Welcome to this week’s edition of The Friday Five! This is a feature that I post every Friday in which I give my thoughts on a topic that’s related to basketball video games, the real NBA or another area of interest to our community, either as a list of five items or in the form of a Top 5 countdown.
It’s that time of the year again! The 2015 regular season is in the books, and the NBA Playoffs are tipping off in just a couple of days. A few of the seeds weren’t decided until the very last day of the season, and with the West in particular being very competitive once again this year, we should be in for an exciting first round. Since I have NBA League Pass Broadband, I’m looking forward to catching as much of the action as I can.
Now, if you’re a regular listener of the NLSC Podcast, you’ll know that my NBA predictions don’t always turn out so well. However, perhaps I’ll have better luck with a few that I put out in written format, as opposed to audio. To avoid going down as the jinx – again – I will refrain from making any specific predictions about the Chicago Bulls, aside from the one I’ve already made in the Forum. However, I do have a few other predictions to throw out there, while we wait for the postseason to tip off.
1. The Golden State Warriors Will Go Deep
Gee, I’m really going out on a limb with this one, aren’t I? “The team with a franchise best 67 wins that’s played well all season, is going to do well in the Playoffs? Thank you, Captain Obvious!” (You’re most welcome.) However, let me elaborate. On the heels of their tremendous regular season, the Warriors are rightfully being considered legitimate contenders, and anything less than the Western Conference Finals is going to be a colossal disappointment. As such, the table is set for a first round meltdown or second round implosion, especially given the tough competition in the conference.
I don’t see it happening, though. As great as Anthony Davis is playing this year, and even though the Pelicans are a bit better than their record may suggest, I don’t expect them to do to the Warriors what the Warriors did to the Mavericks in 2007. I expect the Warriors will take care of business through the first two rounds, whether it’s the Grizzlies or Trail Blazers that they end up facing next. I don’t think they’ll run into any major trouble until the Conference Finals, and even then, I wouldn’t count them out at this juncture. I’d be really, really surprised if they don’t at least end up within striking distance of the championship.
2. The San Antonio Spurs Will Have A Good Shot At Repeating
Of course, if there’s a team that I see knocking the Warriors out of the Playoffs before they can reach the NBA Finals, it’s the defending champion Spurs. Missing out on home court advantage through the first couple of rounds was a tough break (though the Pelicans certainly thank them for it), but I just can’t count out San Antonio. They’re not your average sixth seed, and every time it’s looked like they’re done these past few years, there they are in the thick of the title hunt. Kawhi Leonard continues to get better, and their veterans are still capable of turning in game-changing (and potentially series-changing) performances.
The Spurs have beaten the Warriors two out of three times this season, including a thirteen point victory in Oracle Arena. They won both of their games against the Hawks, split the season series with the Cavaliers, and either split or won their series with the Grizzlies, Clippers, and Rockets. Out of the top six seeds in the West, only the Blazers won their season series with the Spurs. It’s certainly not inconceivable that San Antonio gets through to the Finals for the third year in a row, and defeats whichever team comes out of the East. A second straight title is far from a sure thing, but I believe they’re going to make a really good run at it.
3. Both 4th vs. 5th Series Will Go The Distance
In theory, the match-up between the fourth and fifth seeds in each conference is generally going to be the most evenly matched, and the series most likely to be a toss-up. There isn’t as much of a distinction in the West this year due to all the 50+ win teams, but I’d suggest that it still holds true, and it’s certainly the case in the East. When I was making my picks in our Playoffs discussion threads in the Forum, Trail Blazers vs. Grizzlies and Raptors vs. Wizards were the series that I went back and forth on before making up my mind.
I’m picking the Grizzlies and Raptors to win respectively, but either way, I’m expecting that if any first round series are going to seven games, it’ll be those two. My further prediction is that there’ll be some back and forth in both series, with each team winning on the other’s home court and wins being traded through the first four games, before the team with home court advantage ultimately advances in seven. All in all, they should be a fun couple of series to watch.
4. The Only Upsets Will Be In The West
That is to say, if there are any. Well, I am predicting a couple to happen…as I mentioned, I’m expecting the Spurs to make a good run at repeating this year, and I’m also taking the Grizzlies over the Trail Blazers. However, it’s kind of tough to deem those upsets; the Spurs are the defending champions, the Blazers only have the higher seed by virtue of winning their division, and four of the top six seeds in the West have been decided by a single game or a tiebreaker. I suppose technically speaking, they do count as upsets, but not in the usual context of the term.
The Mavericks toppling the Rockets and the Pelicans defeating the Warriors stand out as the more “genuine” upset scenarios in the West. I don’t think we’ll see either happen – just the “technical upsets” by the Spurs and Grizzlies – but it’s far more likely than an upset of any kind happening in the East. The Wizards are the only team I feel could defeat a higher seed – which wouldn’t be a huge upset, being a 4 vs. 5 match-up – but as I said before, I’m picking the Raptors to prevail there. The East will get more competitive and interesting come the second round, but out West, we’re much more likely to see a higher seed bow out in the first round.
5. The Cleveland Cavaliers Won’t Win, But Will Come Close
Cleveland has gotten better as the season has gone on. They made a couple of good trades, developed some chemistry, and LeBron James regained his usual MVP candidate form following a somewhat sluggish start. I have difficulty seeing them fall short of the Eastern Conference Finals, and while I’m reluctant to pick against the Hawks just yet, it wouldn’t shock me if the Cavaliers do end up going to the NBA Finals, making it five straight appearances for LeBron.
As for what would happen should they get to the championship round…well, once again, it wouldn’t completely shock me if they did win it all, but I’d be more inclined to pick the team from the West, which will most likely be the Spurs or the Warriors. To that end, I’ll say that the Cavs will come very close to winning a championship, but just fall a little short; in other words, a loss in the NBA Finals, or a six or seven game loss in the Eastern Conference Finals. The question is, will that be enough to convince Kevin Love to stick around, or will he look to move on to a team where he can be the number one option again? Indeed, would he do that even if the Cavs were to win it all?
There certainly are a lot of questions about the sixteen teams in the 2015 NBA Playoffs, both in terms of what they can accomplish this postseason, and what will happen to them in the offseason. In just a couple of days, we’ll start getting some answers to those questions. In the meantime, let me know your thoughts and predictions for the 2015 NBA Playoffs in the comments section below, and feel free to join in the discussion taking place in the NBA & Basketball Talk section of the NLSC Forum! Thanks for checking in this week, please join me again next Friday for another Five.