Sunday, May 15, 2016

NBA Predictions: Conference Finals

LeBron's Rode to the Finals
Oklahoma City vs GOLDEN STATE

The case for the Thunder:
Might just have needed to be healthy, which they finally are, to be this good. Closed out the Spurs with prejudice, who were the second best team in the Association this year, with two wins on the road. Spent much of the Spurs series with rebounding dominance by going big with Cs Stephen Adams and Enes Kanter, and if they can get the game to slowdown and bigs, might have a tactical advantage. F Kevin Durant is playing like no less than the third best player in the world right now, and G Russell Westbrook is in the top 10. Different role players stepped up in the Spurs series, with G Dion Waiters looking startlingly useful, and they've got a great home court. Durant can win games by himself, and so can Westbrook. As the Spurs series showed, they have another gear and ceiling that most teams do not.

The case against:
While it hasn't been a recent problem, the bench can be a mess. Westbrook ping pongs between doing too much and doing too little. The bigs are either foul-prone (Adams) or weak on defense (Kanter). HC Billy Donovan has been great recently, but wasn't for most of the year. Three-point shooting and turnover control can be suspect, and neither can be to stay with the Dubs. When it goes badly for them, it goes badly with speed. Have been either trucked or had their hearts ripped out by the Dubs in regular season games that both teams played at full strength, and with full intent.

The case for Golden State: Best team in the Association in the regular season, and have only lost twice in the playoffs, both times without PG and unanimous MVP Stephen Curry. As the last two games of the Portland series shows, um, Curry's back. PF Draymond Green does everything, and has also been an absolute beast on interior defense. SG Klay Thompson, so long as Curry is around, is capable of carrying the load for vast stretches of the game, and is also a lockdown defender. The bench is back to full strength with Curry's return, with PG2 Shaun Livingston in particular doing great work in posting up smaller opponents. C Andrew Bogut gives them interior defense and passing, and when fifth wheel SF Harrison Barnes or swingman Andre Iguodala is connecting, there's just too many options for an opponent to defend. HC Steve Kerr is fearless in his rotations, and prone to using players like Festus Ezeli or Marresse Speights to perfect effect. Home crowd is a little spoiled now and worries more than cheers, but still goes easily to deafening.

The case against: Can be turnover-prone, especially when they are trying to go from lead to killshot. When you have shooters like this, sometimes they take bad shots any way, and long rebounds make any team a transition team, and suspect on defense. Best lineup is the small lineup, which might get them into trouble with OKC's 2 bigs approach. Curry could have issues with the raw athleticism of Russell Westbrook, especially if Westbrook brings the A game on defense. OKC's got advantages with the big men here, and Durant can own anyone, even Green.

The pick: OKC is the best team the Dubs have faced this year, and they just rolled the team that everyone thought would fight the Dubs for the WC Championship. It's going to be a hell of a series, but I think the Dubs get it done in six.

Toronto vs CLEVELAND

The case for the Raptors:
Resounding Game 7 win against the Heat gives them Mo Mentum. No one outside of their immediate fan base, and probably not even them, think they have any chance here, so they should come in with relatively no pressure. Home crowd is astoundingly loud and positive, to the point of wet nursing poor free throw shooters over misses. Reacted well to the loss of C Jonas Valanciunas, with Gs DeMar DeRozan and especially Kyle Lowry stepping up their game. C Bismarck Biyombo is playing great energy / role player hoop, and the bench is giving them unexpected contributions. As bad as they can look in half court sets where ball movement is stagnant and the guards just hoist it late in the clock, they rebound well and control tempo, two critical points for staying within sight range of a James Gang. Did get to the second seed in the lEast.

The case against: Much of that win total came against the always humorous Atlantic Division, where many of worst NBA teams reside. DeRozan and Lowry take a startling number of the shots, whether that's working or not. Ball movement is the worst of any team still alive in the playoffs. Don't have any of the best three players in this series, which is no way to win in the playoffs. Have no defensive one on one answer for any of Cleveland's top players. Losing Valanciunas will take away one of the few places where you can attack the Cavs on defense. Biyombo can't keep up this level of play.

The case for Cleveland: Only undefeated team left in this year's tournament. Deadly in transition, capable of some of the best defense in the NBA when inspired. Everyone knows and accepts their role, and the ball moves as well as any team LeBron James has ever been on. Shooting an unsustainable and insane percentage from deep, but what's lost in that is that all of the looks have been wildly open, and will likely be again in this series.

The case against: HC Tyronn Lue is new to the job and might overplay his hand. The shooters might finally start missing. You can have them defensively in several one to one matchups. And maybe they come in with rust, or get taken out of their game by the over the top Raptor faithful.

The pick: The lEast is a cakewalk to the Finals every year for James, and this year in particular is a walk in the park against a team that's just 8-6 in the post-season, and is living without a center. It's going to be the Cavs in four.

Record so far: 8-4

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