NBA Playoff Action
April 24, 2014
It took close to six months and 82 games of the regular season to eliminate 14 of the NBA’s 30 teams from further play. Yes, the NBA Playoffs are finally here and, yes, I think 16 playoff teams is too many. But that is another story.
Anyway, the first round matchups are set and here is a quick look at some storylines. There will be more as this two month process starts. Out with the old and in with the new is an early theme of the 2014 playoffs.
This year marks the first time ever that the Los Angeles Lakers, the Boston Celtics, and the New York Knicks missed the post season in the same year. That means that there is a new crop of teams and fresh faces that will get a chance to debut in playoff basketball. Five of the 16 playoff teams, the Charlotte Bobcats, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Portland TrailBlazers and Dallas Mavericks, are new to the playoffs after missing out last year. That number is relatively high of late and there are a number of rising stars to thank for the turnover.
Highlighting this group are three first-time All-Stars: Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan, Wizards guard John Wall, Blazers forward LaMarcus Aldridge, and Blazers guard Damian Lillard. DeRozan has emerged as a top-10 scorer and a Most Improved Player candidate featuring an offensive game centered around his athleticism.
Wall, a former number-one draft pick, has finally vaulted into the top five point guards conversation on the strength of averaging 19.1 points, 8.7 assists, four rebounds and 1.8 steals. Lillard, another rising point guard has paired up with Aldridge, a three-time all star, to give Portland a potent one-two punch.
There is a story here in Charlotte also. Al Jefferson, signed by the Bobcats last summer, will get his first chance at leaving a major impact in the playoffs after finishing the season as one of just five players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds this year. And Kemba Walker will get to showcase his skills as he moves up the best point guards in the league list.
If you want to watch the better basketball and the better teams, you better plan on staying up late. The best teams are in the West which means there will be some late starting (and ending) times. The West’s dominance has been an ongoing story all year. I tallied up the damage. The average record of the eight West playoff teams is 55-27. The average record of the eight East playoff teams is 47-35. The league’s top three records all reside in the West, the league’s top four point differentials all reside in the West, and Dallas, the West’s No. 8 seed, finished with a better record than Toronto, the East’s No. 3 seed.
It was the same story on the court as West playoff teams won nearly three-quarters of their games against all East teams this year, running up a combined 181-65 record. Conversely, East playoff teams won less than half of their games against the West, going a combined 119-121. The West’s eight playoff teams include six of the league’s seven best offenses, with Memphis standing as the only team with an offense that failed to crack league average. Expect fearless offense, intense match-ups and prepare for the possibility of an upset, as the West’s field may include some flawed teams, but there are no true weak links.
I am not sure where the first round upsets will come from this year. I do like the fifth seed Wizards over the fourth seed Chicago Bulls. It would not surprise me if the West’s fifth seed Blazers knocked out fourth seed Houston. The biggest chance of an upset could be if Atlanta rocked No. 1 seed Indianapolis.
Health is always an issue it seems this time of year. Two-time defending champions Miami Heat have nursed Dwayne Wade all season. The perennial all star has missed more than a third of the Heat’s games this season. You would have to think Miami needs Wade to make its way through the field again. The Heat’s chief competition in the East, Indianapolis, has been healthy all season as all five of the Pacers’ starters played at least 76 games this season.
Out West, Russell Westbrook is the player to watch health wise. The Oklahoma City point guard has had multiple knee surgeries over the past year but is playing well since his latest return in February. The Thunder will contend again for the title but they need Westbrook. Remember, they collapsed when Westbrook went down during last year’s playoffs.
I have not even spoken of the team with the best record yet. Yes, the veteran laden San Antonio Spurs are at it again. Underrated as always. It is early, but I like the Spurs, with Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, or Oklahoma City coming out of the West to beat Miami in the Finals.
NFL Draft Talk
We are three weeks away from the NFL College Draft and it seems like there is major news daily. I will run down some of the latest news and notes.
Jadeveon Clowney, the likely number-one pick, has told teams that he is done working out for individual teams. The South Carolina defensive linemen’s decision seems to have only added to his reputation as a non-conformist. I don’t think this will prevent a team that loves him from picking him, but it might be a small factor in the decision by a team on the fence.
This could be the year of the wide receiver within the first round. Several mock drafts out there list up to six wideouts in the top 32 selections.
The demise of the runningback will likely continue. There are numerous lists out there that do not list a runningback until midway through the second round. The theory here is that teams have proven over and over they can find good backs late in the draft. This means they do not have to pay big money for backs that typically only last up to five years before injuries take a toll.
There will be a run on quarterbacks during the draft. The mystery is when the run will take place.
There are numerous stories out there that at least four quarterback-needy teams, Houston (first pick), Jacksonville (3), Cleveland (4) and Oakland (5), are strongly considering passing on quarterbacks with their first picks and waiting until their second or third selections. Simple logic tells us that they are not in love with any of the top quarterbacks, and there are too many other good players who are surer things than a quarterback you have doubts about.
For that reason, there could be more quarterbacks taken in round two than round one.
For instance, Jacksonville really likes Jimmy Garoppolo of Eastern Illinois, and he’d likely be there high in the second round when the Jags pick again, at 39. And Houston seems to be thinking the same way with their number one pick.
The strength of this draft, according to the experts, is the depth of it.
That means the rich usually get richer as there are quality players left between picks 30 and 70. Case in point, the San Francisco 49ers.
The rich-get-richer Niners hold the 30th, 56th, 61st, and 77th overall picks. I will spend more time on the draft as it approaches.