I sit here writing in the hangover of what is undoubtedly the greatest finale to a regular season in the history of NBA basketball. Kobe Bryant poetically finished his legendary 20-year career in the most Kobe way possible and the Golden State Warriors broke the 95-96 Chicago Bulls record for most wins in a season with 73-9. Kobe eclipsed the record for highest scoring total for a player in his final game, broke the record for oldest player to score 60 points in a game at 37 years old, and put up the most shot attempts in a single game in the modern era, breaking none other than Michael Jordan’s previous record of 49. The Warriors broke what was considered an unbreakable regular season record with 72 wins. No one thought anyone would come close to this record. Ever. But this Warriors team broke it and MVP-lock Steph Curry becomes the first player in NBA history to hit over 400 threes in a season, sodomizing last year’s record of 286. What the actual fuck. Oh what a finish. But as the fan-fare dies down and the sadness from one of my favourite players retiring fades away, my favourite time of year is here again, the NBA Playoffs.
The following is a separation of the boys and the men in the NBA playoffs. The real contenders versus pretenders. Let’s begin by trying to unpack the absolutely hellish Western Conference.
San Antonio Spurs:
The fact that the San Antonio Spurs set a franchise record for wins this season and are only second when they were almost the first team to have a perfect record at home is only a testament to the quality of the competition this season. San Antonio has made the playoffs every season since they drafted Tim Duncan in 1997 and they have had 17 consecutive 50 win seasons. They have won the championship five times over that time period. This year’s team is arguably their best in the last 20 years which is terrifying since they may not even be the best team in the conference.
With Kawhi Leonard having a stellar MVP caliber season, new recruit LaMarcus Aldridge finding his groove and the coach every player wishes they had in Gregg Popovich, it feels weird to say they’ve only got a fighting chance. Yet, if there’s one thing I have learned in all my years of watching the NBA, never bet against the San Antonio Spurs. Ever.
Key Player: Tony Parker/Manu Ginobli. Obviously it’s important for the likes of Kawhi and Aldridge to show up but the ageing veterans will be crucial in deciding one or two close games throughout the playoffs.
Oklahoma City Thunder:
The Thunder have flown slightly under the radar as a contender this season but it’s because of their own undoing. At times they look like they can dominate anyone, like by being up on the Warriors by 12 in the fourth quarter in February or up by 22 against the Clippers in early march only to humiliatingly collapse against both teams in the most choke-worthy fashion. They are one of the most polarising teams in the NBA because when they are firing on all cylinders they look like the most dominant team in the league and can beat anyone on their day. God help the league if role players like Dion Waiters decide to step up to help Kevin Durant & Russell Westbrook.
A lot of the Thunder’s issues come from lapses in defence and no one outside of KD or Westbrook being able to carry any offence. Enes Kanter leading the second unit is handy for offensive production but defensively he’s a black hole and it will be up to first year head coach Billy Donavon to hide him on the defensive end. If OKC don’t win it all this year, you have to ask if KD is going to stay with his upcoming free agency at the end of this season. No pressure Billy.
Serge Ibaka - Scientists are still trying to figure out how Serge suddenly aged 10 years since 2013, but if he is able to find any of his old form that made OKC put their faith in Serge instead of James Harden then this year might be the year for Thunder, bar any injuries… Again.
Golden State Warriors:
73-9… ‘The numbers speak for themselves.
LA Clippers - Again having a great season but with Blake Griffin having missed 20 + games from injury/punching a staffer combined with the lack of depth at the SF position, I just can’t see it happening. The Clips haven’t been able to get out of the second round with Chris Paul and Griffin at their best and I especially don’t see it happening this year. Sorry Clips.
I guess the jury is still out whether it was a good idea on the Cavs/LeBron James firing coach David Blatt for Tyrone Lue. Personally, I think they were better under Blatt but they do play a little faster and the ball seems to stick a little less. There also seems to be less media leaks so even though I think Blatt is a great coach, their relationship must’ve been toxic making it a matter of when not if.
However, any team in the last decade that has LeBron James on it is going to be a contender. That’s just a fact. The real question though is how tired is LeBron going to be trying to make another deep playoff run? Obviously the man is a cyborg which would explain so much, but he’s hoping for his 6th straight finals appearance. I don’t care how durable you are even machines breakdown.
The Cavs are making the conference finals and LeBron has shown he can go toe to toe with the best in the league even without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving. The man took two games and in an alternate universe could have been 3-1 up against the Warriors in last year’s final. But that was then and right now, the east looks a lot better, so Kyrie better not get a paper cut or something if they want to make it to their second straight finals.
Kevin Love - Ever since Kevin Love has joined the Cavs people are trying to figure out how to use him most effectively. Former coach David Blatt turned him into a glorified spot up 3-point shooter that struggled to be hidden on defence. Cleveland saviour Tyrone Lue showed promise by operating Love at the high and low post and running the offence through him and then brilliantly turning him into a spot up 3-point shooter. Damn, why didn't anyone else think of that? If they can figure it out and go on a run like they have shown glimpses of then there’s no stopping the Cavs.
Phil Jackson - arguably the greatest coach of all time with 11 Rings - apparently believes that if you can reach 40 wins before you have 20 losses in the regular season than you can be considered a contender. Who am I to disagree with Phil fucking Jackson? The Raps have improved upon last years win total and set a franchise record with 56 wins behind Kyle Lowry’s big ass and Demar Derozan’s silky jumper. There is a different feel to this team that has yet to get past the second round of the playoffs so it’s a good thing that Paul Pierce is no longer with the Nets.
The Raps have been largely overlooked as having a chance to make the finals but by all accounts appear to be a greater threat than last seasons 60-win Hawks. Granted the NYPD should really get the assist for that series. [see Thabo Sefolosha]. Coach Dwayne Casey has made a strong case for Coach of the Year since most people only expected the raptors to hit their usual 40-win mark this year. No one really considers the Raptors to pose a credible threat to the Cavs and honestly, I don’t think they would have it any other way. *First and last statements contradictory*
Bismack Biyombo. Who is the key player is really tough to gauge for the Raptors as much of their success is due to role players like Terrence Ross, Demarre Carroll, Cory Joseph and on occasion when 2011 Luis Scola turns up. But in games where Biyombo would go dominate the boards like his franchise setting 25 rebound game in mid march, the Raptors are a tough opponent for anyone.
Miami Heat - Dwayne Wade revealed this morning the Chris Bosh would not be able to play in this years playoffs. His health is first and foremost and he’s made enough money over his career that if his life’s at risk maybe it’s time to take a step back. Loosing Bosh is a huge blow, but since acquiring Joe Johnson after the All-Star break the Heat have been rolling and have locked themselves into the 3rd seed. Johnson has been the missing offensive ingredient for Miami as they already had one of the top 10 defences and for the month after acquiring him had the best point differential in NBA (+11.7), and lead the NBA in FG% (50.7%) and 3PT% (45.0%). Essentially he is someone who can finally hit an open 3 for the Heat which unlocks the floor for Dwayne Wade and Goran Dragic. This would also give more room for Hassan Whiteside to gobble up boards. LET’S GO HEAT!!!
First Round Playoff Predictions
1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 8 Detroit Pistons
Cavs in 4
2 Toronto Raptors vs. 7 Indiana Pacers
Raptors in 5
3 Miami Heat vs. 6 Charlotte Hornets
Miami in 6
4 Atlanta Hawks vs. 5 Boston Celtics
Boston in 6
1 Golden State Warriors vs. 8 Houston Rockets
GSW in 5
2 San Antonio Spurs vs. 7 Memphis Grizzlies
SAS in 4
3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 6 Dallas Mavericks
OKC in 6
4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5 Portland Trail Blazers
LAC in 6
Real life Bond villain Eddie Goldsmith has a passion for photography, movies, basketball and speaking in third person. Like most other sleep deprived 20-somethings Eddie's managed to find a balance between calm and collected to being one coffee cup away from never sleeping again. Writer, Editor, Generous Lover, Photographer and part time funny man I'm always looking to try my hand at something new.