Stempak: Anticipating NBA first-round playoff pairings
R.J. Stempak | Tuesday, March 28, 2017
The NBA playoffs begin in less than a month, so here are the first-round matchups that I want to see.
Starting with the Eastern Conference: Cavaliers vs. Heat. If the current standings hold, this would be the premier first round matchup in the conference. This series has everything a spectator could want: the greatest player in the NBA playing against his old team, the dynamic duo of LeBron James and Kyrie Irving trying to stop the greatest player in the NBA, as well as a healthy J.R. Smith. The greatest player in the NBA that I’m referring to is, of course, Dion Waiters, the man who hit game-icing shots over Golden State and Cleveland during his team’s 13-game win streak throughout January and February.
The matchup of middling teams who used to “contend” for the Eastern Conference title: Hawks vs. Raptors. These two teams were both previously hailed as the team to take down LeBron, yet now they sit in the four and five slots in the conference. Whoever comes out of this matchup will earn the right to lose to Cleveland in the second round. Good luck taking down the King.
The team with the smallest All-Star point guard vs. the team with the tallest All-Star point guard: Celtics vs. Bucks. If current seeding holds, this would not be the matchup, and never in a million years would the Celtics try to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo with Isaiah Thomas, but just imagine that. The people’s 5-foot-9 champion who is scoring a remarkable 29 points per game, trying to play defense against a dude who is rightfully nicknamed the Greek Freak. He does Euro step dunks and can make it all the way to the rim with only a single dribble from half court. Everyone who is too vertically challenged to aspire to the NBA will side with the underdog in this matchup.
Now off to the West, where the Jazz vs. Grizzlies could be the grittiest matchup in years in a time when the Houston Rockets went 1-for-2 from the midrange in the entire game Sunday in their win over the Thunder. Simply put, both of these teams play ugly. They work hard to crash the glass, take and miss many midrange shots and defend like there is only one side of the floor. So let’s just throw them together so they don’t mess up any other potential Western Conference matchups.
I would like to see the Spurs, on their way to yet another championship, get an easy but exciting matchup in the first round, so I will give them the Clippers. The better Los Angeles team started the year as one of the best teams in the league. Since then, a few injuries and the same-old team-wide discontent with officials and each other has derailed a team that now seems destined to never reach the Western Conference finals. The Spurs are carried by Kawhi Leonard, and that has turned out to be a better option than being led by Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Doc Rivers.
My final desired first-round matchup is also my most-anticipated: Rockets and Warriors vs. Thunder. The old O.K.C. big three reunited on the same floor for a quick four game series, except it is the triple-double man versus the world, just the way he wants it. Of course, with a starting lineup of Steph Curry, James Harden, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, the Warriors are going to demolish Russell Westbrook and his team of non-shooters. Maybe Westbrook’s head explodes, maybe his entire body explodes.
What a guy, this Russell Westbrook character is. He has alienated teammates and lost friends ever since he entered the league, all because of the trait that makes him who he is: an unrelenting motor. He is physically incapable of not trying as hard as he can every play, every night. Sometimes, that is to the detriment of his team, but it is the only way his team can win, now that he is without Durant or Harden.
If Westbrook were to defeat the Rockets or Warriors in a playoff series, I would be fine with anointing him MVP of all time. But in the real world, I would be shocked if he were to pull off a single win against either of them. That being said, I would bet Thunder in seven. I’m ready for the playoffs.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.