Western Conference Finals Preview

This one is going to have a lot of offense involved. Through two rounds of playoff basketball, Golden State and Houston are playing the most exciting brand of basketball. There is non-stop scoring in the variety of a three-point bombing squad from the Warriors and the two-man show of Dwight Howard and James Harden for the Rockets. This series is going to be hotly contested and will go for at least six games in the end. I cannot wait for it to get underway and watch some great basketball. Here are the keys to who will win this series.

Stephen_Curry2All season long, we have heard about how deep the Warriors are at pretty much every position. Against the Clippers, the Rockets demonstrated that they have just as much depth. Pablo Prigioni stepped up big time for Houston in Game 7 and really provided the spark that drove the Rockets to the win. Harden and Howard are great but Josh Smith, Clint Capela, Terrance Jones, Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry all have proven to be integral role players on this squad. Ariza and Smith carry a lot of the scoring load if Harden is ever struggling and Capela and Jones have provided enough defense if Howard finds himself in foul trouble. However, the depth that Houston is displaying does not really compare evenly to what Golden State can roll out if they so choose. When Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Andre Igoudala, Marreese Speights and David Lee is your line of backups and you still have Festus Ezeli to rotate in, that depth is scary. That line could probably beat the Knicks or the Lakers on occasion or at least give them a good game. The reason that these games will be so good is that both teams have plenty of talent beyond the starting five. Golden State definitely has the edge though.

Playing at home is always a big deal as well, especially for the Warriors. Golden State has lost only three times this season on their home court. Houston will take some solace in the fact that one of those losses came recently as the Dubs dropped Game 2 against Memphis. Houston was impressive at home this year, having lost just 12 games this season in their part of Texas, including the playoffs. That should mean that this seesaw back and forth for a little while with both teams getting a huge boost from their home crowds. Once again though, this seems to heavily favor the Warriors.

Harden_DurantThere is some hope for the Rockets though. The Warriors have shown their kryptonite in Games 2 and 3 against Memphis, the Warriors shot a combined 42.5 percent from the field, well below their season average, and went ice cold from three-point range, hitting on only 23.6 percent of their attempts. The Grizzlies showed the NBA how to beat the Dubs. You need to make them take some contested threes and force them to keep jacking them up. The Warriors were more than content to sit back and take low percentage looks in those games. Houston should have the paint protection between Howard and Smith to force Golden State to look for points outside of the paint. In those games, Steph Curry and company committed 37 turnovers, compared to Memphis’ 27. If Houston can keep hold of the ball and limit the number of chances that Golden State has to run in transition, the Rockets should keep it close.

The regular season was not kind to the Rockets. They lost players throughout and had to find ways to compensate. Now, mostly healthy, Houston should be even better than their regular season selves. And they better hope so too because this Warriors team blew them out during the season series. The Dubs swept the Rockets 4-0 by an average of 15 points per game. I said the same thing about the Nets though when they matched up against Atlanta in the first round and Brooklyn made a series of it. Houston is a much different team this time around and they know that they can turn to other sources of scoring if Harden and Howard go cold, as they did in Game 6 against Los Angeles.

In the end, I think the Warriors will be moving on in six games. I do not see Houston stealing one from them in Oakland. I also think that they will probably split the two games when the series returns to Houston. That worked fine for the Rockets against the Clippers but the Warriors have not dropped three straight games all season. No way the Houston comes back from a three-game hole again. Golden State will make its long awaited return to the finals on the shoulders of the league MVP. Harden will once again find himself the runner up.


Eastern Conference Playoff Predictions

The playoffs are finally here in the NBA. Time to wonder who might stop the Cavaliers in the East and who might survive in the West. This is going to be one of the most difficult NBA playoffs to predict in recent memory. There will be some great first round matchups (Clippers vs. Spurs) and some rather lopsided ones (Cavaliers vs. Celtics). It’s time to breakdown the first wave of postseason matchups, this time in the East. These will be a fun batch of games to watch.

Atlanta vs. Brooklyn
Prediction: Hawks in four games
The Nets are a talented team that has yet to figure out how to get that talent to play well together. The Hawks have the best record in the Eastern Conference. The regular season series between these two teams finished four games to none and Atlanta blew Brooklyn out in three of them. The Hawks have an incredible starting five. Their Al Horford and Paul Millsap will give the Nets hell and I do not think they will find an answer for Kyle Korver. Joe Johnson will make some plays but not enough to even get Brooklyn a win against his former team.

Cleveland vs. Boston
Prediction: Cavaliers in five games
Boston comes into the playoffs on a six-game winning streak. That momentum should be enough to earn the Celtics a win somewhere in the early goings of this series. Unfortunately, that’s about all it gets them. Boston has some talented guards that will keep them in games for a little while. Isiah Thomas will find a way to ignite the offense. But defensively, the Celtics have no answer for LeBron James or Kyrie Irving. Cleveland’s two-man wrecking crew will provide enough offense to overpower a Celtics team that tied with New York for 21st in the league for scoring defense. That is not convincing in any way, so the Cavs will roll in just five. (Bonus prediction: Kevin Love will win his first playoff series as an overall non-factor).

Chicago vs. Milwaukee
Prediction: Chicago in six games
I really like Milwaukee, I really do. Just not more than I like Chicago unfortunately. I think the Bucks might have a shot at knocking either the Raptors or the Wizards out of the playoffs but the Bulls are simply too strong. This matchup will feature several low scoring games as both teams rank in the top nine in defensive scoring. The Bucks lack the consistent scoring threat needed to knock off the Bulls. Having rookie Jabari Parker in this series would have been a huge boost. If Derrick Rose comes back playing a consistently above average level, Milwaukee doesn’t really have a shot of pulling off the upset.

Toronto vs. Washington
Prediction: Washington in seven games
This is probably the toughest Eastern Conference series to call. The Raptors looked less than convincing as they geared up for the postseason. Since April began, Toronto lost to Brooklyn once and Boston twice and narrowly defeated Orlando and Miami. None of those teams had records above .500 either. Washington is hard to figure out as well. The Wizards in their last four games got crushed by the Nets before beating Atlanta. They then went on to lose in overtime to the Pacers and Cavs. It is difficult to get a sense for how good either of these teams are. With all of that inconsistency, I think the series will go to seven games with a lot of momentum shifting back and forth. In the end, I think John Wall will be the x-factor giving the Wizards the edge.