With the NBA regular season officially coming to an end, everyone has entered playoff mode. There is a lot to be excited about, as always, and it should be one hell of a show. Every year there are moments that everyone expects, and ones that nobody expects. I’m going to take a shot at predicting the ladder for the 2016 NBA playoffs. Let’s dive into it:
Portland will sneak past the Clippers in 7 games
Opening up the season, nobody really thought much of the Trail Blazers. Having lost starters like Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez, and most notably LaMarcus Aldrige in free agency, expectations were pretty low. Well, they have proved everyone wrong, as superstar point guard Damian Lillard and rising star shooting guard CJ McCollum have led Portland to the playoffs for the third season in a row.
They open the playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, where Chris Paul has led the group for most of the season due to Blake Griffin nursing an injury. Well, Blake has returned and they have been 5-0 since then, so the Clippers are heading into the playoffs with lots of momentum and the intention to go far.
This is going to be one very entertaining series. We have two of the best point guards in the game squaring off, and I think this series will be a lot closer than people might think. The Blazers will come in angry and ready to prove people wrong once again. Look for guys like Allen Crabbe and Al-Farouq Aminu to step up and be key factors in Portlands’ playoff run. The Clippers are also dealing with injuries once again, as Blake Griffin’s hand has healed but is still dealing with the nagging quad injury, and shooting guard JJ Redick is dealing with a left heel bruise. I see this series going down to the very end, with Portland just sneaking past the injured Clippers as they play well but ultimately underestimate the Blazers and aren’t able to power through without their starters at full health.
The Heat will distinguish the Hornets flame
Charlotte has entered the playoffs on a very hot streak since the beginning of March to compliment a very productive season. Guys such as Jeremy Lin, Marvin Williams, and Nicolas Batum have played very well, and Kemba Walker has led the group with a very convincing campaign for the most improved player of the year. Kemba has been lights out, averaging 21 points and 5 assists per game. This team has come together very nicely and looks to continue their hot streak into the playoffs.
Miami has been on a hot streak themselves, and they possess the bigger names of the two. With the core of Dwayne Wade, Hassan Whiteside, and Goran Dragic leading the way since Chris Bosh got shut down during All-Star Weekend, the Heat have had themselves a productive season. Rookie Josh Richardson has also been a pleasant surprise and emerged as a valuable weapon.
All in all this will probably be the closest series in the first round of the playoffs, with both teams being very similar. The Hornets might be the favorites due to their recent streak, but I see the Heat squeezing the win out of this series. The Heat are more experienced and more proven, and these will be the key advantages for them when they face Charlotte starting on Sunday.
Boston will fall to Atlanta in 6
Boston has been a great team this season, and they are set up very nicely for the future with the potential to get even better through their draft picks. The Celtics are great with point guard Isaiah Thomas having an All-Star season, complimented by great play from key guys such as Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, and Amir Johnson. There is all the reason to believe they can go very far in the playoffs.
Atlanta, even though not as magical as last year, have put together another strong season. The two-headed monster in the paint of Al Horford and Paul Millsap has been great as always, but studs like Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver have suffered through what appears to be a down year. I get that Korver is up in age and Teague was maybe just in a slump, but whatever the reason was their lack of production hurt the team. Recently, though, Teague has picked up his act and the Hawks have been soaring.
This should be a very close series, and I think Atlanta gets the edge. Much similar to Miami and Charlotte, the Hawks are way more experienced and have the bigger names. They have guys who have made numerous All-Star appearances and are used to the toxic atmosphere that is the NBA playoffs. I think that this series will go to 6 games, with Atlanta snatching the series. Look out for Boston next year, who very likely will be serious title contenders as they have a top draft pick from Brooklyn.
OKC will take San Antonio to 7
The 2015-2016 Spurs are one of the best teams in NBA history. Often overlooked by the glory and greatness of Golden State, San Antonio hasn’t gotten nearly as much love as they truly deserve outside of their own fan base. With legends in Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili, and superstars like aging vet LaMarcus Aldridge and youngster Kawhi Leonard, this team is completely loaded. They have put up some number that only the ’95-’96 Bulls have put up.
The Thunder, however, have arguably the two most dominant players in the game, and as long as they both are healthy OKC is always in contention for a title. Russell Westbrook is the game’s second best point guard and a triple-double machine, while Kevin Durant is a top 3 player in this league. The Thunder also have a nice supporting cast, including Serge Ibaka, Enes Kanter, and Dion Waiters.
The sky is the limit for both of these teams, although most predictions have the Spurs blowing out the Thunder in five, sometimes four games. This very well could happen, but I don’t think it will be that much of a walk in the park for San Antonio. The Thunder are a top team with amazing talent, and they will put up a good fight. I expect the Spurs to win the series, but in 6 or 7 games rather than a sweep.
The Raptors will beat the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals
Throughout the year the West has been the conference will all the excitement, as at least 2 teams have an equal shot at winning the finals. The Eastern Conference Finals representative has generally been predicted as only the Cavaliers, with Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, and Lebron James leading the pack.
Lebron is great, and he has all the ability to carry the whole team as he’s done in the past, but this year I would say was a down year for the Cavaliers, despite their 1st place finish in the East. The big three didn’t look well-coordinated with Love especially often looking lost. Kyrie took a long time coming back from his injury, and when he finally came back he didn’t look like the Kyrie we all know and enjoy watching.
Is the hot finish to the season a sign of what’s to come in the playoffs? Maybe, but I don’t think so. The dynamic duo of Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan has been phenomenal all year, playing as well as any backcourt in the NBA except for maybe the Splash Brothers. The Raptors have had themselves a great 56-26 season and look like a very dangerous threat to the Cavs. I’m just too uncertain about the Cavs’ big 3. Remember, they’ve never really had a full playoffs together at full health.
I have a feeling that the Raptors will be very hungry and energized, while the big 3 won’t be fully in sync and Lebron won’t be able to carry the team as well as he did last postseason. It will be a close series, probably going to 6 or 7 games, but the Cavs will come up just a little bit short. He couldn’t get them past one dynamic backcourt in Golden State last season, it’s hard to see him doing it again despite his crew being fully healthy.