The opening round of the 2016 NBA Playoffs did not disappoint by any means. In fact, it exceeded expectations. Injuries, buzzer-beaters and sweeps were in store for the elite teams. But now it’s time to dive into the next set of intriguing series and individual matchups that could prove to be the difference for who punches their ticket to the Western and Eastern Conference Finals.
First, out West, the defending champion Golden State Warriors look to hold the fort down. Their two time MVP, Stephen Curry was recovering from a Grade 1 MCL sprain during Game 4 of the first round against the Houston Rockets. However, The Warriors’s opponent, the Portland Trailblazers, has all of the confidence they need to knock the defending champs off of their “golden throne”, with or without Curry’s services.
The Trail-Blazers are coming off an impressive six game series win against the Los Angeles Clippers (albeit no Blake Griffin or Chris Paul for Games 5 and 6), all while being labeled as the underdogs in the series for the majority of it. If that isn’t enough of a confidence booster for this young and dangerous Blazer’s squad, they just have to remember the night that their star Damian Lillard dropped an astounding 51 point bombshell on the Warriors back on Feb. 19. That game resulted in a 137-105 Blazers’ win and could give them the confidence they need to go for the knockout here in this series. Game 1 was on May 1., in which the Curry-less Warriors won in dominating fashion 118-106 over the Blazers at home.
Klay Thompson and Draymond Green stepped up for the Warriors in Curry’s absence. Thompson tallied 37 points, while Green added 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. To me, with or without Curry, Warriors win this series 4-1 and advance to the Western Conference Finals to await the winner of the Spurs/Thunder series.
The other series going down in the West is between old foes in the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder. They have split in the past two playoff meetings. In the 2012 Western Conference Finals, the Thunder erased an early 2-0 series deficit to defeat the Spurs 4-2 and advance to the NBA Finals. In the 2014 Western Conference Finals, the Spurs got revenge by beating the Thunder 4-2, clinching the series in Oklahoma City. The Spurs went on to win the 2014 NBA championship, beating the Miami Heat 4-1. Now, fast forward to 2016. The rivals went 2-2 in the regular season (each winning on their own home-courts), with San Antonio having the advantage in this thrilling matchup. Games 1 and 2 were complete opposites, with the Spurs routing the Thunder in Game 1, 124-92, and game 2 going to the Thunder in a controversial 98-97 finish. In the Spurs’ win, they shot an efficient 60 percent from the field and 60 percent from the three point line. They scored 43 points in the 1st quarter, while holding the Thunder to a dismal 20 points.
In Game 2, the Thunder turned up the defensive pressure and held the Spurs to 42 percent shooting from the field and an awful 26 percent from the 3 point line. (Even the Spurs have forgetful shooting nights, folks.) Even through their struggles, it was the refs who cost the Spurs a chance to go up 2-0 in the end. Thunder guard Dion Waiters was looking to complete an inbounds pass to Kevin Durant while up one with four seconds left in regulation. Waiters pushed off of Ginobili, committing an obvious offensive foul, but it was not called. Spurs got the ball back thanks to Danny Green’s steal. It looked as if the Spurs were about to win a game they had no business taking due to the lethargic play of the Spurs and the dominant performance by the Thunder. Patty Mills missed a three pointer from the right corner and it ended with the Thunder making the series even at 1-1.
Despite this loss, I’ve got the Spurs bouncing back from their mediocre performance in Game 2, winning the series 4-2 over the Thunder and advancing to the Western Conference Finals for a compelling date with the Warriors.
In the Eastern Conference, who can stop the Cleveland Cavaliers in a 7-game series? Not once or twice, but four times? Not many believe that it will be the Atlanta Hawks, and who would? The Cavaliers swept the regular season meetings 4-0 against the Hawks, also a four game sweep in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. So far, Cleveland looks prepared to to the exact same thing, as they have a 1-0 lead in this series heading into Game 2. The dilemma that the Hawks have is that they are devoid of a superstar, unlike the Cavaliers with LeBron James at the helm. James has averaged 25 points per game, and seven rebounds to go along with seven seven assists throughout the playoffs so far. Good luck Hawks. I’m going with the Cavaliers to take out the Hawks 4-2 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second consecutive year.
The other remaining series out East is the Miami Heat going up against the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors shocked the world last weekend by beating the Indiana Pacers in Game 7 of their first round series to advance to these semifinals. Miami was in a similar position on May 1, beating the Hornets in Game 7 to earn the right to be in this situation. Still without Chris Bosh, who averaged 19 points, seven rebounds and two assists this season while on the court, the Heat looked good in Game 1 of this series on May 3,2016, winning in Toronto in overtime 102-96. Wade tallied 24 points and a huge steal in the extra session to steal home court advantage from the young Raptors, who look to even the series up at 1-1 on Thursday night.
I’ve got the Heat surviving a six game series here, winning 4-2, and going head-to-head with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a dramatic and climactic showdown full of emotion and personal agenda. Wade going up against his former teammate and best friend LeBron James…where’s the popcorn?