“Well, of course you question it, especially when you get to this point. I always look at it would I rather not make the playoffs or lose in The Finals? I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve missed the playoffs twice. I lost in The Finals four times. I’m almost starting to be like I’d rather not even make the playoffs than to lose in The Finals. It would hurt a lot easier if I just didn’t make the playoffs and I didn’t have a shot at it.”
- LeBron James, after losing in the 6th and final game of the 2014-2015 NBA Finals
-by Guest Writer, Cal Little
We’re nearly twenty games out from end of the regular season, so there’s no better time than the present to make semi-educated guesses that will undoubtedly prove to be not true.
To start, some housekeeping needs to be addressed. Even though there will undoubtedly be some turnover with the eight teams within each conference as far as their seeds are concerned (Spurs have a chance to grab #1, Thunder could slip to #4), I will start off the predictions by saying that the teams that are inside the playoff bubble at this point in time will remain standing by the end of the season (apologies to the youngbloods out in Utah and Detroit who are at the doorstep of their respective conferences, but the Bulls and Rockets will continue to win just enough to keep them in their 8 seeds).
Lastly, my math capability is no greater than a third grader (shouts out to my third grade teacher, Mrs. Davis), so my predictions are more based off of gut feelings. I do factor in simple stats such as season series between two teams, so not all of it is complete malarkey (hop off my jock Nate Silver).
So, let’s get down to it:
1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 8. Chicago Bulls (Season Series: 2-1 in favor of the Bulls)
The Bulls have had the Cavs’ number this season, with their lone loss in the season was with Jimmy Butler on the sideline. Another thing going the Bulls way is the fact that they always have huge help from unlikely people in one or more games during a series, with D.J. Augustin and Aaron Brooks stepping up in big ways the past two postseasons. This year, Aaron Brooks remains on the Bulls’ roster, but it could be someone like Doug McDermott or Bobby Portis who step up when D Rose and company need it most. However, they’re playing the Cleveland Lebron James’s, so chances of an upset are slim to none, even though they’ll give the Cavs a run for their money.
Cavaliers in 7
2. Toronto Raptors vs. 7. Indiana Pacers (Season Series: 1-1)
The season series is tied with two games left to play, and the few indications that exist point to this series being closely contested as well. The Raptors boast a killer backcourt with two All-Stars, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Likewise, the Pacers aren’t that far off talent wise, with Monta Ellis and George Hill manning their backcourt. Oh yeah, there’s also this guy with two first names that can play great offense. And defense. However, the buck stops there for the Pacers, whereas the depth chart has plenty of other bright spots for the Raptors. The Pacers will play their hearts out and most likely steal a game at the Air Canada Centre, but they will fall to the Raptors in the end.
Raptors in 6
3. Boston Celtics vs. 6. Charlotte Hornets (Season Series: 2-0 in favor of Boston)
The two games played this year have already summed up a lot about these two young teams, in that Boston is further ahead in their development process than Charlotte. And having an All Star year from Isaiah Thomas certainly pushes them a little farther ahead than what Kemba Walker is doing for the Hornets. This will end up being one of the more boring matchups, as Boston will take care of business with ease and move on up.
Celtics in 5
4. Miami Heat vs. 5. Atlanta Hawks (Season Series: 3-1 in favor of Miami)
Miami is doing even better without Chris Bosh, thanks to the addition of Joe Johnson, and Chris Bosh will only help. These upgrades compare to Atlanta’s upgrades in the form of Kirk Hinrich and Kris Humphries. Even with this, the Hawks still are the Spurs Jr., and though teams have figured them out this year compared to last, they still are dangerous. This series will end up being fiercely competitive at the start, but the Hawks will eventually fall in the end.
Heat in 6
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8. Houston Rockets (Season Series: 3-0 in favor of GS)
It pretty much won’t matter who Golden State plays, they all will most likely get swept in the first and probably the second round. The addition of Michael Beasley won’t help the Rockets’ chances either.
Warriors in 4
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. Portland Trail Blazers (Season Series: 2-0 in favor of SA)
The same might as well be said for San Antonio as well. Even with Portland surging at this point, San Antonio will beat their opponent down by whizzing the ball across the court, leading to a Tony Parker runner or a Tim Duncan awkward 2-footer.
Spurs in 4
3. Oklahoma City Thunder vs. 6. Dallas Mavericks (Season Series: 4-0 in favor of OKC)
The season series will not reflect the actual series result of this matchup. Oklahoma City still has the advantage, even through their recent late game struggles, but in two games out of the four games between these two teams, the margin of victory was only three points. Rick Carlisle is a matchup genius that took a similarly skilled, maybe
even worse, Mavericks team to seven games against the eventual champion Spurs in 2013, and the addition of David Lee helps Dallas contend against the giants within the Thunder’s frontcourt. Oklahoma City will survive, though they might be tested a little more than they would please.
Thunder in 6
4. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 5. Memphis Grizzlies (Season Series: 1-0 in favor of LA)
There is not a lot of sample data to go off of between these two. The two teams did swap players in what was arguably the biggest trade of the season, when Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green swapped teams. LA got the better half of this deal, and Green has helped somewhat stabilize the Clippers’ rocky season. Stephenson has been more effective for the Grizzlies than with the Clippers, but he does not give them enough to counteract Marc Gasol’s season ending injury.
Clippers in 6
1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 4. Miami Heat (Season Series: 1-1)
OK, maybe I ignored the Bulls and Hawks’ chances of pulling off upsets so I could envision this tasty matchup. But any NBA fan would relish in seeing LeBron spar with his Miami buddies, and the LeBron haters would no doubt enjoy LeBron being booed down in South Beach. Miami’s depth compares fairly nicely to Cleveland’s, and Joe Johnson even gives Miami the edge in the battle of the bench. It will be a series in which LeBron will average nearly 40 minutes a game, but Cleveland will survive, barely.
Cavaliers in 7
2. Toronto Raptors vs. 3. Boston Celtics (Season Series: 2-0 in favor of Toronto)
This Atlantic Division matchup will prove to be just as appealing. Both teams feature players who are relatively young, so it will be a fast paced affair. Even though they have lost both games, Boston has kept the results relatively close, losing by 10 and 6. Where Boston will fall is exactly what will triumph over Indiana, Toronto’s backcourt. Lowry and DeRozan are playing out of their minds, and even if an off day occurs, they can always throw it down to Valanciunas and Scola, who can stretch the floor as well. Boston won’t have enough experience and veteran leadership to survive this late in the playoffs. Expect Drake to release the official “Raptors 2016 Champions” song after this series.
Raptors in 5
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 4. Los Angeles Clippers (Season Series: 3-0 in favor of GS)
The highly competitive duels that these two division rivals have shared in recent playoffs will unfortunately not help the landslide advantage that Golden State has over a lot of teams, not just the Clippers. The Clippers will go into the offseason looking to retool their roster once again, even though they shouldn’t.
Warriors in 5
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 3. Oklahoma City Thunder (Season Series: 1-0 in favor of OKC)
Three games are left to play between these two in the season, and the one game that has happened was the first game of the season, so the data is bare. However, San Antonio is just too strong, especially in the postseason, and they only got stronger with the addition of Kevin Martin. OKC will exit the postseason once again scratching their heads, like the Clippers, and also like the Clippers, will try and add on to their crowded team.
Spurs in 5
1. Cleveland Cavaliers vs. 2. Toronto Raptors (Season Series: 2-1 in favor of Toronto)
The Eastern Conference playoffs keep getting better. The two Raptors wins were by 4 and 2, so this series is guaranteed to be close. Cleveland’s big three in Irving, Love, and James, will go up against the two studs in the Raptors’ backcourt, who will be rolling up to this point. What will ultimately be the deciding factor in this series is the fact that Cleveland will have a harder path to this series, going up against two formidable teams in Chicago and Miami, while Toronto will battle two teams that are not as strong: Indiana and Boston. By the end of another long series, the Cavs will be exhausted, and Toronto will survive for the first upset in these playoffs. Somebody go and pinch Drake.
Raptors in 7
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 2. San Antonio Spurs (Season Series: 1-0 in favor of GS)
Three more games have yet to be played between the two in the season, and those games will say a lot about how these two teams will match up in this series. They are easily the two best teams in the league, so a coin toss might be just as accurate as letting these teams battle it out in the Western Conference Finals. Going with what we’ve seen so far, Golden State is the favorite as they routed San Antonio at home, though Tim Duncan sat out of that game. They are the champs however, so they earned the right to be the favorite.
Warriors in 7
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 2. Toronto Raptors (Season Series: 2-0 in favor of GS)
What will have been an exciting playoffs, especially in the East, will end in a disappointing Finals, as the real shows will be in the previous round in each conference finals. Golden State is nearly unstoppable, and the one team that has the chance to stop them, the Spurs, fell short of the task. Lowry and DeRozan and the rest of the gang will try all they can to play gritty, Dwayne Casey defense, but the MVP will find its weaknesses and walk all over them. Let this be a warning to Drake to hold off on predicting his Raptors as the champs on his new track; you don’t need the added embarrassment buddy.
Warriors in 5
So Golden State shall remain on top of the basketball throne, further linking their connection with the ‘95-96 Bulls. Another link that will arise from the playoffs is that Steve Kerr will grow as solid of a beard as Phil Jackson had back in the day. Anything is possible for those Warriors.