I wrote one of these last year, and it was a lot of fun – so let’s do it again!
(1) Cavaliers vs (8) Pistons
Prediction: Cavs in 5.
I’ve enjoyed making fun of all the Cavaliers drama all season, but LeBron is playing the best basketball of the season right now and the Cavs are more experienced and so much more talented that although the Pistons will put up a good fight, the Cavs will beat them easily.
What is the Pistons lose? Nothing. Stan Van Gundy continues to shape the organization with his vision, and the Pistons accept that they are simply ahead of schedule and that any playoff experience is good for this team.
What if the Cavs lose? Ooooh, boy. I don’t see LeBron leaving Cleveland again, not any time soon at least, but other than that I imagine everything else on the table. I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love got traded, and even though the Cavs signed Ty Lue to a silly non-interim basis, I could see LeBron trying to bring in somebody like Mark Jackson to take over. In addition, these changes will lead to more reports that LeBron is running the organization and he will be blamed for the team’s early exit – and some of this will be entirely true. Overall, this would be a huge mess and a sign perhaps that LeBron may have tried to take on too much responsibility and power on himself.
(2) Raptors vs (7) Pacers
Prediction: Raptors in 6
While I agree that the Raptors style of forcing the action inside trying to draw fouls might not be the best suited for the playoffs, the Raptors are a more mature, more well-rounded team than last year’s team that gave a disappointing playoff effort. Skinny Kyle Lowry continues to be elite, DeMar DeRozan is playing the best basketball of his career, and the rest of the team has shown up consistently. They are simply better than the Pacers, even though Paul George will be good enough to take at least one, maybe 2 games all on his own.
What if the Pacers lose? Given the transitional nature of this season for the Pacers, I don’t think this is their “final roster” by a long shot, win or lose. Losing might accelerate the roster overhaul and free agency push, but it won’t affect the overall trajectory – this team simply didn’t have expectations this year.
What if the Raptors lose? First of all, damn that would suck for all the awesome fans in Toronto. Next, the Raptors would fire Dwayne Casey, which would be justified and would look to move past the DeMar-Lowry combo as the long term backcourt of the future. While it would be devastating for so many reasons, the Raptors don’t have very much bad money on their books and I would expect that they continue to be smart and prescient with their moves and don’t do anything desperate.
(3) Heat vs (6) Hornets
Prediction: Hornets in 6
I can’t really explain this one other than I think it’s going to be close and I think in tight situations I expect Kemba and the Hornets to be better in creating offense in those situations. The Heat have the experience on their side, and Dwyane Wade has been through the most playoff situations, but with a slight coaching edge I take the Hornets in an extremely well fought series.
What if the Hornets lose? I’d anticipate anybody except Kemba would be on the trading block, including the rookie Frank Kaminsky, and they’d probably lose Nic Batum. This team would also be expecting the fantastic MKG back, but at the same time I think they’d have to reconsider the kind of team they’re building. Mostly this will depend on the nature of the way they were eliminated, but I’d imagine Michael Jordan will start to get antsy right about now.
What if the Heat lose? The don Pat Riley never panics, and this wouldn’t be any different, but a lot of this might not be in his hands. Assuredly, the Heat would continue to phase in young players to take minutes away from the veterans. Could Dwyane Wade consider leaving if he wants a) more money than the Heat are willing to give him, b) to join LeBron James? Could Whiteside decide that he’d rather play for a team that wouldn’t play him off the bench, maybe the Lakers?
(4) Atlanta Hawks vs (5) Boston Celtics
Prediction: Hawks in 7
This was the toughest one in the East for me to predict, and I went with Atlanta in 7. I trust the experience of the Hawks and I think in a 7 game series that might be the ultimate factor. Brad Stevens may be one of the brightest coaches in the league, but coach Bud on the opposite sideline isn’t that bad either. Paul Millsap is a terrible matchup for anybody, and playoff Teague is a real thing – I’ll stick with the home team for the game 7.
What if the Celtics lose? Although they’re still playing with house money considering all the draft assets Danny Ainge still has, I think losing in the first round will lead to more introspection and cleaning up of the roster perhaps faster than the Celtics expected. If they don’t see long term fits for some of their young guys, I think the Celtics would be more willing to package them in order to accelerate their growth a little bit faster, even if it comes slightly to the expense of the gradual development of a youthful roster.
What if the Hawks lose? Crazy as it is, we could see wholesale changes. Due to the contract situations and age’s of some of the players; Jeff Teague, Al Horford, and Paul Millsap might all leave. They could enter into a quasi-rebuild if things go poorly – and I have a feeling they might.
(1) Warriors vs (8) Rockets
Prediction: Warriors in 4
Yes, Houston has the talent to steal a game or two, but I think that the Warriors are too damn focused and firing on all cylinders to the point where I think the average margin of victory could hover around 15 a game this series. The Rockets showed an “impressive” amount of fight to get into the playoffs for a team that I thought had completely quit, but it just won’t be nearly good enough.
What happens if the Rockets lose? Dwight should be on his way out, hell he may have left a few weeks ago and nobody noticed. JB Bickerstaff hasn’t shown enough to keep his job and it appears Daryl Morey might be let go by ownership, who just said that they’d like to take a more active role in the team – never a good sign for the GM. James Harden will remain the only untouchable on the roster, I would expect some pretty big changes on the roster.
What happens if the Warriors lose? Ummm, ok. It’s not happening, but…I think the KD to Golden State thing heats up as the Warriors would at that point clearly not be tied down by their supporting cast that clearly miserably let them down. They’d tear down whatever was needed other than Steph/Klay/Dray to make it happen. Other than that, we’d all have to live with the pain that the old guard will have been validated for all their silly skepticism.
(2) Spurs v (7) Grizzlies
Prediction: Spurs in 4.
What happens if the Grizzlies lose? They will lose. The problem with having so many damn injuries is that you can’t really do an assessment of where the team is at as a front office. I’d imagine Mike Conley comes back simply because the Grit and Grind core is so tight, and they just bring the band back. These Grizz are going to have a strange legacy – they had fun playing with each other, the city absolutely loved and embraced them, they were never terrible (except this season), but never also in real contention for a championship. So who are/were they?
What happens if the Spurs lose? Again, not happening. But…I think Tim Duncan would seriously consider retirement. The Spurs would gradually accelerate bringing in younger players, and perhaps bring in Tony Parker’s replacement via trade or free agency (maybe not somebody who could take that job right away). The problem with a machine like the Spurs is this paragraph could also apply to the question of what happens if they win a championship.
(3) Thunder vs (6) Mavs
Prediction: Thunder in 5
I completely am underwhelmed by the job that Billy Donovan has done with the Thunder in his first year, understandable for a first year pro coach, and acknowledge that Rick Carlisle of the Mavs might be the 2nd best coach in the league – and that is why I’m giving Dallas the credit for 1 win. I think the coaching disparities in some of these series will be overvalued, but in particular this series is getting overvalued the most. KD and Russ are going to be the 2 best players on the floor by far, enough to satisfy me for a gentleman’s sweep.
What happens if Dallas loses? As long as Dirk and Carlisle are with the Mavs, they’ll never bottom out or tank in any way, almost to their detriment. Does Chandler Parsons opt out? It feels like him and Mark Cuban have a good relationship and there will be a lot of wink-wink deals involved to make Chandler do what’s best for the franchise. This could just be another “bring the band back” type off-season.
What happens if OKC loses? In this situation, I would truly entertain the thought of Kevin Durant leaving. My nightmare scenario, and I believe this is actually best for KD, is that he goes to the Celtics. The Celtics may win 1 round in the playoffs this year, have cap space AND really good draft picks for Kevin Durant to join. They’ve established a great culture, have a great organization and have one of the best head coaches in the league who also happens to be really young. Other than that, there’s always those Warriors people too. And the Lakers! (Hey, I can dream)
(4) Clippers vs (5) Blazers
Prediction: Clippers in 6
This will be a topsy turvy series, with wins coming both at home and on the road for both of these teams, just because I think hot shooting will dictate which games Portland wins, which can come at any time. Chris Paul and JJ Redick are too damn good to let Dame and CJ walk all over them, and the Clippers have simply been here before and have the required experience to beat this exciting Portland team. This series will hopefully give Blake the kickstart he needs otherwise the Clippers might be better off bringing him off the bench.
What if the Blazers lose? Similar to the Celtics – they’re playing with house money. Neil Olshey will continue doing a great job building the team, and the young core of this team will have some more playoff experience in their belts. Nothing to lose, which makes them dangerous.
What if the Clippers lose? THIS is fascinating. I think Blake Griffin gets traded, and despite his stupid incident, I think the Clippers can fetch a lot for him – Boston? What I’m more fascinated by is this: how long can Steve Ballmer just let Doc run the entire organization? And if Steve Ballmer decides to step in and start taking more charge, does Doc accept it? Does he quit? Does he get fired if he refuses Ballmer outright? Fun hypothetical.