2015 NBA Conference Championship Picks

D. Gulley for the Shop Report with my picks for the 2015 NBA Conference championships. Let’s get right to it.

Western Conference Finals

(1) Golden State Warriors (67-15) vs (2) Houston Rockets (56-26)

Let’s quickly get the obvious out of the way.  The Warriors bring 2015 league MVP Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and a high tempo offense.  The Rockets counter with MVP runner-up James Harden, Dwight Howard and an ever-resilient Rockets team with inside-outside versatility.

Now let’s get to the unknown…

The Warriors have been surprisingly the best team in the league from wire to wire in the regular season with a first year coach Steve Kerr.  Offense gets the glory but defense wins championships, and the Warriors are a thickly veiled defensive juggernaut.  Teams shoot worst overall against the Warriors than anyone else, and teams shoot fifth-worst from 3 point land, thank Andre Iguoldala and Harrison Barnes for this.  Both the Warriors and Rockets collect rebounds as effectively as one another, which gets lost under the lights of the shooting prowess let by Curry and Thompson.  The Warriors are sixth in the league in steals, which turn into extra possessions, and extra points. Most surprising is the Warriors are second in the league in blocks while Dwight Howard and Josh Smith and company are a respectable tenth in the league.  Consider this, the Warriors went through the Pelicans featuring Anthony Davis, and the “Grind House” Grizzles, teams with an inside presence if nothing else, and beat them soundly to advance to this point.  Clearly, the Warriors can win the inside game, now they must face a team with both an inside and outside presence featuring Harden and Howard.  A lot of attention gets made to James Harden’s disinterest in playing defense, but he averages nearly 2 steals per game and 1.5 in the playoffs.  Needless to say, Harden is the straw that stirs the drink for the Rockets’ offense, and Dwight Howard is the ice that keeps it cool.  The dual threat of an interior and exterior presence that will test the dexterity of the Warriors defensively.  The Rockets, however, survived a pressure cooker of facing elimination and winning, coming from a 3-1 deficit against the Clippers.  This is a tremendous effort, enough that lacking home court advantage is not a problem for the Rockets.

All in all, the Warriors have what it will take to advance to the NBA Finals because the depth of their offensive contributions and stealthily stellar defense.

PICK: GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Eastern Conference Finals

(1) Atlanta Hawks (60-22) vs (2) Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

The Atlanta Hawks arrive with the Eastern Conference’s best record but not the conference’s best talent (arguably).  I’m certain they beg to differ.  Unfortunately, team sports are most identified by singular star power, and the Hawks are the case in point.  But 60 times this season, their opposition recognized just who they were.  On the season, the Hawks lack a single 20-point scorer, with power forward Paul Millsap averaging 16.7 points followed by center Al Horford with 15.9 points.  Small forward DeMarre Carroll at 17.1 points actually has the Hawks’ highest scoring average in the playoffs.  Night in and night out, Hawks veteran shooting guard Kyle Korver proves to be a problem for teams that don’t account for him.  Only the Golden State Warriors have more assists on the year than the Hawks, that means everyone is a part of their success; the whole is greater than the sum total of its parts.  It is in this fashion that he Hawks have been referred to has the Spurs-East.  And it will take every bit of the collective effort to beat the Cavs.  What’s special about both the Hawks and the Cavs is that they do not send teams to the charity stripe a lot, as they are second and first respectively in free throw attempts allowed.  Key for the Hawks is that they force turnovers and are fifth in points allowed, this is where they’re most Spurs-like.

Now about they’re opposition…

The Cleveland Cavs are as bi-polar a team as you can get.  Due to trades and injuries, they are not at all the same team that started the season and held a losing record at one point in January.  Featuring LBJ, arguably the best overall player in the league and Kyrie Irving emerging as a dual first or second option on offense, they are easily the toughest matchup the Hawks will face in the playoff run (save a potential matchup with the Warriors).  What stymies most of the Cavs competition, is that they refuse (or fail) to allow Lebron James to be a factor while containing the others, making him as deadly a threat as ever.  This is compounded by Timofey Mozgov at center and J.R. Smith at guard who are capable third and fourth scoring options at all times.  Last, and most certainly not least, Iman Shumpert embraces on the ball defense which he has been lauded for since he arrived in the league only 3 seasons ago.

Key to this series is understanding the moment, and the emotions therein.  This is an advantage that the Cavaliers have because of Lebron James – like him or not.  Tangibly, the ability to rely on a clutch scorer, or volume scorer is yet another advantage that the Cavaliers hold, though the Hawks have been successful at times in their regular season matchup.  The Cavs bring more to the table than the Hawks and I would therefore be pleasantly surprised to see the Hawks emerge in this series.  Alas, this is about what I expect, not what I would be surprised to see, therefore look for the Cavs to win.

PICK: CLEVELAND CAVALIERS

We’ll surely be back with the NBA Finals preview, stay tuned.

NBA Playoffs: East

Now that both the East and West contestants of what is the 2013 NBA Playoffs are set, here’s my take on the winners/losers of each matchup starting with the East. Seeds are in parenthesis.

(1) Miami vs. (8) Milwaukee: LeBron (DNP), Wade (DNP), and Bosh (DNP); Miami still wins 4-0. The Heat have 3 of the Olympic starting 5; Bucks have Jennings, Ellis, and a bunch of no names. The Heat should have been granted a first-round bye. That’s how horrible this series will most likely turn out.

(2) New York vs. (7) Boston: The Celtics should not be underestimated because of their age. Doc Rivers knows all to well – as do his players- what playoff basketball is all about. Only the Spurs Popovich is better at getting the most out of his squad. As long as health is not an achilles heel, Boston has more than a puncher’s chance of winning this series. The Knicks have 2 of the league’s premier shooters in Melo and Smith, but need Chandler to balance everything out. Sometimes when the shots are not fallin, the Knicks get caught holding the ball to long and standing around. The lack of ball movement in halfcourt sets will be their undoing and exactly what the doctor ordered for the Celtics. The Knicks should win; I won’t be shocked if they don’t.

(3) Indiana vs. (6) Atlanta: Pacers are to inconsistent; one minute they look as though they could beat anybody, and then turn around and look as though couldn’t compete with the recently crowned state champ Mentor Cardinals. Hibbert’s production is critical to the Pacers advancing to the next round. 8 points and 5 rebound type numbers will not get it done. Horford and Smith can tip the scales in favor of the Hawks if Josh stops poutin’ and start playin’ up to his ability. Al will bring it every night; will Smith help him out? Indiana wins 4-3 by default.

(4) Brooklyn vs. (5) Chicago: Lopez, Johnson, and Williams make up a nice core for the Nets, but Carlesimo and inexperience may count against them in the end. The Bulls are battle tested like no other. Chicago needs to only put points on the board; everything else will take care of itself. Rose’s return (off the bench) would be a huge bonus. Bulls win this series 4-2 on grit alone.

NBA 2K13 In Season Review: Atlanta Hawks

If you ask me, the only reason the Atlanta Hawks are a playoff team is because they play in the Eastern conference. Or, as some might say, they’re a playoff team by default. It’s not as if they don’t have a pretty decent roster makeup from an ability standpoint with guys like Al Horford, Josh Smith, Devin Harris, and Kyle Korver. I just have a hard time trying to figure out at what point is the mentality going to coincide with the ability. Without the two coming together, falling short is usually the end result.

The Hawks are 15th in points scored (97.6/per), and 13th in points allowed (97.2/per) for the 2013 campaign. Who will they beat with those enigma-type numbers? Not many -if any- come playoff time.

Horford is the only player I can truly say is deserving of being on a contender. His production goes well beyond a box score -when not injured- and his intensity is there night in and night out. Consistent is the first word that comes to mind when I watch big Al play.

Smith, Korver, and Harris give me cause for concern going into the playoffs. Smith is one of those “talented” players’ who never really materialized into the player he should have because of his pouting. Loves to play out on the perimeter to shoot the three, but doesn’t seem to realize he would be better served -as would the Hawks- to start out on the interior and then go on the outside. Helping Al on the inside will help Atlanta’s chances for winning.

Korver is a spot-up shooter who would help the Hawks more if he could put the ball on the floor. Not being able to be shoot of the dribble makes him no different than Rashad Lewis – a career journeyman. What does it say about you as a player when the Bulls (who are in need of perimeter scoring) decide to let you go. Korver is most effective when being fed; one dimensional is definitely guardable. What happens when a team runs him off the three-point line?

Of the Hawk point guards, Harris is taller than Teague, but not smarter. Teague is more of a facilitator than Harris, but lacks the size to deal with big guards. Both however are defensive deficient. Harris plays too fast and out of control more times than I care to count. A better understanding of tempo would allow everyone else -especially Korver- to play within themselves and play better overall. The Hawks have to understand that Al cannot do it by himself on the inside if they are to have at least a fighting chance to advance.