2015 NBA Playoffs: Conference 1st Round Previews and Predictions
The 2015 NBA Playoffs are about to tip off in full swing this weekend. There are some participants who will be making perennial returns to the playoffs. But, there are also others who will be making their postseason debuts. The lights are brighter and the stage is bigger. The energy is going to be pulsating throughout these cities. Every home crowd is going to be loud and hostile towards the road team. This stage makes players into heroes, but it can also turn players into goats as well. 16 teams in the Eastern and Western Conferences start to make their run, which they hope will be deep into June.
All the teams participating in these NBA Playoffs hope get to the NBA Finals, and hoist up the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Many teams are want to dethrone the defending NBA Champion San Antonio Spurs to be crowned the new Champion. The Spurs, on the other hand, are trying to get back on top of the mountain once again for their 6th title, and back-to-back titles for the first time in their franchise history. The Warriors want to cap off their remarkable season with a title, the Hawks want to show that it takes a team to win the title. The Cavaliers want to write the storybook ending to LeBron's homecoming, and win Cleveland its first major sports title since 1964. The Bulls want to put themselves back on top of the basketball world for the first since since 1998, Jordan's final game as a Bull. The Rockets and Clippers want to show everyone that they're finally ready to take it to the next level. The Grizzles want to get their first NBA title in franchise history. A lot of story lines and good match-ups in these playoffs. Let's get right to them.
Eastern Conference 1st Round
(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (8) Brooklyn Nets
The Hawks come into the playoffs with their best season in franchise history. They finished the regular season with the East's best record at 60-22. Head coach Mike Budenholzer, who is a product of the Gregg Popovich coaching tree in San Antonio, has done a remarkable job, and he is a Coach of the Year candidate. They are ranked in the Top 10 in defense and offense. The Hawks also have 4 All Stars in guards Jeff Teague and sharpshooter Kyle Korver and big men Paul Milsap and Al Horford. They are a true definition of a team on both ends of the floor.
The Nets stumbled into the playoffs with a 38–44 record to grab the eight seed. Head coach Lionel Hollins did a pretty good job to lead his team to win 7 out of 10 down the stretch. The Nets have some veteran talent in center Brook Lopez, guards Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Jarret Jack, who comes off the bench and forward Thaddeus Young. In some ways, folks are selling the Nets a little short. But, I do think the Hawks will be too much for the Nets.
Prediction: Hawks in 5
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (7) Boston Celtics
Welcome back, Cleveland! The Cavaliers are making their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2010, which was LeBron James' last season in Cleveland. The Cavaliers have a lot of key guys making their playoff debuts in point guard Kyrie Irving, forwards Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson, back-up point guard Matthew Delladova and head coach David Blatt. The Cavs got off to a rocky start in the beginning of the season with a record of 19-20. But, with the trades for J.R. Smith, Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert; the Cavs rolled to a 34-9 record down in the stretch to clinch the Central Division crown earn the #2 seed. Blatt has done a pretty good job staying the course with all the scrutiny he received throughout the season.
The Celtics also come in hot right behind the Cavs. They went 20-11 down the stretch for the 2nd best record in the East behind the Cavs in the second half of the season to earn the #7 seed. The Celtics, in rebuilding mode, have a talented young core in rookie Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner, Jared Sullinger and Isiah Thomas. Head coach Brad Stevens has done a great coaching job by having his team being competitive and making the playoffs. They play tough defense and are very scrappy, but the Cavs talent will be too much for them to overcome in this series.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
(3) Chicago Bulls vs. (6) Milwaukee Bucks
This 1st Round match up is "The I-94 Series." Derrick Rose returns to the postseason after a three-year absence due to a knee injury. The Bulls will be a more dangerous team now that he's back on the court. He will open up the offense for the big men Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson to drive and score in the paint. But, they also have a pretty solid bench in rookie Nikola Mirotic and Aaron Brooks who can score points for the Bulls.
On the other hand, the Bucks are one of the most underrated stories in the NBA this postseason. Last year, they finished with the worst record in the NBA, and now they enter the playoffs as a the #6 seed after losing rookie Jabari Parker for the season. Head coach Jason Kidd deserves a lot of credit with the team's turnaround. They have a talented young core in Michael Carter-Williams, Chris Middleton and Giannis Antetokounmpo (aka The Greek Freak) as well as solid vets in ZaZa Pachulia, Jerryd Bayless, Miles Plumee and Ersan Ilyasova. This team is long and athletic, they won't get past the Bulls but they can make life tough for them in this Interstate series.
Prediction: Bulls in 6
(4) Toronto Raptors vs. (5) Washington Wizards
This is the most interesting match-up of the 1st Round. One team in the Wizards, who is trying to go deeper in the playoffs this year after being eliminated by the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year. The other team, the Raptors, want to redeem themselves and advance to the 2nd this year after being eliminated last year in a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in the 1st Round. Both teams are evenly matched in this serious. They both have great guard play in John Wall and Kyle Lowry, the small forward in DeMar DeRozan and veteran Paul Pierce, pretty big men in NeNe, Jonas Valanciunas and Marcin Gortat. This will be a very good series, but the Wizards pull it out due to their experience from last season.
Prediction: Wizards in 6
Western Conference 1st Round
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (8) New Orleans Pelicans
The Warriors are coming off the best season in their franchise history. They finished with a 67-15 record, which is the best record overall in the NBA. They also have the MVP and Coach of the Year candidates in Stephen Curry and Steve Kerr. They also have other great players in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut. The Warriors are the top team in the NBA in defensive and offensive ratings.
The Pelicans fought their way into the playoffs. They outlasted the Oklahoma City Thunder to earn the #8 seed in the West. Head coach Monty Williams deserves some credit for guiding this team to this point. Anthony Davis will have an excellent playoff debut. But, there's some talent on this team in Tyreke Evans, Ryan Anderson, Jure Holiday, Omer Asik and Norris Cole. This team is solid on both ends of the floor, and they will give Golden State all they can handle but the Warriors will make this a quick series.
Prediction: Warriors in 5
(2) Houston Rockets vs. (7) Dallas Mavericks
This is the Lone Star State rivalry series. Over the years, it has been the Spurs and Mavericks playing against each other in the NBA Playoffs. Now, it's Part II of the in-state battle between the Rockets and Mavericks. The Rockets have been the one of the hottest teams in the West during the 2nd half of the season, and they're being lead by MVP candidate James Harden as well as coach Kevin McHale. Harden has stepped up his game in the absence of Dwight Howard the last few months of the season. The Rockets have great players in Trevor Ariza and Josh Smith, but they will miss the absence of Patrick Beverly. The Mavericks still have Dirk, Monta Ellis, Rajon Rondo, Tyson Chandler and J.J Berea, and they are very well-coached by Rick Carlisle. Although the Mavericks have had they're struggles during the regular, this team is more battle-tested than their in-state rivals. And, the roster has a lot of champions on it, combine the roster and the coaching; they're a tough out for anybody. They will use this to pull the upset over the Rockets.
Prediction: Mavericks in 6
(3) Los Angeles Clippers vs. (6) San Antonio Spurs
This is the prime time match-up of the NBA Playoffs. The defending champion Spurs are trying to be the 1st team since the 1995 Houston Rockets to win title as a lower seed. They're also trying to win back-to-back NBA titles for the 1st time in franchise history. The Clippers are trying to seek vindication for their playoff failures over the last few years. Both of these teams are matched with superior talent with Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Blake Griffin, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard. Both teams also have great bench players in Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Patty Mills, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and Manu Ginobili. And, they have great coaches in Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers. The Spurs have the better defense and play team ball. The Clippers have the better offense and can score quickly. This series is a huge toss-up between these two great teams, but the as Rudy T. said, "Never underestimate the heart of a champion." The Spurs will find a way to prevail.
Prediction: Spurs in 7
(4) Memphis Grizzlies vs. (5) Portland Trail Blazers
The Dirty South vs. the Wild West series in this 1st Round. The Grizzlies are a very physical team led by big men Zack Randolph and Marc Gasol. Then they're followed by their guards Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and Tony Allen. They play tough, tenacious defense and will grind it out on offense, which is what playoff basketball is all about. The Blazers are very solid on both ends of the floor. They are being led by Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Alderidge, and have some good pieces in Brook Lopez and Aaron Afflalo. But, the Blazers will miss the presence of Wesley Matthews, who is out for the rest of the season due to injury. This is the most underrated series of the playoffs because it's being overshadowed by the Clippers-Spurs series. This will be a great series with these two balanced teams. The Grizz physical toughness and grind out offense will be too much for the Blazers to overcome, but this series will go the distance.
Prediction: Grizzlies in 7