The NBA’s post-season party officially begins on Saturday with 4 games, including the Bulls-Bucks series opener at the United Center. But, let’s be honest, the real intrigue comes in the West, where seven different 50-plus win teams will battle it out in round one.
The top seeded Golden State Warriors won 67 games during the regular season, featuring the “Splash Brothers”, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, along with the league’s No. 1 ranked defense. First year head coach Steve Kerr hit all the right notes in taking over a talented and successful team from Mark Jackson, giving the players more freedom on offense while asking for accountability on the defensive end.
When you look at historical precedent, teams that reach the 67 win plateau have been nearly unstoppable in the playoffs. And, there hasn’t been a team to lead the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency since the Jordan Bulls. With all that in mind, Golden State has to be the favorite in the West, and should make quick work of the Anthony Davis-led Pelicans in Round 1. Let’s make it Warriors in 5.
The other three series in the West should feature some outstanding drama. Texas rivals Houston and Dallas square off in the match-up of No. 2 and No. 7 seeds. These organizations really don’t like each other, especially after the Mavericks came up with a creative offer sheet to steal talented young small forward Chandler Parsons away from Houston last summer. The Rockets have MVP candidate James Harden and a talented bench, plus big man Dwight Howard is back after taking a couple months off during the regular season to rest a sore knee. Dallas slumped late in the season after a fast start, but any team that has offensive weapons like Dirk Nowitzki, Monta Ellis and Parsons, plus the defensive ability of Tyson Chandler and Rajon Rondo, can’t be discounted. Still, I’ll make it Houston in 6.
The 4-5 match-up between Portland and Memphis is intriguing, but the Trail Blazers were slowed late in the season by injuries to their top two shooting guards, Wesley Matthews and Arron Afflalo, and Memphis also suffered injuries down the stretch to guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen. The Grizzlies won all four meetings during the regular season, and their physical style with big men Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph usually translates well with the slower pace of the playoffs. I’m going with Memphis in 6.
The best opening round series in the West features the defending champion Spurs against Doc Rivers’ L.A. Clippers. San Antonio dropped from the No. 2 seed to 6th after a loss in the regular season finale, but this veteran team isn’t worried about winning on the road. Kawhi Leonard had a strong finish to the season, looking more like the player who was the MVP of the 2014 Finals, while ageless Tim Duncan and Tony Parker are also playing at a high level entering the playoffs. The Clippers are always dangerous with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and underrated center DeAndre Jordan, who would turn out to be one of the big prizes in this summer’s free agent class. But 6th man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford is just coming back from injury, and the Clips haven’t been getting much production from wing players J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. I see the Spurs advancing in 6.
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As for the Eastern Conference, it should be pretty much chalk in round one, with the possible exception being the 4-5 match-up between Toronto and Washington. The Wizards have struggled for much of the season because of injuries to Nene and Bradley Beal, plus an on-going dispute between Marcin Gortat and head coach Randy Wittman over 4th quarter playing time, but I get the feeling their best basketball is still to come. Beal and John Wall have the speed to negate Toronto’s 1-2 punch of DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, and I believe Washington’s frontline is superior to the Raptors. This one could go the full seven games, and who knows, maybe veteran Paul Pierce will validate the decision by Wizards’ management to bring him in with a series winning shot.
It’s the best time of the year for NBA fans, so get ready for an exciting ride.