By Jeremy Fitch- Writer and Analyst
With the NBA playoffs kicking off on Saturday, there is much to be desired in these next couple of months. After all, 16 wins at this point in the year will grant you the gift of raising the Larry O’Brian trophy. With the four-time Eastern Conference champions, Miami Heat on the outside looking in, it will be fascinating to see who will step up in the Eastern Conference this year. On the other side of the spectrum the San Antonio Spurs are attempting to make their mark, with their third straight NBA Finals appearance. Every season as fans, we say that the Spurs are too old. However, every year come April, the Spurs are in the playoff picture waiting to take the Western Conference by storm.
While the NBA Playoffs seem to always have powerhouse teams, it is always fascinating to view some teams that could catch the fans by surprise. Obviously this is not the NCAA tournament, but the 4 vs. 5 matchups are always enticing. As we overview the Eastern Conference, Washington vs. Toronto looks to be the one series in the East that has the potential to go a full 7 games in the first round. Viewing the season series, Toronto swept the Wizards 3-0, but that does not give the regular season series justice. The final two games these teams played each other went right down to the buzzer. The last two games were decided by a combined total of 6 points in which one of those went to overtime. While the stats may go against what we believe here at Beyond the Statistics, we see the Wizards pulling it out in game 7 of the series.
On the other side of the bracket, the Western Conference 4 vs. 5 matchup is going to be a war in the post. We can see in many instances where having a post presence in the later rounds could be a huge advantage versus teams that would prefer to beat you with the jump shot. Even though most eyes will be on Portland star Damian Lillard, I would say keep an eye on the matchup of LaMarcus Aldridge and Zach Randolph. Overall, I believe points in the paint, rebounding, and turnover differential will determine the series. We believe the final outcome will be the Portland Trailblazers being too much in the end for the Memphis Grizzlies, who are a great team, but can never seem to get over the hump.
While it is understood that fans will be watching the playoffs hoping for a rematch of LeBron James vs. the Spurs, it’s not going to be an easy road for either team. LeBron’s Cavs certainly lack playoff experience, which could definitely hurt them come the second round. The way the NBA Playoff bracket played out there is a great chance to see many stars play each other as early as the second round. Fans always want to watch star-studded teams collide and this year it is highly possible. With potential matchups such as Cleveland vs. Chicago, Atlanta vs. Washington, Spurs vs. Houston, and Golden State vs. Portland. With these matchups weighing in the balance, possibilities are endless with how these series’ could windup.
My predictions for these series’ would be that the Cavaliers have a difficult time versus the Bulls because of how much playoff experience is on the Bulls roster, but I believe the Cavs will win the series in a decisive game 6 or 7. Moving to the potential Atlanta vs. Washington series, I could see this series coming down to who plays better team basketball down the stretch of games and not “hero ball.” If I had to decide at this point, I would say Atlanta wins the series in game six, as the Wizards will depend too heavily on the point guard play of John Wall.
Switching to my Western Conference Second Round selections, I will take San Antonio over Houston in 7 games. While I believe that Houston has the talent to finally knock the Spurs off, I think “hero ball” with James Harden and Dwight Howard hurts Houston again, and the Spurs try to go for one last title run with their dynasty team still in place. While Golden State vs. Portland is a game full of all-star caliber guards, it has the potential to come down to the point guards. We all know Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry can score, but this series will come down to which one can slow the other down. Overall I see Golden State winning this series in game 7 on their home floor with Klay Thompson putting forth a very impressive game.
For the first time in the last 4 years you could sit back and honestly say at least 4 teams from each conference have a legitimate shot to make the Finals. While some could argue more teams have the possibility, it will more than likely come down to the matchups that determine how far the teams can get. The best example of this is the New Orleans Pelicans led by up-and-coming superstar, Anthony Davis. They have a great team, but they ran into one of the best teams in the league in Golden State.
So let’s get into what you guys really want to know. After all of those early round predictions, who does Jeremy Fitch have as his Eastern Conference and Western Conference champions? In the Eastern Conference Finals I will take Cleveland over Atlanta in 6 games. If this matchup occurs, I can see the Atlanta Hawks defending LeBron the way the Spurs have the last 2 years. Unfortunately for the Hawks, they have to go up against the likes of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love as well. Look for the possibility of Kyrie taking over this series and proving he can make big shots down the stretch of close playoff games.
In the Western Conference Finals, I would love to see Golden State vs. San Antonio. While Golden State has had a heroic season, I predict that the Spurs will win in game 6, as Golden State’s hot shooting will come to an end.
This sets up the Finals that so many fans want to see. Everyone would be writing stories with headlines like “Will the Cavs end Cleveland’s Curse?” “The Chosen One Returns.” This has the opportunity to be an epic Finals with the storyline of LeBron vs. the Spurs once again.
Stayed tuned for future blog posts, as the playoffs get under way. I will release who I believe wins this NBA Finals matchup in the coming days.