#NBAPlayoffs: 2015 Conference Finals Preview

EASTERN CONFERENCE

It will take more than one guy to slow down LeBron James
(Image by: Getty Images)

(1) Atlanta Hawks vs (2) Cleveland Cavaliers 
Different team but almost the same results for LeBron James when it comes to reaching at least the Conference Finals. For the 5th straight year, LBJ will participate in the Eastern Conference Finals. While LBJ looks stronger than ever, his supporting cast isn't quite as invincible as he is. The Cavs' primary concern is their injury list. They cannot afford to add more bodies to that list. Kevin Love has been out since the 1st Round but the Cavs managed to move along without him. However, if Kyrie Irving misses a game or two (or more), then this series could be over in 4 games and the Hawks would be moving on to the Finals. Atlanta had the regular season series edge at 3-1 and they won those games by displaying balanced scoring from their starters and bench. The Hawks have the deeper team, so expect them to shuffle their lineup often to keep the Cavs off-balanced defensively. At the same time, having fresher legs allow them to run in transition more frequently which favors the Hawks because that could free up Kyle Korver to shoot uncontested threes. However, Korver has somewhat struggled in the postseason (39% now from 49% in the regular season). Still, the Cavs cannot wait for him to get hot because that guy is deadly.


The Hawks started the season hot as they jumped to the top of the East standings. However, they did not finish the regular season as strongly. The Hawks struggled after the New Year but they maintained their hold on the #1 seed in the East. Furthermore, they haven't been dominant in the postseason as they had difficulty dispatching of the #8 seed, Brooklyn Nets, and the Hawks barely escaped the Washington Wizards who mostly played without John Wall. The Hawks are not there yet mentally and while they play excellent team ball, they don't have a clear cut guy who can takeover games especially during crunch time. On the other hand, Cleveland has 2 of those guys who can win games by themselves. Atlanta's priority is to slow down LBJ and they will certainly use different guys on him but the best option is to deny him the ball or double team him early. Such a tactic would leave guys like Jones, Shumpert, Dellavadova and Smith open. The Hawks should be willing to challenge them to make their shots instead of having LBJ score 30+. As for Cleveland, they saw in Round 2 that their role players can step up and they have been solid from the perimeter. If that continues vs Atlanta, then the Cavs would still be playing come June. Well, expect the Hawks to adjust if the Cavs make most of their outside shots which means that they will leave LBJ in single coverage which is kinda like a death wish of sorts. It's a classic "pick your poison" dilemma.    

This series will be ugly and slow-paced. Defense and rebounding will be front and center. Assuming that Irving plays (he is healthy enough to play in Game 1), the Cavs should have the overall advantage. Lastly, LeBron James seems bent on carrying Cleveland to the Finals. It would be tough to bet against the best player in the planet.

CAVALIERS in 6.


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Whose cooking will taste better in the WCF?
(Image from: Getty Images)

(1) Golden State Warriors vs (2) Houston Rockets 
Who would have thought that James Harden would reach the NBA Finals faster than former mates Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? Harden and the Rockets completed a rare comeback after being down 3-1 vs the LA Clippers. They were the 9th team in NBA history to accomplish that feat. Now, their sights are set on the Warriors who are favored to reach the Finals and win the whole thing. The match-up between the Rockets and Dubs features the MVP and the 1st runner-up. Both Stephen Curry and James Harden can take over games with their offensive prowess. The two best shooters belong to GSW but the best scorer plays for the Rockets. The Dubs swept the season series, 4-0, with all their wins coming in at 10+ points. They also have home-court advantage and their players are well-rested compared to the Rockets. Stamina and fatigue will be crucial in this series because both teams love to run. The Rockets managed to come back vs the Clippers because they were able to outrun and outlast LAC due to their edge in bench production and minutes played. The Clippers got exhausted trying to match the pace and tempo of the Rockets. That same advantage won't be available for the Rockets vs the Warriors.

The ECF will display ugly basketball while the WCF will showcase scoring (beautiful basketball?). This series might be more appealing to most viewers due to the barrage of threes, fast break points and ball-handling exhibition headed by Curry and Harden. Both teams love shooting transition threes, isolation threes, pull-up threes, step-back threes, off-the-dribble threes, etc... Points will come in bunches. That being said, the advantage goes to the team who decides to play tougher defense. Well, the Rockets have Dwight Howard who is an elite shot blocker and rim protector. Josh Smith can also block shots from time-to-time while Corey Brewer and Trevor Ariza are decent perimeter defenders. On the other side, the Warriors have a solid defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut. He is surrounded by excellent defenders like Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and even Harrison Barnes. The eye test and statistics say that the Warriors are a better defensive team. Heck, they defeated the "Grit N Grind" Grizzlies by exhibiting better defense. Steph Curry will be ready to prove that he is the MVP while Harden is chomping at the bit to show that the MVP voting should have been a lot closer (BTW, Curry deserved the MVP). Not having Patrick Beverley will hurt the Rockets because they will be forced to put Ariza or Brewer on Curry. Such a tactic will create mismatches that will favor the Warriors. At the same time, Harden will be expected to play tougher defense when slotted against Thompson or Green. I'm not convinced that The Beard has enough in the tank to actively play both offense and defense.  

In summary, the Warriors have the advantage on both offense and defense. It could also work in their favor if Josh Smith decides to take more perimeter shots. Smith came alive in the latter portions of the previous round but it would be unrealistic to expect Josh Smith to keep making his outside shots. The Warriors are hoping that Smith continues shooting while the Rockets hope that Curry avoids shooting. What are the odds of both events happening? Hehe

WARRIORS in 6. 


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