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: West

Playoff time is here, and the West is the best when it comes to matchups fans really want to see. Seeds are in parenthesis.

(1) Oklahoma City vs.(8) Houston: Thunder have a dynamic 1-2 punch in Durant and Westbrook. Problem is, Westbrook’s style of play can be asymmetrical to the offensive flow. Instead of working with K.D., Westbrook seems to work against him. The Rockets would win this series if they played any kind of D! Because they don’t, OKC wins 4-2.

(2) San Antonio vs.(7) L.A. Lakers: This one is hard to call believe it or not. Both Teams are playoff savy and experienced. It doesn’t matter that the Lakers roster has not been together for a long time, or that the Spurs are dealing with a rash of recent injuries as of late. This is a pick em’ series all day long.

(3) Denver vs.(6) Golden State: Denver was a league best 38-3 at home! Not having Galinari put a severe dent in their attempt to go all the way, but that won’t be a problem against the Warriors. Golden State has improved significantly on both ends of the floor under coach Mark Jackson and have one of the league’s most dangerous player’s in Curry. It’ll take more than that to win this series. Denver wins 4-2 in a series that will be played better than the end result.

(4) L.A. Clippers vs.(5) Memphis: Although the Griz’ have been playing well in the absence of Rudy Gay, I still think at some point it will come back to haunt them. Slow it down is the recipe for the Grizzlies. The Clippers outside shooting has been up and down this season, and the interior is inferior to the Griz’ despite Blake Griffin. Memphis wins 4-3; they better not make a fool out of me.

Well, that’s a wrap for this year’s predictions… Let the Madness begin!!

NBA 2K13 In Season Review: Houston Rockets

Houston, we have a problem… the Rockets’ delegitimize themselves by not being able to keep opponents from scoring at a torrid pace, giving up an average 103.4 per/g; which explains why they’re next to last (29th of 30) in points allowed. Because they score just as many as they give up (106.4 per/g), and are 2nd best in the league in doing so, the Rockets’ are able to maintain a decent 31-26 won-loss record. To bad the playoffs are not a halfcourt game; the Rockets’ would run everybody right out of the gym!!! More so than the Spurs’, watching Harden & co. run their offense is a thing of beauty. I’d rather shave hair off the backside of an angry lion than watch them play defense. It’s that bad.

Adding Thomas Robinson and Francisco Garcia should help. How soon that help arrives is the question Rocket fans can’t wait to get an answer to. Robinson is the main piece in GM Daryl Morey’s latest deadline deal that should prove to be his biggest yet. Robinson looked at times out of place in Sacramento because of all the nonsense surrounding the “ALOOF” brothers and the logjam at forward. Being drafted by the Kings was a waste of his time. How can a player even scratch the surface of his potential when thrown into chaos and confusion right from the start? Kevin McHale will no doubt find a much more determined role for Robinson who should benefit immensely.

Harden has proved that being a starter is not at all a burden, and there is still time for OKC to regret ever having let him go. His ability to put the ball in the basket with little or no effort is equal to only Tony Parker of the Spurs’. However, defense is a big problem. Harden clearly sets the tone on offense, he also should set the tone on defense as well if the Rockets’ are to have any chance of avoiding a first round exit come playoff time.

Jeremy Lin is an “up and down” type of player who doesn’t seem to play without the ball as well as he does with the ball. The Rockets’ run pick & roll with Lin and Harden pretty effectively, but it’s not a recipe you can rely on in the playoffs. Once again, the theme here is that interior play determines if and how far you advance in the playoffs. Especially with the Rockets’ not being a very good rebounding team. How long can shooting 49% from 3 help you maintain sustainability? Chandler Parson’s injury only makes the situation worse.

The Rockets’ are a perimeter oriented team that can score in bunches with the best of em’, but their losses will start to mount if the interior play is not addressed immediately. I think McHale knows the Lakers’ smell blood in the water; they better hope Robinson is the lifeboat.