The NBA Playoffs begin April 15 this year, and I hope you are excited as I am. I’ll give you a team by team analysis heading into the playoffs followed by my predictions.
Key: PG=Point Guard, SG=Shooting Guard, SF=Small Forward, PF: Power Forward, C=Center, Bold=Key player
Starters: PG: Dennis Schroeder, SG: Tim Hardaway Jr., SF: Kent Bazemore, PF: Paul Millsap, C: Dwight Howard
Bench: Malcolm Delaney, Taurean Prince, Thabo Sefolosha, Ersan Ilyasova, Kris Humphries
Outlook: The Hawks are not a team anyone in their conference should sleep on, but they are a long shot to win their conference let alone the title. Some of their players like Millsap have had career seasons while Dwight Howard has improved, but this is a one dimensional team that shouldn't take a lot for the bigger teams to dispatch.
Starters: PG: Isaiah Thomas, SG: Avery Bradley, SF: Jae Crowder, PF: Al Horford, C: Amir Johnson
Bench: Marcus Smart, James Young, Jaylen Brown, Jonas Jerebko, Kelly Olynyk
Outlook: On paper, you see a team that looks nothing like the Allen-Pierce-Garnett lead team that lead the Boston Celtics to their most recent NBA Championship. But take a closer look. They have the pieces of a championship team, but they remain untested in certain situations. Isaiah Thomas has inspired many fans not only for being 5’9” and playing well, but raising his game to the point where many consider him a top 5 point guard if not higher. They have a shot of surprising any team they face.
Starters: PG: Rajon Rondo, SG: Dwyane Wade, SF: Jimmy Butler, PF: Bobby Portis, C: Robin Lopez
Bench: Cameron Payne, Denzel Valentine, Nikola Mirotic, Cristiano Felicio
Outlook: Individually, this is a team that was hoping to do better than barely make it to the playoffs. But like any newly assembled team, there are growing pains as chemistry develops. Wade and Rondo are not at their Heat and Celtics peaks but are still capable of delivering. However, against Celtics in the first round, anticipate a quick exit.
Starters: PG: Kyrie Irving, SG: JR Smith, SF: Lebron James, PF: Kevin Love, C: Tristan Thompson
Bench: Deron Williams, Iman Shumpert, Kyle Korver, Derrick Williams, Channing Frye
Outlook: The Eastern Conference is stronger so the Cavs will have to fight hardest to get a second consecutive championship. They came out flying from the start of the season but stuttered in form during the second half. They have exploitable weaknesses mainly on the defensive end, and many of their potential playoff opponents boast strong defensive players. LeBron James and company, however, relish the doubt and criticism and will certainly have a response ready.
Golden State Warriors
Starters: PG: Stephen Curry, SG: Klay Thompson, SF: Kevin Durant, PF: Draymond Green, C: Zaza Pachulia
Bench: Shaun Livingston, Ian Clark, Andre Iguodala, David West, Javale McGee
Outlook: Pride comes before the fall. Things have gone well for the Warriors down the stretch of the regular season, even despite the Kevin Durant injury. Perhaps too well. With Durant’s return, the assumption is the Warriors will steamroll through the playoffs. That may be partially true. Very few teams in NBA history have had 4 players as talented as Curry, Thompson, Green, and Durant at the same time. They've had the season to figure out how to get this project from an enticing experiment to an undisputed success. They have a great chance of winning it all but the ghosts of that 3-1 lead collapse last year still linger. Hopefully they use that as a motivation to finish what they started instead of a bad omen.
Starters: PG: Patrick Beverley, SG: James Harden, SF: Trevor Ariza, PF: Ryan Anderson, C: Clint Capela
Bench: Bobby Brown, Eric Gordon, Kyle Wiltjer, Nene Hilario
Outlook: Last year, the Rockets were a sheep in wolf's clothing. Yes, you read that right. They were a fully loaded missile that failed to launch. Not only has James Harden had an incredible season, both the existing support and the new pieces have clicked nicely. This is a team worthy of being in the title contention conversation. However, they are still a glass cannon and defense may be an issue.
Starters: PG: Jeff Teague, SG: CJ Miles, SF: Paul George, PF: Thaddeus Young, C: Myles Turner
Bench: Aaron Brooks, Monta Ellis, Glenn Robinson III, Lavoy Allen
Outlook: Paul George is an underrated star player, arguably a top 10 player in the league. If you're looking to rely on him to win a few games, he's got you covered. However, this team overall is not ready to be a threat like it was a few years ago during the LeBron Heat era.
Los Angeles Clippers
Starters: PG: Chris Paul, SG: JJ Reddick, SF: Luc Mbah a Moute, PF: Blake Griffin, C: DeAndre Jordan
Bench: Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass, Maurice Speights
Outlook: Panic for the Clippers as time seems to be running out for Chris Paul to win that elusive championship. Not to mention the city rivals Los Angeles Lakers are stockpiling draft picks and young talent and the pendulum could swing back to Kobe Bryant’s old team. The Clippers have a lot to prove, but they seem set up to fail their own unrealistic expectations.
Starters: PG: Mike Conley, SG: Tony Allen, SF: Vince Carter, PF: JaMychal Green, C: Marc Gasol
Bench: Andrew Harrison, Troy Daniels, James Ennis, Zach Randolph, Brandan Wright
Outlook: One of the easiest teams to underestimate, but do so at your own peril. They don't have championships to show for their efforts, but they are capable of winning playoff series. They blindsided even the mighty Spurs in the past, and they can do it again. From a surging Mike Conley to the veteran Vince Carter who is playing like he's in his prime, the Grizzlies could definitely shake up the picture of the Western Conference. The question is can they get their offense together?
Starters: PG: Malcolm Brogdon, SG: Khris Middleton, SF: Tony Snell, PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, C: Thon Maker
Bench: Matthew Dellavedova, Jason Terry, Michael Beasley, Mirza Teletovic, John Henson
Outlook: A team that seemed doubtful to make the playoffs at many points of the season. Their team has many hidden gems that have been unearthed, naimly the “Greek Freak” Giannis as well as rookie of the year candidate Malcolm Brogdon. This will be a big test for many of these young players as well as veterans like Terry who will be hoping to prove they still got it. Even if they do cause their opponents to struggle, they have a mountain to climb in the Eastern Conference.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Starters: PG: Russell Westbrook, SG: Victor Oladipo, SF: Andre Roberson, PF: Domantas Sabonis, C: Steve Adams
Bench: Semaj Christon, Alex Abrines, Kyle Singler, Nick Collison, Enes Kanter
Outlook: It’s the Russell Westbrook show. He is leading the MVP race, he is dominating the stat categories, and he has shown time and time again with countless triple doubles how incredible of a player he is. He has a few solid players around him too, but the Thunder do not boast the abundance in riches that their main rivals do. The playoffs will test every player of every team, not just the star players, and frankly, the majority of this team simply isn’t up to the test. Unless for some legendary Westbrook heroics, the Thunder will not go far.
Starters: PG: Damian Lillard, SG: CJ McCollum, SF: Maurice Harkless, PF: Noah Vonleh, C: Jusuf Nurkic
Bench: Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Ed Davis, Al-Farouq Aminu, Meyers Leonard
Outlook: The Trailblazers are an example of a team that looks great until you compare them to a true title contender. They are an underrated team, but they haven’t had the best of seasons compared to the season or two before. It would be asking a lot of their star players to win four games against the Warriors, let alone get to the Western Conference Finals. They may crash out early but their future is promising.
San Antonio Spurs
Starters: PG: Tony Parker, SG: Danny Green, SF: Kawhi Leonard, PF: LaMarcus Aldridge, C: Dewayne Dedmon
Bench: Patty Mills, Manu Ginobili, Kyle Anderson, David Lee, Pau Gasol
Outlook: Never count out the Spurs. As long as Gregg Popovich is the captain of this ship, this wily old school style team can cause trouble to all the others. However, this Spurs is in a period of transition. Parker and Ginobili are past their prime, Aldridge has been lacklustre and is getting on the wrong side of 30, but should Kawhi Leonard continue to play at the highest level, the Spurs have a chance. They have a tough road ahead of them though, especially starting off against the Grizzlies, who have given the Spurs problems in playoff series past.
Starters: PG: Kyle Lowry, SG: DeMar DeRozan, SF: DeMarre Carroll, PF: Serge Ibaka, C: Jonas Valanciunas
Bench: Cory Joseph, Norman Powell, Bruno Caboclo, Patrick Patterson, Jakob Poeltl
Outlook: While they don’t have an individual player that matches Lebron’s level (much like the entire Eastern Conference), collectively this team is greater than the sum of its parts. But the Raptors have a tricky playoff history. One year they disappoint, the other they overachieve. A few years ago Raptors fans would be content with a postseason berth, but now they hope for something more. They will be disappointed if they don’t reach the Eastern Conference Finals but are hoping to make it at least a step further. Not sure if this will be there year for that.
Starters: PG: George Hill, SG: Gordon Hayward, SF: Joe Johnson, PF: Derrick Favors, C: Rudy Gobert
Bench: Dante Exum, Alec Burks, Joe Ingles, Boris Diaw, Jeff Withey
Outlook: The Jazz are the dark horse of the top heavy Western Conference. It’s hard for a team new to this level of play to break into the higher reaches of the playoffs, as just about each of these other teams has a lot more playoff experience than them. However, what they lack in experience they make up for in talent and chemistry. I would not be surprised to see them win at least one series.
Starters: PG: John Wall, SG: Bradley Beal, SF: Otto Porter Jr., PF: Markieff Morris, C: Marcin Gortat
Bench: Trey Burke, Bojan Bogdanovic, Kelly Oubre Jr, Jason Smith, Ian Mahinmi
Outlook: They aren’t a team that everyone expected to be in the playoffs in the first half of the season, let alone be a top 4 seed. They have proven themselves to be a strong team in the regular season, but despite some playoff success in recent history, there still remains a lot for this team to prove. John Wall is a great point guard but can he navigate the potential individual battles against DeRozan, Irving, and Thomas as well as inspire his team to success?
1 Celtics vs 8 Bulls: Celtics in 4
4 Wizards vs 5 Hawks: Wizards in 7
3 Raptors vs 6 Bucks: Raptors in 7
2 Cavaliers vs 7 Pacers: Cavs in 5
1 Celtics vs 4 Wizards: Celtics in 6
2 Cavs vs 3 Raptors: Cavs in 7
1 Celtics vs 2 Cavs: Cavs in 7
1 Warriors vs 8 Trailblazers: Warriors in 5
4 Clippers vs 5 Jazz: Jazz in 6
3 Rockets vs 6 Thunder: Rockets in 7
2 Spurs vs 7 Grizzlies: Spurs in 6
1 Warriors vs 5 Jazz: Warriors in 5
3 Rockets vs 2 Spurs: Rockets in 7
1 Warriors vs 3 Rockets: Warriors in 7
East Cavs vs West Warriors: Warriors in 7