A Brief Conference Finals Preview

If this season is to mark a watershed moment for anything it is the resurgence of the importance of wing players. Three of the four remaining teams best players are classified as forwards, the lone exception being Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum of Portland.

Despite Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s heroics in the final five-quarters of their second round matchup against the Houston Rockets, the greatest backcourt the NBA’s ever seen would be nowhere near where they are now without Kevin Durant shouldering over 42-minutes a night shooting the lights out while Curry struggled to find his groove.

For the past few years, the rise of Curry ushered in an era where the most important position in the league was in the backcourt. He concurrent rise of “Morey-Ball” and the death of the midrange turned basketball into a game we configure into a computer as opposed to the old fashioned eye test. But it’s the midrange which brought Portland to the dance and Houston’s inability to utilize a wide swath of the floor why they are no longer playing.

Milwaukee and Toronto are mostly mirror images of one another. The shakiness of the backcourt is well known for both teams. All Toronto needs to cruise to the championship round is four baskets from Kyle Lowry. You shouldn’t go into a playoff series feeling more confidence in a fossil like George Hill. But Boston is miles away a inferior defensive squad than Toronto for the simple fact Nick Nurse can execute a trapping scheme. It’ll be easy to double team anyone on Milwaukee anyone not named Giannis Antetokounmpo because of the simple luxury of having Kawhi Leonard on your team.

I want to pick Toronto because as a whole they are the better team. For all his failures on the biggest of sports, I trust Lowry more than Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton is not going to play like 1996 Michael Jordan against a non-Celtics opponent. These two teams haven’t experienced any forceful fitting of square pegs into round holes. Milwaukee is basically LeBron’s wet dream surrounding Giannis around spot-up shooters and rim attackers.

I love Al Horford, but Serge Ibaka has more bounce in his legs and doesn’t have to be the lone person aware of his role. Ibaka is better equipped to takeaway a key cog in Budenholzer’s offensive strategy.

These teams are relatively evenly matched. Except Milwaukee is far and beyond ahead in point differential (+138) of Toronto. The track record for teams with a simply awesome statistic is this ends with Milwaukee on top of the basketball world.

Milwaukee over Toronto, 4 games to 1.

In the world of video games if your friend continuously picks the Golden State Warriors on NBA 2k, as you question your relationship with this cheater, you search for a team that’ll at least match them in firepower. If not Houston, then you’d pick the Portland Trailblazers. But Dame and C.J cannot hang with the unstoppable machine of Golden State alone and they are expected to do that under these circumstances.

If Kevin Durant cannot suit up for action perhaps Portland has a chance. But Houston had numerous chances to take advantage of a short handed Warriors only to let Steph get loose and wrestle the series away from their rivals again.

If Enes Kanter can’t hang against Andrew Bogut he’ll never see the floor. This is the only matchup for Kanter to sign. If he’s playable this series complexion looks completely different believe it or not.

The Warriors are vulnerable. There’s no spark plug in DeMarcus Cousins anymore. They are older, slower and have a few screws loose. But they’ll get exposed likely in the NBA Finals. Not the Blazers. Not a team they’ve routinely beaten up on for multiple years.

Warriors over Trailblazers, 4 games to 1.

Kevin Durant Is The The Iron Man

The playoffs without LeBron is like an endless tug of war between relatively equal franchises. Outside of my Celtics being throughly emasculated by the Bucks, every series became a best-of-3 and possibly will end in an ultimate Game 7.

We’ve heaped deserving praise on to Giannis Antetokoumpo for developing impenetrable post moves transforming the Bucks from a middling high-40s team to a 60-win one four-wins away from their first NBA Finals in over four-decades, we forgot the established star bringing his game to new heights. The two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors are not the same juggernaut we’ve grown accustomed to over the years. Stephen Curry isn’t the reliable sharpshooter he once was and with the loss of DeMarcus Cousins to an achilles their frontline is embarrassingly depleted forced to rely on old friend Andrew Bogut to hold down the fort.

Naturally, it all falls on Kevin Durant. With Curry shooting below 40 percent for the series against the Houston Rockets his running mate Durant has averaged over 42 minutes in the last five-games and is the lone constant pulse of the Warriors offensive game. Last night Durant suffered a calf strain no doubt connected to the heavy workload he’s shouldered the last week or so. Hopefully it isn’t anything more server. If it is, then the Warriors who are one-game away from returning to the final-four are as good as dead against the Rockets.

For all the answers Mike D’Antoni seemed to conjure up for limiting the playmaking of Draymond Green or the outside shooting of Klay Thompson it’s the puzzle of Durant that’s never been solved and likely never will be. P.J Tucker repeatedly has been bested when covering the two-time Finals MVP and it’s reached the point where you almost want to let the 6 foot, 5 inch James Harden switch on to 6 foot, 9 inch Durant as a last ditch effort to Jedi Mind Trick him into disrupting the flow of the offense.

Averaging 33.2 points per game, Durant is crucial to Golden State’s chances of not just beating Houston, but also winning the whole thing. If Durant ever becomes compromised, be it because his calf strain is more severe than the team is letting on or simply the heavy duty minutes is just too much for his body to bare, then the Warriors will fall. K.D’s played the role of iron man this playoffs and he is nowhere near the finish line. He can be commended for almost single-handily saving their season.

Anybody But Golden State

We’re nearing the end to another season, it’s that annual time of year where i trick myself into believing anybody but the Golden State Warriors will be standing atop the NBA World for another year. Maybe the Houston Rockets will finally put it all together? Or perhaps the Toronto Raptors? Nah. Let’s be real. It’s always Golden State. Once again playing in their malaise state for most of the season they’ve cinched up the number one seed thanks in part to most of the Rockets team regressing.

Of course, I begrudgingly have to admit the duo of Stephen Curry (probably will receive mild MVP considerations this season) and Kevin Durant are always a force to be reckon with, even if we don’t want to acknowledge how great Durant truly is, we have to.

This is the third season in the real-life cheat code that is the KD-era Warriors. We’ve seen them light the world on fire from beginning of the season to the very end. We also seen them sleepwalk with the occasional smackdown laying just to remind us who are the real sheriffs of these parts.

Still there is hope. Albeit, likely false hope. While the Oklahoma City Thunder on paper have the potential to eclipse the Mega-Powers exploding for WrestleMania V. I can’t put much faith in OKC given their previous history of shortcomings in the Russell Westbrook-era and Paul George’s nagging shoulder injury. Since January 26th George is shooting 40.6 percent from the field, a far cry from his 44.8 percentage prior to the injury. So the Thunder are a non-factor.

The San Antonio Spurs are a story I desperately want to happen. The narrative is too juicy to ignore. DeMar DeRozan’s history of playoff ineptitude lead to the franchise he trusted to trade him away for a superior superstar and is out to prove to everyone you can win the big one with him as your number one. There’s also the factor the curmudgeon Gregg Popovich, a noted critic of the NBA’s reliance on three-pointers, built this team in the mold fitting 2002, post-up and mid-rangers. And we’re shocked they haven’t cracked fifty-wins?

Currently the Spurs sit at 47-34 with one contest left on their schedule before the playoffs begin. If victorious against the 32-48 Dallas Mavericks the Spurs likely vault the Thunder for the sixth (Rockets and Bucks are left on their docket) and face Houston in round one. Historically, the Spurs have had Houston’s number and subsequently Mike D’Antoni’s. This year is no exception. San Antonio’s won three of the four contest this season. James Harden and Chris Paul were available for all but one game, which Houston won 108-101. For Houston, if they can overcome San Antonio I like their chances beating Golden State considering they’re largely the same team which took the champs to the brink before CP-3 got hurt. The cliche of “They are peaking at the right time” rings true for Houston. They are healthy, well-rounded and finding Austin Rivers on the scrap heap arguably saved their season.

As for San Antonio, the one ace they have up their sleeve is the old-school squads usually give Golden State issues. They went into last year’s series undermanned and fought valiantly against the Warriors. Add DeRozan into the mix they’ll surely garner ten or more points per game. Can they beat Golden State? No. They can take them to six-games though.

We know the stories with Utah and Portland. Utah’s second best offensive force is Joe Ingles, so they’re out. Plus, the Warriors have answers for Rudy Gobert. Portland only got swept because Maurice Harkless wasn’t healthy for the playoffs; the story is different this time around. If Harkless is healthy and can make his jump shots then Damian Lillard won’t be subjected to the punishment New Orleans unleashed on him. As for their prospects against Golden State, I’d like them a lot more of Jusuf Nurkic didn’t break his leg.

This leaves the Denver Nuggets. Here are my doubts: Nikola Jokic’s ability to not be a liability on defense in the playoffs and the team’s issues playing on national television. I like them a lot. I think Michael Malone deserves Coach of the Year considerations for the job he’s done keeping this team far above water when 98 percent of the roster began the season on the injury list. But the Nuggets simply aren’t ready.

My motto is simple… “Anybody but Golden State… and Philly… and Toronto…”

I Hate The Warriors

In the third installment of the Golden State Warriors/Kevin Durant team-up, you’d think they’d be more complacent after two championships and their biggest competitor will likely never be seen in June again. Yet, these mighty Goliaths are stronger than ever. An off-season that saw the departures of JaVale McGee (Lakers) and David West (retirement) hasn’t yielded the negative results I expected.

Fans aren’t clutching their pearls as they anticipate the return of DeMarcus Cousins to shore up their front court rotation, little heralded free agent signee Jonas Jerebko is already doing that. While Jordan Bell is still learning the ropes, and Damian Jones is proven more of a negative than a positive when on the floor, the emergence of Jerebko crashing the defensive glass (Warriors DRB rate is an astronomical 82.4 when J.J is on the floor) saves Kerr the trouble of relying on Durant and Draymond Green early in the season. Jerebko also sparks the team’s offensive rating to 131.7 when on the floor, compared to a still impressive 120.9 with him off.

Another perceived weakness in this Warriors squad is the age of their rotational, crucial role-players, Andre Iguodala is 35, showing signs of slowing down and Shaun Livingston, 33, has missed 5 of the season’s first 9 games to start the year. Have no fear! Alfonzo McKinnie is here. Who?! Yah, the 26-year-old is basically Iguodala from the season before, averaging right around the same points and rebounds. It doesn’t matter first-round draftee Jacob Evans hasn’t panned out, Kerr plugs in the hungry McKinnie and the team barley misses a step.

An underlying issue I don’t see many people touching on, probably because Stephen Curry is looking like a bonafide MVP candidate once again, is backcourt teammate Klay Thompson is having his worse campaign shooting. 43.9% is nearly a 5 percent drop from last season; and 31.3% from three is his worst mark for his career by a country mile.

Adopting the Patriots mantra of “Ignore the Noise” the rumor mill is running loud about Durant jumping ship after this season (for whatever reason) if the Warriors win it all again. The players and coaches don’t seem concerned.

The Warriors are our national basketball nightmare and I have no clue when it’ll be over. Their infrastructure is to die for and things just always seem to work out for them. It’s a damn shame.

The Warriors Achillies Heels

Remember when the Miami Heat repeated as champions in 2013 and the rest of the NBA cowered under their boots? Seems so long ago. Little did we know how gentile Miami’s foundation was. Behind the Herculean efforts of LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Miami laid waste to a league unable to contain either of them. So what eventually brought these titans down? Age… specifically, D-Wade’s. And Shane Battier, Ray Allen, Chris Anderson and various other role players who provided key assistance in championship runs in the past fossilized over the course of a summer.

Coming off their second straight championship, their third in four seasons, the Golden State Warriors possess the same hubris and internal flaws that’ll surely bring them down… one of these days. Perhaps it’ll be this year their eagerly awaited demise arrives and the NBA will ceased to be “ruined” and return to a nirvana that never really existed.

Forget the noise surrounding the DeMarcus Cousins signing. The reason no one offered anything significant, which lead to this apparently earth shattering deal is because historically Cousins is a moody player and relies heavily on athleticism to get his points. Coming off an achilles injury he’ll be rehabbing until February and there’s no telling what he’ll look like once he returns to the hardwood. At best, Cousins is a complete zero on defense. Will Steve Kerr be able to inspire constant effort on the defensive end when previously there was never any? He’s more likely than to squeeze that out of the similarity egotistical, aging star Carmelo Anthony than Cousins.

The departures of veteran centers David West and ZaZa Pachuila hurt this team more than we’re letting on. Even Pachuila was still setting quality screens and effective in the pick-and-roll (1.32 points per possession)in a noticeably down year. West, though pushing 37, is the superior passing big and a clear-cut professional. West was also an alternative to Draymond Green as the Swiss-army knife in a small-ball lineup when Kerr wanted to rest Green. With that option gone, you’ll see an awful lot of Kevin Durant at center. Which isn’t bad, but there’s a reason the Al Horford’s and Anthony Davis’s of the world don’t like playing the position – it’s awfully taxing on the body to have people Cousins’s size jump on your back every thirty-seconds. With K.D pushing thirty, a history of injuries to his lower body, is it wise for Kerr to put his star through the ringer in such a manner?

The other free agent signing of former Utah Jazz Jonas Jerebko performs better as a stopgap center than Cousins. Yes. That is something I just said. You want to know why? Because it’s true. I’ve watched Jerebko play during his time in Boston and let me tell you, he’s a great hustler. Surely able to guard the likes of backup power forwards and centers such as Montrezl Harrell, Trey Lyles, Patrick Patterson and maybe even slow footed starters like Tobias Harris.

A frequent spot-up shooter, his 49.1 freq% rate last season was higher than Danny Green. Jerebko posted a solid 1.12 PPP in spot-up situations, and 41.4% from three-point land on 2.1 attempts per game. His lone season was Jerebko’s finest, I expect nothing less from him in Golden State.

To discuss the situation in the backcourt, I can in no way explain how fucked the Warriors are if Stephen Curry misses 30-games again. The price never dipped far enough for Wayne Ellington for the Warriors to offer the $5.3 million they have to Cousins; Ellington later signed a $6.3 million deal to stay in Miami. And they drafted Cincinnati forward Jacob Evans, someone who acts more as a specialist 3-and-D personnel rather than a playmaker like Villanova guard Jalen Brunson would’ve acted as if selected. Evans did maintain a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio in Cincinnati.

Curry doesn’t just shoot threes. He passes, creates constant movement in the offense and raises havoc in opposing defenses. With him on the bench it’s easier quell the likes of Durant or spot-up shooter Klay Thompson. It’s astonishing they didn’t just offer a pick to Boston for Terry Rozier just to see if Danny Ainge bit.

There is no playmaker besides Curry on this Warriors team that can conceivably play point guard. As great as Shaun Livingston is, he’s pushing 33 and his assist total last season was just 2. He’s a fine placeholder for Curry – for now. Will he be this year? An awful lot depends on it.

The Warriors Aren’t Indestructible

I write this as the ceremonies haven’t even began to celebrate the newest NBA dynasty. The Warriors, for all their bluster and talent upfront, were vulnerable this year. Their bench was poor. Stephen Curry started to show his age, looking a step slower than years past.

Revisionist history will claim the Warriors were never in any real danger, even as Draymond Green’s decline as a shooter was apparent to us all. History will omit the musical chairs JaVale McGee and Kevon Looney played in the starting lineup, and the obvious complacency in the Warriors play. The competitive fire just wasn’t there all year. The onus was on the Cavaliers to push Golden State against the wall. But bad decision after bad decision ended any possibly of that.

David Griffin and Koby Altman didn’t think like the Warriors or the Celtics and prioritize wings and youth. They splurged on players like Timofey Mozgov, Kyle Korver, Tristan Thompson, Iman Shumpert and J.R Smith at the expense of draft picks and cap space.

All LeBron needed was one good Jeff Green game to get back to the finals. That’s how good he is.

And the Cavs wasted another year of LeBron. The only way he returns next year is if he decides he doesn’t want to baby sit the 76ers, the Rockets cannot fit LeBron into their cap space without sacrificing major pieces and the Lakers poop themselves again. That’s a lot you need to happen to avoid losing the greatest player of our generation for the second time in a decade.

It won’t happen. He’s gone. All that celebrating Altman did after the trades did warrant a trip back to the finals, an aversion of a bigger disaster if they didn’t make it back. It meant nothing to the Warriors. Now they reside in financial Hell. Have no assets. No picks. All they have is Kevin Love who’ll likely assist them in the subsequent rebuild effort.

An utter failure this year has been for the Cavaliers.

See you next year.