The Playoffs start on Saturday, April 15 and the Western Conference teams are set. I’ll give a brief preview of each series and who I expect to win.
Golden State Warriors (1) VS Portland Trail Blazers (8)
Golden State won the season series 4-0. Golden State had two blowout victories (largest margin 45 points) and two close wins (smallest margin 2 points). The Warriors scored an average of 125 ppg while shooting an average of 52.7% in all 4 games. The two teams haven’t seen each other since January 29th. Portland added Jusuf Nurkic – who is likely to miss this series because of a broken leg – via trade in February. The Warriors had some rocky games (started 2-5 without KD) but dealt with the knee injury to Durant very well. The Warriors rattled off 13 wins in a row before KD returned on April 8th. Golden State wins this series. Only thing to consider is number of games. GSW beat Portland 4-1 last season in the Playoffs.
Los Angeles Clippers (4) VS Utah Jazz (5)
Los Angeles Clippers won the season series 3-1. This is the 2nd most intriguing matchup in the Western Conference First Round. I’m not sure how exciting it will be though. The Clippers had 3 victories that ranged from 13-15 points. In those 3 defeats, Utah was simply unable to score averaging only 80.7 ppg. The Jazz shot a woeful 27.9% from 3-point range in their losses to LAC while shooting a sizzling 66.7% in their only win. Utah attempted an average of 22.3 shots from 3-point range in the season series against the Clippers. The terrible shooting from long range is surprising because Utah has shot 37.2% on 3-point shot attempts (which is 9th best in the league as of 4/12/2017). The Clippers are slightly better at 37.5% on 115 more attempts. The teams aren’t much different when you look at the League’s Advanced Statistics. Both teams are top 15 in Offensive Rating and Defensive Rating while being top 6 in Net Rating. The one difference is the pace that each team plays at. Utah is 30th (last) in PACE and the Clippers are 17th. The team that can dictate the flow of each game in this series will likely be the winner. I have the Clippers being that winner in 7 games.
Houston Rockets (3) VS Oklahoma City Thunder (6)
Houston won the season series 3-1. Easily the most exciting matchup in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs. This series could feature the MVP, Coach of the Year, and 6th Man of the Year winners. I expect this series to be fast and exciting just like the 4 games played during the regular season. 3 of the 4 games were decided by 3 points or less. Both teams averaged over 110 ppg and shot plenty of 3-pointers in each game. Houston true to their motto averaged 40! 3-point attempts while OKC averaged 28.3. This series will be built as “Harden VS Westbrook” but it’ll be more than that. Both players are top 3 in points per game (Westbrook 1st & Harden 3rd) and assists per game (Harden 1st & Westbrook 3rd). Houston’s overall firepower and ability to shoot the 3 will be the deciding factor. Westbrook will be able to will his teammates to a couple of victories but in the end the series will go to Houston in 6 games.
San Antonio Spurs (2) VS Memphis Grizzlies (7)
Season series was 2-2. I have no desire to watch this series let alone type this paragraph. But here I am. Both teams won their home games. The games were tough and rugged as you’d expect. Both teams had average field goal percentages in the low 40s during the 4 games. Each team barely got over 90 ppg for the season series. Memphis will grit and grind their way to a win or two but the Spurs will ride MVP-candidate Kawhi Leonard into the 2nd Round. Spurs in 6 games.
Stats courtesy of:
Once upon a time Timbabland and Magoo – with the help of a few friends – showed us how to party. On Sunday night after the NBA All-Star game had ended – in which Anthony Davis won MVP and set a new record for points scored (52) in the All-Star Game – Dell Demps (New Orleans Pelicans General Manager) and Alvin Gentry (Head Coach) did their own impression of Timb and Magoo. Demps was able to pull off a trade for big man DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins. I don’t care much to talk about the trade details because that’s been ran into the ground. What I will tell you is that I was definitely shocked by the move. When say “shocked” I mean I had to pause from playing FIFA 17 on PS4 and digest what was happening. I got a text of “congrats” and “wow” before I knew what had taken place. I’m still a bit shocked by the move BUT I’ll take a move for Boogie over Jahlil Okafor 10 times out of 10. The current landscape of sports has shown me that you have to strike while the iron is hot. I’m well aware of Boogie’s attitude and the stories of his time in Sacramento. Look all I know is that he’s likely to be on the Pelicans’ roster until the summer of 2018 (barring anything major happens before then).
The addition of Boogie means the Pelicans will see some needed space on the offensive end of the court. To take advantage of this open space the shooters will need to be ready. They haven’t been consistent thus far (and they weren’t last night) but hopefully that’ll change the remainder of this season. The tweets below from @NOLAJake show how bad the Pels were on uncontested shots versus the Rockets last night.
New Orleans is currently 2.5 games from the 8th spot in the West with 24 games to play. Before last night’s disaster I’d already put in my head that I’d take a record of 15-10 to end the season. If the Playoffs come with that then cool but I’m fine without it. *I’m well aware that the move for Cousins leads some to believe the team will reach the Playoffs. Davis and Cousins held down their end of the bargain last night against Houston combining for 56 points, 23 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals, and 6 blocks. So it’s clear that those two will be able to bring it. The team will need Jrue Holiday to find his way to help move the team forward.
Another key for New Orleans will be deciding what type of style they want to play. Under Alvin Gentry they’ve tried to play with a faster pace. That hasn’t worked well as they currently rank 27th in Offensive Rating according to http://www.basketball-reference.com/leagues/NBA_2017_ratings.html. By contrast the Houston Rockets are 2nd. The Rockets have made it clear as to what they want to do on offense. The goal for Houston is to play at a fast pace, share the ball to get a great shot and ensure that said shot is either a layup, three pointer, or trip to the free throw line. The shot chart in the tweet below from @Rockets_Insider shows how well that game plan worked against New Orleans last night.
The Rockets attempted 51 three-pointers! And made 20 of them. While the Pelicans took 31 and made only SIX! This is the 2nd blowout victory for the Rockets over New Orleans this season and the two teams will play twice in March. It’ll be interesting to see how the Pelicans adjust the next time the teams play. Unfortunately the Pelicans will be without Omri Casspi – who came over from Sacramento with Boogie – due to a broken thumb. That won’t help a team that’s void of confident shooters.
In hoops news closer to home and near my heart…the City of Jackson’s basketball community lost legendary coach Orsmond Jordan. I’ll always remember Coach Jordan for his time at Murrah High School in the 1990s when I was learning about the game. Coach Jordan also came over and gave a pep talk before the 9th Grade JPS Championship Game when I played. He will be missed but his legacy in the history of High School Basketball will live on. Rest easy Coach Jordan.
Stats and info courtesy of: