April 16, 2016

My NBA playoff preview

First, it should be obvious who's the favorite to win it all. Second, I'm going against Vegas books for my No. 2, and also going with narrower odds overall, using percentages rather than odds.

That said, let's jump in.

Steph Curry
Golden State: 35 percent. As long as Splash Brothers Steph and Klay stay healthy, and Draymond Green stays emotionally involved, they're the definite favorite. Getting Festus Ezeli back from knee surgery will help on the few occasions they need extra bodies against a big man to supplement Green playing the 5, and normal center Andrew Bogut.

Why not higher? Well, the No. 2 team in the Western Conference had a near-record year of its own, and if anybody has the keys to beating the Dubs, it's Pops and his Spurs.
Klay Thompson

Plus, the Warriors struggled down the stretch, including a home loss to Boston. How much of that was unspoken pressure over the record chase, how much of it was running low on gas, and how much of it was, with the Celtics, a team matching up well with them and figuring them out, I'm not sure. But, it is a bit of concern. In other words, the Dubs deserve to be the favorite, but not necessarily an odds-on favorite. On the flip side, they're still a relatively young team, and they're deep.

That said, speaking of No. 2 in the West ...

UPDATE, April 25: Let's just put that Dubs coronation on hold and with Curry's bum knee, move the Spurs to the top of the heap.

San Antonio: 25 percent. Yes, I rank them higher than the Cavs, even though, barring massive upset, they'll have to face the Warriors one round earlier than Cleveland will, if we should get a repeat of last year's Finals.

Kawhi Leonard's taken another step forward, LaMarcus Aldridge has fit will with the team, and Manu Ginobili has bounced back from his surgery. Should they face the Dubs in the conference finals, Patty Mills will need to show more of what he did in the Spurs' one win, and Danny Green will be big, too. Down side is how much, or little, not just Tim Duncan but Tony Parker may have in the tank.

Cleveland: 14 percent. Why so low? Sure, the Eastern Conference playoffs won't be as tough as the West, but is Cleveland that much head-and-shoulders above the rest? I'm not so sure, especially given that the Cavs, after changing coaching horses midstream, were actually worse under Tyronn Lue at 27-14 than David Blatt at 30-11. King James, the GM of Oz behind the curtain, may not like that, but facts are facts. Given the struggles of both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving on D, which usually becomes more important in the playoffs, there's some chance this team doesn't even represent the Eastern Conference. The likes of a Kemba Walker could torch most that team, both mentally and physically.

Oklahoma City: 11 percent. Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant continue to pace this team, and no guard in the NBA can stop Russ when he's on. But, the Dubs or the Spurs can put multiple players on him, or on Durant, to minimize one of the two options, knowing the Thunder fall off offensively after that. Trading out Scotty Brooks for Billy Donovan may help in the playoffs this year. Will it help in retaining Durant in the offseason?

Los Angeles Clippers: 5 percent. Unlike an old newspaper friend, I'm not convinced that DeAndre Jordan will be a great offensive threat to a small-ball Warriors offense which can, in any case, go big at the five as needed, and with depth. Chris Paul is a very good team leader, but a half a gear behind the top guards in the league. A relatively rested Blake Griffin may also help, if he doesn't mentally combust.

That leaves 10 percent for the rest of the league. Maybe 2.5 points each for Boston and Charlotte, whom I both like in the East, and 5 percent for the other seven playoff teams from both conferences combined.

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