What Makes Him so Special?

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Great players are often defined by legacies, accomplishments, and other stellar achievements. When a great player has a team that fails, we put the onus, the blame, on them. Being held accountable is the responsibility that comes with being great- there is no way around it.

Over the past few decades, the NBA has seen a number of great players fail to win. Dominique Wilkins, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Steve Nash, and Charles Barkley are some of the guys who headline that list.

For a long stretch Kobe (for not winning without Shaq) and LeBron were ridiculed for their teams failing efforts. Carmelo Anthony and Tracy McGrady took some heat. Allen Iverson, Paul Pierce and Deron Williams were mocked. Even Kevin Garnett and Dirk Nowitzki had moments of scrutiny as well.

There hasn’t been another guy in NBA history who has been protected and excused for his teams mishaps like Chris Paul has been. He’s the most clean slated superstar ever. We give him all types of praise when he really shouldn’t receive anything at all. He hasn’t done anything.

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Every year there’s a new excuse for Paul’s failures. The excuses have ranged from him having a bad coach to his supporting cast being mediocre. It’s everyone’s fault but his year in and year out.

Recently, when the Clippers blew a 3-1 series lead against the Rockets Chris Paul was not called out for his play or for his leadership. Fingers were instead pointed towards Griffin for being too young and mistake prone, Jordan for missing free throws, Doc. Rivers for his poor coaching and Clippers not having a bench. (Same downfall and reasonings occurred during his first year with the LAC when Vinny Del Negro was coach. While in New Orleans he didn’t have that great of a supporting cast.)

As the “best” player, the captain, the floor general of a team shouldn’t you be the one who’s held accountable for when things go wrong? Since when do players who rank in the Top 5 ( present day) get a pass and receive little blame?

He doesn’t have an NBA Championship. He doesn’t have an MVP award. And he has not been past the second round of the playoffs.

Outside of Tracy McGrady, Chris Paul is the most underwhelming superstar to have played in the postseason the past 15 years. Instead of bouncing out of the first round like T-Mac, CP3 lasts until the second. That’s not great.

Chris Paul is the only allstar caliber guard not named John Wall or Damian Lillard, who has not been to the Conference Finals. Guys like Mike Conley, Russell Westbrook, Rajon Rondo, Deron Williams, Tony Parker, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Klay Thompson etc. have all played in a Conference Finals.

After just three healthy years Stephen Curry has already passed up Chris Paul in terms of playoff success. Maybe even career wise.

When you look at a few of the great point guards Paul is compared to each one has something to hang their hats on, and he does not.

•John Stockton appeared in a couple of NBA Finals and is the All-Time Assists Leader.

•Magic Johnson was a 5 time NBA Champ, 3x MVP and 3x Finals MVP.

•Gary Payton won a Defensive Player of the year award, appeared in a few NBA Finals and owns a ring.

•Isiah Thomas was a Finals MVP.

•Jason Kidd appeared in multiple NBA Finals and owns a ring.

•Oscar Robertson was an MVP and NBA Champion.

•Steve Nash was a 2x MVP and was on the cusp of the making the NBA Finals a few times.

Young guards Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose already have MVP awards; Curry has a shot a legitimate shot at winning a ring right now.

With young guys already accomplishing things he hasn’t is it safe to say he’s been leaped over in time? Is Chris Paul as good as we thought or did we overrate him?

Think about it. What has Paul accomplished in his career that stands out and will be remembered? He has no awards that stand out on his resume.

As of now Paul’s three biggest accomplishments have been his endorsement deal with State Farm, bringing the cities of Oklahoma and New Orleans to the NBA landscape and winning Gold medals with Team USA. Other than those feats Paul has accomplished next to nothing.

With the new wave of talent and guys like Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, Stephen Curry, John Wall and a few more coming into their own time is steadily ticking for Chris Paul to accomplish something of great importance.

He might be the best point guard of his generation. But what exactly does that prove if he doesn’t have the catalog other great players have?

Numbers aside, he has to prove that he’s that guy. And the only way he can do that is by winning. Win an award. Win a championship. Hell, get past the second round.

Twitter: @RyanDFort or
@Fortonsportsinc

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I’d love to hear/see y’all’s thoughts & opinions on this. Comment below and share your feelings.

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Warriors (1) vs Cavaliers (2) The Finals Are Here

It’s all been coming down to this moment. The NBA Finals. All the storylines will come to an end with each team looking to capture the Larry O’Brien trophy with just 4 more wins. The Golden State Warriors are looking for their first title in over 30 years, and the Cleveland Cavaliers are looking for their first one ever. We have the most entertaining and best team by record for the entire NBA season against the best player in the world.
The Cavs have had to go through multiple injuries throughout this years playoffs but still have managed to come out on top in the East; all because of one player by the name of LeBron James. With Love completely out of the picture, they’ve had Tristan Thompson step up and make plenty of noise this postseason. Thompson’s offensive rebounding has sparked the Cavs and it looks like Cleveland could be even better than before if Kyrie can get back to 100%. Kyrie will have to be huge for the Cavs to have a chance against their opponents.

 

The Warriors have looked like the best team in the league all season long and that includes the postseason. Outside of two losses, (that have only helped the Warriors) they have steamrolled through all of their competition so far. Curry has been nothing short of spectacular this postseason, and Kerr has proven time and time again of how great of a coach he has the potential to be.

STARTERS:

PG: K. Irving vs S. Curry

SG: JR Smith vs K. Thompson

SF: LB. James vs H. Barnes

PF: T. Thompson vs D. Green

C: T. Mozgof vs A. Bogut

Keys:

Cleveland has to be perfect in this series. The Warriors are just too good at too many things for Cleveland to be anything but perfect in this series. Thompson needs to destroy on the offensive boards because that could cause Golden State to rotate out of their small lineup quickly. A lineup that has taken out many teams quickly.

Next, someone has to help LeBron. LeBron is going to have Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Shaun Livingston, Klay Thompson, and Andre Iguadala all rotating on him. This series is going to be hell for LeBron with all those guys guarding him, so someone somewhere has to step up and help releive the pressure off the man. If they don’t, the series could look very similar to the prior Finals of 2007 or 2014.

This is Kyrie’s time to shine. The focus will be 100% on LeBron and this is when this man should be earning his paycheck. Golden State has tremendous defense all around, but it’s going to be centered on LeBron and Kyrie HAS to take advantage of that. If Cleveland is to have a chance Kyrie has to step up and score big time buckets for them.

JR Smith can be ridiculously good and ridiculously bad as most know. If he gets hot he can match some of the 3pt shooting on Golden State, but if he’s off he’ll shoot his team out of the game really quick. Cleveland fans are hoping for the former because if you have JR being efficient, LeBron doing his thing, and Kyrie taking advantage of his opportunities, then that’s a recipe for success.
In game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, we saw just how bad ISO ball can get in Cleveland. If they fall back on that like they do so often, then the Cavs simply won’t win. A solution? Move the ball. LeBron needs to do what he does best and that’s penetrate and kick to the open guy. If they fall back on running an ISO offense late in games, then the team will fall apart.

The Warriors are going against a tall task. Playing against LeBron James. Only 2 teams in the last 5 years have been able to beat him, and both times they were the championship winning teams those years. If the Warriors truly want to win, they will have to go through LeBron to do so. The Warriors need to rotate defenders on LeBron constantly. Never give him the same look and get fresh bodies that are able to at least give him trouble.

Steph Curry needs to continue what he’s done all postseason. Pick his spots, don’t force anything, and continue to be the vocal leader of this machine. If Curry can continue doing so, then the Cavs won’t have an answer for him. He’s too quick around screens, has the fastest release in the league, and his handles are on par with Kyrie’s.

The lineup situation will be very interesting. Tristan Thompson should be able to trounce the small lineup with his offensive rebounding, but Cleveland likes to fall on a small lineup of their own with LeBron at the 4. This will be a chess match between coaches and Kerr has won those all season long. Kerr cannot be anything less than what he’s been all season long which is one step ahead of the competition in preparing his team for what they must face.

Klay Thompson has to get his offense going. He was able to get through the Rockets without being needed to score too much, but this is the Finals. Klay has to hit his shots for the Warriors to be comfortable. To make things easier on Steph, Klay’s scoring efficiency is a must.

Prediction: Curry raises the trophy for Golden State after beating LeBron and the Cavs 4-1. The Warriors as an entire organization are on a completely different level right now. From the front office all the way down to the players; the Warriors are a beat above all their competition. I believe in the end, ISO ball will kill the Cavs while the Warriors thrive off of ridiculous Steph shots and precise ball movement. Regardless of what happens in this series, this is a successful season for both franchises as they both have gone farther than they were suppose to. We should all be entertained by these two superstars, LeBron and Steph, engaging in amazing basketball for the trophy.

You can see the other writer’s predictions below.
Ryan Fort: Warriors 4-1 but if Kyrie is 100% Cavs in 6.
R’Mon Allen: Cavs 4-2
Tyler Carter: Warriors 4-3
Jonathan Ayala:Warriors 4-2
Hashim Ashimi: Warriors 4-2

Warriors (1) vs Rockets (2) MVP Faces the Runner Up

Even though James Harden was in everyone’s MVP ballots as either 1st or 2nd, nobody expected to see Houston still a factor in the playoffs at this point. Now the Rockets are only one series left against the powerhouse Golden State Warriors, who went through the test that most representatives in the finals have to face at some point in the playoffs; which is a team that will beat you up.

As soon as the Warriors got past all those beatings, they came back and completely dominated the Grizzlies in the final 3 games of that series with Curry doing what he does best and making things look so easy. Kerr has proven time and time again that he will be destined to be a great coach, making the perfect adjustments that allow his team to do what they want. The #1 reason for the Warriors taking control of that series was because of his move to place Bogut on Tony Allen. This then forced the Grizzlies to shoot less than 40% in the paint for the rest of that series.

The Rockets were not expected to be here 1 or 2 games ago but nonetheless, the Clippers eventually had the demise so many prayed upon. What the Rockets proved best with that last series is that they have a lot more depth than anyone is willing to talk about. Josh Smith is the X factor for this team, and when he’s going and gets his playmaking going it’s all but over for almost any team they’ve faced. The game that saved the Rockets’ season had the MVP runner up on the bench for pretty much the entire 4th quarter.

The Rockets are 0-4 in the regular season against the Warriors but of course 2 of those are without Dwight, so I’m going to be apart of the “it’s not the playoffs; it doesn’t matter” group for now.

STARTERS:

PG: S. Curry vs J. Terry

SG: K. Thompson vs J. Harden

SF: H. Barnes vs T. Ariza

PF: D. Green vs T. Jones

C: A. Bogut vs D. Howard

Keys:

The Warriors have to not get baited by Harden’s lunges. They cannot let them live at the free throw line like they try and do. Also, somebody has to keep Howard off the glass because: 1. It allows Houston to get up multiple shots, and 2. If they can get the defensive rebound, they can get out and run since Houston’s transition defense leaves much to be desired.

Otherwise they just have to play their game and not allow Houston to get going off of ugly basketball. It seems like when things are going horribly wrong for both teams, that Houston always comes out on top, and I honestly have no idea why that is. Probably something to do with the 31 3-pointers they shoot per game.

Houston has got to find a way to slow down Curry. I don’t know personally where that answer lies, because Ariza will probably be guarding Klay most of the time, but Jason Terry just has no chance against Curry. Houston can’t allow Curry to be so casual and to just pick whenever he wants to get going. Running guys off the 3 point line won’t be enough because out of everyone else left in the playoffs, GS leads everyone in points in the paint. They’re excellent at making that one extra pass for easy layups. Harden has to focus on defense as well as his offense for this series. GS has too many weapons for him to be hidden on defense. Even though his defense isn’t as bad as it once was, Harden still isn’t the most reliable guy on defense, which is totally understandable with the load he has carried offensively all year long; however, NBA champions have to power through things like this, and in the WCF there’s no way Houston can win without Harden fulfilling his potential on both sides of the floor.

Dwight is an unstoppable force when he’s engaged. He’s the one thing GS doesn’t really have an answer for. His athleticism on both sides of the floor can wreak havoc, but if he’s not engaged then Houston’s championship hopes are all but gone. Dwight needs to average at least 5-6 offensive rebounds a game for this team to have a chance.

Prediction Golden State represents the western conference after beating the Rockets 4-1. GS just has too many options: more depth, better defense, offense, and just everything needed to win a basketball game. If Beverly was actually still healthy, then this could be a little bit interesting, but the current matchup just calls for embarrasment on behalf of Jason Terry. The Warriors just faced the toughest defense in the playoffs and walked away with essentially 3 blowouts. This will be interesting to see how these playoffs conclude.

Hawks (1) vs Cavaliers (2) 

1964 was the last time the Cleveland Cavaliers won a championship. Also, it has been 51 years since the Cleveland Browns won this city it’s last championship. Can LeBron change that? For Atlanta, it’s been a long time as well. It’s been 20 years since the Atlanta Braves won a championship, and for the Hawks it’s been even worse as this is their first time in the conference finals in 45 years.

These two teams are so vastly different in their makeups. You have Cleveland, a team who relies on many ISOs from their main two guys Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. While the Hawks on the other side rely on heavy spacing, ball movement, and 3 point shooting. Cleveland has had to deal with many injuries while the Hawks have been completely healthy for the most part this post season.

During the regular season, Atlanta won the series 3-1 which included one blowout, but that was early in the season when Cleveland still had Dion Waiters on their team.  We’ve seen these two styles clash before in the postseason, so the question is: how will it play out? Let’s break everything down.

Starters:

PG: K. Irving vs J. Teague

SG: JR. Smith vs K. Korver

SF: LeBron vs D. Carroll

PF: T. Thompson vs P. Millsap

C: T. Mozgof vs A. Horford 

Keys:

Atlanta has to keep the ball moving. Ball movement is what got Atlanta the #1 seed in the East and there have been too many times this postseason where they have gotten stagnant in stretches. If the ball isn’t moving, especially against Cleveland, then this will be a very quick series.

Their defense is not up to par with anyone else left in the playoffs and they will get exposed unless that changes. LeBron and Kyrie could really kill this team in ISOs as they don’t have outstanding defenders to match up with either player, especially LeBron. Teague might give issues to Kyrie at times, but they have absolutely no answer for LeBron in this series.

Kyle Korver is the life of this team on offense. If Korver is off for most of this series, then it will be over quickly. Korver takes on so much attention from the defense with his shooting that he has to be knocking down shots to open things up for Carroll, Teague, and Horford.

Cleveland has to run the 3pt shooters off of the 3pt line. The Hawks rely on their spacing to create everything and if you take that away, they become an average team. If they don’t run those shooters off, then they will slaughter the Cleveland defense with their pinpoint ball movement.

This is a series meant for LeBron and he should take advantage of it as much as possible. This could be one of those series that defines LeBron’s greatness because he could easily dominate each of these games from beginning to end on the offensive side of the ball.

Although JR Smith is starting in this series, I wouldn’t be surprised if Shumpert ended up playing more minutes. The last thing they can allow is Korver to get off easy 3s, and I just don’t like that JR vs Korver matchup. Don’t be surprised if they move Shumpert on to Korver to run through the infinite screens he’s going to have set..

Prediction: Cleveland wins 4-2. I believe for two games Atlanta will be hot, and when they’re hot they’re nearly impossible to beat. I believe at some point there will be an adjustment made that takes Korver out of the equation, and if that happens game over. LeBron should dominate Carroll, and despite Carroll improving a lot on defense, he should have no chance against the best player in the world.

The Most Underrated PG Today

It was 9:20 central time and Steph Curry was hoisting the coveted MVP trophy that I predicted he would win before the year began. The crowd is going wild in support of their MVP. The Warriors are laughing and congratulating him as he walks back towards the bench. This team had no worries. Why would they? They just blew their opponents out by 20+ for the majority of their prior game

That last game was to be expected. Although many would disagree with the focus of the defensive and offensive schemes being centered around the front court, they would forget that at one point Marc Gasol was an MVP candidate, and Zach Randolph is the tone setter. However, Conley is the best player on Memphis.

His numbers are nothing impressive. His stat line this season:

15.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.3 stl, 44%FG

His career numbers are:

13.4 ppg, 5.6 apg, 1.5 stl, 44%FG

If you look at the per 36 minutes, his numbers are pretty much the same for his career, but this past season he improves his numbers a little bit with 17.9 ppg and 6.1 apg. His PER has only reached 20 once in his career, and this past season Conley hovered around 18ish. None of his numbers are impressive so how exactly do you quantify Conley’s impact?

In the series against Portland, Lillard averaged 18 ppg, 4.0 apg on 35% shooting when Conley played. Compared to 27 ppg, 5.0 apg on 47% shooting when Conley was injured and unable to play. Lillard’s stat line for the season was 21 ppg, 6.2 apg, 43%FG. The numbers are staggering in this aspect. Lillard is considered by many to be a top 5-7 PG in the league. Conley reduced him to just an average point guard. It’s not like Lillard is bad in the playoffs, or known as a choker. In fact it’s quite the contrary as I think many of us can remember his heroics last year. But Michael Conley reduced him to a 18 and 4 after thought.

The Warriors completely demolished the Grizzlies in game 1 when, of course, there was no Conley in place and Curry shot 8/18 for 22 points and 7 assists in a pretty easygoing day. With Conley in place in game 2, Conley came out strong early scoring 9 quick points on 4/4 shooting in the 1st quarter. All of the Warriors struggled, but this was not just any game. Curry had hoisted the MVP only 48 minutes before halftime when they were down 39-50. Only the second time all year that the Warriors didn’t score 40 points.

Curry usually likes to let things come to him and only take over if he absolutely has to. When his team was struggling against the Mavs earlier this year down 18; Curry dropped 50 and the Warriors ended up blowing the Mavs out.

Curry was looking to take over late in the game but Conley and the rest of the Grizzlies were not going to allow it. Doubles came at him nonstop and he never really found his shot all night despite shooting just under 50% for the game on 7/19 shooting with 19 points.

The pace of the entire game centered around how Conley wanted it to be. When he wanted to slow it down and give his bigs their space to work, he did; and if he saw someone leaking out on the break, he pushed it down the floor for the easy bucket. Every time Curry tried to push the pace, Conley would stand firm and not allow him to do so.

We all know Conley is a good PG. That isn’t the issue. The problem is he’s the after thought PG when talking about great PGs in the league. Nobody dares to put him the conversation with Kyrie, Lillard, Westbrook, Chris Paul, Wall, etc. He’s always put in the same place as the Jeff Teagues of the world. My question is why? In a conference full of elite PGs, Conley is able to take every single one of them off of their game. Conley completely dominated Lillard in 3 straight games. Actually so far this entire playoffs, Conley has not been outplayed in a single game. In 3 games against a top 5-7 PG and 1 game against the reigning MVP; Conley is undefeated so far. I’m nothing close to a Conley fan nor a Memphis fan, in fact I hate them and their stupid ugly basketball team, but I do appreciate someone with unheard talent for the game. He should be recognized when he competes with the great PG infested league we are in today. Not saying he is better than the reigning MVP or Westbrook or Chris Paul, but that he should be in the same conversation as them. Not the “oh yeah that guy in Memphis is nice too,” guy. Conley is not perfect at any one thing but he’s really good at a lot of things and it needs to be recognized, and with him going head to head against Curry in this series; it should highlight nationwide how great this player really is.

 

Rockets(2) vs Clippers(3) Legacies On The Line

This should be a very fun series all the way around. The Rockets have the runner up in the MVP ballot against a very determined squad led by two superstars; Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Both teams were very close in their regular season production, but the Rockets did it without their 2nd best player in Dwight Howard. Howard is healthy now and has been looking like the prime Dwight Howard that led Orlando to the finals.
  Throughout the year the Clippers have been desperately trying to find a way to help their bench deficiencies but to no avail. They had Nate Robinson for a minute who ended up being injured, Glen Davis isn’t the worst thing in the world, and Jamal Crawford’s +/- hasn’t been pretty this year either. Oh, and there’s Austin Rivers who gives every Clipper fan a heart attack when he steps out onto the floor. Depth is key in the playoffs and it’s been awhile since we’ve seen a true contender rely on their starters as heavily as the Clippers do. One injury to that lineup would completely tear them apart. Even if it was Matt Barnes, the +/- takes a significant drop.
  On the other side you have the Rockets who basically have been playing like Harden and everyone else up until the playoffs. Dwight Howard has been the best Rocket in the playoffs for 10 of the past 11 (excluding Harden’s 40+pt performance) games now, and I don’t see that disappearing. Despite how many feel about Howard, there is no denying that he turns it on when playoff time comes around. Josh Smith was extremely effective against the Mavs in the last round but he does that every time he faces them so it wasn’t too big of a surprise. If they rely on Harden to be 44% of the offense like he was all regular season, then I doubt they’ll have a chance to win.
STARTERS:
PG: J. Terry vs C. Paul
SG: J. Harden vs J. Reddick
SF: T. Ariza vs M. Barnes
PF: T. Jones vs B. Griffin
C: D. Howard vs D. Jordan

KEYS:
  Outside scoring has been difficult for the Clippers as of late. That outside shot will be key to opening things up for Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to create inside. They need at least 8-12 3-pointers a game to have a chance at winning.
  Jamal Crawford needs to be a positive factor for them off the bench. Anytime he shows up it’s usually a win for Los Angeles. If Jamal can have at least 2 or 3 explosive games, then it won’t be good for Houston.
  The Rockets have to find someone to guard Chris Paul. Jason Terry will get torched if he’s the best answer. Harden has the skill set but it has completely vanished since coming to Houston, and Ariza just doesn’t seem fast enough. Losing Beverly hurt a lot because they need him especially right now.
  If the entire team contributes the way they did against the Mavericks, I don’t know if the Clippers have a chance. The Rockets definitely have more valuable bodies to throw at them while the Clippers will be draining themselves if the Rockets can keep fresh bodies out there.
  I have the Clippers beating the Rockets 4-2. It’s crazy every logical thought in my brain says that Houston is the right pick, but seeing Chris Paul willing his team through that game 7 victory has taken me over. Another part of it is that I’m not sure if I trust Harden in the playoffs quite yet. Oh, and don’t worry about missing the games as they’ll probably last all night long with hack-a-Howard, hack-a-Jordan, hack-a-Dorsey, hack-a-Smith, etc…man that’s an exciting rule.

Cavaliers (2) vs Bulls (3) Once again the Bulls face LeBron

 

  This is obviously the series that everyone is looking forward to. It is believed by many to be the series that determines who will be representing the Eastern Conference in the Finals. There are great storylines everywhere in this series. LeBron trying to bring his hometown its first championship in 40 years, the rise of Jimmy Butler from role player to superstar, Rose playing in his first playoff games since 2011; showing us what he has left after multiple injuries, or even Pau Gasol, who was thought to be way past being an essential piece to a championship team, but is easily the most important player on the team now. However, the question is: Which of these storylines will have an ending worth telling?

  The Cavs were struggling early on this year, but made some great moves in the middle of the season which has changed them from an average team to a team that could take the Eastern Conference. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert look reborn after leaving New York, and Timofy Mozgof has literally become the most important player on the team with the best +/-. The Cavs are an athletic team and they try to use that as an advantage every time down the floor. On offense at times they are unstoppable when they move the ball. On defense though, without Mozgof in, it can get real ugly real quick.
  For The Bulls this year, we honestly don’t know what to expect. The playoffs so far this season have been the only time the Bulls have had everyone healthy. They have so many players capable of taking over games if needed that it’s ridiculous. Whether it’s Jimmy G Buckets hitting a dagger 3, Mirotic dropping 20 in the 4th, Rose hitting a mean crossover pull up jumper at midrange, or even players like Etuwan Moore; the Bulls seem to always have someone willing to step up and make the big shots when it counts. The defense Chicago is normally known hasn’t been up to their standards of the past years, but the team still has the pieces to lock down when they absolutely need them to.
STARTERS:
PG: K. Irving vs D. Rose
SG: J. Butler vs JR. Smith
SF: M. Dunleavy vs L. James
PF: P. Gasol vs T. Thompson
C: J. Noah vs T. Mozgof
Keys:
  It will be interesting how things go down the stretch for the Cavs and how they choose to run their offense. Near the end of games it gets stagnant and becomes a whole lot of ISOs which can be bad if the Bulls play it right. The Cavs need to keep the pick & rolls going to make the defense pay attention to the other guys. If you don’t keep them on their toes and run a lot of ISOs, then the Cavs will end up getting burned by it.
  This series will be mainly determined by not the best player in the world, but the best two point guards. If Rose ever outplays Kyrie in a game, the Cavs will lose plain and simple. If Rose beats Kyrie, this series will end quickly. Kyrie needs to score at least 25-30 for his team to win especially with Kevin Love out for the entire playoffs.
  Jimmy Butler by the stats is easily the best defender in the NBA to put on LeBron but the part that should worry the Bulls is if he can lockdown on the defensive end while still being able to drop 20 points on the offensive end.
  The Cavs are coming in hurt. Kevin Love is out and even though he has been far from the “best power forward in the league” many people thought him to be before; the team relies on the spacing he gives them because defenses still can’t leave him open.
  LeBron just needs to keep everyone involved and Mozgof needs to be in the game as much as possible. Tristan Thompson is the X factor in this series. If he can come into the starting lineup and prove to be a valuable asset against starters, it will be a huge boost in favor of Cleveland.
  Bulls win the series 4-2. The Bulls are coming at full throttle and the battered Cavs will have a lot of problems keeping up. JR Smith has potentially doomed another one of his teams making a stupid decision that has forced him out of 2 games. Derrick Rose needs to shine and show us the Rose we remember from his MVP season, because if he can win his matchup, the Cavs will have no chance of winning this series. Oh and the Noah versus LeBron, and Noah versus Cleveland rivalries should be fun.
To see Noah’s thoughts on Cleveland click below.

Hawks (1) vs Wizards (5) A Battle of Emerging Stars

This may be the series with the least buzz around it, but may very well be the most important. Both feature teams with emerging star point guards, and both teams are very evenly matched. This will be a series of skill vs coaching.

The Hawks had a slight struggle getting out of the first round due to the odd resilience the Nets showed in the first round. Initially the series looked like a sweep until Atlanta’s offense began sputtering in games three and four. What I took away from that performance is that the Hawks have trouble executing in high intensity games on the road. The doubts they’ve faced all season of not having “that guy” will arise again throughout the series. However, Atlanta does have the ability to score through their amazing offense, and can cause many problems by using Korver to remove an extra help defender. Watch for Atlanta to move the ball swiftly and attempt to create easy buckets to create a rhythm for themselves.

The Wizards showed pure dominance over a decent Toronto team. John Wall has been dazzling through this playoff run and will continue to display it through this round. Paul Pierce has also returned to his vintage ways by hitting big shots when the team needs them. The Wizards have stepped up their defensive play, and only allowed Toronto to score more than 100 points just once in the series. It seems as though they’ve peaked at the right time. However, their issue will be on offense. Depending on John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Paul Pierce won’t be enough. Their bigs, Nene and Gortat, will need to establish themselves going forward.

Starters:

  1. J. Wall vs J. Teague
  2. B. Beal vs K. Korver
  3. P. Pierce vs D. Carroll
  4. Nene vs P. Millsap
  5. M. Gortat vs A. Horford

Keys:

The biggest factor is who will win the point guard battle. If John Wall is able to have another great series, then we can chalk this up as a win for the Wizards. However, if Jeff Teague is able to slow him down and play as an emerging star, then this will be a win for the Hawks.

The Wizards need Bradley Beal to play huge in this series. John Wall helped against Toronto, but this matchup is for him to win. He’s struggled in the playoffs, so this is the perfect time for him to get out of that slump. I see him needing to score 20+ per game to win.

Defense is the last big factor. Both teams play good team defense, but for the Wizards, Gortat and Nene will need to find a way to keep up with Paul Millsap. Being a stretch 4, he has the ability to knock down shots on the perimeter. One of them has to neutralize him.

Prediction: The Wizards beat the Hawks 4-2.

The Wizards have much more firepower than the Hawks and a better point guard. As long as John Wall stays aggressive, and the Wizards continue playing at their peak; I don’t see the Hawks really beating them.

Warriors (1) vs Grizzlies (5) A Struggle for Control

This a series that I personally have been really looking forward to. I’ve said multiple times if anyone is going to take out the Warriors this year, it would be this Memphis Grizzlies team.

The Grizzlies have been doing what they do every year; except Gasol and Conley have stepped up tremendously this year making the transition from an annoying bottom seed, to a legit championship contender. They’ve surprisingly not only held up without Lionel Hollins, but have actually exceeded anyone’s expectations this year. David Joerger should gain a lot more attention than he already has due to proving many doubters wrong, including myself. They study every opponent very carefully and force them into uncomfortable, long midrange, contested shots. They won’t be beaten with pure athleticism despite their deficiencies in that area. They will make you pay if your team is not fundamentally sound.

Bad part for Memphis is the opponents they have in front of them have both of those attributes. Kerr has made this offense run just as beautifully as I always thought it should when Mark Jackson was running the squad. They went from a lot of isolations and basic set ups to this beautiful well oiled machine. There are multiple possessions where every player will touch the ball, and the communication with everyone on the court is something to behold. This is how basketball should be played. Now add in the best shooting back court of all time with an outstanding bench and a man who just seems to make everything happen out on the court, and you have yourself a favorite to win it all in the very tough Western Conference.

Starters

PG: M. Conley vs S. Curry

SG: C. Lee vs K. Thompson

SF:  T. Allen vs H. Barnes

PF:  Z. Randolph vs D. Green

C:    M. Gasol vs A. Bogut

Keys

The most interesting matchup of this series has to be at the point guard position. The impact each of these two point guards had an equal amount of importance in their two prospective series’. Curry was exactly what every MVP voter in his favor expected him to be. He absolutely dominated and did whatever he wanted to against whoever attempted to guard him.

Conley on the other hand had a different kind of impact for his team, locking down one of the most explosive guards in the game, Damian Lillard. Lillard was made completely irrelevant against the Grizzlies, which was partially do to the entire team, but 90% of that was Conley being an unshakable wall in front of Lillard every chance he got.

Normally I would say that there is no way in hell anybody can lock down Curry, but if we are to be honest we have seen it before. Specifically from the Spurs who stick Danny Green on him and make him nearly completely ineffective. Conley has that same ability to do the same things Danny Green did to Curry. That matchup alone could determine the series.

You have a high paced ridiculous well ran offense against the grind of the Memphis Grizzlies. Finesse versus power. This series will depend a lot on the control of the pace. Golden State has been the best team in the league at running up and down the court while the Grizzlies are notorious for there slow methodical beat down on teams.

Injuries play a huge factor as well with Conley constantly having nagging injuries along with Allen and Lee playing hurt as well. The Warriors are fresh and at 100%. In terms of health, things are definitely in Golden State’s favor.

Prediction: The Warriors beat the Grizzlies 4-3. It’s hard as I can see things going either way in this series. It should be a great playoff series that comes down to the wire.