Sunday, April 19, 2015

NBA Update

As Frank Kaminsky demonstrated a few weeks ago, in any one basketball game the team that has the best player on the floor has a very good chance of victory.  Because of this fact, the history of the NBA mostly consists of various eras built around whoever was the best player in the Association at a particular time.  For the last four years, the story of the NBA was the story of LeBron James and the Miami Heat.  During that stretch, the Heat won the NBA's Eastern Conference four years in a row, and two NBA titles.

But last year, the San Antonio Spurs ended Miami's efforts for a three-peat by smashing the Heat in the Finals.  And then LeBron left Miami for Cleveland.  And this year Miami missed the playoffs altogether.  Meanwhile, the Spurs ended up with the 6-seed in the Western playoffs -- although they were hot toward the end of the year.  So times have changed, and your approach toward the NBA playoffs should change with them.  In recent years, we told you that it didn't make much sense to pay attention unless it appeared that the Heat were in trouble.  This year, however, you will want to watch more closely.  Here are the big questions to keep in mind:

1.  The Golden State Warriors went 67-15, and looked like an all-time great team in the regular season.  Can the Warriors keep it going and win their first title since 1975?

2.  The Atlanta Hawks went 60-22, and had the best record in the East by seven games.  Are the Hawks for real, and can they win the East for the first time ever?

3.  LeBron's Cleveland Cavaliers went 53-29, and were rolling down the stretch.  Can LeBron bring Cleveland its first title in any sport since 1964?

4.  Is Derrick Rose ready to start playing like an All-Star again?  And if he does, can Chicago win the East?

5.  Can the Spurs fight their way through the Western Conference playoffs for the third straight year -- this time from the 6 seed?

6.  With Oklahoma City missing the playoffs, and the Spurs perhaps more vulnerable than they've been in recent years, can another Western team (beside Golden State) seize the chance to go deep into the playoffs?

Many of these questions won't become relevant until we get to the quarter-finals, but UK fans will enjoy seeing John Wall (of the Wizards) and Anthony Davis (of the Pelicans) in their first-round games.  Washington had its best regular season since 1978-79, and the Davis is in the playoffs for the first time.  So hurrah for those two Wildcats.

By the way, the Knicks, the Sixers, the Heat, the Pacers, the Jazz, the Thunder, and the Lakers all missed the playoffs.  I won't miss any of them.

Here are your match-ups for the Round of 16 (all series best of 7) (teams with home-court advantage listed first):

(1) Atlanta (60-22) v. (8) Brooklyn (38-44)
(4) Toronto (49-33) v. (5) Washington (46-36)
(2) Cleveland (53-29) v. (7) Boston (40-42)
(3) Chicago (50-32) v. (6) Milwaukee (41-41)

(1) Golden St. (67-15) v. (8) New Orleans (45-37)
(4) Portland (51-31) v. (5) Memphis (55-27)
(2) Houston (56-26) v. (7) Dallas (50-32)
(3) L.A. Clippers (56-26) v. (6) San Antonio (55-27)