Even less so am I interested in basketball this season. Rarely am I ever in the loop as it is, but my beloved Charlotte Hornets bombed out so hard after Christmas I lost total interest in the sport. The Knicks, my other team, proved once again that Carmelo Anthony can’t lead a team, and they’ll be looking for the next generation of mishaps this summer.
As for the actual playoffs, will it be a third straight showdown between LeBron James and Steph Curry? It would be fun to see that, as they’re currently tied after the Warriors totally blew it last Finals. For me, the fun of sports is seeing the parity in the winners, and basketball rarely has that – so while a re-match would be great for most basketball fans, for me I’d rather see, I don’t know, a Clippers-Raptors finale. I feel switching it up each year is more fun, but basketball is still very much a dynasty sort of sport. Someday, maybe, but…well, let’s just get to it:
(1) Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls (8)
(Boston has previously beaten Chicago 4 times – 1981, 1986, 1987 and 2009)
From what I’ve heard in the tri-state area media, it’s probably a godsend that Derrick Rose left his hometown for the Knicks. What a mess he might have provided, and definitely wouldn’t have allowed the Bulls to slip into the postseason like they did two days ago. Dwayne Wade is still a star, though, and aptly filled Rose’s shoes. Will he be able to take on the suddenly massively improved Boston Celtics, though apparently the team had the lowest winning percentage in a decade (.646). That’s another reason basketball is kind of obnoxious, as top teams are so good that a 59-23 record is terrible. It’s what puts teams like the Brooklyn Nets in a hole for so long that it seems like they’ll never get out of it. It’s also why we only focus on the stars, like newcomer Jaylen Brown, or veteran Isaiah Thomas. They’re why the Celtics will win, but what of the rest of the team? Eh, they’ll fare fine I’m sure. In the long run, I’m sure Wade will give them some trouble, but the Celtics are too good this season. Celtics in 6.
(4) Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks (5)
(Washington was 3-1 as the Bullets, but lost as the Wizards in 2015)
A division rivalry? Something hockey takes for granted, but basketball doesn’t get enough of. The Wizards were renewed this year under Scott Brooks. John Wall has exorcised his past demons and got the team to win their division. So of course their first matchup is against a huge rival. Dwight Howard and Tim Hardaway are attempting to prove they still have something in the tank, but the Wizards may just be too fast for them. My guess is that if the Hawks don’t challege Washington right out of the gate, home court advantage will be too difficult to overcome. The Wizards were on a tear towards the end of the season though, so I’m going to go with them. Wizards in 5.
(3) Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks (6)
(This is the first meeting between Toronto and Milwaukee)
Easy choice here, as Cory puts it. The Bucks were a surprising contender this year, led by Jason Kidd. However the Raptors are perennial leaders, and they only let the Celtics slip by them last minute. There’s no telling how far this team can go, and with Kyle Lowry leading the way they’ll make it look easy. I have no doubt the Bucks will crumble under Kidd’s terrible coaching skills, so let’s just be done with this and move on. Toronto in 4.
(2) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indiana Pacers (7)
(This is the first meeting between Cleveland and Indiana)
Honestly, it’s better for the Cavaliers that they landed in the second seed. They’ll be erroneously viewed as the underdog for the first time since LeBron’s return, and they’ll come out on top because of it. Injuries hampered them in the mid-way point, so of course they faltered just enough to let Boston in. They’re solid now, and while Tristan Thompson back and Kyrie Irving’s mind straight, they’re certain to go a much better run when it truly matters. The Pacers barely made it anyway, I’m sure the Cavs have it in them to trounce Paul George and Indiana, no matter how much more interesting the Pacers would be in the Finals to me. Cavaliers in 4.
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trail Blazers (8)
(The Warriors defeated Portland last year in the Semi-finals)
Did you know the Warriors let a 3-1 lead slip away? Maybe we should let that go, as the Warriors proved themselves as solid as ever in the regular season, dominating the Western conference from the very beginning. Curry had a banner year – on top of his previous records, he added in several three-pointer achievements. With the addition of Kevin Durant, the team was being lauded as a ‘Superteam’ of sorts becaue of those two and Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It will likely be nearly impossible for Portland to overcome this super group in seven games, but they’ll certainly try, with Damian Lillard leading the way. Since I barely know who that is, and I don’t know anyone else on the roster, I’m going to have to guess that the Warriors stomp their way very easily into the second round. Warriors in 4.
(4) Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz (5)
(Los Angeles lost twice to the Jazz, in 1992 and 1997)
I would love just once for the basketball pundits to celebrate how solid the Clippers have been over the past decade as their cross-stadium rivals faltered with the aging Kobe Bryant at the helm. With Paul Pierce retiring, the Clippers will want to go full tilt against an underwhelming Jazz squad. While it’s exciting that the team has qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 2012, there’s no one of note on their lineup, so I’m going to have to hand it to the Clippers. With Raymond Felton, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin revolving around Pierce, Los Angeles should make short work of the strangely named team. Seriously, jazz is from Louisiana. The Mormons don’t even like you. Fix that first. Los Angeles in 5.
(3) Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
(Houston is 1-5 to the SuperSonics, but only 0-1 to the Thunder, losing in 2013)
Do not discount the anger of the gods. The Thunder looked to be largely down and out after Kevin Durant betrayed his franchise by jumping ship to the great Golden State Warriors, opting for becoming a role player since the Thunder never became what he thought it could be, a champion. Serge Ibaka was also passed over to the Magic, leaving Russell Westbrook to man the ship. He downright pirated the league, setting a new record for triple-doubles in the process. While individual achievements are grand, he’ll have to face off against a rejeuvenated Houston team that boasts their own phenomenal leader, James Harden. The point for both teams is stamina, to survive past the multiple breakaways provided from their stars. In this, I think we’ll have our most obvious underdog upset, with Howard hungry to prove Durant wrong. Thunder in 7.
(2) San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies (7)
Other than the Warriors and the Cavaliers, the Spurs have been the most consistent team to make the playoffs. Last playing in a Finals in 2015, the Spurs now hold the longest active playoff streak with 20 seasons in a row appearing in the postseason. Even without Tim Duncan, who played that entire time, the Spurs managed a second straight 60-win season. While I love Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies, it’s easy to expect a win from San Antonio. I do anticipate Memphis giving them a run for their money, but with Manu Ginobili still blowing up the city, I don’t see San Antonio shying away anytime soon. They’re only two years away from tying the record for postseason appearances, but for now they just need to get past the bear. San Antonio in 6.
With those matchups, the second round will look like Boston vs. Washington, Toronto vs. Cleveland, Golden State vs. Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City vs. San Antonio. Tough showdowns to be sure, and like I said in my hockey article, there’s no telling what factors could push someone to the top. I’ll go with Washington shocking Boston, Cleveland handily handling Toronto, Golden State getting surprised by Los Angeles, and San Antonio doubling up on Oklahoma City. With that in mind, I’ll say Cleveland rolls through Washington and San Antonio get the best of the Thunder. This lines up to have a rematch of LeBron with his old rivals, the San Antonio Spurs. Since I’m not a fan of repeats, let’s go with the Spurs. San Antonio Spurs 2017, baby!
So yeah, I know I finished this up as the first game (Indiana vs. Cleveland) starts up, but I’d at least gotten through their series. Like I said, not as big a deal to me. I’m surprised I got through this, but I had nothing going on Saturday.
Towards the end of the Finals I’ll chime in with what surprised me and what didn’t surprise me, especially given it’s professional basketball. I bet you’re all waiting with bated breath.