The most interesting time of year for the NBA (Besides Free Agency) is upon us with the conference finals tipping-off this weekend. Instead of the NBA Finals, it’s the western conference final that has most real NBA fans intrigued. Sure the ratings will be higher and the NBA Finals will get more interest and exposure overall, but we all know whoever wins the West will go on to win the championship.
Western Conference Final: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
Finally, the time has come for the two best teams to face each other in a matchup that will crown a king of the NBA. Sure, Kevin Durant or Steph Curry or James Harden or Chris Paul could go down with an injury in the Finals, barring that happening this is the big one folks.
As we know the defending champs are a clear favorite to win this series and repeat, giving Golden State 3 titles in a 4-year stretch. The addition of Kevin Durant two summers ago placed the Warriors in rare-air boasting 4 all-star players in the lineup. It’s almost unfair to add a Durant caliber of player to a team that had that much success over a two-year stretch.
At least with the Houston Rockets, the quality of depth and fit potentially presents more issues for Golden State. Heading into the season we already knew the Rockets could score with the very best of them. The underlining issue for Houston’s head coach Mike D’ Antoni and figure-head James Harden, was lack of championship level defense. A combination of existing pieces and guys brought via trade or free agency has turned the Rockets into a legit contender.
The development of Clint Capella has been eye-popping especially in the playoffs. PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah A Moute have been great fits to the system already place. Both guys do the dirty work and don’t need plays specifically called for them.
Trevor Ariza stands out as a key for the Rockets in this series. Ariza has the experience and length to help contain Durant, and can also make teams pay from 3-point range. Last but certainly not least is the trade that acquired a superb point guard in Chris Paul. Paul is a threat and a weapon on both sides of the ball.
No matter the outcome of this series, whether it’s done in 5 or we get an epic 7 games, the style of play will be a thing of beauty. The high-scoring, rapid-fire pace will definitely be very entertaining. In year’s Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers won just one game but the brand of basketball that we witness was delightful.
Harden and Paul can’t afford an off night and around 3 to 4 other Rockets will have to show all the way up in order for Houston to win two games let alone a series. This podcast/blogger does think the games within the series even if it only lasts 5, will be tighter down the stretch then the previously mentioned Finals. One could make a point about outside shooting and if the Warriors went cold for consecutive games that would be enough to side with Houston. The only problem with that is the Rockets rely even heavier on the 3-point shot and would have to be extremely hot at the same time Golden State is slumping.
The Pick: Golden State in 6
Eastern Conference Final: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
A few weeks ago not many experts thought the Boston Celtics would be in this position. Most fans and NBA media members had already written the Philadelphia 76ers not only into the East Finals but the NBA Finals.
To a lesser extent, some of us thought the Toronto Raptors would put a stop to LeBron James’s yearly pilgrimage to the NBA finals and we saw how that went. It’s funny how things have a way of working out because the majority of the NBA followers would have picked these two teams to meet for the East crown way back in October.
To say the Boston Celtics overachieved is an understatement, having lost their two best players in Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. The fact they made it this far and have a real opportunity to advance is a major tip-of-the-cap to head coach Brad Stevens and GM Danny Ainge.
The game plan offensively and defensively against the 76ers was beyond impressive. If the Celtics are able to overcome King James just think how good they will be in the coming years. Don’t get me wrong the future is extremely bright in Boston regardless.
Lebron James is still by far the best player in the NBA end of story. James all-around game and clutch buzzer-beating moments have been breathtaking. The problem for the Cleveland Cavaliers is the surrounding players bringing consistency game in and game out.
The Cavs 7-game series in the 1st round against the Indiana Pacers was a microcosm of that problem. Kevin Love rebound at a decent clip but averaged a measly 12 points. The rest of the cast of misfits brought in via mid-season trade and the ones designated to the bench from poor play, resulted in Lebron having to move mountains just to win a game.
Against the Raptors, Lebron got a big boost from Kevin Love and Tristian Thompson, that’s right I said it. Also, JR Smith heated up and Cleveland even got solid minutes out of point guard George Hill.
To break this series down in one statement: The lack of playoff experience and relying on young players for large contributions will finally catch-up to the Boston Celtics. The C’s do play great defense and have a ball-moving offense that doesn’t depend on 1 or 2 players, makes for a longer series.
The Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers in 6
Written by Chris Carlson Host of the NBA Playoff Banter Podcast available at blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio & TheGruelingTruth.Net. Follow on Twitter @RopeADopeRadio