Culture of Hoops

2015 NBA Playoffs: Perception vs. Reality


Chazz Reinhold said it best. “With every death, there comes rebirth. It’s the circle of life.” Another wonderful NBA regular season has been put to rest, but it has given life to what promises to be a memorable NBA postseason.

Let’s dive in!

Milwaukee Bucks vs. Chicago Bulls
Perception: Wait, the Bucks made the Playoffs?

Reality: They did, and if Toronto had edged out Chicago for the three-seed I would be picking AND wagering on the Bucks to win this series. And for the record, I was totally opposed to the moves they made at the Trade Deadline. On paper, Brandon Knight is still a better player than Michael Carter-Williams, but on a totally different sheet of paper Carter-Williams might actually make a little more sense as Milwaukee’s starting point guard than Knight does.

From a defensive standpoint, the Bucks ceiling is higher now. Carter-Williams was 7th in steals per game as a rookie and putting him alongside other athletic, long-armed wings like Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Jabari Parker (when he comes back next season) make the Bucks officially frisky so long as the majority of that group remains in Milwaukee. Against Bulls teams of the previous few seasons, I’d have a serious itch to pick the Bucks. This year, the Bulls have a little too much offense and way too much talent in the frontcourt. The series will probably resemble a rock fight for prolonged stretches, but Chicago has more to offer offensively.

Prediction: Bulls in 6

San Antonio Spurs vs. Los Angeles Clippers
Perception: Those poor Clippers. Oh, and Divisions are dumb.

Reality: Man, last year it was the Donald Sterling fiasco and this year it’s the Spurs in Round One. When are the Clippers going to catch a break? I suppose drawing the defending champs in the 1st Round is just par for the course in the brutal Western Conference, but then again, if the NBA got rid of conferences all together, we wouldn’t have this mess:

1: Golden State Warriors vs. 16: Boston Celtics
8: Portland Trailblazers vs. 9: Chicago Bulls
4: Los Angeles Clippers vs. 13: New Orleans Pelicans
5: Memphis Grizzlies vs. 12: Washington Wizards
3: Houston Rockets vs. 14: Oklahoma City Thunder
6: San Antonio Spurs vs. 11: Toronto Raptors
7: Cleveland Cavaliers v. 10: Dallas Mavericks
2: Atlanta Hawks vs. 15: Milwaukee Bucks

I’ve done my share of complaining in the past, but this isn’t supposed to be a bitchy column. And anyway, in ten to fifteen years this is how the postseason will look anyway, so I digress. There is a legitimate gripe on the Clippers part though. They finished with the second best record in the Western Conference and third best in the entire league, yet thanks to a tie-breaker that is rooted in an already flawed postseason system, they now have to face the defending champions in Round One, who lost only one fewer game during the regular season than the Clippers did.

This is definitely the most aesthetically pleasing series of the 1st Round. The Spurs offense is porn for basketball junkies. Sorry if that’s off-putting for some, but it really is the best way to put it. The Clippers offense, despite being the highest rated in the league, isn’t quite at that level of entertainment, but it’s undeniably fun to watch:

1: Chris Paul can get to any spot on the floor that he wants whenever he wants
2: Blake Griffin dunks on dudes heads
3: DeAndre Jordan clanks free throw after free throw

Actually, number three isn’t quite at the level of the other two, but Coach Pop is probably going to put DeAndre at the foul line as much as possible, so I might as well drill it into my head that it will be a good time. Regardless, I’m not picking against the Spurs until Tim Duncan and Pop are out of the league. And if Kawhi Leonard continues to ascend, that might time frame may need to be adjusted.

Prediction: Spurs in 6

Dallas Mavericks vs. Houston Rockets
Perception: Before most of the postseason match-ups had been set, I asked Baller Mind Frame’s own TJ Macias what she thought of the Dallas Mavericks heading into the postseason. Her thoughts: “Houston, I believe they can beat – beyond that, I need to be more realistic. I’ve watched us come extremely close and even lead the Dubs, but we can’t seem to figure them out, and probably won’t if we ever get that far. Anyone in the East, we can bend over. But the West is what will kill us. If we have ALL our starters running mad on offense (and getting along), we have a fighting chance. Otherwise – we’re screwed.”

Reality: TJ, there is good news! Your Mavericks got the Rockets in Round One, and I’m with you … I think Dallas can AND will beat the banged up Rockets. That’s right. I’ll go to war with Dirk, Rick Carlisle, Mark Cuban, Tyson Chandler, a limping Chandler Parsons in Revenge Mode and whatever might be left of Playoff Rondo.

Prediction: Mavericks in 6

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Perception: Brad Stevens is a miracle worker and the Celtics overachieved, but they’re only playoff bound because the Eastern Conference is a wasteland.

Reality: Miracle worker might be a stretch, but Stevens is one of the five best coaches in the league and it’s only a matter of time until he has a totally competent roster to work with and that’s big trouble for the rest of the league. For now he’s making chicken salad out of chicken shit with perimeter players that can’t shoot and bigs that don’t defend. It’s a roster full of guys who should be the fifth, sixth and seventh best guys on a Playoff team and they’ve improbably gone 24-12 since February 2nd. The only Eastern Conference team better than Boston in that span: their 1st Round opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went 23-9.

If Boston found a way to position themselves in any other spot in the Eastern Conference I’d be mildly intrigued in their upset potential. It’s just not going to happen against Cleveland. They can steal a game, and maybe two if a raucous Boston crowd can get to Playoff first-timers Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. But in early rounds talent almost always wins out. It won’t be any different here.

Prediction: Cavaliers in 5

Washington Wizards vs. Toronto Raptors
Perception: The loser of this series will probably fire their head coach. The winner of this series will probably lose in Round Two and keep their head coach.

Reality: Hmm, those assumptions both look to be on point to me. For the record, I’m one of the 758 people who are all in on this series. I don’t even care that neither team has won more than half of their games since January 1st (the Wizards are 24-27 and the Raptors are 25-25), nor is either team particularly fun to watch. The Lowry and DeRozan versus Wall and Beal is probably the most even backcourt showdown in Round One. Speaking of showdowns, you don’t have to look any further than Raps/Wiz if you’re trying to find the 1st Round series in the Eastern Conference most likely to produce a fight or near-fight every game. The gasoline Paul Pierce poured all over this series before it was even set in stone wasn’t even necessary.

Prediction: Wizards in 7

Portland Trailblazers vs. Memphis Grizzlies
Perception: Both teams peaked too early and are too banged up now to make a deep Playoff run.

Reality: I’d say that the first point is true, but only because the second point is unfortunately likely true as well. When both teams were at full strength around the mid-season mark you could have made a pretty good case that they were two of the five best teams in the entire league, and it was more believable that they would meet in a Round Two match-up than in Round One. The NBA season isn’t 41 games long, though.

The Grizzlies pulled the trigger on a just about must-make mid-season move to acquire Jeff Green for some spare change, only Green hasn’t jelled like the Grizz hoped. And if Memphis weren’t playing the playing the Trailblazers in Round One we’d be talking about how banged up they are, only Portland is in such rough shape they might as well have been ravaged by the Ebola virus.

Wes Matthews Achilles tendon gave out in early March and since then Arron Afflalo, CJ McCollum, Nic Batum and Dorell Wright have all been bit by the injury bug. Even LaMarcus Aldridge, the Blazers workhorse Power Forward, has been dealing with a torn ligament in his non-shooting hand for half of the season. Aldridge is a sure-fire 2nd Team All-NBA selection this year still and Damian Lillard is an overqualified second option, but with such bad injury luck, particularly the low-key death blow also known as Wes Matthews’ injury, the Blazers just don’t have that high of a ceiling this season.

The jury is still out on Memphis. No major injuries have derailed the Griz, just the typical bumps, bruises and sprains for a few of their more important players (i.e. Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Marc Gasol) that come with an 82 game grind. Still, the Grizzlies are have zigged while the majority of the league has zagged, and that makes them a tough out in the postseason, especially if they get healthy.

Prediction: Grizzlies in 6

New Orleans Pelicans vs. Golden State Warriors
Perception: Watching Anthony Davis in the Playoffs is a good thing, even if his appearance will be brief.

Reality: All of the above is true, I just hope that people don’t crap on Davis if/when the Warriors have their way with Davis’ Pelicans in this series. The Brow is only 22-years-old and Golden State’s stout defense will make life hell for him. The Warriors’ defense has a knack for taking away whatever teams do best offensively, and putting Davis in scoring situations is when the Pels offense is at its most dynamic. I don’t doubt that the Warriors will force the Pelicans supporting cast into a bigger role and for the time being that supporting cast just doesn’t have the right guys to make this series interesting if Davis is neutralized.

Do the Pelicans have a punchers chance? I’m bullish, but I suppose it’s not completely out of the question. If they end up putting a scare into the Warriors, it would mean Davis is progressing faster than we could have ever expected. Of course, this is already the case. Going into the 2012 Draft I thought Davis would turn into some sort of Tim Duncan/Kevin Garnett hybrid somewhere down the line … but not three fucking years into his NBA career. Just remember, Michael Jordan didn’t get out of the 1st Round in his first three Playoff appearances. Let’s give Davis some time. Please.

Prediction: Warriors in 5

Brooklyn Nets vs. Atlanta Hawks
Perception: Hawks. Sharpie.

Reality: This matchup might be so unappealing that it becomes the first Playoff series that Turner Sports banished it to Tru TV.

Prediction: Hawks in 4

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