The NBA regular season has finally culminated, but this year’s playoff should be one of the best in recent memories. After years of ineptitude and abysmal teams, the Eastern Conference has a multitude of squads that have the personal to dethrone Lebron James from securing his sixth straight trip to the NBA Finals. While the East should be more competitive then years past, the Western Conference playoffs may be the most exciting basketball the sport has ever witnessed. Besides the fact that fans just witnessed Golden State having the best regular season in NBA history and looking to win their second consecutive ring, the West is littered with high quality teams and superstars that could compete with the Warriors for the Western Crown.
In previous seasons, LeBron James’ teams would rarely experience fierce competition until the Conference Finals. However, this season, the Cavaliers will be tested throughout the playoffs. During the first round, the Cavs are set to play the young and talented Detroit Pistons. During their regular season matchups and Game 1, the Pistons have been able to push the Cavs to their limits. The main problem for the Cavs against the Pistons is their size and athleticism in the front court with Andre Drummond, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Marris. However, although the Pistons are blessed with young talented players, they are too young and inexperienced to compete against the veteran savvy Cavaliers. As witnessed for Game 1, the Pistons were able to hang with the Cavs for 57 minutes, but during the last three minutes their inexperienced backcourt of Reggie Jackson and Kentavious Caldwell Pope showed and they were unable to execute down the stretch.
After a potentially grinding series with the Pistons, LeBron would likely be set for a rematch against the Atlanta Hawks. Although the Hawks were swept by the Cavs last season, the Hawks have momentum and possess the talent and experience to give the Cavs fright. Although the Hawks have not experienced the same success as last year’s regular season, they have the same roster and the same potential. Like the Pistons, the Hawks have a front court that can score at a high level as well as stretch the floor. This season, Paul Millsap had a career year and will likely exploit Love’s inability to play defense. Although the Hawks have a very solid and steady starting five of Teague, Korver, Millsap, Horford, and Bazemore, they do not possess the scoring ability on the wing to compete with Kyrie, LeBron, and Kevin. In addition to their inferior offense, the Hawks do not play sturdy enough defense to compensate for their lack of offensive firepower.
Ultimately, in order to push through into his sixth consecutive Final’s appearance, LeBron will likely have to beat his ex-team the Miami Heat. Recently the Heat have been playing their best basketball due their the athleticism, depth, talent, experience, and championship pedigree. Besides for their starting five of Joe Johnson, Luol Deng, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic, and Dwyane Wade, the Heat’s bench of Gerald Green, Amare Stoudemire, Josh McRoberts, and Justice Winslow allows them to rest their elder players and stay fresh deep into the game. However, the Cavaliers have one of the few rosters that enables them to match the depth of the Heat. Although the Heat’s roster has a lot of experience, none of their players, even Dwyane Wade especially at his age, are able to dominate a series or even a game. This problem becomes evident when the Heat are unable to score for lengths of time. In addition, the Cavs will likely be able to play a small lineup with Kevin Love or LeBron James at the five, which will lessen Hassan Whiteside’s ability to stay in the paint in protect the rim.
While the Cavaliers are likely to experience competition throughout the playoffs, the Warriors should breeze through the first and likely second round. In the first round, the Dubs are competing against the Rockets, the team they dismantled last season in the Conference Final. Although the Rockets have talent and explosive offensive capabilities with Howard and Harden, their team is in shambles and they will likely be swept by the Warriors.
After beating the Rockets, the Warriors would be set to face the Clippers in the Conference Semifinals. As witnessed from Game 1 against the Blazers, the Clippers have the talent to beat any team in the league. The Clippers are able to boast one of the best Big Threes in the league with Paul, Griffin, and Jordan. Due to their size and ability to score inside the paint with Griffin and Jordan, the Warriors will need to think twice before they opt for a small lineup without a true center. In addition to the Clippers’ Big Three, the emergence of JJ Redick and the ability of Jamal Crawford to withstand Father Time has made the Clippers one of the best offensive teams in the league. Although the Clippers have legitimate superstars, they do not have the bench to withstand the waves of fresh bodies that the Warriors send every game. Although the Warriors must consider the strength and explosiveness of the Clippers’ big lineup, the Clippers must prove that they can defend the Warriors three point shooting in order to keep this lineup on the floor. In addition, the Clippers, but especially Chris Paul, have not shown the ability to make it out of the second round. Ultimately, the series should be exciting and long, but the Warriors should need no more than 6 games to win the series.
Lastly, the Warriors will likely face the San Antonio Spurs, which should be destined to be one of the best playoff matchups in NBA history. This season, the Spurs were dominant throughout the season by winning 67 games. In most seasons, the Spurs would be the number one team in the league and the heavy favorite to win the title. The Spurs have been able to experience such success this season because of the coaching of Gregg Popovich, the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as a top 3 player in the league, the addition of superstar LaMarcus Aldridge, and the leadership of Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker. The Spurs have been the one team this season to slow down Golden State’s offense and protect their three point line due to their personal and the brilliant game planning of Greg Popovich. Even though the Spurs are deep, they do not have the capability to match the depth of Livingston, Iguodala, Barnes, Bogut, and Speights. However, although the Spurs have many positives, they were still 1-3 against the Dubs including a 30 point drubbing on the road in Oakland. Although the Spurs can play versatile and big with the combination of West, Duncan, Aldridge, and Diaw, the Warriors and the Splash Brothers have been able to defeat every different lineup this season because of their ability to space the floor and pass effectively. In addition, the Warriors have home field advantage and they have been nearly impossible to beat in the Oracle Arena in the past two seasons. Ultimately, all eyes should be on this series because this will likely go nearly the distance and be an all time great series.