It’s that wonderful time of the year. The weather is getting warmer, the nights are getting longer and the April showers are on their way out. Spring is in full bloom and there’s no better indicator of great spring weather than the NBA playoffs. Basketball fans are finally starting the apex of the season. Contrary to most playoffs in American professional sports, the journey to the next Larry O’Brien trophy is a marathon, not a sprint. Yes, the individual games will feel like a sprint but the Finals don’t officially begin until June 5th. And looking at it now, it seems like an eternity until we have a new king of the basketball universe. There’s lots of basketball to be played and it all starts tomorrow (12:30 ET) with the Nets in Toronto.
Fitting actually. The Nets-Raptors series is really the only first round match up that is a complete toss-up. It’s almost certain that this is going to be a 6 or maybe even 7-game series because neither team seems to have a distinct advantage. If gambling were legal (ahem) and I were to bet on one team making this a quick series, it would be Toronto. The Raptors have been the more consistent team and aren’t dealing with as many injuries. Of course, the Nets have the advantage on paper but can their expensive roster actually make some noise in the eastern conference this postseason? Some think so but it’s not because the Nets have a glaring advantage over any other team, it’s because the eastern conference has been such a disaster this season. It’s been so bad that I don’t see any other series in the first round, aside from the one I just mentioned, going more than 5 games. The Pacers are playing some really bad basketball but would you trust the Hawks, a sub-.500 team, to win more than one playoff game? Same goes for the Bobcats, who have never won a playoff game (ouch) and have not beaten the Heat since LeBron joined them (double ouch) three seasons ago. One would think that the Bulls-Wizard (4 v 5) match up would be the most evenly matched but then you look at the way they played at their peaks this season. John Wall could make a leap for Washington but c’mon, look at the defensive and coaching advantage that Chicago has. Do I need to go any further? Let’s just go ahead and head out west.
Now THIS is the side of the bracket that will produce some of the best basketball that we’re going to see. This isn’t the boldest of predictions but i’ll make it either way: there will be no sweeps in the western conference playoffs this season. Even my Mavericks, who are the most likely to get swept out of all the teams, have enough talent and coaching to win at least one game this postseason. They’re in a Texas-sized battle with San Antonio but it’s a lop-sided one. I’m a big Dallas-homer (duh) but there’s nothing that indicates this won’t be a quick series. The Spurs swept the regular season series and it’s going to take a massive effort from Dirk and co to make this a long series. I don’t see it but i’m hoping that the Mavs fight until the very end and give their I-35 rival a nice fight to kick things off. Moving on up the freeway, we’re in OKC where the Grizzlies are in town for a nice battle. The Thunder have had their problems with Memphis, starting from the glorious 2011 7-game series. Last year the Grizzlies gave a depleted Thunder team an early exit but this is a different team and certainly a different Kevin Durant. Memphis will play their usual “grit” style and make things tough for the Durant but I don’t see any sort of upset here. Look for Durant to continue his MVP-level play and lead his team to a nice first round series win in 6 games.
Let’s head out west to Los Angeles and talk about a playoff series that doesn’t include the Lakers. The Clippers against the Warriors is definitely the first round series that i’m looking forward to the most. Besides anything the Mavs are involved with, of course. As we know, these two teams don’t like each other and would like nothing more than to give their opponent an early exit. But enough about that because all I care is what happens on the court. The Clippers are and have the been the superior team all season but don’t sleep on the Warriors. Golden State plays some of the most exciting basketball in the league and what do you know, so do the Clippers. Blake Griffin or Stephen Curry could both be the best player on the court and have monster games. Splash brothers heat-check anyone? Lob city anyone? Clippers will probably win this in 6 games but i’m hoping this series goes the distance. Back to Texas as the Blazers are in Houston to start their postseason journey. Neither the Rockets nor the Blazers play great defense so expect lots of points. I’m actually curious to watch James Harden and Damian Lillard go head-to-head to see who can play the worst back-court defense in a playoff series. Portland might get the early jump but I expect Houston to take the series in 6 or 7 games and move on.
To recap, I like sweeps for Miami and Indiana, five-game victories for the Spurs and Bulls, six-game victories for the Clippers and Thunder, and seven-game battles for the Raptors and Rockets.
Who doesn’t love shots from half court and beyond?
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