(1) Atlanta Hawks vs. (2) Cleveland Cavaliers: As if destiny had already planned this, you have the top two teams in the East meeting in the conference finals in the Cleveland Cavaliers and Atlanta Hawks.
In the ultimate matchup of the best player on the planet in LeBron James against the true embodiment of “team’’ in Atlanta’s All-Star quartet of Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, Al Horford and Paul Millsap, this finals shapes up to be an interesting clash of styles and philosophies.
While the Atlanta Hawks coasted thru the regular season in winning a franchise-best 60 games, a lot of it was due to projected heavyweight contenders such as Chicago and Cleveland banged up early, and young teams such as Washington and Toronto trying to find themselves, the Hawks took advantage and ran away quite comfortably. It has been a slightly different story in the post-season, as they have struggled mightily in eliminating the lower-seeded Wizards and Nets in six games.
Not to dismiss the Hawks in any way shape or form, but, many experts and analysts have echoed the same thing that I have said is that they are a glorified jump-shooting team that relies on turnovers, execution and the outside shot—most notably Korver, who has averaged 11.3 points per game.
For the Cavaliers to upset the top-seeded Hawks, they will need to play some good ol’ fashioned “bully ball” in going to James in the post—as he will be matched up with DeMarre Carroll—throughout the whole series.
With no disrespect towards Carroll, but he is no match for LBJ, who is averaging 26.5 points a game. THIS is where the loss of Thabo Sefolosha due to a broken leg, sustained in his arrest in New York City, rears its ugly head, as he is Carroll’s back-up.
While the Cavaliers are vulnerable without Kevin Love and a less than 100 percent Kyrie Irving, the Cavaliers are taller, longer and overall bigger than the smaller—and under-sized Hawks all around. For Cleveland to advance to its second-ever NBA Finals, role players such as Matthew Dellavedova, James Jones, Shawn Marion, Kendrick Perkins and Mike Miller will need to step up when their number is called.
With potential x-factors such as talented German point guard Dennis Schroder and Dellavedova will be sure to make some sort of impact, Cleveland has the edge in having LBJ, one of the top-five scoring guards in the league today in Irving and a veteran-laden bench, that has all bought into the concept of stifling defense and timely shots.
While the Hawks have a formidable space-oriented offense that will be able to push the Cavaliers, their ability to shoot the three in Irving, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert along with the rebounding machine that is Tristan Thompson, look for Cleveland to advance with ease. PREDICTION: Cavs in 5
(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (2) Houston Rockets: In a tantalizing matchup featuring two of the top point guards in NBA MVP Steph Curry and runner-up James Harden, will be a high-scoring duel for all basketball fans to watch.
While Patrick Beverley is out for the playoffs due to a wrist injury, Houston has the personnel in Dwight Howard and NBA title vets in Trevor Ariza and Jason Terry to push the high-flying Warriors to the limit.
But this series will ultimately be decided by who is able to out-duel the other in Curry vs. Harden
Points aside, these are are the best two scoring point guards—bar none—and with a NBA Finals appearance on the line, they will bring out the best in each other. Some can argue that Houston may have the momentum coming into the series in becoming the ninth team in NBA history to rally from a 3-1 deficit. That, and the re-emergence of Terry, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith and Terrence Jones greatly improves the Rockets a chance.
One other factor to consider is that in being swept by Golden State 4-0, Howard was not there for two of them, and considering a tantalizing matchup in post against Andrew Bogut, look for Houston to dump it in low early and often.
These two teams cannot be more alike and different in how they are built, but despite the inside presence of Howard and Ariza, Golden State’s deadly outside shooting led by Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green will be too much for Houston to overcome. PREDICTION: Warriors in 6