NBA Lord's NBA Blog

NBA Lord's NBA Blog

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Los Angeles Clippers vs. Portland Trail Blazers


                       (4) Los Angeles Clippers (53-29) vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers (44-38) 

     The Los Angeles Clippers come into this series having won 10 of their last 12 games. The Clippers are certainly getting hot at the right time and giving some people like Charles Barkley hope that there may be more than just two contenders in the Western Conference. As for the Portland Trail Blazers, nobody expected them to make the playoffs when the season began, so just by being here they should be feeling good about themselves. 

     When looking at these two teams, the biggest thing that stands out is how much deeper the Clippers are. The Trail Blazers rely on Damian Lillard (25.1 PPG) and C.J. McCollum (20.8 PPG) to do all of the heavy lifting and everybody else to chip in where they can. As for the Clippers, they have Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, and Jamal Crawford to share the load. Plus, they also have added Jeff Green into the fold, which makes them even deeper. Unless Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum both have a monster series the Clippers should win this series with ease. 

     For the Trail Blazers, the key to this series is to get other guys going so as to take the pressure off of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. The problem is that nobody else on their team can be relied upon to step up in the way that they need them to. Allen Crabbe is good for 9-10 points per game, but you can't expect him to give you 15 points per game in a series. The same goes for Al-Farouq Aminu. After those two guys, it starts to get really thin for the Trail Blazers. They just don't have enough firepower.  

      If the Clippers want this to be a quick series, they'll need to use their depth and versatility to the best of their advantage.  They have so many more weapons than the Trail Blazers and the Trail Blazers know it. If Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are holding their own down low and if J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are stroking it from the perimeter with Chris Paul dishing dimes, this series is over. The only hope the Trail Blazers have of winning this series is for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum to have huge games and for everyone on the Clippers to be play below average. The odds of that happening are low, which is why I don't have the Trail Blazers winning this series. 

     In the end, I have the Clippers winning this series rather decisively in five games. The Trail Blazers have had a great season just by getting to this point, whereas the Clippers are supposed to be here. I have tremendous respect for Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, but they simply don't have enough pieces around them to upset a Clippers team that is vastly superior. I hope I'm wrong because most of these first round series' appear to be pretty one-sided. If this series is also a blowout in favor of the higher seed, this could go down as one of the most boring first rounds ever.  

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies

                                   (2) San Antonio Spurs (67-15) vs. (7) Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)

     Normally, the Memphis Grizzlies would be viewed as dangerous matchup for the San Antonio Spurs, but this time around this is not the case. The Spurs are on cruise control with only the Golden State Warriors giving them problems. As for the Grizzlies, they are beyond banged up. They are without Mike Conley, Brandan Wright, Marc Gasol, and Jordan Adams for the season due to an assortment of injuries.

     Plus, Tony Allen, who is the heart and soul of their team, is questionable for Game 1 due to a hamstring injury, which has been an issue for him in previous playoff series'. The Grizzlies have a lot to overcome and then when you put them up against a team like the Spurs, they virtually have no shot at getting out of the first round.

      What makes the Spurs so dangerous is that they have two emerging superstars in LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard to go along with a veteran supporting cast composed of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and David West. The Spurs have all the pieces necessary to win the 2016 NBA championship. They have the talent, the experience, the youth, and the depth. They have it all.

      The Grizzlies on the other hand at best are a team capable of giving elite teams like the Spurs and Warriors trouble, but nothing more than that. Their philosophy of winning basketball games by defense alone is admirable but not realistic. They are the anti-Nellyball, which is refreshing considering that most teams are looking for ways to score as many points as possible. The Grizzlies pride themselves on how many games they can win without cracking 90 points, which sounds weird, but it's the truth. They want to freeze the tempo and force teams to survive their brutal and physical play.

     If the Grizzlies were at full strength, I would give them a puncher's chance of making this series interesting since I have tremendous respect for Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley as a trio. Plus, I used to cover the Memphis Grizzlies for FanSided, so I have a soft spot for them in my heart. But with Zach Randolph being the only guy in that trio that is actually playing in this series, I give the Grizzlies no chance at wining this series. They might get a game in the Memphis, but that's the best-case scenario that I see for the Grizzlies.

     Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge, who both are averaging 18+ points per game, will step up big and ensure that their older players get the rest they need. The Spurs will win this series in four games and the Grizzlies will be sent home packing with another season filled with "what ifs" and "what could have beens" had they not exploded due to injuries. It'll be a long offseason in Memphis and the Spurs will make it come as quickly as possible.

     Note: Game 1 of this series is Sunday at 8:00 PM EST on TNT

Eastern Conference Playoffs: Miami Heat vs. Charlotte Hornets


                                       (3) Miami Heat (48-34) vs. (6) Charlotte Hornets (48-34) 

     The post-LeBron James era is going pretty well for the Miami Heat. They have the third seed in the Eastern Conference and are in good position to reach the Eastern Conference Finals with Dwyane Wade still leading the way to go along with a solid supporting cast that includes Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside. As for the Charlotte Hornets, they are starting to get their own crew together composed of Kemba Walker, Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, and Jeremy Lin. 

     The biggest hurdle the Miami Heat have to overcome in this series is the absence of Chris Bosh, who along with Dwayne Wade has been averaging 19 points per game. Bosh has been dealing with blood clots in his leg and is without a timetable to return. With Bosh likely out for the series, the Heat will need Goran Dragic, Luol Deng, Joe Johnson, and Hassan Whiteside to step up. Whiteside will especially need to come up big since he plays down on the block. With Bosh out, it will really be up to Hassan Whiteside to provide a quality post presence for his team in this series due to his rebounding and shot blocking. 

     The biggest hurdle the Charlotte Hornets have to overcome in this series is experience. They didn't make the playoffs last season and as group have very little playoff experience. Even though they have the same record as this Heat team and are healthier, they still have to go up against the likes of Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, and Luol Deng, guys who have a lot of playoff experience.  

      In order for the Hornets to overcome this hurdle, they'll need to get big production from Kemba Walker, who really is the lone star on their team. Walker is averaging 20.9 points per game on 37.1% shooting from 3-point range and 84.7% shooting from the foul line. He has the potential to take over this series and have his playoff coming out party. If he is able to average 24+ points per game and get the help he needs from Al Jefferson, Nicolas Batum, and Jeremy Lin, this Hornets team has what it takes to win this series. 

     When looking at how this series plays out, I'm leaning very slightly towards the Miami Heat winning just because they have more weapons and more experience. I would not be surprised if the Charlotte Hornets won this series, but given that the Heat have Dwyane Wade and a beast like Hassan Whiteside down low in addition to the other guys I mentioned, I'm going to say that the Heat win this series in six games. It'll be close, but the Heat will prevail. 

Note: Game 1 of this series is Sunday at 5:30 PM EST on TNT 

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Detroit Pistons

                               (1) Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25) vs. (8) Detroit Pistons (44-38) 

     The last time the Detroit Pistons made the NBA Playoffs in 2009 the Cleveland Cavaliers swept them in the first round. Seven years later, the Pistons hope for a better outcome and come in with a renewed sense of confidence in themselves. As for the Cavaliers, they are looking to make quick work of the Pistons and stay healthy as they prepare to make a deep playoff run.

     Even though the Cavaliers have their eyes on an NBA championship and the Pistons have had their eyes on a playoff berth as their primary goal, it should not be assumed that this will be an easy series for the Cavaliers. The Pistons have a lot of talent and size, which are key ingredients to any upset recipe. In addition, they have nothing to lose and have way less pressure on them.

     The Pistons have a nice blend of backcourt play and frontcourt play. Their point guard Reggie Jackson averages 18.8 points per game and 6.2 assists per game while their center Andre Drummond averages 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. This balance in the frontcourt and backcourt makes the Pistons a tough team to take out.

     It isn't simple enough to shut down the perimeter or control the glass. You have to do both in order to be successful against them. If the Pistons get good production from Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond, they'll give themselves a shot at winning this series because of the supporting cast they have around them. Forwards Ersan Ilyasova, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris do a good job of stretching the floor and banging down low. Plus, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope does a good job at the wing position on both ends of the floor.

     The bottom line is that the Pistons have the pieces to win this series should the Cavaliers fall asleep at the wheel a bit. The Pistons are dangerous and definitely a team that should not be taken lightly because of their seed. The Cavaliers will have to play good basketball to win this series.

     That being said, the Cavaliers have LeBron James, who is arguably the best player in the world. LeBron James is so good that he alone makes the Cavaliers the favorites to win this series. He is averaging 25.3 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 6.8 assists per game and very quietly having another MVP caliber season. Then, when you add Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and even J.R. Smith into the equation, it really becomes hard to pick against the Cavaliers in this series. The Pistons have a lot of really good players, but the Cavaliers an all-time great in LeBron James and a borderline superstar in Kyrie Irving.

      The bottom line is that the Pistons are a very good team with a lot of really nice pieces but the Cavaliers are simply better because they have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. I hate to make things as simple as that after singing the Pistons' praises, but that's just how it goes. I do expect the Pistons to get at least one game in this series and maybe two. But, I'm going to say that at the end of the day, extra rest will motivate the Cavaliers to not allow this series to get to a Game 6. The Cavaliers will win this series 4-1, but it will be a battle.

Note: Game 1 of this series is Sunday at 3:00 PM EST on ABC.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. Dallas Mavericks

                            (3) Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27) vs. (6) Dallas Mavericks (42-40)

     The Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in the NBA that nobody is talking about. The Warriors and Spurs are getting a lot of attention and deservedly so, but lost in the shuffle is what the Thunder are doing right now. They have a very impressive record and are led by the fantastic duo of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant is averaging 28.2 points per game and Westbrook is averaging 23.5 points per game. As a duo, they give Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson all that they can handle. It's just that they don't have as much of a supporting cast.

     As for the Dallas Mavericks, they are still led by Dirk Nowitzki, who averages 18.3 points per game. Dirk is producing at a very high level for a player of his age and Deron Williams is actually playing pretty well, averaging 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game. The problems for the Mavericks is that they don't have as much talent as the Thunder and to make things worse, they aren't even at full strength. Jeremy Evans is out for the season and Chandler Parsons is out for at least the series with a return in the second round of the playoffs a possibility, but nothing that can be banked on.

     The bottom line for the Thunder in this series is that if Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook both show up and produce like they've been all season, they'll win this series with little trouble. Durant and Westbrook by themselves should bury the Mavericks and then when you give them Enes Kanter, Serge Ibaka, and Dion Waiters, it's fair to ask what point the Mavericks have in even showing up to the arena.

     As for the Mavericks, they need Dirk Nowitzki to work some magic and they need his supporting cast to step up. If Deron Williams, Wesley Matthews, Raymond Felton, and David Lee all come up big every night, the Mavericks could make things interesting. However, it's highly unlikely that they do.

     Assuming miracles are rare occurrences, I have the Thunder winning this series in five games. Dirk Nowitzki will find a way to lead his team to a win on their home floor in Dallas. Beyond that, it'll be one way traffic in favor of the Thunder. Look for Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to have their way in this one.

Note: Game 1 of this series in Saturday at 9:30 PM EST on ESPN.

Eastern Conference Playoffs Preview: Atlanta Hawks vs. Boston Celtics

                                (4) Atlanta Hawks (48-34) vs. (5) Boston Celtics (48-34) 
     Predicting the outcome of a 4-5 matchup is like taking a stroll through Central Park in the middle of the night. You have no idea what will happen. The possibilities are endless. You might meet the friendly lady from Home Alone 2 that spends all of her time with pigeons because she's too afraid to have her heart broken again, you might meet a murderer, or you might meet a troll.

     While I don't see this series involving pigeons, a murderer, or a troll, I'm perfectly honest when I say that I could see this series going in any number of directions. The Hawks might pummel the Celtics due to their experience, Isaiah Thomas might have a breakout series and lead the Celtics to victory, or this series could go back and forth with it coming down to a seventh game in Atlanta.

     To help make sense of this toss up series, I will quickly explain what each team needs to do in order to win this series. In regards to the Hawks, what they need to do is defend their home floor. Atlanta isn't known for being a tough road environment. If there's any place in the NBA to choose to go on the road in a playoff game, Atlanta might be atop the list. Al Horford and Paul Millsap need to set the tone in Game 1 of this series and make sure their team defends their home floor. If the Hawks come out and have a dominant performance on their home floor to start the series, odds are good they win the series. They have home court advantage and they better take advantage.

     As for the Celtics, what they need is for Isaiah Thomas to step up and take control in the playoffs. Isaiah Thomas is averaging 22.2 points per game and is clearly the star of this team. The question that the Celtics are yet to have answered is whether or not Isaiah Thomas has what it takes to lead them to a playoff series victory. If Isaiah Thomas proves to be the best player in this series and takes control, odds are good the Celtics win the series in six or seven games.

      Given that this series is really hard to predict, I'm going to pick the Hawks to win in seven games.  The Hawks have home court advantage and they have more experience. The trio of Paul Millsap, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague will come up big in Game 7 and find a way to get their team to the second round.
     Note: Game 1 of this series is Saturday at 7:00 PM EST on ESPN.

Western Conference Playoffs Preview: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets

                           (1) Golden State Warriors (73-9) vs. (8) Houston Rockets (41-41)

     En route to their first NBA championship in 40 years, the Golden State Warriors quickly dispatched of the Houston Rockets in five games in the Western Conference Finals last season. While the Stephen Curry vs. James Harden matchup was highly anticipated, the series itself ended up being firmly in favor of Stephen Curry and the Warriors. With the Warriors having the best regular season record in NBA history and the Rockets right at .500, I have no reason to believe that the Rockets will give the Warriors any sort of a fight.

     To be clear, this is no indictment on James Harden's play. The bearded assassin has averaged 29.0 points per game and once again proven himself to be one of the most potent and explosive scorers in the game. The issue is that he has no help. Dwight Howard, who was supposed to be his right hand man, is averaging just 13.7 points and 11.2 rebounds per game. Unless Dwight Howard magically morphs into Hakeem Olajuwon, the Rockets have no shot at winning this series.

     The Warriors have too many weapons to go along with Stephen Curry, who is averaging 30.1 points per game. Klay Thompson, the other "splash brother", is averaging 22.1 points per game while also shooting north of 40% from 3-point range. In addition to Klay, the Warriors have Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala, Harrison Barnes, Maurice Speights, etc. Those guys are also extremely good at what they do, forming one of the best supporting casts around a superstar in NBA history.

     While it would take too long for me to talk about each of those players, what they do as a collective unit is defend at a high level, control the glass, and help Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson get out in transition where they are more comfortable. All of those guys know their job and they do it with pride. As for the Rockets, it really is just James Harden out there chucking up threes in hopes of catching fire.

     Unless the Golden State Warriors all get terminally ill or get a very bad case of food poisoning, they will sweep the Houston Rockets. This series will be over in the blink of an eye and the Houston Rockets will go into the off-season with a lot of questions to answer. What other pieces do they need to go around James Harden and Dwight Howard? Is J.B. Bickerstaff the head coach for the future? Will Daryl Morey stay on board as general manager? These questions and more will be on the forefront of their minds in approximately two weeks.

Note: Game 1 of this series is Saturday at 3:30 PM EST on ABC.