A Look Ahead at the NBA Playoffs
Another historic NBA season has come to a close, and with it starts a potentially momentous road to the title.
The 2015-2016 gave the sports world headlines from the beginning, with the Golden State Warriors going on a nearly unprecedented winning streak. Also early on, Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant announced his impending retirement. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs quietly went on a winning tear of their own.
The season has ended, and Bryant rode off into the sunset after scoring 60 points in his final game. The Spurs set their franchise record for wins and a season, and they still only locked in the second seed in the Western Conference.
And all of that is just from one conference.
What follows are predictions for what could be a historic postseason in the NBA.
Considered in past years to be the more top-heavy of the NBA’s two conferences, the East features eight teams that could take over a game at any night. The winner of this conference will have to go through some tough competition to face off against an equally tough Western Conference foe.
The top-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers will square off against the eight seed Detroit Pistons. The Cavs come in with the East’s best starting lineup, featuring former MVP LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. Even on a down night, this team can dominate any team in the conference.
However, they face off against a Pistons team who took the season series 3-1. With young talent like center Andre Drummond and guard Reggie Jackson, this team can put up numbers fast.
That said, any team with King James has an edge, especially over a team with less playoff experience. So expect a Cavs win in six.
The Toronto Raptors followed up their successful 2015 campaign with a two seed in the playoffs, pitting them against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers have a good starting lineup, with All-Stars Paul George and Monta Ellis leading the way.
On the flip side, the Raptors have veterans DeMarre Carroll paired up with young talents Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
Toronto took the season series 3-1, and signs point toward further success against the team in the playoffs. The Raptors should win it in five.
Arguably the most intriguing matchup in the East pits the third-ranked Miami Heat and the upstart Charlotte Hornets.
Miami has continued getting to the postseason behind the play of stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The midseason addition of sharpshooter Joe Johnson bolstered the team’s scoring even more.
The Hornets, on the other hand, did not pick up speed until after the All-Star break. But they posted a record only the two best teams in the Western Conference could rival, catapulting them to the six seed.
The teams split the regular-season matchup, so this match will probably be the most evenly split of the Eastern series. The Hornets are posed for the upset in seven games, though.
The final conference matchup features the Atlanta Hawks, last year’s top seed, and the fifth-seeded Boston Celtics.
Atlanta returned a lot of the core that earned them the best record in the conference last year, including Al Horford and Paul Millsap. Boston, though, features many young stars like Isaiah Thomas ready to make a deep postseason run.
The Hawks took three of the four games between the teams this season, and the Celtics need one more year to get to where they need. Atlanta will move on in five.
The Warriors take the top seed after winning a record 73 wins this regular season. They will face off against a Rockets team that snuck into the playoffs in the last few games behind the play of top scorer James Harden.
However, the Warriors have the best and deepest lineup in the NBA, as they proved throughout their season, so they will handle Houston emphatically in a four-game sweep.
The other team of note in the West is San Antonio, the owners of the league’s second-best record after notching a franchise-record 67 wins on the year. They face off against a Memphis Grizzlies team that lives and dies by their defense and their big men in the middle Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The Spurs swept the season series with stellar play all around, especially with former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and offseason addition LaMarcus Aldridge. Between the pair and a veteran squad under the leadership of future Hall-of-Famer Tim Duncan, San Antonio will continue their dominance against Memphis, taking the series in five.
One of the other intriguing matchups in the conference is the 3-6 matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Dallas Mavericks. OKC swept the series in four games during the regular season and had excellent play from superstars Kevin Durant and triple-double machine Russell Westbrook.
The Mavs have the skills of leading scorer Dirk Nowitzki and a number of weapons who can light up a scoreboard or lock down another player on any given night. However, the strength of the dynamic duo in Bricktown will overpower Dallas in the end.
Expect a sweep from the Thunder.
The final matchup in the Western Conference features the resurgent Los Angeles Clippers and the scrappy Portland Trailblazers. The Clippers have had a renaissance of talent in the last few years, with DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin dominating on the inside while Chris Paul and JJ Reddick take care of things from beyond the arc.
The Blazers come in under the stalwart leadership of point guard Damian Lillard. His playoff experience will help the team of relative unknowns put up some good numbers against L.A.
However, the Clippers have too much talent for the Blazers to compete. Los Angeles should take this one in six.
After all is said and done with Conference Championships, Cleveland will make it out of the East in seven games against Toronto. Meanwhile Golden State will continue the dream season after going the distance with San Antonio.
The rematch from last year’s Finals will feature two beleaguered teams from hard-won series in the conference matchups.
Both have elite players and playoff-proven grit. However, the Warriors carry too much momentum from a record season and a championship the year before.
Golden State will win their second straight title in six.