As we approach the final quarter of the NBA season, its time to start thinking playoffs. The NBA has had quite the overhaul this year, with title contenders from last year plummeting, and young first round exits and playoff misfires from last year rising to the top.
The Warriors, Hawks, Trail Blazers, Rockets and Cavaliers.
The Clippers and Thunder.
The Grizzlies, Spurs, Bulls and Mavericks.
The Current Cream of the Crop
Look no further then the current Number 1 seeds in each conference, the Hawks and the Warriors. They both lost in the first round of the playoffs in two highly competitive seven-game series’ (in seven games, mind you) last year. So what changed?
The Warriors hired Steve Kerr, who has had the best season for a rookie coach in NBA history. There were rumors over the offseason that the Warriors were interested in possibly dealing Klay Thompson for Kevin Love. What a mistake that would have been. The Splash Brothers have simply taken control of the NBA. The Warriors have seen improved play across the board, with the emergence of Draymond Green, as well as the contributions from Shaun Livingston and Mareese Speights off the bench. The Warriors didn’t have much of a bench last year. This team is firing on all cylinders.
The Hawks have spent the last few years building a great roster, and it is finally paying off. I’d say the highlights of this long term process were signing Kyle Korver in 2012 and Paul Milsap in 2013. Watching the Hawks, I feel like I am watching the new and improved Spurs because of the way they play TEAM basketball, as if these players seem to leave their personal egos behind them when they step onto the court. Kyle Korver has stopped waiting for shots to come to him gift-wrapped, and has started actively looking for his threes and creating his own shot.
The Scariest 7th and 8th seeds you’ve ever seen
Really? The Spurs and the Thunder at 7 and 8? The current playoff order in the West seems to be almost upside down from what we expected coming into this year.
Kevin Durant being hampered by injuries has slowed the Thunder considerably this year. However, Russell Westbrook has taken matters into his own hands recently, notching three consecutive triple doubles. The further emergence of Westbrook has the Thunder looking to get a higher seed in the playoff picture.
For the Spurs, the struggles begin with those of Point Guard Tony Parker. He was hurt for most all of December, and has just not produced since then. The Spurs, in the words of Tim Duncan, just haven’t played with consistency. This might be the year where, sadly, age is catching up to this team. HOWEVER, the Spurs have plenty of time to get their act together, and to count out Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs after seeing this team for the last 12 years would be incredibly stupid.
Here come the Cavs
The Cavs had the predictable slow start that had the whole country panicking. But now Lebron has found his form on this team, and they are winning. They have now risen to the top tier seeds in the East (4th), but I think this team can catch everybody but the Hawks, and earn the 2nd seed in the East by playoff time. With Derrick Rose’s injury, Cleveland may now be the favorite to get to the Finals. Playoff territory is completely new territory to this team since their King left them in 2010.
West Dark Horses
The Rockets aren’t a dark horse, they are a legit contender behind their MVP Candidate, and everyone sees that.
The Trail Blazers have gotten better and better with each season since Damian Lillard has been drafted, and now they too have risen to the top tier of seeds (currently 4th). We could see some playoff magic from them once again.
Everyone seemed to forget about the Clippers after their slow start that had them in the middle of the West. But they are right back in the mix of things now. We will see if Chris Paul can break this team through to the Western Conference Finals, where he and the Clippers have never been before.
The Mavericks fit into this category because they have the talent to be dangerous.
The Grizzlies are the old team that seem to always be in the mix of things, but always overlooked. This year they have gone farther in the West so far than anyone predicted, and they are really threatening this year.
I would not say the East has a dark horse, as it is pretty cut and dry. The only teams with a real chance to get to the Finals in the East are the Hawks, Cavs, and Bulls. I would call the Bucks a dark horse, if Jabari Parker wasn’t out for the season. Give this team a couple more years. The Heat would be a dark horse, but Chris Bosh’s injury effectively ends this teams chances. Sorry Miami. The Hornets? They haven’t looked as good as last year. Making the Eastern Conference Finals for the Raptors and the Wizards is a tall order, unless they play each other.
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