West is best when it comes to opening round of NBA Playoffs


West is best when it comes to opening round of NBA Playoffs

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.

[BULLS: Bulls tout 4th best championship odds heading into NBA playoffs]

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.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Bulls fans!]

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.

Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut


Seven years ago today LeBron James slammed the Bulls' championship window shut

The Bulls couldn't have known it at the time, but when LeBron James blocked a Derrick Rose 3-point attempt in the final seconds of Game 5 in the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals, it was the closest those Bulls would ever get to the promised land.

It happened on May 26, 2011, seven long, long, long years ago today.

The game was an ugly one and certainly a fourth quarter the Bulls would love to have back. They took a 12-point lead on a Ronnie Brewer 3-pointer with 3:53 remaining. The Heat closed the game on a 19-4 run, with James' emphatic block on Rose the lasting image of the series.

James finished with a game-high 28 points and 11 rebounds, and added six assists, three steals and two blocks in 46 minutes.

Rose went just 9-for-29, finishing the series shooting 35 percent from the field after being named league MVP over James.

It's probably unfair to say James and James alone shut the Bulls' championship window. Rose's ACL tear the following postseason realistically was the biggest culprit. But these Bulls had won 62 games, had homecourt advantage, had the MVP, the Coach of the Year and all the momentum. And still they couldn't get it done against James.

That win also sent James to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2007. He's been there every year since, though that could change as he faces the Celtics on Sunday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Steve Kerr told a Michael Jordan Bulls story to give advice to Kevin Durant

Anyone who lived through the Michael Jordan Bulls remembers those games when he was putting up tons of points, but the Bulls were still struggling overall.

Steve Kerr referenced one of those games to give advice to Kevin Durant during Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals. The TNT broadcast caught the conversation and aired it late in the third quarter.

"When MJ was with the Bulls, we had a playoff game," Kerr began the story. "He kept trying to score and he was scoring, but we weren't getting anything going. Phil Jackson said 'Who's open?' He said, 'John Paxson.'"

Paxson scored 10 of 12 points for the Bulls during a fourth quarter run in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the series clincher, and famously hit the game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals to clinch that series. Kerr, who later hit his own championship-winning shot on an assist from Jordan in 1997, was trying to get to get his teammates involved.

"I want to trust your teammates early," Kerr said. "What you're doing is you're getting to the rim and then you're trying to hit him. I want you to trust the first guy and then move. Still attack, still look to score, but trust these guys, OK?"

Watch the video above to see the interaction.

Durant scored 29 points in Game 5 to lead the Warriors, but Houston took a 3-2 series lead with a 98-94 win.