That was a pretty uninspiring first-round of playoff basketball. The biggest story was the unusually high amount of injured star players and how it will affect teams in later rounds. On the bright side the Western Conference Playoffs will be infinitely more exciting this round, especially the Spurs-Thunder. On the downside, the Eastern Conference still consists of two tiers, the “Cavaliers” and “everybody else.” Anyway, without further ado here are my thoughts on the first-round of the NBA playoffs.
Cavaliers-Pistons- I wish the national sports media would stop pretending that this was a close series. The Pistons played competitive basketball, but they still lost 4-0. When you get swept you cannot make the argument you were close to winning. The Pistons need to focus on finding at least one more wing player this off-season and improving Andre Drummond’s comically terrible free-throw shooting. Otherwise, they had better get used to being first-round fodder for teams like the Cavaliers.
Raptors-Pacers- I’m not sure why the NBA media is treating the Raptors’ victory over a team whose second-best player is probably Monta Ellis like a colossal accomplishment. Neither of the Raptors stars had very inspiring performances in the series or in game 7 (DeMar DeRozan was 10-32 from the field and Kyle Lowry was 5-14). Maybe I’m a cynic, but I don’t think the Raptors match up very well with the Heat even if they have home-court advantage. I guess we’ll find out over the next two weeks.
Heat-Hornets- I still think that the Heat is the only team with a realistic chance of upsetting the Cavaliers before the NBA Finals. However, taking seven games to beat the Charlotte Hornets and needing a couple unlikely Dwyane Wade three-pointers to extend the series significantly cooled me on their prospects of beating the Cavs. Before the playoffs I would have given them a 20% of winning the East, but now I would say it is closer to 10-15%. Sorry, but that was a pretty uninspiring first-round performance.
I feel like a broken record, but I beg Michael Jordan, Rick Cho, or whoever calls the shots for the Hornets to not overreact and give Nicolas Batum a max contract this off-season. He’s a good player, but he’s about to be drastically overpaid by either the Hornets or another NBA team with cap space. I’ve followed the NBA long enough to know that those type of free-agent signings almost never work.
Hawks-Celtics- Losing Avery Bradley definitely hurt the Celtics, but that’s not the reason they lost in six games. They were defeated because the Hawks dared somebody else than Isaiah Thomas to beat them and nobody could. The Hawks are basically a rich-man’s version of the Celtics in the sense they don’t have a superstar, so they rely on superior coaching and teamwork to beat their opponents, only the Hawks have superior players. I thought that the Celtics would be able to outwork and outhustle the Hawks, and that Isaiah Thomas would provide enough offense to win, but obviously I was wrong.
The good news for the Celtics is they have a ton of future draft picks and other assets thanks to Billy King. They have a few prospects such as Marcus Smart who occasionally have flashed star potential this postseason and they have the best young coach in the NBA. If they play their cards right and don’t blow their cap space on middling free agents they’ll be a very good team for the foreseeable future. However, I don’t think they have a realistic chance of signing Kevin Durant. The Celtics’ current roster may be deeper, but it isn’t as good as the Thunder’s even without KD, and he would have to take a pay cut to play in Boston (a city he has no prior connection to). Would you make that move? No, you wouldn’t.
Congrats to the Hawks for winning this series. Whenever coaches and teams get evaluated the amount of playoff series wins is usually brought up (e.g. when people debate whether Carmelo Anthony is any good), so it’s always worth something to advance in the playoffs, if for no other reason than you need accomplishments to put on your resume if you’re a coach, GM, etc. However, I don’t see how they stand a chance against a motivated Cavs team that swept them during the regular season, so I’m not changing my NBA championship pick.
Warriors-Rockets- I’ve read enough stories about how James Harden isolates himself from his teammates that I’m getting a little concerned. The Rockets remind me of a church league basketball team with one great scorer who dominates the ball on offense and a bunch of teammates who play defense and stand around on offense. That’s a problem because those types of teams don’t usually advance beyond the first-round of the playoffs unless they get lucky breaks such as a notoriously poor shooter (cough Josh Smith cough) hitting an unsustainably high amount of his three-point shots. Assuming Dwight Howard leaves this off-season (I’ll tackle this in a future post, but I think it’s in everybody’s best interests unless he is willing to sign a deal far below-market value) the Rockets have decide if they want to try to win by imitating Davey Stone in Eight Crazy Nights or building a real team.
Spurs-Grizzlies- I have always been a strong believer that the top four (or really top three since number four won’t have a choice) seeds in each conference should be allowed to select their first-round playoff opponents. It’s not a terrible injustice in the grand scheme of things that they can’t, but why couldn’t the Warriors choose to play the injury-riddled Grizzlies instead of the Rockets? Shouldn’t there be a reward for going all-out to have the best record in the NBA? What’s the downside of this? The NBA confuses me sometimes.
Thunder-Mavericks- Sorry Enes Kanter, but scoring a bunch of points against the Mavericks’ backups did not alleviate my concerns about OKC’s ability to compete against a much deeper Spurs team. The shallow OKC bench means that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will have to significantly outplay the Spurs’ starters in order to win. While that could happen I wouldn’t bet money on it.
Clippers-Trail Blazers- In Doc Rivers’ defense there are not a lot of NBA first-round playoff teams that could lose their two best players and still have a decent chance of beating their first-round opponent two out of three games, even with home-court advantage. It’s not his fault Chris Paul and Blake Griffin got injured. However, that having been said, the Clippers’ roster being so shallow that Austin Rivers and thirty-eight year-old Pablo Prigioni are the backups at point guard falls squarely on his shoulders (yes I know Austin Rivers played well in game 6, but he did not look good in game 5 when he had a plus/minus of -23). At some point the Clippers have to get better at integrating role players into their scheme. There have let go of quite a few very serviceable complimentary players such as Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Josh Smith, and Lance Stephenson over the past few seasons. That would be fine if they had drafted or signed decent replacements, but they obviously didn’t.
I like what the Trail Blazers did, but like most successes in life they benefited from good luck. There’s no need to apologize, but they’re not beating the Golden State Warriors in a seven-game series, regardless if Stephen Curry is playing.
Chris Linnan is currently a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Indonesia, who has a life-long basketball and politics addiction. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions, concerns, or thoughts.