It’s been a while. I couldn’t get the chance to do one of these last time due to an important prior engagement but I’m free now we can continue to discuss the NBA Playoffs in the Orlando Bubble.
Last time I did a proper analysis we were on the precipice of the Conference Semifinals. A lot has happened since then and we are now entering the Conference Finals (for three of these teams anyway). It’s been a strange road to get here. The teams I initially thought were pretenders (Denver Nuggets) turned out to be more talented than I thought and I can admit I was wrong. Meanwhile, teams I had high expectations (Milwaukee Bucks) floundered and failed out of the Bubble (to the surprise of many).
There is still a lot of basketball to be played and today is the day we witness the beginning of the Conference Finals and the end of the Conference Semi Finals. So let’s get to it:
The Battle for Eastern Conference Supremacy Begins
This matchup isn’t surprising but in a weird way it is surprising. Everybody knew that the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat were good teams but we never realized they were THAT good. Most assumed that it would be the Bucks and the Celtics or Raptors in the Conference Finals (more on them in a bit). However, the Heat kind of snuck up on some people as being a legit title contender. Jimmy “BUCKETS” Butler is determined to showcase that he is a legit superstar that can push his team to the NBA Finals. For most of his career, most people — myself included — touted Butler as a legit All Star but more of a 1B type player that is meant to be as a secondary superstar option for a title contending team. Butler heard that noise and is determined to put that notion out of people’s minds. Since the second round, Butler has been averaging 20 PPG, 6 RB, and 6 AST while shooting 47% from the field. He’s terrorized Khris Middleton during the Heat v. Bucks series and has made it clear that not even Giannis Antetokounmpo can guard him.
The Heat supporting cast has stepped up as well. Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson have been sharpshooters from the floor. They have been able to provide spacing and quick shooting to make them a nightmare to guard if they are left open. Bam Adebayo has manifested into that small ball center that plays with high energy and athleticism. The All Star power forward has been the perfect running mate for Butler and matches his intensity and commitment to defense. Despite losing the original Big Three in LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade, Pat Riley found a way to make a quick turnaround and have his team manifest as legit title contenders.
As for the Celtics, they have dominated since entering the playoffs. After a rocky start during the NBA restart, they have found their groove and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are reminding people why they were touted as arguably the best two wing pairing in the NBA. The two “Jays” have played exceptionally well, providing great play on both sides of the ball. Tatum is a rising superstar thanks to his averaging of 23.4 PPG while shooting near 48% from the field. Brown is a great All Star caliber wing who’s great at providing secondary scoring and on ball pressure defense. Kemba Walker, the team’s starting point guard, is finally about to enter his first real Eastern Conference Finals matchup and is out to prove why he’s every bit the All Star point guard that can be a great playmaker for the C’s. Marcus Smart has been great as a bully ball defensive guard off the bench who guards all positions from 1–5(!) and has improved as a shooter which was something nobody saw coming.
With the Bucks in shambles, the Raptors on a possible verge of a rebuild, the Pacers and 76ers in an identity crises, the Celtics and the Heat have a chance to claim the title as the best team in the East. Tonight should be an interesting matchup.
Giannis Didn’t Fail the Bucks, the Bucks Failed Giannis
Speaking of the Bucks, what a disappointing loss for this team. Seriously, a lot of people were hoping to see Giannis and his team make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals. As the best player in the East, this would have been the perfect way to encapsulate an MVP season with a tour de force performance on the big stage. Unfortunately, a terrible ankle injury along with roster flaws rearing its ugly head at the worst time, bad coaching habits, and questionable playcalling has forced the Bucks out of the Bubble and back to their perspective homes. A lot of media personnel have speculated if the supposed meeting between Giannis and owner Marc Larsy indicates that the Greek Freak has one foot out the door if the Bucks have another disappointing playoff performance. It is hard to tell. Antetokounmpo leaving the Bucks for a better team like the Golden State Warriors (with a fully healthy squad this time) or even the Miami Heat would help him garner his first championship quicker than trying to win it all by himself. Not to mention, the Bucks’ missteps of not keeping former Rookie of the Year playmaker Malcolm Brogdon along with not providing enough floor spacing shooters and two way defenders put them in a bind for two seasons now. So it would be understandable if Giannis wants out of Milwaukee.
However, I’m not sure he’s actually in a hurry.
Keep in mind he’s only 25 years old. Both LeBron James and Michael Jordan didn’t win their first championship until their late 20s. He has time and it is not like he’s being pressured to win it all (unless you are one of those weird “yahoo” NBA fans who think “RANGZ” means something). While the Bucks had a disappointing end, it isn’t because Giannis failed them. Superstar or not basketball is a team sport. You need an above average supporting cast and another high caliber All Star to win in this league. Khris Middleton is a solid All Star wing but he’s really best off as the third scoring option. Antetokounmpo is going to need a lot more than that to win a title. It seems Larsy agrees as reports state he and the Bucks’ front office plan on going after top tier free agents to win it all. Let’s hope it pays off otherwise Giannis will look for greener pastures.
Houston…We’ve got BIG Problems
While the Bucks season loss is a minor disappointment, the Houston Rockets are in serious peril. Even though everybody knew that the Rockets were unlikely to win against the Los Angeles Lakers nobody anticipated that the Lakers would completely expose the many (x10) problems with the current roster construction. Daryl Morey’s attempts to quick fix the problems have led to more problems. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has seen the writing on the wall for the roster and has decided to quit the team and looking for coaching opportunities elsewhere. The Rockets are capped out, owing an extensive payroll to most of the players including superstar shooting guard James Harden, superstar point guard Russell Westbrook, solid rotational bench players in Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker. They won’t be able to fix the many defensive holes on the team. A third star is unlikely to come. Hate to say it but the Rockets have essentially “peaked.” This team is only good enough to go to the playoffs and nothing more.
So what now?
Well, Morey’s job has been deemed safe by owner Tilman Fertitia. If that’s true then Morey will have to decide on how he wants to proceed forward. He could do the wise thing and blow up the team, start from scratch in terms of rebuild. However, that’s unlikely the move given the Rockets’ desire to stay in the postseason hunt and as long as they have Harden they will keep on trucking the belief they can win an NBA title. So that would mean they would need to trade either Westbrook, Gordon, or Tucker. Westbrook is practically untradeable given the massive contract he has. Plus, LeBron has showcased Westbrook’s biggest flaws in relation to his poor shooting, a decline in athleticism due to injuries, and an easy way to disrupt his ability to play uptempo ball. The Chris Paul trade has failed miserably and it doesn’t look like things are going to get better. Morey could just simply patch things up like he used to but eventually a legit, long term fix is needed for this team otherwise his job won’t be as “safe” as he thinks it is.
The Clippers Curse is…real?
First, let me sincerely apologize to the Denver Nuggets. While I thought the team was good, I did not think that they were actual contenders for the Western Conference Finals. I misjudged their talent. I underestimated head coach Michael Malone. My fault yo. My bad, my blunder.
Now that I have cleared that up I very much would like to know what the blazes is going on?! I mean the Nuggets are really good and everything but the Los Angeles Clippers are packing the likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Those two superstars alone should be enough to take out the Nuggets and get them to the Western Conference Finals. Yet, here we are on the precipice of a Game 7 in a very real “win or go home” scenario. How did this happen when the Clippers had a 3–1 lead on these guys on Friday?!
Well it was a lot of things apparently. It is mostly thanks to Doc Rivers stubborn coaching…and that’s not good.
Rivers seems hell bent on misinterpreting the weakness of Nikola Jokic since the center has the ability to spread the floor and forces defenders to come out and defend the three point line while weakening the interior defense. The only center the Clippers have who can match Jokic is Ivica Zubac. The Croatian center has been a +11 whenever he’s on the floor defending Jokic. It is when he’s taken out that things go south. WAY south. Montrezl Harrell cannot defend Jokic to save his life. While Harrell has been decent this postseason he’s a far cry from the high energy player off the bench before the NBA shutdown. He’s been a non-factor against Jokic due to his limited size and ability to shoot from the distance. He’s put the Clippers in a bad situation whenever he’s on the floor. Rivers should limit his playing time to guard other players but he continuously wants Harrell on Jokic despite the fact that it has not worked even when they were winning. He should try to use JaMychal Green or Marcus Morris Sr at the 5 to give more floor spacing and an uptempo offense to take out the Nuggets quickly. Otherwise, he may not have a coaching job next year.
Speaking of Morris Sr. and Green, the Clippers rotation players have not been helpful these past two games. While Leonard and George have been getting numbers, the other players simply have not. Patrick Beverley is a defensive point guard who’s best coming off the bench for quick defensive stops and occasional ball handling duties. He’s not a scorer or a legit playmaker. Moments of his hotheaded tendencies have hurt the Clippers and I’m sure Leonard is missing Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet dearly each time Beverley misses a three pointer. As for Lou Williams, the scoring guard has been figured out by the Nuggets’ defense and they have made life difficult for him. He’s struggled in terms of finding easy shots. There’s no telling what the Clippers intend on doing to make it easy for Williams to get his score up but they better figure it out soon.
And that’s it! Tonight at 6:30PM is the Eastern Conference Finals and it should be an interesting match. So get your popcorn ready cause that should be a blast! Meanwhile, Game 7 for the Clippers and Nuggets is at 9PM. If we all want to see “The Battle of Los Angeles” take fruition, we better hope that “Tim Duncan 2.0” himself Kawhi Leonard somehow finds a way to get his team the win. See you all next time when I tackle the Western Conference Finals!
*additional information from Bleacher Report, ESPN, Basketball Reference, USA Today, CBS Sports