The NBA playoffs for the 2014-2015 begin Saturday afternoon. An eventful season featuring LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, the Golden State Warriors rise to prominence, and the unfortunate injury-induced fall of the Oklahoma City Thunder, will come to an end in six short weeks. Sixteen teams will be gunning for the same goal, the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy.
The Atlanta Hawks, to the pleasant surprise of NBA fans alike, claimed the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. They will play the disappointing eight-seeded Brooklyn Nets in round one, which should be a cakewalk for the Hawks’ 60 win squad, the most wins in team history.
In spite of James’ return, the Cleveland Cavaliers got off to a rocky start. At 19-20 talking heads across the country began to call their season a failure. Thanks to James, Kyrie Irving, and a few mid-season acquisitions, they got their season back on the right track, winning 53 games. As the second-seed they match up against the Boston Celtics. In what was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Bean Town, Head Coach Brad Stevens led a rag-tag group of hungry young guns, to an out-of-nowhere playoff berth.
The three-six meeting of Chicago and Milwaukee stars two Central Division rivals in different stages of their respective franchises. The Bulls title-run might end for the foreseeable future. Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah have been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Spanish big man Pau Gasol has been tremendous, but just turned 35 years old. This may be wing-stud Jimmy Butler’s final year in the Windy City before he bolts in free agency. Meanwhile, the Bucks are young and talented and bounced back from a 15-win disaster a year ago. Their core appears to be intact for the foreseeable future.
The final series is the decisive four-five matchup of the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards. All eyes will be on both teams’ backcourts, two of the most elite in the league. All-stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have led Toronto to their second consecutive Atlantic Division crown. A younger core, All-star John Wall and third-year phenom Bradley Beal took the Wizards to the franchise’s highest win total (46) since the 1979 season. Toronto has home court advantage for the series.
A head coaching change and the joint player-development of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson allowed Golden State to achieve a club record 67 win season. Coach Steve Kerr replaced Mark Jackson in the offseason, and made the proper tweaks allowing the Warriors to flourish. While Golden State features MVP favorite Curry, the New Orleans Pelicans are no slouches either with their up and coming league MVP candidate Anthony Davis. Despite a 22-win difference between the two teams, don’t expect this to be a quick series for the Warriors.
The Houston and Dallas front offices have quietly dueled the past few years. Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is one of the most cutting-edge executives in sports, and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban seems to succeed in every venture he’s invested into. Dallas stole swingman Chandler Parsons from Houston in free agency and the Rockets had the nerve to offer Mavericks franchise-cornerstone Dirk Nowitzki a max-deal a year ago. On the court, expect Dallas to try some cunning tactics to try and stop Rockets’ scoring machine James Harden.
To have the Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs meet in round one is unfair to both teams, yet a treat for any basketball fan. They are arguably the second and third best teams in the league, and the defending champion Spurs will have their hands full with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Kawhi Leonard has not disappointed the San Antonio faithful since winning Finals MVP last year, claiming the NBA leader in steals in the process.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trailblazers will look back on their seasons as what could have been. Portland lost two-way stud Wes Matthews to a torn achilles in March and the team stumbled to the finish line. Memphis point guard Mike Conley and defensive ace Tony Allen are both playing on one-leg each, preventing the Grizzlies from reaching their full potential. The post matchup of Marc Gasol and a playing-while injured LaMarcus Aldridge will probably determine who wins the series.
Championship Odds (according to OddsShark.com)
Golden State: 11/5
San Antonio: 7/2
Los Angeles: 18/1
By Kyle Edwards