A wild year Western Conference ended with the Golden State Warriors on top led by MVP candidate and Davidson product Stephen Curry. They will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday in Anthony Davis’ first playoff series. The Pelicans were in close competition with the Kevin Durant-less Thunder for the final seed but came out on top. The Rockets pulled away from the Utah Jazz Wednesday night to clinch the second seed and and Division crown. Despite what Daryl Morey believes, they will be faced with a difficult challenge from the Dallas Mavericks in the first round.
If the Rockets do advance, they will meet the winner of the Clippers and Spurs series in what also promises to be very entertaining. The Spurs are hoping to defend their title while the Clippers seem poised to take over as a powerhouse in the Western Conference. The final matchup out west takes place between the Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies. Both teams have been very good this year, and this matchup promises to be a battle of the bigs between Marc Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge. The Western Conference is as powerful as any conference has ever been and will most likely produce an NBA champion.
The Playoffs are also a great chance for players to show their value in important games. Last year, Kawhi Leonard of the Spurs proved that he was one of the best young players in the league by winning Finals MVP. This year, players like DeAndre Jordan and Marc Gasol will be hoping to shine and later cash in on huge contracts.
A weaker Eastern Conference will most likely send a LeBron James led Cleveland Cavaliers or Atlanta Hawks (the Spurs of the East) team off to the championship game. The Celtics, Bulls, and Wizards will also look to make a push but are unlikely to have any major effects on the end results. The Cavs were the preseason favorites and seem to be peaking at the right time to make a bid for a title.
The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets also locked up their tickets to the NBA Playoffs this week and will be the seventh and eighth seeds respectively. The Celtics enter as one of the hottest teams in the league, going 24-12 since February. Coach Brad Stevens has been superb and guard Isaiah Thomas has led the Celtics to two consecutive wins against Cleveland, their first playoff opponent. The expectations for the Cavs are extremely high, and if they do not take the Celtics seriously they may find themselves eliminated after the first week of the playoffs.
Rockets: If the Rockets are to win an NBA Championship, they will need to do what most other championship teams done and rely on their superstars. If James Harden can keep up his MVP worthy numbers and break out of his well known playoff struggles then Houston has a chance in a seven game series against any team. Their first round matchup with the Dallas Mavericks promises to be exciting as the Mavericks now have former Rocket Chandler Parsons. The first game is Saturday in the Toyota Center at 8:30. When they advance, Houston will meet either San Antonio or the Clippers in the next round, with the winner advancing to the Conference Championship. The Rockets will also need consistent play from forward Terrence Jones and guard Pablo Prigioni. If these things all happen, then the Rockets will once again be raising the Larry O’Brien NBA Championship trophy!
Cavs: LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love. What looked like the next big three to dominate the NBA started off slowly and even now seems to be hampered by chemistry issues. Kevin Love does not seem to have taken being the third option on a team well. The real key players for the Cavs this postseason will be Timofey Mozgov, JR Smith, and Iman Shumpert. Only after acquiring these three players have the Cavaliers looked like a dominant team capable of inflicting damage in a playoff series. Head Coach David Blatt must do everything in his power to make sure that the Cavs advance, even if it involves benching Kevin Love. To survive and advance, they must have LeBron and Kyrie playing at their full potential and Cleaveland may finally get a ring.
Warriors: Lead by sharpshooting point guard and MVP favorite Stephen Curry, along with a great supporting cast of shooters and defenders, the Warriors are primed for a deep and successful playoff run. Along with their quest for a ring, forward Draymond Green is soon to be a valued free agent, and he will want to raise his stock as high as he can so he can enter the offseason as one of the elite players available. The Warriors are also known for their fantastic play off the bench, which only helps relieve stress from the starting lineup. Each team in the Western Conference that is competing for a title has a dominant big man presence. Dwight Howard with the Rockets, Tim Duncan with the Spurs, and Deandre Jordan with the Clippers, just to name a few. Andrew Bogut has to step up and at least contain these powerful big men, or the Warriors are doomed for a shocking, early exit from the postseason.
Spurs: Here we are again, and who is surprised? Most people would ride into the sunset and retire, but Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are still here, and wanting to do what they have never accomplished: repeat as NBA Champions. After an early season scare, Tony Parker is back to full health and playing shape. NBA Finals MVP from last year Kawhi Leonard has terrorized the league ever since last year, and securing yet another title would solidify his place in Spurs history, as well as the keys to the Spurs future. And if that isn’t enough, he is looking for a maximum salary contract, and the playoffs are when max players shine brightest. Their road to glory is not easy, having the sixth seed to start the playoffs, but with Coach Gregg Popovich leading the charge and the Spurs’ veteran experience, they may very well be destined to shock the basketball world….again.