Previewing The Meaningful NBA 1st Round Matchups

We have finally finished a very boring NBA season, in which there was only one or two teams worth watching all year.  And even as the playoffs start, we’re still having the same dilemma, hence the title of this column.

East previews:

#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #8 Detroit Pistons

I have loved this Detroit team this season.  They’re long, athletic, and modern.  Reggie Jackson is their point guard, but I have really enjoyed them.  They’re smart too, mostly due to Stan Van Gundy’s coaching.  Thats one of many things the Pistons have an advantage at in this series.

Its been a drama-filled year for Cleveland, with everything from coaches getting fired for no reason to the love life of players.  They’re vulnerable, and its because they don’t have chemistry.  As I’ve been saying for two years now, Kevin Love essentially plays the same position as LeBron.  He’s basically standing in the corner or on the wing, waiting for the ball from Kyrie Irving or Lebron.  57% of Lebron’s shots this season have been in the post, while only 36.6% of Love’s have been.  Not great for Love, who’s position is power forward (Granted, that position is going through a fundamental change.).

Not only is this a chemistry issue the Cavaliers have dealt with for the past two years, its something the Pistons can easily take advantage of.  With Kevin Love not doing what he’s supposed to, that gives Detroit more bodies to deal with Lebron.  Detroit is deep.  They have long guys like Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris, and Stanley Johnson; all athletic guys who can help contain Lebron.  Only one is gonna take him at once.  This goes lengths for the way Detroit can stop him.  They have capable guys who will all be well rested when they have the role of guarding one of the league’s best players.

If Detroit can contain Lebron, this means Kyrie Irving iso-time, which is always eventful.  That could be a good or a bad thing.

This series is not going to be a Kyrie Irving vs. Reggie Jackson duel.  We know who’ll win that.  Instead, Detroit can throw it down low to Andre Drummond, who’s had a monster season.  The Cavaliers have finally made a smart personnel move, starting Tristan Thompson at center for these playoffs.  He certainly won’t be as productive as Drummond, but is at least more effective than Timofey Mozgov. (PER doesn’t totally agree with me).  Thompson has been good on defense this year, but Drummond has been unstoppable down low.

I wrote a lot on this series because I’m taking an improbable pick in it.  I think Detroit is gonna have enough guys to contain Lebron, and Drummond will keep the Pistons caught up on offense.  Detroit can wear down the Cavaliers in a long series, and we know what happens when Lebron gets worn down.

Pick: Pistons in 7

#4 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Boston Celtics

It seems unfair that this is a first round matchup.  This should be a 2nd round matchup, and might even be Conference Finals deserving.

This is going to be an old fashion, grind it out series.  Boston doesn’t usually play that way, but they will have to beef it up if they want to beat Atlanta.

Boston’s best way to attack offensively would be going to the rack with all their guards.  Avery Bradley and Isaiah Thomas have been great offensively this season.  They have to keep it up if Boston is going to hang around with the Hawks.  Threes won’t cut it, mostly because Boston isn’t good at making threes and missing them won’t help them justify the low-post scoring of Atlanta.

Boston’s biggest mismatch is down low with Al Horford and Paul Millsap.  Its not that Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson are bad players, its more about Horford and Millsap, who have been Atlanta’s best players, not unexpectedly.  Boston has relied on the guards in crunch-time and in general.  Its a reliance problem, and even though Atlanta’s play defies modern times, Boston will struggle to defend it.

Boston has great depth, but don’t have the proper guys to defend Millsap and Horford.  The Celtics should increase their pace offensively and try to wear down the two front-court studs, and hope that works.

It pains me to do it, but I just can’t take Boston.  They’re another team I loved this season, but the matchup is gonna be too much for them.

Pick: Atlanta in 5

#3 Miami Heat vs. #6 Charlotte Hornets

Props to Steve Clifford for guiding this team to a playoff spot.  He has done an incredible job with a roster that didn’t seem too great at the beginning of the season, and only got worse after losing Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

And even after all of that negativity towards this team, I think they are going to give Miami a really hard time.  Chris Bosh’s absence is huge, and could be fatal for Miami in this series.  Taking away Bosh is taking away (on average) 19 points a game and spacing.  Joe Johnson’s pickup has been huge though, and has turned Miami into a three guard team.  At the same time, Goran Dragic has struggled to fit in since getting to Miami, Dwayne Wade can’t play all the time (though has played well when he has), and Joe Johnson is not in a role to play a true guard position.  Miami lacks a true point guard; someone who can command and take over in crunch-time.  I think the Heat are gonna struggle to put up points, especially against a team like Charlotte, who have been very good on defense this season.

The Hornets have a true point guard in Kemba Walker, who at times has been frustrating, but can get it done.  They have surrounded him with a unique and sometimes underwhelming cast, but with many different types of players.  Marvin Williams has had an above average season, starting at power forward for the Hornets.  It will be him on Luol Deng, who has struggled to find rhythm and a role with the Heat.

Charlotte, similar to Detroit, has bodies.  A lot of them.  And they all matchup very well to the Heat.  This has been a pretty average Heat team; its amazing they got to the No.3 seed.  Its fair to say Miami has overachieved.  They’re playing an underapprieated Hornets team, who is going to have multiple advantages on them.

I’m taking the Hornets.  The East is a confusing and sometimes disturbing place.  I think the conference has boosted some teams and shadowed others.  This is the Hornets time to sneak out of that shadow.

Pick: Hornets in 6

East picks:

#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Indiana Pacers: Raptors in 4

This is gonna be unwatchable.

West Previews:

#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Portland Trail Blazers

I’m going to keep this one short…  There is a clear winner here, but it will be watchable basketball, unlike the slaughters below.

This series is going to fun, with Damian Lillard and Chris Paul dueling each other out, and Blake Griffin making a true return, in a matchup that greatly suits him.

Damian Lillard has had yet another great year, but has been helped out by the rise of CJ McCollum.  Without McCollum, Portland probably wouldn’t be here right now.  The guards of Portland are going to keep them around.  CP3 can only harass one of them.  However, the Trail Blazers will struggle to guard Blake Griffin.  Noah Vonleh has played poor this season, and is still adjusting to the NBA (he’s been so raw throughout his short career).  The Trail Blazers have lost Meyers Leonard for the postseason, someone who would have greatly helped contain Blake and possibly would have given Portland a shot in this series.

The Clippers have too many pieces for Portland to keep up with, but I am excited for the Dame-CP3 showdown game, where Dame is in heat-check mode the whole 4th quarter.  That though, will probably be the highlight of this series for them.

Pick: Clippers in 6

West Picks:

#8 Houston Rockets vs. #1 Golden State Warriors: Warriors in 4

Utah missed the playoffs, so instead of the Jazz testing the Warriors and winning two games against them, we get to watch Golden State win by 40 every night.  Houston doesn’t even want to be here anyways.  That team hates each other.

#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies: Spurs in 4

Memphis, like Houston, probably doesn’t want to be here either.  Can I take the Spurs in 3?  Is that possible?

#3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #6 Dallas Mavericks: Thunder in 4

The opening round of the West sucks.

On on the Warriors breaking the all-time wins record for a single season…


On Kobe Bryant’s final game…

Congratulations to the NBA on making Kobe’s finale successful for himself without making it look like they staged it.  Oh wait!

(The rest of this portion of the column is written by someone who hated Kobe growing up and still does)

After Houston secured the 8th seed, I think Utah was told by the NBA to go easy on Kobe.  I’m not saying they totally staged the game, as they managed to keep it close, but I think there was some definite league influence.  Since this season was so crappy for Kobe, they might as well make it up with letting him score 60 in his final game.

Congrats to Kobe though.  The guy was an amazing player and made me cry countless times growing up a Suns fan.  He’s the 8th greatest player of time.

PS:  Shooting a piece of paper or other object into the trash bin or container and saying a basketball player’s in the act of doing it never happened before Kobe.  He was the first name associated with it.  It will be odd when you hear it now, but at the same time, I have heard people say “Lebron” or “Curry” when shooting.

On Sam Mitchell’s firing by the Timberwolves…

I am so happy for all the Timberwolves fans who were relieved of Sam Mitchell yesterday.  In fact, the Wolves might win 40 games next year automatically due to his firing.  All this teams needs is a competent coach who can guide the young guys and not totally care about winning yet, though with one more top pick, Minnesota is gonna get scary good, and fast.

On Randy Wittman’s firing by the Wizards…

This was another firing that had to happen.  It came a year or two late, but the Wizards finally canned Randy Wittman, a coach who never truly could coach.  Granted, this season had been hampered by Bradley Beal’s constant injuries, but this team should have been much better, especially considering the stakes there are on this Summer for Kevin Durant.  I can’t wait for the Wizards to hire Scott Brooks.  Its gonna be fantastic.

On George Karl’s firing by the Kings…

I honestly think this Kings teams is more embarrassing than the 76ers.  The Kings are about to hire their 9th coach in 10 seasons.  Their owner has no idea what he is doing, and their GM doesn’t know how to make a trade.  And George Karl just got fired for no reason, adding to the list of coaches fired under those circumstances.

The only positive out of this is the benefit the other 29 NBA GMs get out of it: The honor of making trades with this team.

I seriously think the NBA needs to help them out.  This is just going to continue.  Some thought Vivek Ranadive just had new owner syndrome.  Clearly, its becoming chronic.

Happy playoff season!! (NHL included!)