In my memory of being a fan of the National Basketball Association, I cannot recall a time where the playoff contenders are so competitive that only a few things were settled before the last day of the 82-game regular season schedule. Just to highlight it, there are only these playoff scenarios that are certain with two playing dates remaining:
(1) the Golden State Warriors will have the best record in the NBA and will have home court advantage all throughout the playoffs, (1) the Atlanta Hawks are the top seed in the East and will have home court advantage in all Eastern Conference match-ups they will be involved in, (3) the Cleveland Cavaliers are the second seed in the East and will have home court advantage in all Eastern Conference match-ups they will be involved in, unless it’s the Hawks they will face, (4) the Milwaukee Bucks will finish sixth in the East, (5) the Portland Trailblazers will finish fourth in the West but without home court advantage in the first round, and (6) the Dallas Mavericks will finished seventh in the West. That is about it. They do not know yet who they will face.
In the penultimate day (Wednesday morning here in the Philippines), only three games were scheduled, among them were the match-up between the Toronto Raptors and the Boston Celtics. The conclusion of this match resolved one issue. With Boston prevailing, 95-93, they locked the seventh seed and will face the Cavaliers in the first round as a big underdog. This makes the hold of the Raptors on the third seed less secure which would have to be resolved along with the rest of the issues the next day (Wednesday night, April 15 in the US).
These games held the key to the final standings on that evening. Chigaco vs Atlanta, Toronto vs Charlotte, Houston vs Utah, New Orleans vs San Antonio, Oklahoma City vs Minnesota, Indiana vs Memphis, and Brooklyn vs Orlando. The Raptors, the Thunder and the Nets do not have sole control of their destiny. They hoped win their games and others would loss theirs.
The Raptors won their match against the Hornets, 92-87, but so did the Bulls over the Hawks, 91-85. This resolved the 3rd and 4th seed of the East. Chicago, having the better record between the two, claimed the 3rd seed and the right to face The Greek Freek, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Coach Jason Kidd in the first round. The Raptors fell to fourth and will be up against John Wall, Paul Pierce and the Wizards.
The Thunder ripped the Timberwolves, 138-113, but the Pelicans hold on to blunt the Spurs, 108-103, This combination resolved the eight seed of the West. While both the Thunder and the Pelicans finish the season with identical records of 45 wins and 37 losses, Anthony Davis and the Pelicans hold the tie-break advantage enabling them to capture the right to face the Warriors. The Spurs will have to wait for other games to be completed to know their fate.
Just about the time of the Spurs-Pelicans game, Houston was pummeling the Jazz the ended in a 117-91 while Brooklyn helped its cause by beating the Magic, 101-88. The Houston win propelled James Harden and the Rockets to second place and the right to face the Mavericks who are fresh victors against the Blazers.
The last completed game to have bearing was the Memphis-Indiana game. Memphis needed this one to have first round home court advantage while its either win or bust for the Pacers. In the end, the Grizzlies came through, 95-83, to resolve all queries. Mark Gasol and the Grizzlies took the fifth seed and will have home court advantage against Damian Lillard and the Blazers due to a superior record.
Joe Johnson and the Nets got the needed help to have a shot at his former team, the Hawks, while Tim Duncan and the Spurs dropped all the way to sixth having been in second place just two days earlier. So it would be Atlanta vs Brooklyn, Cleveland vs Boston, Chicago vs Milwaukee, and Toronto vs Washington in the East. In the West, it will be Golden State vs New Orleans, Houston vs Dallas, LA Clippers vs San Antonio, and Portland vs Memphis.
The Atlanta Hawks should not have any trouble dispatching the Nets. Their ferocious ball movement and accurate outside snipping should do the trick against the Nets. The Nets would be lucky to get just a win in this series. Fearless forecast: Hawks win the series via 4-0.
Long Live the King!
I have been a long-time Celtics fan and its weird not seeing Paul Pierce taunt Lebron James in this match-up (their 2008 shoot-out was among the best individual battles in NBA history). While the young Celtics have gone a long way improving their play in the second half of the season and young Brad Stevens proved to be a rightful choice for Danny Ainge, they would have a hard time finding a match for Lebron James. I give the Celtics one game where they will catch the Cavaliers napping. Fearless forecast: Cavaliers in five games, 4-1.
Another good story that should come to an end. The Milwaukee Bucks a refreshing sight this year, improving from just 15 wins last season to 41 this year and it was for the good of the NBA that they are back in the playoffs. But with Derrick Rose back in action, there is no way that these Bulls will loss this series. Fearless forecast: Bulls in six games, 4-2.
The Washington Wizards fared badly against the Raptors this season, 0-4, as a matter of fact. But these Raptors are not as vicious as they were last year. Add to the fact that Kyle Lowry is having injury trouble lately. Not to forget The Truth. He has always been a thorn to Toronto during his Celtic days and he just delivered the crushing blows to the Raptors’ playoff aspirations while playing for a dysfunctional Nets team just a year ago. Fearless forecast: First upset of the playoffs. Wizards in six games, 4-2. Maybe even less.
That’s My Story and I’m sticking to it.
These were the words used by Steve Kerr to describe his conversion of the winning basket against the Utah Jazz while playing for the Bulls during their celebratory speeches. While he said that in jest, his story now is nothing but serious. Davis is his biggest thorn among the Pelicans but his Warriors should be dispatching the Pelicans quickly. Fearless forecast: Warriors in five games, 4-1.
Everything’s okay, Houston!
James Harden showed he can carry this team on his back towards greater heights and there is nobody among the Mavericks who can stop him. They might try to switch Rondo on him. With Howard back, the odds just shifted more towards the Rockets’ side. Fearless forecast: Rockets in six games, 4-2.
The Clippers-Spurs series is the best match-up if tightness is what you are looking for. This could as well be a match-up for the conference finals. Had the Spurs possess home-court advantage, it would have been an easier pick. The Clippers have shaded their good guy images and Doc Rivers taught them not just how to be tough but to appear tough. They are bent on taking over the bad boys image in the process and not to be intimidated by anybody. That should be a key factor against these Spurs who are now hard-pressed to retain their title. Fearless forecast: Clippers in seven games, 4-3.
This is what the Grizzlies needed to get back on top. No Wesley Matthews, no Aaron Afflalo. That will be huge for the Blazers bench to overcome. LaMarcus Aldridge and Lillard will still be there but the trio of Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley will be too much to overcome. Fearless forecast: Grizzlies in six games, 4-2.