2018 NBA Finals Predictions

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I was tempted to copy-and-paste the format I used last year, but while this is the 4th year in a row that the Cavs and Warriors have faced off, this time will be much different. Unfortunately for fans, it’s also not nearly as unpredictable. The entire story is just how much one man – LeBron James – will be able to do to give his team another championship before he leaves for good. Let’s take a look at how many more wins he can give Cleveland in the last series of the 2018 NBA season.

First of all, how did we get here? Unlike in the last two years, this wasn’t inevitable. The Celtics had a legitimate shot at taking Cleveland out for much of the season, and the Raptors ran away with the Eastern Conference. The Pacers gave them everything they could handle in an early upset bid, but nevertheless, the 4-seeded Cavaliers fought and clawed their way past each of them (well, past the Pacers and Celtics) when it mattered most.

Wait, did I say Cavaliers? I really meant LeBron James. My pick for MVP this year had arguably the best season and playoffs of his 15-year career. He literally accounted for over 50% of the team’s offense in the playoffs, averaging 34 points, 8.8 assists, and 9.2 rebounds per game. Falsely assuming that all 9 or so assists were two pointers, that is generously saying that James is responsible for 52 of the Cavs’ 101 ppg this postseason. Now just imagine if he were to play a defense that was focused on getting the ball out of his hands…

Hey, I’ll be honest. The Warriors are no juggernaut. People expected a tough battle with the Spurs in Round 1, but without Kawhi Leonard and later sans head coach and mastermind Gregg Popovich, it became pretty easy for Golden State to advance. In the Conference Semis, the Pelicans’ interior offense was no match for the Warriors’ perimeter shooting, and they again advanced in 5. Then, the toughest test came against a motivated Houston Rockets team that was the favorite all season long to knock off the defending champs. However, even after huge 1st half leads in Games 6 and 7, it wasn’t meant to be for the 2nd most valuable player James Harden and an injured Chris Paul.

Golden State’s tenacity and resolve to come back from huge deficits is commendable, and a huge reason why it’s going to be nearly impossible for one man to take them all down. They have a seemingly endless energy tank and laser focus that lasts all 48 minutes each and every night. With the Larry O’Brien Trophy again within their grasp, it would take a miracle for the Warriors to let it slip away after they’ve come this far.

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So here’s the scoop this year: it’s James vs. Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. Each of those four aforementioned names is capable of guarding James 1-on-1, which leaves three excellent defenders on the other Cavs players. If I’m Steve Kerr, unless Andre Igoudala returns, I would pick Durant to go against James. He has had a marvelous season defensively, leading all small forwards in blocks per game with 1.8, and suffocating his matchups both on the perimeter and on the drive… both of James’ strong suits. Thompson is equally known for his aggressiveness with his back to the hoop too, as well as his sharpshooting. Green can get in the mind of anyone who dares to step in his path, and of course there is Curry who can do it all in crunch time. If that seems overwhelming, then you see my point.

In order to bring Cleveland their second championship and to even the Finals series with the Warriors at 2-2, James’ team has to step up. J.R. Smith needs to start hitting threes, Kevin Love needs to be healthy and become a second threat, and Tristan Thompson is going to have to dominate the boards on both ends of the court. It won’t be easy, but the Warriors don’t have the pressure on them. James does. So who is going to step up and finally help take some of that off of him?

In my eyes, LeBron James needs four more wins to officially become the greatest of all time. He has already had the best season of his career, and that is no thanks to his mediocre, if not subpar, team that probably finds themselves out of the playoffs without him. The fact that he has dragged them into June is an incredible feat in its own right, but the history books will only remember him for how he ends this season. With an impossible series win against the Warriors, he would undoubtedly be the best to ever play the sport. With a loss, he would move to 3-6 in the Finals, and 7 of those appearances (record of 3-4) have already come with a comparable amount of help as Michael Jordan had (who was 6-0). The only way to pass the legend that literally every athlete of every sport is compared to is to single-handedly knock off the Goliath of Golden State.

Predictions:

Game 1- Cavaliers 90, Warriors 112

Game 2- Cavaliers 103, Warriors 115

Game 3- Warriors 108, Cavaliers 110

Game 4- Warriors 117, Cavaliers 104

Game 5- Cavaliers 97, Warriors 109

The Warriors aren’t dropping a game at home, and if not for a buzzer-beater from James, they don’t drop a game on the road either. This time, they don’t blow a 3-1 lead. Warriors in 5.

MVP: Draymond Green. He’s already having a terrific and consistent postseason, and I expect his play to be pivotal in times of struggle and a success throughout this short series.

Bonus Prediction: With this, the Cavaliers-Warriors Era finally comes to an end. The Warriors ironically win the four-year war 3-1, and LeBron James is forced to take his talents elsewhere. I’m not one to predict his landing spot, but if he’s not in Houston, I’d like to think he’s speaking with Paul George on who they should take to the Finals next year.

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2018 NBA Conference Finals Predictions

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Disregarding my inexplicable change of heart last week, I must say I’m pretty happy to have correctly predicted the Conference Finals way back in October. (If you’re curious, check that out right here: 2017-2018 NBA Predictions). Frustratingly, I even called the Cavaliers beating the Raptors in the Semifinals pretty easily… but anyway, it’s time to move on. Let’s take a look at who we’re going to see battle for the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

 

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (2) Golden State Warriors

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I’ve been waiting all year for this series to begin. There was little doubt throughout the season that regardless of how competitive the Western Conference was, it was a pretty sure thing that these two titans of the NBA would ultimately clash for a spot in the NBA Finals. Unlike the past three years, the Warriors enter as the underdogs, having lost the top seed to Houston this year. However, I don’t think home court will play a huge role in this series.

This is not an overhyped series. I definitely think we are capable of seeing Game 7. Chris Paul is finally over the hump and playing in his first Conference Finals of his long and stellar career. James Harden might not be at the MVP level of LeBron James right now, but he’s still averaging a ‘measly’ 29 ppg this postseason. As good as the Warriors are at scoring, make no mistake- the Rockets are dangerous.

For Golden State, I don’t think they have to do anything differently. They’ve carved through their first two opponents with and without Stephen Curry. They’re built to win big games, and Steve Kerr has his team relaxed and confident. With the pressure on Houston to pull the upset, the Warriors just need to keep their foot on the gas and let the Rockets make the mistakes… which they will inevitably do down the stretch.

Prediction: Warriors in 7

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs (4) Cleveland Cavaliers

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I must admit that I did see the result of Game 1 already. However, I remain undeterred with my prediction. Until last week, I had been riding Boston and Cleveland all season long, but I have gone back and forth on who I think will win this series. With a fully-healthy Celtics team, I believe they are capable of beating anybody. But without Kyrie Irving leading at the point guard position, the Celtics have been inconsistent at times… and the Cavs love to exploit those runs.

It’s important to note that the Celtics aren’t all that crippled. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire year and they’ve gotten this far, so that’s a non-factor. In fact, Boston has done pretty well without Irving too. Unlikely heroes like Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Terry Rozier have stepped up big-time for the young Celtics team, and they are playing like there’s nothing to lose. If they can continue to hold James to 20 points or less, it’s their series to lose.

I know the Cavs just lost by 25, and I know I just made the mistake of going against my previous research last week, but a big loss can be expected in Game 1 in a tough environment on the road. This Celtics team is different than the ones Cleveland has faced all season, and I expect them to adjust and respond at home. Game 2 may go to Boston as well, but once the Cavs get a couple of games back and put their young opponents on the ropes, LeBron James will lock in and close out the series strong to make it to his eighth straight NBA Finals.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 6.

2018 NBA Playoff Predictions – Round 1

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After months of anticipation, we’ve finally made it past Game 82 of the NBA season. Unlike in years past when the Cavaliers’ and Warriors’ paths have been primarily predetermined, 2018 promises to pose some problems. With many of the teams’ seedings getting clinched on the final day of the regular season, the winners of this wide open field are anyone’s guess. Let’s take a look at mine.

(1) Houston Rockets vs. (8) Minnesota Timberwolves

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The Timberwolves have one of my favorite rosters in the NBA, and it’s always so strange to me that they never make the playoffs. Well, after 13 years of torture, they finally did it. They are healthy and hungry, but unfortunately they square up against one of the most dangerous backcourts in the NBA in Chris Paul and James Harden. As with most of the series across the playoffs this year, it won’t be a runaway, but I don’t see Harden going down this early. Also, maybe this is the year CP3 finally makes it to the conference finals for the first time in his career.

Prediction: Rockets dominate home court; win in 5.

 

(4) Oklahoma City Thunder vs. (5) Utah Jazz

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It was heartbreak for the Jazz on the last day of the regular season as they went from a 3 seed ready to take on OKC with home court, to a 5 seed taking on the Thunder from the road. As much as I hate the Thunder’s dynamic, and as right as I was that they would be nowhere close to people’s preseason expectations, I think April 11 was indicative of both teams’ potential this week despite the excellence of Donovan Mitchell. I don’t think the egos in Oklahoma will last too long, but Russell Westbrook can take it over for the time being.

Prediction: Thunder sweep the only team that I had outside of my top 8.

 

(3) Portland Trailblazers vs. (6) New Orleans Pelicans

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This one should be very interesting. Of course, a healthy Demarcus Cousins would add an interesting layer to the opposing strengths of the Blazers and Pelicans, but Anthony Davis vs. Damian Lillard will have to do. It’s a little difficult to predict exactly how this series will go because Portland is guard-oriented with plenty of 3s and jump shots, while the Pelicans prefer grinding out points in the paint. They will both find success throughout the series, but in the long run I’m picking the Blazers’ backcourt to stay hot.

Prediction: Blazers have to battle, but win in 6.

 

(2) Golden State Warriors vs. (7) San Antonio Spurs

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Right, neither of the faces above will be playing in this series. Kawhi Leonard has been dealing with a nagging quad and ankle since last postseason, and Stephen Curry will miss the first round with a sprained MCL. For me, this keeps the intrigue at net zero. The Spurs haven’t missed the playoffs since the Mesozoic Era, and the Warriors have been NBA Finals favorites for the last 3 years and counting. Even without two of the league’s stars, we’re going to see a chess match between NBA coaching’s finest in both Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich. But when the dust clears, it’ll be a quick exit for the team from Texas.

Prediction: Warriors return to full strength after ousting Spurs in 5.

 

(1) Toronto Raptors vs. (8) Washington Wizards

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Believe it or not, this is the series that I’m most excited for. We have two of the best guard duos in the NBA going head-to-head at full strength: John Wall and Bradley Beal for Washington vs. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan for Toronto. Every game will be high-scoring, the fans will be insane, and the action on the court will be riveting up to the final seconds of Game 7. The difference will be the fact that the Wizards have struggled without Wall as of late, but he is a guy that can jump back in and jump start the Wizards at anytime. However, it is so difficult to win up in ‘The North’, and when this thing ultimately goes the distance, we will see another D.C. playoff crumble.

Prediction: Raptors survive and advance in 7.

 

(4) Cleveland Cavaliers vs. (5) Indiana Pacers

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What a mismatch. I don’t know how we got so unlucky with the 4-5 matchups this year, but LeBron James and Co. are going to tear through Indiana. The only question will be if they can do it in 4 games or in 5. Victor Oladipo is the catalyst for the Pacers, but he’s not the kind of guy that can carry a team through the playoffs. When you’re going up against the best player on the planet, and a city that wants to prove the world wrong and reclaim a title, things are going to get messy,

Prediction: Cavs start Spring cleaning; sweep Pacers.

 

(3) Philadelphia 76ers vs. (6) Miami Heat

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If there’s a team in the NBA hotter than the 76ers, I’d love to see them. Winners of 16 straight, ‘The Process’ has paid off big time. Ben Simmons is playing out of his mind, Joel Embiid is back on the floor, and everyone in Pennsylvania is excited for a historic run from the red, white and blue. In their way stands playoff veteran Dwayne Wade, but at this stage in his career, he will not be able to carry more than a leadership role for Miami. Hassan Whiteside can definitely play with Embiid, but the Heat are going to be very outmatched in this one.

Prediction: 76ers stay hot and move on after 5.

 

(2) Boston Celtics vs. (7) Milwaukee Bucks

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No Gordon Hayward, no Kyrie Irving, no problem? Well, not exactly for the Celtics. They have a diverse group of talent including future stars Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, but they aren’t playoff-tested yet. Their first exam is the freak-of an-athlete Giannis Antetokounmpo (first time I spelled that correctly on the first try). The Bucks’ big man has so much length, and he is dangerous anytime the ball is nearby. It’s going to be a grind-it-out-battle for Boston, and overall it probably won’t be the playoff run they were looking for in the preseason, but I have to go with my pick for NBA Champions for at least one round.

Prediction: Celtics manage to stave off the Bucks in 5.

 

*Yeah, I picked all of the favorites. Sue me.

NBA Second Half Predictions

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After a brief hiatus, Sports Thoughts is back to get you ready for the second half of the NBA season. There is a ton to discuss, from the tangle at the top of the West, to the Cavaliers’ rise and fall and rise again. Certainly nothing is decided, but we’re about to separate the men from the tankers. Let’s take a look at what we can expect for the rest of Spring in the NBA.

East Preseason Predictions:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Miami Heat
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Hey, so far it’s not too shabby. I’m not quite sure why I picked the Hornets at the time, but everyone else is currently holding a playoff spot. The Pacers are really surprising me this year with Victor Oladipo taking the team to new heights even with the departure of Paul George. After Oladipo’s average years in OKC, I guess the change of scenery and new need for leadership really helped his development as a point guard.  

The sleeper will be the Pistons. Just outside the rankings for now, Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin are going to have a very similar dynamic to a healthy Pelicans team. While neither are top contenders for the NBA Finals, they can certainly be staples in the playoffs.

As for the top contenders, it’s a three horse race with the Wizards to likely stay firm as the perennial 4-seed. Unlike in previous years, the Cavs are not at the top. The well-documented platoon swap has so far proved effective for the disappointing Cavs team that finds themselves all the way down in third place.. awh..

Since LeBron James’ return to Cleveland, I’ve lost faith in the regular season. The thing is, everyone knows it comes down to a 7-game stretch for the top 5 or 6 teams in each conference, and most of the other teams have no chance at the title. So, you have 12 teams going through the motions, 12 teams tanking, and that leaves roughly 6 teams actually trying for the majority of the season to claim a low-seeded playoff spot.

Now, I have developed a situation to fix tanking, the player rest situation, and to attract international fans, but that is an article for another day…

Anyway, my point is I don’t care that the Cavs are only at a 3 seed. They are going to play the Celtics and Raptors regardless. Maybe home court advantage plays a big factor in the playoffs and that made the Cavs panic, but any talk about the title contenders in the regular season is just wasting time in my opinion.

That said, I do like some of the moves. Jordan Crawford and Larry Nance are young and give Cleveland some contract control. Letting Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder go seems like a waste after they just got them for Kyrie Irving, but they are both free agents soon and I doubt they will want to stay in Cleveland without James.

Yeah, James is leaving.. again, an article for another time.

I’m happy to see Dwyane Wade back in that Heat jersey too, but I certainly think splitting up the James-Wade combo was a bit excessive, especially for just a “heavily-protected” 2nd round pick. But what’s done is done. The Cavs just lost their first game with their new team on Thursday, and I think there is a lot of renewed confidence in a locker room that needs it down the stretch.

I know I talked a lot about the Cavaliers in the East recap, but the bottom line is that everyone revolves around the Cavs. The Raptors are having a phenomenal season behind DeMar DeRozan, the Celtics are playing exactly as expected, and the bottom half of the league don’t fit into the big equation at this moment. The only thing we are wondering for the rest of Spring is what kind of team they have in Cleveland. They can be way better than the Raptors, or they can see a first-round exit as the James-in-Cleveland Era ends for good.

As for my updated predictions, I don’t want to change much. I still think the Celtics are the most dangerous team in the East, and my playoff bracket is going to stay the same. The only thing I want to update is bumping the Pistons in. I’m keeping the Heat at the 8-spot, especially with Wade back home. So yes, I’m still not on board the Pacers Train.

Updated East Predictions:

  1. Boston Celtics
  2. Cleveland Cavaliers
  3. Toronto Raptors
  4. Washington Wizards
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Philadelphia 76ers
  7. Detroit Pistons
  8. Miami Heat

Cavaliers vs. Celtics; Celtics move on to the NBA Finals

West Preseason Predictions:

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trailblazers
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

The West is where it gets interesting. Just about everyone is going to have a shot at the Warriors, but at the end of the day, GSW’s postseason play is the end-all be-all. The Rockets’ addition of CP3 has paid dividends so far, and they find themselves in 1st place in the West 10 games above the next best team besides Golden State.

I’d also like to say that I’m thrilled to have currently predicted the exact standings to this point. The only scary part will be whether the Pelicans can hang on to the #8 seed without DeMarcus Cousins, but as long as Anthony Davis continues to excel in his absence, I don’t see many threats for their spot.

If I had to pick a potential sleeper, I’ll go ahead and roll with the Jazz who are in the midst of an 11-game winning streak. However, the West is pretty top-heavy, so I don’t expect much to change. If they sneak in, and it’s not at the expense of New Orleans, I think Denver might be in trouble. I love Paul Millsap as much as the next guy, but the Nuggets have never been able to close out a regular season with authority. Honestly, whether or not they do this year, they would still be facing one of the 2 best teams in the NBA in the very first round.

Moving upwards, the Blazers could easily find themselves stuck at the 6 seed despite having a pretty solid shooting team. They sit behind a Thunder team that I knew would be a huge disappointment, but they are churning out wins as of late all thanks to Russell Westbrook. The Timberwolves are in the mix in the mid-tier too, but I’m picking the Blazers as the worst of the three.

It’s tough to judge the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard, but even without the superstar’s presence all season, coach Gregg Popovich has San Antonio amongst the best in the NBA. I’m convinced there’s nothing Pop can’t do to keep the Spurs in constant title contention, and this year is no different. Despite the cloud of uncertainty for the remainder of the season, I’m confident the Spurs will be making some noise this summer.

That leaves us with the Houston Rockets. One of my favorite point guards in the entire NBA, CP3 has gelled as perfectly with James Harden as I anticipated. It’s no wonder the Rockets lead the NBA with Chris Paul’s court vision and with Harden’s sweet shot. However, defense has been an issue at times, and Paul’s health has become an issue as of late.

The Rockets definitely have the best shot to dethrone the champs, but they have to keep hitting their stride through April and May and stay at 100% to have a chance. Even with shooting as good as theirs, nobody wins a shootout against GSW. If head coach Mike D’Antoni has a goal for the rest of Spring, it’s to solidify the Rockets as a more well-rounded powerhouse.

The Warriors are still playing with that huge target on their back, so I give a lot of credit to them for being on top of the dog pile for this long. That said, it’s pretty easy when you have 4 perennial All-Stars in your starting lineup. But nonetheless, Golden State proves every night why they are the class of the NBA.

Now, are they going to repeat? I’m not so sure. I’m a big believer in a need for hunger for a championship in order to reach it. It’s so hard to repeat as champions because you have nothing to fight for. The Warriors already reached all of their dreams. What’s another trophy to them? All I’m saying is it would mean a lot more to the Cavs, Celtics, Rockets, and many others.

I’m not changing my standings for the West. I’m picking the Warriors over the Rockets to reach the Finals.. but the Celtics are going to take it from them.

Let’s get ready for an awesome second half of basketball.

2017-2018 NBA Predictions

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It only took 6 minutes for the entire landscape of the NBA to change. The defending champions Golden State Warriors continue to look strong while their biggest threats shake things up to take their throne. For those out of contention, the rebuild is underway… but who has what it takes to make moves in the playoffs, and who’s staying in the basement? Let’s take a look at what we can expect this season.

 

Trending Up

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Minnesota Timberwolves- Minnesota was a big buyer in the offseason, and they hit the jackpot with Jimmy Butler. I’ve always loved the Timberwolves’ roster, but they never seem to get wins. Well, now the Big 3 of Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins are sure to make waves in the Western Conference. I’m very high on the Timberwolves this year.

Denver Nuggets- I think people are going to underestimate the effect Paul Millsap will have in Denver. He was a key piece in getting the Hawks to a 5th seed in the East last year, and he can put the Nuggets into the playoffs as well. While Denver doesn’t have the best backcourt, Millsap and Nikola Jokic are both dynamic big men that can dominate similarly to the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins.

Sacramento Kings- Okay, the Kings may be trending up, but that’s not saying much. Coming off of a year in which they sold the face of the franchise to New Orleans for pennies, they picked up a really good draft class headlined by De’Aaron Fox. Sacramento won’t be in the playoffs or anything, but Fox is one of my favorites to win ROY.

Los Angeles Lakers- The Lakers have a bright future with Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, and Julius Randle. They are still extremely young, but full of potential. While I have them narrowly missing the playoffs, I believe L.A. has plans to grab some major talent this offseason and make a big leap up the standings in 2018. You know who I’m talking about.

Milwaukee Bucks- The Bucks are one of the most underrated teams in the NBA. Giannis Antetokounmpo is a freak of nature who hasn’t yet gotten the hardware he deserves. He’s definitely a preseason MVP candidate and a top 3 talent in the entire Eastern Conference behind LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. I’m tagging Milwaukee to move up from 2016-2017.

Philadelphia 76ers- The Sixers are stacked with draft picks, it just hasn’t come together yet. Well, I’m calling it: this is the year; Ben Simmons’ de facto rookie campaign begins and Philadelphia will exploit a bad Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid will have a career year despite a couple of minor injuries and the 76ers will be back in the playoffs. Trust the Process.

 

Contenders

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Golden State Warriors- Everyone’s pick to repeat is as strong as ever. They lost to the Rockets last night by 0.1 seconds, but that’s not changing anyone’s opinion. Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are all All-stars, and there isn’t a chance they don’t finish as the best in the West.

Cleveland Cavaliers- Helped out by yesterday’s gruesome injury to Boston’s Gordon Hayward, the Cavs are now the clear favorite to win the East. Despite trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics, Cleveland hauled in the likes of Dwayne Wade, Derrick Rose, and eventually, Isaiah Thomas. This is the last gasp for the Cavs as James’ and Thomas’ contracts expire in June, and I’m not exactly expecting them to stay put.

Boston Celtics- Six minutes and Boston’s future has changed. After claiming the hottest free agent of the 2017 offseason, Celtics fans see him literally crumble to the ground after going up for a rebound in last night’s game. While the world waits for the severity of Gordon Hayward’s injury, I’m fearing the worst. However, it’s important to remember that they were the #1 seed last year without Hayward, Kyrie Irving, and my ROY Jayson Tatum. The season is far from over.

San Antonio Spurs- The Spurs are probably trending in the wrong direction, but never underestimate Gregg Popovich. Kawhi Leonard is my NBA MVP as I look for him to lead the charge in San Antonio. Veterans Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge are ageless as they continue to churn out wins. If not for the improvements in the rest of Texas, San Antonio would be just behind Golden State in the West.

Washington Wizards- Living near Washington D.C. is just heartbreaking. The Capitals always dominate the Metropolitan Division before losing in 6 or 7 to the Rangers or the Penguins in Round 1. The Nationals continue to destroy the NL East just to lose in 5 in the NLDS to the Dodgers or Cubs. The Redskins will make the playoffs just to lose in the Wild Card Round. Finally, the Wizards can win the Southeast all they want with John Wall and Bradley Beal, but they can never make it to the Conference Finals. So please, please, win a playoff series for D.C. They need you.

Houston Rockets- The Rockets are going to be my favorite team to watch this year. I LOVE Chris Paul, and I think he’s the perfect fit in Houston for James Harden. Paul loves to win and has his own playoff woes, and the Rockets look destined to make something happen this year. I’m pegging the Rockets to be Golden State’s biggest threat this year, and last night’s win solidified that.

 

The Thunder

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Bold Prediction: The Thunder do NOT get home court advantage in the playoffs. That’s right, I have Oklahoma City as a 5 seed or below, and here’s why. Russell Westbrook was good with Kevin Durant. OKC was a 3 seed and nearly knocked off GSW before blowing a 3-1 lead in 2016. Then Durant left and Westbrook exploded to one of the most dominating MVP performances in history (not even close, Harden).

So the Thunder pick up Paul George. That’s fine. Whatever. I don’t like taking touches away from Westbrook, but the Thunder dropped to a 6 seed without Durant, so Westbrook needed the help. Cool. Here’s where I draw the line- Carmelo Anthony makes it worse. I’m willing to bet that not a single Thunder fan will prefer to let Anthony shoot when George or Westbrook has a shot of his own. In other words, every touch Anthony has is one taken away from a better George and Westbrook.

Instead of empowering Westbrook with George (who by the way is a free agent after this year and will probably leave after the disappointing season), the Thunder dilutes the two stars by trading for a ball hawk in Anthony. I’m in no way believing that Anthony is willing to take a step back from his controlling tendencies for the good of the team.

Even if Anthony has changed, the chemistry isn’t there because Westbrook isn’t a pure point guard like Chris Paul. Westbrook is a spot-up shooter that attacks first and passes second. That is what the game has evolved into, and that’s fine. However, in this big 3 format, it doesn’t work. Mario Chalmers led the Heat, Rajon Rondo led the Celtics, and Chris Paul leads the Rockets; all of them pass first and score second. Westbrook is best at attacking, and there is no way these personalities mesh in Oklahoma City. I’m sorry.

Predictions:

Eastern Conference

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers
  2. Boston Celtics
  3. Washington Wizards
  4. Toronto Raptors
  5. Milwaukee Bucks
  6. Charlotte Hornets
  7. Miami Heat
  8. Philadelphia 76ers

Western Conference

  1. Golden State Warriors
  2. Houston Rockets
  3. San Antonio Spurs
  4. Minnesota Timberwolves
  5. Oklahoma City Thunder
  6. Portland Trailblazers
  7. Denver Nuggets
  8. New Orleans Pelicans

1st Round

Cavaliers beat 76ers in 4

Celtics beat Heat in 5

Wizards beat Hornets in 5

Raptors beat Bucks in 7

 

Warriors beat Pelicans in 4

Rockets beat Nuggets in 4

Spurs beat Trailblazers in 6

Thunder beat Timberwolves in 6

 

Conference Semifinals

Cavaliers beat Raptors in 5

Celtics beat Wizards in 6

 

Warriors beat Thunder in 4

Rockets beat Spurs in 5

 

Conference Finals

Celtics beat Cavaliers in 7

Warriors beat Rockets in 7

NBA Finals Prediction: Warriors beat Celtics in 6

Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 2/2)

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This is Part 2 of my NBA Free Agency Preview. If you haven’t done so already, please check out Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 1/2). If you have, enjoy reading about where I think these big targets should land. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Paul George Image result for paul george

Yeah, I know he’s not actually a free agent, but he might as well be one with all of the rumors flying around. I won’t spend too much time with him because I think we’ve all heard enough about it, but I want to put my piece in.

Here’s the thing. I have no idea where he’s going. Indiana wants him to go to the Celtics because they can probably get the most from Boston, but the Celtics only want George if they can get Hayward. So, if they don’t, Indiana has to look at offers in the meantime, and there is a lot to sort through. First, the Cavaliers want to work out a three team trade (because they have nothing to offer the Pacers), that would give Indiana some prospects from a different team in exchange for Kevin Love. That sounds fine and dandy, but if the Cleveland Championship plan falls through again, both Paul George and LeBron James will likely leave to get a trophy in 2019, as they are UFA. So the concept of George being a potential one-and-done spices things up in the short term.

Second, the Los Angeles Lakers have made their cycle around the rumor mill, but with little getting done over the past week, I’m not sure this is realistic as a 2018 destination. Especially considering that the Lakers don’t have anything to offer the Pacers at this point. However, I could easily see George going to L.A. next offseason if he still doesn’t have any jewelry. But let’s cross that bridge when we get there.

Finally, and perhaps most intriguing beyond the Boston chaos, the Houston Rockets have emerged as legitimate contenders after picking up Chris Paul. Owner and fellow data analyst Daryl Morey is swinging for the fences and quickly assembling the Avengers to try to take out the Warriors. I would love watching George team up with Harden and Paul as they would certainly become the most fun team to watch in the entire NBA. We’ll see if these rumors come to fruition, but if I know Morey (and I think I do), he won’t quit until he gets his man.

The Celtics are still very much in control of these discussions, and Indiana and Boston have already gone back and forth on various offers. Basically, the Celtics think the Pacers want too much, and it’s a gamble to comply if the don’t pick up Hayward. However, if they do, GM Danny Ainge claims he is more willing to go the extra mile for George. That said, if the Hayward decision takes too long or he signs elsewhere, the Pacers might get impatient and pull the trigger with the Rockets or Cavs. It’s an insanely tense time as we wait for all of these pieces to simultaneously play out and unleash a bomb across the NBA.

Kyle LowryImage result for kyle lowry

Lowry is a complicated case because he’s 32, and no one wants to commit on the superstar long term. The Raptors have stated their interest in Lowry, but they’re more willing to sign him for a 3- or 4-year deal with a possible team option. Obviously, that doesn’t tempt Lowry too much, but as his career dwindles, his options are beginning to slim.

Lowry, in turn, has expressed interest in moving west. I don’t blame him either.  With James and the Cavs breaking the Raptors’ hearts every year, I’d want to move, too. However, interested and affordable parties include the Lakers and Nuggets, so if Lowry does in fact move West, it’ll be part of a rebuilding effort, which he doesn’t need in his mid 30s. The Philadelphia 76ers have reportedly thrown their hat in as well, which might be more tempting because of the weaker Eastern Conference. Stacked with young talent, they are much farther in the process, but still no farther away from the Cavs.

With all of this in mind, despite the Raptors lackluster offer, it’s the best option if he wants to continue to contend. So I expect Lowry to reunite with his brother DeMAr DeRozan and continue their lethal backcourt dominance in Toronto and to hope the Raptors’ front office can put the pieces together to beat the Cavs and Celtics. It’s a tough spot for the veteran, but there are plenty of less desirable places to end up.

One more thing – there are no rumors about this, and I don’t know why. The San Antonio Spurs. Talk about contender, and talk about a need at guard with Tony Parker on his last breath, and Manu Ginobili perhaps already retiring. These parties need each other. Lowry is a perfect fit to play at a high clip with Kawhi Leonard, and the Spurs can keep LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol around to keep a solid front court. The Spurs were 2nd in the West last year, and adding the depth with Lowry provides a smooth transition from old to less-old and keeps them in contention a little bit longer. Done and done. Make it happen. …I wish…

Paul MillsapImage result for paul millsap

Last but not least…Paul Millsap. Often overlooked due to his team’s constant finishes in the 1st round of the playoffs, Millsap excelled for the Hawks last year and has put himself in a great spot at the right time. Though he is not the first option for top contenders, or maybe even the second option, Millsap can fill the role at PF that so many teams struggle to find.

There are a ton of teams pursuing Millsap from all over the standings. The most high profile team is the Rockets. Other teams in the mix are the Nuggets, Kings and Suns, but I don’t see Millsap moving to any of those if he didn’t like Atlanta’s set up when he opted out of his contract. Millsap is the type of forward that can mold to any offensive scheme, and can earn a max contract from those who can afford it.

With the Rockets signing Chris Paul, and going after Paul George, it’s no surprise that Paul Millsap is on their radar. Can you imagine all of those Pauls on one court?? A commentator’s nightmare… With the Rockets coming out of nowhere and throwing out deals, I can easily see Millsap going to Houston if George goes to Boston. And that’s not the worst thing in the world.

I also want to send my apologies to the Nuggets.  I know they want a few of these guys, but I just don’t see what they have to pull them in. With the way this NBA is formatted to make superteams to compete, I’m not sure Denver can ever make it happen…especially being stuck in the Western Conference. By the way, if you don’t know what I mean by that, Google and compare the teams in the West to those in the East. The difference is staggering.

Homebodies

Image result for durant curry

One last thing before I wrap up. There are plenty of other free agents worth noting, but they are 99.99% going to re-sign with their current teams, and it’s easier to focus on the big story lines. In my opinion, it’s worth mentioning that Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry are unrestricted free agents. They can literally sign with the Brooklyn Nets if they wanted. Obviously, the only drama is how much money the Warriors can give them to keep their team intact… but I’m just saying.

Other notables like this are Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony. Nowitzki was actually persuaded by the Mavericks to opt out only so they could restructure his contract to his liking. Melo, on the other hand, has been rumored to go everywhere but to New York. However his deal is such that it is his decision and not the team’s, so expect him to stay put. Although, in the past he has expressed interest in teaming up with his good friend LeBron James in Cleveland, so I guess anything’s possible.

 

Whew. Okay. That’s all for me today. I apologize for such a long post, but this free agency is unlike any other with so many variables in play. I can’t wait to see how the dominoes fall. Let me know your opinion in the comments below! I’ll be back shortly to react to the hurricane that sweeps through the NBA over the next week. Cheers!

Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 1/2)

Image result for nba free agency

With the floodgates of free agency about to open at 12:00 AM on July 1st, fans, owners, and players alike wait to see how the NBA will get shaken up. There are a lot of top targets expected to be on the market, and plenty of possible destinations for them to call home next year. Let’s take a look at my top free agents for 2017, and where I think they should play.

Chris PaulImage result for chris paul rockets jersey

Before I could even finish this article, Paul was signed and traded to Houston. So instead of omitting him from this post, let me briefly describe why I love this trade so much. For those of you who do not know, Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and the Clippers have been known to have some friction.  So much so that Paul and Griffin were willing to forego a hefty pay raise to stay in L.A. in favor of opting out of their player options. Nonetheless, Paul and Griffin were prepared to move out of Los Angeles. So the Clippers, realizing their two biggest superstars were about to leave without the slightest bit of compensation, devised a plan to relatively save their organization.

Here’s where it gets technical. Paul is an NBA veteran and is potentially due for a max contract at the end of next year worth close to $250 million if he were to choose to re-sign for 5 years. However, if he does not sign and simply picks a contract from another team in free agency, he can only make $152 million over 4 years. The fact that he was willing to lose $100 million to leave L.A. truly shows his distaste for the Clippers. And who can blame him? Arguably one of the best pure point guards of all-time, he has never made an appearance in the Conference Finals. With no real potential in L.A., I think he has a right to explore other options to help him find postseason success. I say pure point guard because he is an assist machine, he has unparalleled court vision, and can dictate the pace of the game. Also, standing only 6’0″ tall, Paul doesn’t have the capability to muscle up and score like the other non-traditional superstar PGs in the league today.

Anyway, as I was saying, Paul was going to lose out on $100 million, and the Clippers were about to lose their face of the franchise for nothing. So, the two parties orchestrated a deal to suit both sides. With Houston primed to compete with San Antonio for Paul’s talents, the second the free agency window opened, the Clippers had some leverage for a few more days. L.A. persuaded Paul to accept the player option and promised to trade him immediately. This makes Paul happy, as he gets his guaranteed $24.2 million this year, and his max, 5-year contract next year goes from $150 million to approximately $202 million because he was acquired via trade and not on his own volition so to speak.

So now Paul is happy. Check. The Clippers are happy because they get to work out a deal to acquire 3 mid-tier players and a 2018 first round draft pick when otherwise they would have received nothing. Double Check. The Rockets are even happy because they won the bidding war against the Spurs before it could even begin! Everybody wins! Bravo. All that remains is seeing how Paul and James Harden can work together. Assuming Harden can make a smooth transition to SG, Paul will give him some great touches and open looks, perhaps bolstering him to win MVP in 2018. I think the two can really tear up the league, and I can’t wait to see how it shakes out.

Blake GriffinImage result for blake griffin

Obviously, there are a couple of bigger names out there, but I want to discuss Griffin first. Before opting out of his contract, Griffin was scheduled to make about $21 million next year. Now, it appears that he’s ready for a max contract of his own. He hasn’t always gotten along with Paul, so I don’t believe CP3 influenced Griffin’s decisions at all. However, now that Paul has packed his bags, Griffin might be more willing to re-sign with the Clippers. That is surely L.A.’s hope, as he is now their #1 target, and they have the budget to give Griffin anything he wants.

However, there are many more variables in play. For example, Griffin has reportedly subtly expressed interest in playing in Boston, and the Celtics hold the key to seemingly every signing this July. With an embarrassment of trade assets, Boston can pick and choose who they want. However, it’s well known that the C’s want to prioritize signing Gordon Hayward, and if that works out, they can easily strike a deal for Paul George. However, if Hayward chooses to re-sign in Utah or to take his talents to South Beach, only then will Boston pursue Griffin. Again, as long as they’re  not too late, Boston should have no problem making it happen with all of their draft picks and depth at their disposal.

Still, it’s not that cut and dry. There are a couple of other dark horses in the mix: the Denver Nuggets, the Phoenix Suns, and the New York Knicks. The Nuggets emerging as contenders for a few of these big stars surprised me, but they have the means to make it happen under an aggressive team president in Tim Connelly. It’s hard to see where they will cash their chips, as they are an underdog to get Griffin, and they also covet Paul Millsap and Kevin Love. Clearly desperate for a PF, they may get their wish, but at what cost? Also, Griffin has a lot of self interest in Phoenix, but I’m not convinced that is a realistic option for him at this point in his career. Lastly, the Knicks have some down time to go after a big name. Team president James Dolan has expressed that his focus is on free agency before he will search for Phil Jackson’s replacement. With Carmelo Anthony confirming his interest in staying in New York, Dolan has the leisure of concentrating all of his efforts on Griffin. However, with all of the turmoil surrounding the organization, I find it unlikely that Griffin will choose to sign there.

The Clippers have the inside track to retain Griffin, but it all depends on the Celtics. Griffin will likely hold out making any formal decisions until Boston shows their cards, but seeing as they appear locked in on Hayward and George, that leaves Griffin on the backburner. The safe play will be to re-sign and restart with a new-look Clippers team, which I believe has the potential to surprise, despite the insanely deep and competitive Western Conference.

Gordon HaywardImage result for hayward gordon

I loved watching Hayward transform from a role player in Utah to potentially the most coveted player of free agency. After a terrific season, Hayward proved he was no fluke with his leadership and significant stat line during the playoffs. That, without the help of the injured Rudy Gobert for a few key games against the Clippers. I’m sure the Jazz are thrilled with his sudden production, but it comes at a pivotal time in the organization. Will Hayward leave for greener pastures (no pun intended), or will he stay home and bring the Jazz back to the high caliber that they had in the 80s and 90s?

There are 3 front runners in the Hayward sweepstakes: the Jazz, Celtics, and Heat. The Jazz have been campaigning hard with the hashtag, “Stayward”, on billboards throughout the city and on social media. It’s fair to say that Utah has fallen in love with their newfound hero, and are depending on him to return and to keep the Jazz trending upward. It’s a solid option for Hayward, as he is close with his teammates, and he has never suited up for anyone else. After playing in his first All-star game after 7 years in the NBA, he has earned a good contract that Utah can afford, too. If it wasn’t for the Celtics’ stronghold on the market right now, the Jazz would easily be favorites to make Hayward stay.

The Celtics have a lot going for them. They have money, history, and most importantly – a future. Their pitch to Hayward is the fact that he will be a centerpiece in the NBA Finals run in 2018. Not to mention, he already has ties in Boston. Head coach Brad Stevens mentored Hayward throughout his years at Butler. If anyone can take him away from “home”, it’s the family that Stevens has created with the Celtics. You have to remember, Hayward is just entering his prime at this point; he doesn’t need to chase championships yet. But as Boston forms their “superteam” one way or another, it’s probably better to be with them than against them. Better yet, if you have a chance to compete outside of the West, I think you should.

I’ll mention the Miami Heat simply because they have a history of grabbing free agents they shouldn’t. I’d consider them a long shot, but for no other reason than that they are the farthest away from a ring. Goran Dragic and Gordon Hayward would work well together, as they have nearly identical playing styles. With Hassan Whiteside down low, the Heat can definitely pitch a “Big 3 2.0” scenario. Pat Riley is a magician with capturing big talent like this who don’t have experience as free agents, but I wouldn’t bet on it this time. It’s a two-man race between the Jazz and Celtics, and with Hayward remaining mum on the topic, it’s anyone’s guess as to where he’ll end up after July 1st. In my opinion, I think Boston’s offer is too tempting to pass up.

 

I’m only half way done! Please head over and check out Complete Guide to NBA Free Agency (Part 2/2), and leave your own thoughts below!