but you have to see both sides of the picture. This may not work. The offense could be cluttered as Donavan can’t figure out how to use everyone. This is really risky by Sam Presti. And if it doesn’t work, it could cost them KD.