The NBA has arrived at its Final Four. There is no real surprises here, The Hawks and Cavaliers were the number 1 seed and 2 seeds in the East and the Warriors and Rockets were the number 1 and 2 seeds in the West. On a side note, My New York Knicks are horrible. But… look how many former Knicks are playing in the East and West Finals:
#1 Golden State Warriors vs #2 Houston Rockets
The Warriors finished off a rugged Memphis Grizzlies team in six games and the Rockets came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Los Angeles Clippers. The casual basketball fan (those who only watch during holidays or playoffs) will dub this series as the MVP (Stephen Curry) vs the runner up in the MVP race (James Harden). This couldn’t be further from the truth. Curry has averaged 28.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists in the playoffs. Curry made 18 three’s in his last three games against Memphis. Harden had his best effort in Game 7 against the Clippers (31-7-8) and a playoff-high 18 free throw attempts. In Game 6 with the Rockets trailing 3 games to 2, Harden sat on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. The Rockets outscored the Clippers 40-15 with their best player not contributing. ESPN’s Colin Cowherd stole my line when he said, “When are the Warriors better without Curry or the Cavaliers better without LeBron James… NEVER!!!”
Normally, I would throw the regular season match ups out the window. But the Warriors dominated
Nov. 11: Warriors 98, Rockets 87
Dec. 10: Warriors 105, Rockets 93
Jan. 17: Warriors 131, Rockets 106
Jan. 21: Warriors 126, Rockets 113
The Rockets play the same up tempo game as the Warriors, but they just don’t play it as well. The one thing Golden State does that everyone overlooks is their ability to defend. Going into the last 2 weeks of the regular season, the Warriors were 40-0 in games where they didn’t allow 100 points. This team is known for its “Splash Brothers” but they can play great defense. The Rockets have regressed on defense. They’re allowing 106.8 points per 100 possessions, up from 100.5 during the regular season.
I give the Rockets credit from coming back from a 3-1 deficit against the Clippers. That has only been done 9 times in the history of the NBA. Ironically, Doc Rivers in the only NBA coach to lose two series after being up 3-1. Trevor Ariza has really stepped up, shooting 50 % from three over the last three games. Dwight Howard has been effective scoring 17.2 points, 13.8 rebounds, 2.50 blocks but he is only shooting 40% from the free throw line.
This is a nightmare match up for the Rockets. They can’t compete offensively and defensively with the Warriors. I don’t think this series is going to be competitive at all. If Memphis couldn’t slow down the Warriors, how can the Rockets?! Memphis plays a tough grind it out style but the Warriors adjusted. Golden State was the best team in the regular season for a reason. They control tempo, play their style, play great defense, and have the best shooting back court in the history of the NBA. Look for Curry to continue to dominate and score 30 points per game. The Rockets season comes crashing down. Warriors in 5 easy games.
Atlanta Hawks vs Cleveland Cavaliers:
The Hawks had a great regular season, compiling a 60-22 record. The Hawks are a well balanced team, sharing the ball and are reminiscent of the San Antonio Spurs. The Hawks have 6 players averaging double digits in scoring during the playoffs. DeMarre Carroll leads the Hawks averaging 17.1 point per game. Al Horford and Paul Millsap are great pick-and-roll players averaging 15.6 and 15.7 points per game. This Hawk team loves to spread the floor and take advantage of mismatches. They don’t care who gets shots or who gets points. They have totally bought into the NBA’s Coach of the Year, Mike Budenholzer’s system and philosophy.
LeBron James is playing in his 5th straight Conference Final (4 with the Heat, 1 with the Cavaliers).
This postseason, James leads the Cavs in points (26.5 PPG), assists (7.9 APG), rebounds (10.2 RPG), and steals (1.9 SPG). James has led his team in points, rebounds and assists, 33 times in his playoff career. That is the most in the history of the NBA. He’s done this 20 more times than any other NBA Player. He will keep building this record that will never be broken. He may end up doing this 50 times in his career. This is like Wilt Chamberlain scoring 100 points in a game. We will never see a player do this again. Kyrie Irving has been hobbled with injuries but he has produced when needed. He is scoring 19.8 points per game and shooting 45% from beyond the three point line. The Cavs miss Kevin Love, he spreads the floor, can shoot the three and averaged 17 point and 9 rebounds during the regular season. But, like every team James plays on, the role players step up. This postseason, Cleveland surrenders just 44.9 points per game to opposing frontcourts, second fewest allowed among all playoff teams. Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson, have played great defense and are combining for 17 points and 16 rebound per game. The backcourt of Smith, Shumpert and Matthew Dellavedova continue to play quality minutes. Mike Miller and James Jones can come off the bench and drain three’s at any time.
I have compared the Atlanta Hawks to the Arizona Cardinals of the NFL all season long. The Cardinals had a great regular season, finishing with a record of 11-5. I never looked at them as a legitimate threat to win the Super Bowl and I don’t look at the Hawks as a legitimate threat to go to the NBA Finals. Look for the Cavs to lock them down defensively in the 4th quarter. The Hawks do not have a go-to-guy to score late in games. Kyle Korver averaged just seven points per game on 31.3 percent shooting from the field and 28.6 percent from 3-point range against the Washington Wizards. As the teams get better in the post-season, shots become harder. Fortunately for the Cavs, they have the two best players on the court at all times with Irving and James.
I like the Cavs to win in 5 games and LeBron to go to his 5th straight NBA Finals. Something Michael Jordan has never done.
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