It is post season and we already have some enticing match-ups to look forward to. The playoffs tip off on the Saturday night the 14th of April. A ridiculous NBA regular season concluded with the Toronto Raptors being the top seed in the East and the Houston Rockets leading the west. At the start of the season, many of us felt Warriors, the defending champions would be the top team in the West, but the Rockets had other ideas. Coached by Mike D`Antoni, the Rockets won 65 games of the 82 games.
But the playoffs are here! That means it`s time to talk about match-ups and strategies. It`s time to make predictions using everything we`ve learned from the regular season (or throwing that all away, in some instances). The Warriors would look to defend their NBA title and trust me they do not look like they can.
Let`s start with the West.
HOUSTON ROCKETS VS MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES
The Rockets this season, with James Harden posting MVP numbers, is having arguably its best NBA season in terms of numbers and effectiveness rating. The last time we saw Harden in the playoffs, it was not pretty. He was 2-for-11 with 10 points and six turnovers against the Spurs in the Conference Semis on his home floor, leading the way to a Rockets disaster - a 39 point Game 6 loss to end the series. He needs to bleach that memory with strong performances out of the gate, both to build his own confidence and the confidence his teammates have in him. They played the Timberwolves four times this season and they won all four. In fact, they won three of them by 18 points so I don’t expect the Timberwolves to get past them.
The Timberwolves have allowed 108.4 points per 100 possessions, 23rd in the league and smack in the neighborhood of such defensive juggernauts as the Grizzlies and Knicks. This is surely an endless frustration for Coach Tom Thibodeau, pioneer of many of the defensive schemes that are prevalent in today’s NBA, but it should make for easy pickings for Houston. I see the Rockets sweeping them 4-0.
GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS VS SAN ANTONIO SPURS
The defending champions are gonna miss their best player in Steph Curry for the first round against the Spurs. Golden State is much better set up to handle the absence of Curry than the Spurs are to handle the absence of Leonard. It is remarkable, in fact, that a team so awkwardly patched together as the Spurs — with 24 different starting lineups — could have won 47 games. That’s a testament to coach Gregg Popovich, who will face one of his proteges, Steve Kerr, in this series. Kevin Durant would have to play the best basketball of his life to help his team here. We are hearing rumors that Kawhi might just be back for game 1.
Remember Zaza injured him last year, so this would be personal for him if he gets to play. It would also be a boost for the Spurs. 109.9. In their last 10 games of the season, the Warriors’ defense unraveled, allowing 109.9 points per 100 possessions, which ranked 28th in the league in that span. Granted, the Warriors were not always putting forth their best players in the final games, but it’s part of a disturbing trend for Kerr’s team — the Warriors dropped to ninth in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season, and were 14th after the All-Star break.
Spurs managed to win 47 games which is quite disappointing for them, they have really struggled with the absence of Kawhi. In the end I think if Kawhi plays the Spurs might just stand a chance, but if he doesn’t I feel the Warriors would do enough to beat them. Warriors to win 4-2
PORTLAND TRAILBLAZERS VS NEW ORLEANS PELICANS
Both the Trail Blazers and Pelicans had important games for seeding purposes on the final night of the season, and both came up with important wins. Now, though, the pressure is on the Blazers, who rolled through much of the second half of their schedule, including a 13-game winning streak, before petering out inexplicably in the final month. Al-Farouq Aminu rebounds well for his position and is shooting a career high 36.9 percent from three this season. Portland is a different team when Aminu is making those outside shots and taking pressure off the back court. But he’s no Anthony Davis, a top-five player in the world and a guy who has simply taken over the second half of the season.
In six games in April, Davis is shot 50.4% from the field, while averaging 28.3 points and 11.2 rebounds. Don’t let him get hot. If you’re going to slow down the Pelicans, you have to contend with Anthony Davis. That will be the job — for much of the game, at least — of center Jusuf Nurkic. The two have faced each other eight times, and Davis has averaged 27.1 points and 11.0 rebounds with 53.8 percent shooting in their matchups. Nurkic can afford to let Davis get 25-27 points, but he needs to make him work for them and must stay out of foul trouble because the Blazers are low on frontcourt depth. If Nurkic can keep Davis in the 20s and chip in 12-15 points himself, Portland can let its two backcourt stars, Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, make the difference with their perimeter. I fancy the Blazers taking this in 6 games.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER VS UTAH JAZZ
This matchup is such an exciting one to see. Russ has back to back triple doubles during the regular season People felt he didn’t have enough help last season, but now he has Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. The Utah Jazz have a candidate for Rookie of the year in Donovan Mitchell who becomes the only player after Carmelo Anthony to have led his team in scoring going into the playoffs in his rookie year. What makes both the Thunder and Jazz such an interesting pair is that both teams have their options. There is the flexibility to play big and small, to cross-match between positions, and to put skilled players to use in unconventional ways.
In the broadest sense, their series will be decided by the intersection of what both teams do best: OKC’s explosive offense working against the grain of one of the best defenses in the league. Yet the terms of engagement are all up for grabs, starting with how each team elects to match up. Who should guard Russell Westbrook between Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio, and who should wreak havoc off the ball? How much should Paul George check Mitchell, the engine of Utah’s entire offense, after barely guarding him in the regular season? How might Derrick Favors look to attack Carmelo Anthony and vice versa?
It’ll be great team defense going up against great individual offensive players. Normally, the edge would go to the defense in that situation, but it’s hard to see where the Jazz will get consistent offense outside of Mitchell. I think OKC will just edge this in seven games 4-3.