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 2K 15: Teams 2 Watch ( East)

When most NBA writers preview an upcoming season, they do so by covering all 30 teams. Not me.  If you watch NBA basketball like I do, you know who the bottom-feeders are, and why it can be rather boring spending time discussing the teams who’s only shot at contention -of any kind- is that of who gets first pick in next seasons’ draft!

No disrespect to the unfortunate “less thans”, but because today’s sports’ culture is all about  ” instant mashed potatoes”, I’ve decided to get right to the point and give my take on which teams’  will matter in the 2014-15 NBA season.

Starting with the East, here are the ‘Teams’ 2 Watch’ this season:

BULLS:  Every time I watch the Bulls, it is clear to see in Thibodeau the Spurs/Popovich pedigree. Despite the abscence of Rose and Deng last season, Thib’s still managed to get  48 wins out of a depleted “MASH UNIT.”  Add to this mix former Laker Pau Gasol, fifth ranked NCAA all-time Division I scorer Doug McDermott, and 6′ 10″  ‘Inside-Out’  Nikola Mirotic, and it’s no tellin’ just how much havoc Thib’s and co. will wreck this season; provided Rose can stay healthy the entire season.

RAPTORS:  DeMar DeRozan,  Kyle Lowery,  Amir Johnson,  Terrence Ross,  Jonas Valanciunas, and  Lou Williams are, and will be, a headache for whomever they play. Coach Casey has no excuse for this squad not to improve on last year’s success; need to get away from so many overtime games (1-6) last season.

KNICKS:  Phil Jackson is the only person I’ve seen to ever get NBA-ego’s to come together just long enough to win an NBA Title. So, excuse me for not understanding all the doubt folks had surrounding his return to basketball because he decided to claim a front office position (with the Knicks) instead of his customary seat on the bench, saying, ” Phil can’t be the difference for the Knicks unless he’s the coach!”  I say those folks don’t understand just how much damage an over-inflated NBA ego can cause. For a man of his stature to win multiple NBA Titles with some of the most volatile personalities the game has ever seen, it wouldn’t matter the capacity Phil chose, just so long as he’s somewhere in the building!

PISTONS: Recently acquired Stan Van Gundy will get the motor going in this city once again. Like him or not, Gundy understands how to get his players to play to their strengths. With a front-court every team in the NBA would dream of in Monroe and Drummond, the Pistons only need for Josh Smith to stop jackin’ so many trey’s and become the complete player he should be, and Jennings to understand the difference between point-guard and facilitator. Once that happens, Van Gundy’s version of the Pistons’ ain’t gon’ be nothin’ nice.

HAWKS:  Coach Budenholzer’s Hawks made unwanted press with the admission of co-owner Bruce Levenson’s, and GM Danny Ferry’s racist remarks regading Hawks fans. Sometimes, thing’s of this nature can unravel not only a franchise (regardless of sport) off the court, but on the court as well. Al Horford’s return, combined with Milsaps relentless play and Budenholzer’s  San Antonio pedigree, the Hawks will use the fallout from management’s ” brainlock” moment to re-establish the cohesiveness necessary  to make them contenders.

WIZARDS:  The Wizards are a ” round robin” lock simply because of their front-court of  Gortat and Nene. Beal’s wrist injury is not so serious that the wiz’ will falter in his abscence. Wall, Gortat, and Nene will keep the ship afloat til Beal gets back in the fold. There is one thing that I question; can Paul Pierce make more of a difference than Trevor Ariza?  We’ll see. If so, the capitol could be in for a big time celebration.

NETS: After Kidd’s exodus, Brooklyn went out and got one of the NBA’s best in Lionel Hollins. That said, the clock is ticking on Deron Williams and his band of merry men to finally put to good use all the money  Prokorov has dished out over the last few seasons. This team’s ticket to a Finals appearance is solely tied to their ability to rebound, which was second worst (38.1) in the NBA last season.

CAVS:  With all the “ready made” off-season moves, don’t talk to me about what this team does in the regular season or playoffs. With Love, Irving, and James, the only talk surrounding the new “Big-3” should be not 1… not 2… not 3…  CHAMPIONSHIP(s)! PERIOD.

Honorable Mention: Heat – Wade and Bosh will be out to prove something.  Hornets – Al  Jefferson is coming; forget the plantar this go round!

As always, let us know what you think: http://www.theshopreport.com

No “Me Too” in Mizzou

Seahawks wideout Doug Baldwin on winning another Super Bowl:” To the outside world, we have arrived, but to us we’re a long way away from that mountain top called, ” arrival.”

Now to the casual fan, like a DC-10 (tan), that went right over their heads. But to the purist, it speaks directly to what winning a championship – on any level- is all about, and that he (Baldwin) is a by-product of a championship culture. A culture on talked about in Cleveland since forever. At least 1999 anyway.

If the owners of Cleveland’s three major sports’ franchises (Browns, Indians, Cavs) -especially the Browns- spent the same amount of effort into putting a championship product on the field field as they do in selling ” season tickets”, this town would have experienced a “major” championship long before now, instead of being champions in nothing more than hype (LeBron/Manziel) and headlines!!

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll told his players at the beginning of their Super Bowl season that every week was championship week, stating week 1 of the pre-season. Which would indicate that there is a mindset that must first be established and shared by everyone in the organization in order to become a champion. Adding names to a roster can make you a “Paper Champion”, but not an actual champion.

Here in Cleveland, all you have to do is win a Heisman or be mentioned – ad nauseam- on Sports Center, and you get not only keys to the city, but a 3 year extension to boot!

I don’t know about you, but this season i’m takin’ my cue from the folks in Mizzou- THE SMALL MARKET CITY THAT DOESN’T HAVE A CASE OF THE ME TOO!!