What We Knew About the NBA Playoffs
We asked some friends to pick a playoff contender and tell us why they’ll win the title. We’ll check back after a while to see how wrong/right we were, and what we learned in the meantime.
If the San Antonio Spurs were a candy, they would be a Rolo: consistently delicious but chronically forgotten. Case in point: A sneaky 19-game winning streak at the end of the season which most people didn’t notice until the streak hit 15 (and which Pop essentially relinquished at OKC by resting his starters for the majority of the 4th quarter).
In doing so, they phantomed their way into the #1 seed in the West and guaranteed themselves home court advantage for every series they play this postseason. Not enough emphasis can be made about that last point:
In the NBA playoffs, home court advantage can and often does dictate a series
(Cut to: 2013 Pacers nodding in agreement).
Here’s a fun stat: the Spurs’ starting 5 have clocked a combined total minutes played of exactly 9,000. To put this in perspective, the Thunder’s starting 5 have clocked 9,981 and the Heat’s 10,854.
To put it another way, the Heat’s starting five has played 6 complete 48 minute games more than the Spurs’.
The Spurs are rested AND have home court advantage throughout the playoffs. A storm of perfect scenarios is brewing in Texas. The Poseidon to this storm, Gregg Popovich, has his team running as well as any this time of year, and seems to be a bit more sanguine than usual.
The Western road to the Finals will be naturally tougher than the one in the East, but I think this only helps thicken the Spurs’ skin. I’m seeing a rematch of last year’s Finals: San Antonio in 6, Duncan hits the 3 foot bunny hook this time, then rides off into the sunset with a title…and is still eclipsed by Kobe as his generation’s best player.
Screw the Heat. Fuck the Spurs. I don’t want to see any of the favorites winning the title this year.
Paul and Joe pouring in the points, Deron playing like a max player, and KG screaming at teammates and opponents alike… doesn’t this cast always have at least a puncher’s chance?
The Nets’ strong March and April (before their mini-tank to secure the 6th seed) has shown that this team is gelling at the right time, something the former Celtics on the team have great experience with.
Even though LeBron is the best player in the world and the Thunder have the best 1-2 punch in the league, the Nets can win by taking advantage of the style of NBA playoff basketball.
More controlled possessions, less fast breaks and less fouls called all can work to the Nets’ benefit. With good defense and two great 1-on-1 playmakers, the Nets are in excellent position to play for close games and let Pierce and Johnson do what they get paid for.
Even more, the Nets swept the Heat this season. With Miami looming as their second round opponent, the Nets will have a chance to put the league on notice that, you know, 2010 really wasn’t too long ago.
Logical reasons the Thunder will win the title:
- KD is a created player from one of those old school games with no limit on attribute points.
- Russell Westbrook drank some crazy Peruvian moon tea while out on knee leave and decided he was just going to get better and be the same guy he was when they went to the Finals.
- Serge Ibaka got real good at making jump shots so he can do that now too to go along with blocking shots and fighting Clippers.
Current narratives as to why the Thunder won’t win the title:
- “The Servant” is the dumbest fucking nickname of all time.
- Scott Brooks, the head coach, is in-adept and holds the team back.
All aboard the first, but I don’t really get the second one. I mean, yes, dude needs a Perkin-tervention and it would be cool if they ran an offense that was more than “inbound the ball to KD/Russ then let them decide what to do”, but with that being said:
- Scott Brooks’ is a 12-year NBA veteran with two rings. His career narrative consists of a lot of playing his ass off and a lot less fucking up, things that good teams tend to do.
- Scott Brooks the player was the type of dude that was “a quality asset to any locker room” and “would make a really good coach one day.”
- Scott Brooks has gone to three straight conference finals and had four 50 win seasons, both of which exceed the total of the Golden State Warrior franchise going back to 1976.
- Scott Brooks is the most successful athlete (and per this picture, person) from my hometown, and when you come from where I come from, you get behind fellow Mantecans that end up on NBA sidelines (even if their employer is fully responsible for all of the evil in the world).
Writer’s Note: The above statement was heavily influenced by a sunny weekend in the 209 and my belief in the infinite parallel reality theorem, wherein one can conceptualize a chronologically concurrent timespace in which everything played out exactly the same, except all of this is happening in Seattle.
I’m taking the Rockets to the moon (read: NBA title)
On paper, they have the best roster. Doubt that?
They’ve got the league’s best center, the league’s best shooting guard, the best remaining non-European white guy and a dude that was the league’s best point guard for a solid half-season two years ago.
I mean, only two of those have played a minute this season proving the above statements to be accurate, but they could be. Paper is frail, and yes, this team seems to play with hopes and dreams rather than proven, consistent talent, but I’m still taking them.
They went 3-1 against Portland and 4-0 against San Antonio, the two teams they’ll have to beat to get to the Conference Finals. Sure, they were 0-3 against the Clips and 1-3 against pre-season favorite OKC, but I choose to focus on the positive. Plus, who knows where we’ll be in a month, when those games would actually occur.
There have been many great dynasties in NBA history. Multiple Lakers and Celtics eras, the Jordan Bulls, the Popovich/Duncan Spurs. Want to know what almost none of them have done?
Make it to four straight Finals.
The last to do that? The ‘84-‘87 Celtics. They won two.
The last to go to four straight finals AND three-peat? Exactly.*
The Heat have a chance to be the first to pull that one off since MJ was in high school, yet they are never included in the best dynasty conversation. Yes, LeBron’s decision was certainly in poor taste, but this goes far beyond that
The standard argument: how can you not win with those stars?
It’s a lot harder than it looks. (cough cough 12-13 Lakers)
Coach Spo gets 0 credit nationally. He reinvents the team on a yearly basis, gets the best out of his troops at crucial moments (see: Miller, Mike and Battier, Shane) yet is overlooked in favor of the Frank Vogels and Scott Brooks-es.
The fans get no respect, but that narrative is too easy. The City of Miami has both flash and grit in abundance. Just look up Hurricane Andrew, or David Beckham’s fledgling MLS franchise. The Heat, like their city, have been resilient and looked good doing it.
Down by 5 to the Spurs with 26 seconds left? Down 3-2 to Boston? Going 7 against the upstart Pacers? All wins. All part of Heatles lore.
And yet the Nets just tanked for the opportunity to face the Heat in the second round.
Refresher: The Heat broke up Boston’s Big 3 by poaching the underappreciated Ray Allen and giving him the last laugh. They’ve spoiled the end of KG and Pierce’s careers, as those two are winless in every Heat playoff series since The Decision. 4-2 Heat.
The Pacers certainly present a challenge in the Eastern Finals (if they get by the under .500 Hawks) but Pacer fans need to remember this:
Paul George is not and will never be LeBron James.
I expect a tough series, but they better get their house in order. I love the rivalry, I love the Pacers’ grit, but I expect the Heat to turn it on when they play. 4-2 Heat.
Appropriately, the biggest test will come vs. the Western champs. The West is deep and I make no prediction on that, but as the Heat have beaten OKC, the Spurs, and Doc Rivers in the playoffs. 4-2 Heat.
Despite my confidence, the outcome is by no means preordained. The regular season was uninspiring and the Heat have played deep into June three straight years. LeBron has played almost an entire season in playoff games along with an Olympics, DWade missed almost 1/3 of the season, and we still haven’t finalized a rotation.
Yet can any legitimate fan of the game count out a team with this much pedigree, talent, and championships? I say nay.
Instead, sit back with a cold mo-HEAT-to and enjoy an era that your children will ask about one day. Like it or not, the Heat will forever be part of the dynasty conversation, especially if they bring another parade down Biscayne Boulevard.
*It was Larry Bird’s Celtics.
When LeBron was choking away the 2011 Finals to Dirk and the Mavs, Paul George had just wrapped his rookie season, during which he started only 19 games and averaged less than 8 points while backing up Danny Granger.
Three years later, George is an All-NBA level player and the leader of the East’s top seed, Granger is on the Clippers, and the Pacers have a clear but very difficult path to winning the championship. That path, in all likelihood, runs directly through the Heat, the Pacers’ rivals and opposites in team construction and career trajectories of their respective stars.
The obvious reasons why the Pacers have a realistic chance of winning it all: Size, length, defense (at the rim and the perimeter), All-Star level talent at 3 positions, and home court advantage.
But wait, this is April, not January, which means that while those were the Pacers’ trademarks, after several months of borderline unwatchable play they should probably be characterized as aspirations, and it’s unclear if this team still possesses them.
More than believing in the Pacers’ ability to win a championship this year, which is becoming increasingly difficult to do with every lopsided loss to what seem to be vastly inferior opponents, I want the Pacers to win it all.
Whether this perception is accurate or not, the Pacers feel like the contender that, can’t believe I’m about to say this, started from the bottom and now they’re here.
There was no master plan to put George, Stephenson, and Hibbert on a team the way LeBron, Wade, and Bosh landed with the Heat. Frank Vogel is not getting together with his core players for one more title hunt like Pop, Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are. There aren’t multiple lottery picks coming into their own on this team like there are on the Thunder, Wizards, or Warriors. There isn’t a plethora of elite shooters like there is on pretty much every other contender. And yet…here they are.
I want the Pacers to win it all, and I want them to win it all by beating the Heat to win the East. I want to see this again, and this, and this. I want George to take his game to yet another level. I want to see Larry Legend hold up another O’Brien Trophy, this time as an executive.
I want these things because I don’t think any other endgame would be as satisfying as watching this team coalesce and come into their own during the most crucial time of the year, against the toughest of competition.
The other LA team is the team nobody is I am talking about to win it all. They will win it all this year.
They have the coaching pedigree, they have the hunger, they have the athletes, they have the veteran leaders, they have the depth and the playoffs are breaking their way… it’s the Clippers time.
First the coaching… I think we can all agree the best coach in the NBA is the tastefully named Gregg Popovich. After that, the only coaches with a ring as a head coach are Spoelstra and… Doc Rivers! (and Rick Carlisle but he looks like Jim Carrey so he doesn’t count).
We can discuss X’s and O’s or winning percentage, but the the mental magic he’s worked on DeAndre Jordan has been the most important thing he’s done since arriving in La La Land.
Doc has repeatedly compared him (unreasonably sure, but that’s beside the point) to Bill Russell. Jordan has responded by grabbing average 30 minutes for the first time in his career, adding 3 boards per game plus half a block, and even raising his FT% by 5% (I get that he raised it from 38 to 43 but still, progress!)
He also lets Chris Paul do things like this…
So maybe I combined a few arguments in my opening, but the real reasons the Clips will win this thing all come off the bench. GM Gary Sacks (Full disclosure: I didn’t know his name before writing this) made the in-season moves to sign big man Glen ‘Big Baby’ Davis (which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view), and spacers Hedo Turkoglu and Danny Granger (both career 38% 3 point shooters), supplementing a bench already featuring 6th man extraordinaire Jamal Crawford, the pre-requisite two first name dude in Jared Dudley, cool guy Darren Collison, and 6 fouls on Dwight Howard in the form of Ryan Hollins.
Alright, I held off as long as possible…the NBA, more than any other professional league, is about the stars (#selfcontradiction). You need one to win a championship, and the Clippers have 2.
Their first two postseason games showed perfectly what they’re both capable of, the good and bad.
The good: Blake going for 35 on 13 of 17 shooting, CP3 scoring 10 straight points to tie up game 1 in the 4th.
The bad: Blake playing 19 minutes in game 1 after picking up silly foul after silly foul, CP3 bricking 2 huge free throws and taking the belt for “Great Player Who May Not Be Clutch.”
The beauty of the NBA right now is that we get to watch them in great match-up after great-matchup all the way through (CP3 v Westbrook, Griffin v Z-Bo, CP3 v Parker, Griffin v Lebron.)
The scary thing about LA is that the team that couldn’t close out game 1 is the same one that not only beat down the Dubs in game 2, but stopped, changed into cleats, then kept stomping.
More than any other team, it feels like they’re the college team that has all the pieces and is gelling just in time to make a spectacular run. Thank god we had Kentucky to show us what this run is supposed to look like. Get ready for a wild ride, I’m already looking forward to getting my ring fitted…