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 (West)

While the Eastern Conference is vastly improved, make no mistake, the West is, and will always be– TOP DAWG!!!  And the NBA’s biggest money maker. Last time I checked, most of your foreign born players play out West; talk about going global!! Bottom line, watching East games can be a little ho-hum at times; better grab you a front row seat if there’s a West game on display. My West teams’ are as follows:

SPURS:  The term ”EVISCERATED” was used to describe what the Spurs did to not only the “2DayBA’s” (today’s NBA) best team, but certainly the NBA’s “Best on the Planet”, in one said LeBron James; the term eviscerated should not be synonomous with the 2DayBA’s best player, if in fact he is what most people think he is. It is because of this I believe the “Medieval” Spurs will once again hoist the gold ball. Coupled with the fact that Duncan says he’s out to get the one thing he has not accomplished throughout his entire run – A REPEAT.

MAVERICKS: This is the one team that gives me cause for trepidation when it comes to the Spurs. All the talk was centered around the additions of Chandler Parsons and Tyson Chandler (rightfully so), but it’s the not so mentioned Jameer Nelson  that may turn out to be just what the doctor ordered for these Mavs. The only possible weak spot I see is the bench; Devin Harris is too much the lose cannon. If Carlisle decides to move Harris to the 2-spot (shooting guard) and let Felton run the second unit, this is the only squad truly capable of dethroning the Spurs.

WARRIORS: As great a talent as he is (like Kyrie Irving),  Steph Curry is a turnover waitin to happen. And that can’t happen if the Warriors are to make some real noise come playoff time. New coach Steve Kerr undid what was former coach Mark Jackson’s undoing (I believe), and put Harrison Barnes back in the starting lineup. These cats can flat-out score with ANYBODY IN THE LEAGUE, BAR NONE!  Can they play D is the question.

BLAZERS: Have all the tools to win it all, but do they have the toughness? What will Thomas Robinson bring? Blazers will be in the thick of it because of the household names, but title contention this year may be askin a bit much.

CLIPPERS: Doc Rivers is a throwback coach if there ever was one, but not even he can fix DeAndre Jordan’s free-throw woes. Jordan was first in just about every defensive statistical category last season, and yet, is a major liability in the fourth quarter of games; How can one of the games best not be on the floor when it matters most??  I can’t put my finger on it right now, but something is missing from the Clippers. And it may turn out to be the thing that keeps them from gettin to the Finals – again.

ROCKETS: McHale is praying that the addition of Trevor Ariza can somehow make up for the loss of – star in the making – Chandler Parsons. Youth, and lack of defense could be the ultimate cause of their undoing; despite being fun to watch.

PELICANS: Monty Williams may now have the pieces necessary to make a significant run in the battle tested West. Unfortunately, injuries are still a major concern. Anderson, Davis, Gordon, and Holiday missed a combined 141 games last season!!  Can’t expect to contend if the core is broken. Still, I think there is enough here that the Pelicans will be a tough out, and no longer  NBA “Welcome” mats.

NUGGETS: These boys are gon’  get straight up medicinal on cats this season. Jusuf Nurkic and the return of Gallinari to go along with Mozgov, Lawson, Gary Harris (Mich St.), Chandler, McGee, Robinson, Faried,… Get the idea? Brian Shaw will have time to take a nap during games because these dudes will be that in control. Come playoff time, inexperience will tell the story.

Honorable Mention: Timberwolves – Rubio found a jumper, and newcomers Bennett, Lavine, Robinson the 3rd, Wiggins, and Gorgui Deng will have a big time impact.

Can’t wait to hear what ya’ll think!!  www.theshopreport.com

NBA 2K13 In Season Review: Golden State Warriors

Don’t look now, but the Golden State Warriors’ are comin; exactly where and how far once they get there is the question that remains. Whatever the case may be, it has become abundantly clear the decision to make former NBA great Mark Jackson head coach was not only a great move on the part of ownership and management, but also serves notice to the basketball world that these Warrriors’ are no longer brandishing “toy swords.”

For instance, coach Jackson played in the NBA at time when- as i’ve mentioned before- what’s considered a flagrant 2 in today’s NBA would have been a put a band aid on it and get back out there moment during his day. The toughness and attention to defense that he’s brought to this current group of Warriors’ is somewhat similar to what you see in Chicago with Tommy T and the Bulls. The idea is that all 5 guys must play on a string defensively if there is no one player on the team who can do so individually. On offense the shot selections will be done selective and strategically, not helter skelter; with an emphasis on the overall offensive approach being “inside-out”, and not “outside-in.” This is the approach used by teams’ like the Spurs’, Lakers (before D’Antoni), and Celtics. All of which have won numerous titles throughout their existence. It’s not about building for the all important and ever so elusive one, but instead creating a system and mentality that will produce many. Here today, and still here tomorrow is the mindset Jackson is trying to establish. Who else deserves 75% of the credit for David Lee being an All-Star this season? Lee has been a decent statistical player (for the most part) since his arrival to the NBA, but it’s the attention to defense implored by Jackson that has put Lee in his first All-Star uniform.

Because the NBA over saturates the viewing public with only a select few, most people don’t get a chance to see the Warriors’ and the up and coming formidable roster they have put together.

Stephen Curry has become one the league’s most dangerous shooter’s, who at times looks as though he can shoot from anywhere on the floor now that it seems his ankle issues are (for now) a distant memory. Richard Jefferson apparently took a drink from the fountain of youth, because his play in the Bay area has been far better this season than at any time during his stint with the Spurs. Jarret Jack is a throwback; every NBA team should have one. The Dallas Mavericks’ had one in Deshawn Stevenson. The difference being Jack can score- averages a soild 12.4!! His understanding of game tempo is not on the level of CP3, or Rondo, but the fact he has an idea of what it means is invaluable to the Warriors’ come playoff time. Throw in the high basketball I.Q. and dead-eye shooting Klay Thompson with the better than I expected Harrison Barnes, and the rejuvenated Carl Landry to go with the Tom Izzo coached Draymond Green and thorn in your side Brandon Rush, the Warriors’ will be a playoff problem in the West. In a recent matchup against mainstream favorite OKC, the Warriors’ made Durant and Westbrook look like jackers of all shots and makers of none in a 104-99 victory 1/23/12. A game the Thunder led for 3 1/2 quarters with a double digit lead more than once. A healthy Bogut makes for an interesting out come if these 2 meet in the playoffs.

I’m not saying the Warriors’ will win an NBA title this year because playoff experience is a key ingrediant to winning it all. I am saying any team that faces them better not make the same mistake the 1993-94 Seattle SuperSonics did losing to the Denver Nuggets in the first round, or the more recent Denver Broncos to the Baltimore Ravens after being heavy favorites.