It’s playoff time in the NBA and there is no season for sports fans than the one we are living in now. Major League baseball is under way and the National Hockey League has started their post season. Combined between hockey and basketball, there are 32 teams playing in 16 series for the right to move on in the bracket and get to their respective finals. It can get confusing with so many playoff games each night, so to help you sort through it all, here is your 2015 NBA Playoff preview Pt 2
#1 Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs. #8 New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)
The NBA’s most exciting team will take the league’s best record into the playoffs with home court advantage. The Golden State Warriors dominated all season long from game 1 all the way to 82, winning 67 games and finishing an amazing eleven games ahead of the pack.
The Warriors were remarkable at home, losing only twice in 41 games. Led by Stephen Curry and his ridiculous shooting percentages (49% FG, 44% 3P, 92% FT), Golden State has played with confidence and swag all season. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have complimented Curry well this year, and combined the trio only missed a combined 10 regular season games. Last season the Warriors lost in the first round of the playoffs. The quick exit came with disappointment from less than stellar performances from Curry and Thompson. Both players hit less shots from the field and beyond the arc than they did in the regular season. The Warriors don’t want to become a great regular season team who can’t rise to the occasion in the playoffs.
The Pelicans counter with the single best player on the court, Anthony Davis. He took his game to a whole new level this year, averaging 24.4 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 assists. He did this while only averaging 2.1 fouls per contest. He has four other teammates averaging over 13 points per game, including Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. They battled all the way to the last game of the season to earn the final playoff seed in the Western Conference.
The Warriors finished the season 39-2 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California, tied for the second-best home record in NBA history. Of those two losses, one came against San Antonio and the other was a 3-point overtime loss to the Chicago Bulls in a game where Rose scored 30 points in 43 minutes. Curry and Thompson, the Splash Brothers, have dominated all season long on their home court and have earned the right to host every series there, as long as they are in the playoffs. The Pelicans are 17-24 on the road this season and 3-6 in their last trips. They lost by an average of 21.5 points in Oakland this season.
Match up of the series
Draymond Green and Anthony Davis is the match up for the series. Davis only played in two of the four regular season match-ups this and when he did he averaged 29.5 points. Green, the breakout defensive star, averages 7.9 rebounds per game and was listed as the 9th most valuable player on ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus chart, which measures net point differential per 100 possessions. He also ranks number one in individual defensive rating and win shares. If anyone can slow down Anthony Davis it’s Green. He won’t be able to go shot for shot and out score “The Brow,” but he can slow him down.
Golden State wins if
As long as Curry and Thompson don’t go cold, or forget how to release the ball, they should win this series. For most teams, playing against an 8th seed that features Anthony Davis is not an easy series, but most teams also do not have Draymond Green. With MVP-candidate Curry shooting the way he is, there should be no stopping them this series. They take a 2-0 lead to New Orleans and could close out the series there.
New Orleans wins if
New Orleans wins if, and only if, Anthony Davis dominates the game so much that the Warriors become trigger shy. He should out rebound and out score Green, and if he starts pulling down a ridiculous number of rebounds and Golden State becomes a one and done offensive set, they have a chance to steal a few games and put them on their heals.
#2 Houston Rockets (56-26) vs. #7 Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
The battle of Texas kicks off with this great match-up in the Western Conference with the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks. If the bracket had fallen any different way, these two teams could have met in the Conference Finals, but since this is where they are seeded, fans will be treated to a great series in the first round. Players on these two teams do not like each other and don’t hide their feelings well. Houston won the regular season series 3 games to 1 but two of those wins were close enough to go either way at the end.
James Harden had the best season of his career, averaging 27.4 points, 7 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 36 minutes per game. While he dominated on the score sheet his real MVP-trait was the way he carried a team decimated with injuries to the second highest seed in a loaded conference. With important members of the Rockets missing significant time, Harden played all but one of the 82 games and led the way to 56 wins. Center Dwight Howard missed 41 games this season and was on minutes restriction when he eventually came back. In the last week of the season, however, they upped his minutes to 30 per game and he responded by averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds.
For 14 seasons now, Dirk Nowitzki playing in the playoffs was as guaranteed as anything in life. He has played in 135 post-season games and averaged over 40 minutes per contest since 2001. He has won a championship and hit more clutch shots than just about anyone in the game. With this background and history in the playoffs, it’s odd to think he may not be the most important player on the floor for the Mavericks in this series. Now 35 years old, Nowitzki has seen a decline in minutes, shots, points and rebounds this season. The team instead runs offensively through guard Monta Ellis, who averaged 19 points per game. Mid season acquisitions of Amar’e Stoudemire and Rajon Rondo brought high expectations for the second half of the season, however a 6-7 finish over the past month dropped them all the way to the 7th seed.
It’s the most avoided topics in the Mavericks locker room, but Rajon Rondo’s 39% Free-Throw percentage cannot be ignored in the playoffs. In 46 games for Dallas, Rondo managed to only take 42 shots and make just 19 of them. He took less shots from the line than amount of games played. If he isn’t getting free shots it is because he is not aggressive enough. That makes him more predictable and for a veteran point guard like the one he will face in Jason Terry, he could be forced into bad shots or untimely turnovers.
Match up of the series
Each team’s top scorer will line up at the 2-guard with James Harden and Monta Ellis . Harden was the league’s second highest scorer this season and hit clutch shots while consistently keeping teammates involved. His role on this team is to score, but with so much attention on his ability to do that, teammates are consistently open for him to find with a pass. On the other side of the court, Ellis is simply a scorer. With point guard Rajon Rondo running the offense, Ellis is not asked to make passes or pick up assists, his role is to fill up the basket and he did it well this year. If it turns into a shoot out, Harden will have the advantage because he can find more ways to score.
Houston wins if
Houston wins this series if James Harden plays like the MVP-caliber player he was all year. That may sound simple, but he has shot below 40% in the playoffs since 2010. He also has not won a series in 3 years. The team will go as far as Harden does and if he can create shots, and make them as he had all year, they should enjoy a successful opening round.
Dallas wins if
Dallas wins this series if the veterans stay healthy and use their experience together as a team. Rajon Rondo led the Boston Celtics offense through two NBA Finals appearances and Dirk Nowitzki and Tyson Chandler have raised the championship trophy in Dallas. Amar’e Stoudemire, Richard Jefferson and Devin Harris have been in the league for a long time and while they haven’t had the success of their teammates, they have been in enough situations in their careers to understand the importance of each possession. This could be the last run for these players and if they can stay healthy and play as a unit, they can will this team to victory.
#3 LA Clippers (56-26) vs. #6 San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
At the All-Star break if you told me the Clippers and Spurs would meet in the playoffs, I probably would have thought it would be in the second or third round. This is a dream come true match up for fans. If the Clippers win, they do what only two teams have done in the last sixteen seasons, which is to send San Antonio home in the first round. If the Spurs pull off the upset of the 3rd seed, they might ignite the fire sale that the organization will have with it’s roster. The Clippers have won 14 of their final 15 games and the Spurs 14 of their last16. There are no hotter teams playing basketball right now than these two.
The Los Angeles Clippers are led by point guard Chris Paul, who dished out 10 assists and scored 19 points per game. Blake Griffin missed time due to injury towards the end of the season, but once he came back, the team ripped off a 14-1 record. While these two are the best scorers on the team, the Clipper most people are talking about is DeAndre Jordan. The 6’11” center led the league with 15 rebounds per game. His stats were up in every category this year and with it went his popularity. He will need to be as good as advertised as this unit has struggled in the post season in the last three years, never making it past the second round.
The San Antonio Spurs have been in the playoffs every season since 1998 and Mr. Reliable Tim Duncan has played in 234 post-season games and won five championships. Playing with Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in what seems like a roster unchanged since the invention of basketball, Duncan and the Spurs have been consistently successful since they came together all those years ago. Adding young players such as Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green and Patty Mills have given the veterans time to recover on the bench, or even the sidelines in Coach Popvich’s patented “sit the stars” routine. There is no team in any major sport, on planet Earth, that has as much experience as the Spurs. The beautiful thing about it, is that they have done it with the same core group every year, and they’ve done it without a single complaint.
The big three for the Spurs have combined to play 629 playoff games. For the Clippers top three players, Paul, Jordan and Griffin, they combine for only 113 games. San Antonio has over five times the experience on their roster than Los Angeles and this could be a telling tale of the series.
Match up of the series
Blake Griffin and Tim Duncan have the most unique match up of the series. Duncan has played in 204 more playoff games than his opponent Griffin who has never made it past the second round. Duncan, for his post-season career, averages 21 points, 11 rebounds and 38 minutes. Griffin has averaged 20 points and only 6.5 rebounds in 34 minutes. There is nothing that Griffin can show Duncan that he hasn’t seen before. He may not be able to run alongside Griffin at his age but he knows how to play him in the post season. It’s a whole different game once the regular season ends and no one knows that better than Duncan. He will be able to get away with calls, knowing how the playoffs are officiated, and he will know how to recover between games. On the other hand, Griffin will be faster and stronger than Duncan, and he will have 12 years less ware on his legs than the Spurs big man.
Los Angeles wins if
Los Angeles wins this series if they get creative with their possessions and score from outside the lane. Duncan and Spliter are too seasoned and smart to get into foul trouble, so attacking the hoop won’t provide free throws as often as it would against Houston or Memphis. Chris Paul will need to get his team running in transition where the Clippers legs will be younger and lighter than the Spurs. If they turn the game into a track meet, they have the clear advantage.
San Antonio wins if
San Antonio wins this series if they play smart. DeAndre Jordan is a rebounding machine so it’s unlikely that Duncan or Splitter will pull down more boards. What these two can do is frustrate Jordan into foul trouble. How many times have we seen him on the bench with early penalties? The creator of the “Hack-A-Shaq” Gregg Popovich will likely use the same method against Jordan, who shot 39% from the line this season. The Spurs slow down the pace of the game better than anyone and I can see them frustrating Doc Rivers and his team by consistently fouling Jordan to kill any momentum their offense has.
#4Portland Trailblazers (51-31) vs. #5 Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)
For a while during the season, the Memphis Grizzlies looked like the second best team in the Western Conference. Then the injury bug bit and guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen, among others, spent time wearing suits in the stands. When they went down, the Portland Trailblazers looked like a solid choice to take over atop the standings. Then the same bug attached Portland with injuries to Arron Affalalo, Nicolas Batum, Chris Kaman and Wesley Matthews. The first few should be back in this series but Matthews has been shut down for the series. He was averaging 16 points per game at the time of his injury. Memphis won all 4 regular season matches this year by an average of 8.5 points, however this game may be won by whichever team is the healthier of the two.
The Trailblazers are led by LaMarcus Aldridge (23.4 ppg, 10.2 rpg) and Damian Lillard (21 ppg, 6.2 apg). They had some bright spots in the season and appeared at times to be a top-3 seed. That dream faded quickly in the month of April as they lost their final four games. Loosing Matthews to injury was a major blow for a team who desperately needed that third consistent scorer. Aldridge and Lillard have had to rely on complimentary players Robin Lopez, Chris Kaman and Arron Afflalo to chip in points on a nightly basis. They responded well and the team won 51 games.
The Memphis Grizzlies won 55 games this year behind veterans Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. Gasol looked as solid as ever this season, scoring 17.4 points per game while pulling down 7.8 rebounds. Randolph complimented him with 16 points and over 10 rebounds. Mike Conley ran the offense from the point and new addition Jeff Green has played well in his 30 minutes per game.
The Memphis Grizzlies take only 15 shots from beyond the arc per game and average just 5 makes. That is only 15 points from long range. The Portland Trailblazers shoot 27 times per game from 3-point range and make 10. Those 30 points are double what their opponents average.
Match up of the series
Zach Randolph and LaMarcus Aldridge meet in a match-up of their team’s top rebounder. With both forwards averaging over 10 boards per game, this will be one fun battle to watch. Aldridge is aggressive and Randolph is physical, and together they make for an intense series.
Portland or Memphis wins if
Portland or Memphis wins this series depending on who is healthy. There are too many question marks about who will be available, and who will be sidelined, so to look at any other scenario at this time is pointless. There are so many fascinating match-ups in this series but it seems we won’t know who is really playing until game time
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