NBA Playoffs Preview: Conference Finals

We have four teams left in the NBA Playoffs.  A little scary, right?

In the second round, we had a disappointing but great for making fun of Game 7, three buzzer beaters, and almost a 4th one that would have continued Washington’s season.  This second round definitely made up for the first.

Eastern Conference Finals:

Hawks vs. Cavaliers

Well, this wasn’t a shocker.  I mean, even though I went against Cleveland in the second round, this is what we pretty much expected coming into the playoffs.  The Hawks survived Washington, and the Truth.  Paul Pierce was insane in that series, giving them life after John Wall sat out a couple games.  The Hawks were really tested, but it was the best they’ve looked this postseason.

Cleveland rolled over the Bulls, even with their multiple injuries.  Lebron James has proved us wrong over and over again.  It doesn’t matter what he age is.  He can still do it all.  That wasn’t supposed to happen with this Cleveland team, but look at where we are.  Hopefully, Kyrie Irving can get healthy and play 100%.  He was nothing but a liability on the court in the 2nd round.

Both of these teams are driven by their offense.  Atlanta has the best spacing in the league, with two big men and two wings.  They run the pass or shoot offense, and don’t allow guys to stand in the corner.  Dribbling around isn’t what the Hawks do.  They spread the ball out and find the open shot.  This will get Cleveland pestered on defense.  Expect a lot of points out of Atlanta.

The Cavaliers have the ability to catch up though.  Kyrie Irving is the x-factor.  If he’s healthy, they can run their normal offense, with him playing de-facto point guard.  Kyrie can score, and the Cavs are gonna need him to do that.  The matchup against Jeff Teague is interesting, especially if Kyrie isn’t 100%.  Teague can get steals, but isn’t a lockdown defensive player.  Kyrie will be able to get to the lane, but that’s if he’s not hidden.

In a worst-case scenario, Cleveland could just give the ball to Lebron on every possession, and with DeMare Carrol guarding him, it shouldn’t be a problem.  Carrol is gonna make some money this summer, but is no match for the best player in the league.  The Hawks could go big, and put Paul Millsap on Lebron, forcing him to take more outside shots.

Lebron, as I said above, is in a certain mode right now, where…. he might be just unstoppable.  It could be, that no matter who the Hawks put on him, he’s still winning the game for the Cavs.

Cleveland’s defense is best at the wing, and that’s probably a good thing since the Cavs have to guard Kyle Korver.  Korver is a speciality guy, who honestly wouldn’t be starting if he didn’t have that three ball.  He is unstoppable from beyond the arc, and with him in the game, the Hawks are never out of it.  Iman Shumpert has been great since being acquired at the deadline.  This is the series he’s built for.  Shutting down Korver takes a huge relief off of Cleveland.  Shumpert is the guy to do that.

With Kevin Love out, the Cavs have started Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson at 4 and 5, and it’s given them a better defensive plan.  Both are rim protecters, with Thompson able to slide out beyond the paint in certain situations.  Having those two on Millsap and Al Horford gives Cleveland stability, but if the Hawks want to win this series, Millsap and Horford will have to get open.

This series could go two ways:  1) A domination put on by Cleveland 2) A close, fun (but not at a Western Conference fun level) series that goes 6 or 7 games.  As I said in details above, Kyrie Irving is a huge x-factor.  I don’t think Atlanta is gonna win this series, but they may be able to keep it closer depending on how things break.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5

Western Conference Finals:

Rockets vs. Warriors

I’m not gonna talk about Clippers-Rockets here.  I have many thoughts on that below.  As for the Warriors, they were tested.  They got it done in six.  I came into this postseason with the mindset that Memphis was the only team who could beat Golden State.  That didn’t happen.  The Warriors have proven they are unstoppable.  That’ll continue.

Part of what makes Golden State so tough is the matchups they pose.  They can go anywhere on the court.  Top of the key, on the wing, in the corner, down low.  They have players who can play anywhere.  Houston is gonna be challenged like nothing before.

Even though Dwight Howard played well in the last series, he was still killed on defense.  The Rockets didn’t have rim protection, as Howard was down there alone.  They just aren’t big enough, but can make up for it on the outside.  The loss of Donatas Montiejunas has been a big blow to Houston, leaving them without a second rim protecter.  Against Andrew Bogut down low, Howard should have more room to work.  Golden State will spread out their 1-4 guys on the wing, leaving Howard and Bogut down low in what should be a great battle.  Watch out for the elbows.

Where this series is gonna be decided is on that wing.  Both teams live and die by the three.  Houston runs a system around Howard where, it’s full of wing players who can shoot.  They’re also long, and make for good defenders.  They don’t have a ton of size; guys like Jason Terry and Corey Brewer aren’t very physical.  The Warriors posses Draymond Green, who, oh boy, you probably don’t want to mess with him.  Having Green on anyone is a nightmare, and the Rockets don’t have the offensive players to be able to get around him.  Watch out Trevor Ariza.

It’s gonna be raining threes.  Someone will get desperate at a dire time, and’ll start jacking them up.   When playing the Warriors, you have to prepare for the three ball.  Memphis knew it was coming, they just couldn’t answer back.  The Rockets have the ability to answer back.  Everyone (well, almost everyone) on both rosters has the ability to hit the three.  Defense won’t be totally important.

The Rockets could take a different approach to the game, and get it down low early, stacking fouls on Andrew Bogut.  I don’t totally see that happening, but if they’re cold in one game, that may be an option.

This series is going to be about who can score more points than the other, and as the sounds ridiculous, it truly will come down to that.  Golden State is a great defensive team, but I’m not sure they’ll have to play it as much.  If they do their thing on offense, they’ll be fine.  A cold shooting night will come for the Warriors, and we know what happens then. Houston will have to take advantage of that situation.  That’s how they win a  game or two.  Again, I thought Memphis was the only team who could beat Golden State in these playoffs.  That should give you a pretty good idea about how I feel about them and the rest of the remaining teams here on out.

Prediction: Warriors in 6


On the Clippers’ collapse…… 

Man, what happened here?  The Clippers had a 3-1 series lead on the Rockets, and somehow Houston ended up in the Conference Finals.  LA had multiple issues down the stretch, but one blown lead costed them the whole thing.  With one quarter left in Game 6, the Clippers had a 19 point lead.  Their win probability at that time was at 99%.  99%!!!!  The Clippers then managed to blow that lead, due to a smart read by the Rockets in the 4th quarter.  The Clippers seemed to slow down offensively, and weren’t giving the ball to Blake Griffin.  Houston saw the shift in thinking, and decided to go at it a different way:  Getting it down low.  When the lead was manageable, they started jacking up threes, and made them.  We know the rest; Houston won by 12 points, and then proceeded to kill the Clips in Game 7.

I can’t blame the Clippers roster on the Game 6 collapse.  They were up, they thought they had it.  They kinda coasted toward the end, while Houston went down the mountain on a longboard.  It was a very smart move by Houston, that came at the wrong time for the Clips.

Game 7 was the perfect example of a team being tired.  The Clips were never in it.  Houston killed them by shooting threes and playing defense on the perimeter.

Overall, I think a big change is coming to LA this summer.  DeAndre Jordan is a free agent, and that’s where this whole thing starts.  First, DeAndre is getting the max deal, no matter how you feel about him.  I personally think he’s overrated, but he’s a max player.  He is (by the way) the best rebounder in the NBA.  But on offense, Jordan isn’t a huge addition to a team.  He’ll put up baby shots within four feet of the bucket, and that’s about it.  He can dunk, however…. Maybe the 76ers will look at him to give their fans some actual excitement on the court.

Anyways, he’s the first piece to go.  Not only does shaping an offense around Blake Griffin make sense, but the Clips can’t totally afford Jordan.  You’re basically looking at three max-players….. On one team.  They need bench help, as this postseason was a perfect example.  Putting three max guys on a roster without a bench doesn’t work.  You have to make sacrifices.  Maybe someone can slap some sense into GM Doc Rivers, who oh-by-the-way is their head coach.

LA might be able to swing a couple trades to acquire low-cost bench players.  Matt Barnes is an interesting trade option for a team that needs a wing (Charlotte, but they have other options).  The Clips could replace him in the draft, which is heavy with wing players.  LA doesn’t have the option of using free agent money to sign free agents.  They’ll have to build a bench through trades, which is always risky.

Doc is safe as coach, but the GM side of him needs to go.  He destroyed that team’s bench this year, giving them seven real NBA players to work with.  You need at least 8 guys to win a ring.  The Clips had seven, or you could say 6.5.  Turns out Doc the GM just couldn’t do math.