Most NBA fans are expecting to see the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals. However, there are some other teams not from Oklahoma City or San Antonio who could make things interesting on the road to the title round.
The Pacers were a modest 45-37 as Paul George figured out life after injury. The best way to describe this team is erratic. At times they were very good; other times, God-awful. As the seventh seed in the East, by three games might I add, they are matched up against the second-seeded, Toronto Raptors. Drake’s hometown team may be this year’s version of the Atlanta Hawks; a team you knew could be good, but did not think they would be one of the best teams in the league. What makes the Pacers the perfect upset pick is the Raptors are not used to being anything but the underdog. You throw in their history of falling apart in the NBA Playoffs and a Paul George with something to prove and you have the perfect storm for an upset and maybe even a nice run to the Eastern Conference Finals in a fairly even eastern field of teams. Did I mention that Indy has already proven they can beat Toronto on the road?
Boston and Atlanta both finished 48-34. Thanks to tie-breakers and the Hawks dropping a game late in the season to a Wade-less and Bosh-less Miami Heat squad, fans have what should be the best first round match-up in the playoffs. The Hawks squeaked out a 102-101 win in Game 1 after squandering a 19-point lead. While the Hawks thumped the Celtics in Game 2, 89-72, Boston still has a chance because of Atlanta’s ability to have lapses from time to time. If the Celtics can overcome their youth and inexperience, they could make things interesting, not only for Atlanta, but for the Cavs in the second round as with their talent and style of play.
Portland Trail Blazers
Here you have a team who lost almost all of its starting lineup. They have Damian Lillard and bunch of guys you only know if you’re a loyal Rip City fan and what do they do? They snag the fifth seed in the Western Conference. The argument could be made the West was not as strong as it has been in years past; that they only have three teams who are really good and everyone else is kind of mediocre or underachieving. To do that though would take away deserved credit from head coach Terry Stotts who should probably be considered NBA Coach of the Year. The Blazers are tough and they never give up. They are taking on a Los Angeles Clippers squad who is just getting Blake Griffin back from injury and frustrates much of its fanbase because of their inability to get over themselves and the “Clipper Curse.” Do not be surprised if the Blazers/Clippers series goes longer than it should. What else makes the Blazers prime to turn a few heads is they are one of the nine teams who managed to beat the Warriors as well.
After a 60-win season, a top-seed in the East, and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, much of the Atlanta fanbase feels their squad underachieved this season. There was no 19-game winning streak, no four NBA All-Stars on the team, or the whole team being listed as NBA Player of the Month this season. While they were 12 wins worse than the 2014-15 season and one game away from being the 3-seed, the Hawks may just be right where they need to be. This year’s Hawks are one of the best defensive teams in the league, which is a far cry from last year. They also have the experience of making a deep run in the playoffs as well. While they would find themselves facing LeBron James and the Cavs in the second round, they have what it takes to get over the hump and get to the NBA Finals because of their improved defense. Like last year, I still believe this squad matches up better against the Warriors than the Cavs do in terms of roster and style of play. While they did not beat the Warriors, they pushed the Warriors in both of their games.
These teams have the odds stacked against them and a lot to overcome to even get out of the first round. A bounce here, a lucky shot there, and injury or two to their opponents and things could get interesting for them and we all just might find ourselves feeling like we’re watching the NCAA tournament instead of the NBA Playoffs.