We’re just about halfway through what has been the most exciting and unpredictable NBA season I can ever remember. You could talk me into at least 13 different teams winning the championship, at only a handful of them you’d need to get me liquored up first.
I’m going to spin the wheel of contenders and go through why each team could win, and why they won’t. Because I’m all about the positive, I’m going to begin by talking you out of a team, and end by talking you back into them all. So come take this NBA journey with me, and let’s wade through the contenders…..
The Raptors won’t win because: They can’t keep their best big man, Jonas Valanciunas, on the floor during crunch time because of his defense; Kyle Lowry getting infected with a nasty case of “doin too much” disease; an elongated shooting slump from Demar Derozan is in play; simply put, they just might not be good enough
The Raptors will win because: They match up really well with all the other Eastern Conference contenders; Kyle Lowry’s over-the-top irrational confidence has filtered down to the entire team and it shows; they are hard to gameplan against because they don’t have a strict system that they follow, its just kind of five dudes playing fluid basketball out there; Kyle Lowry wouldn’t save his mother from a burning building if it meant winning an important basketball game, they go ten deep with legit NBA bodies; they’ll have the best home court advantage throughout the playoffs unless they play Golden State in the Finals; there’s always a chance Lebron/John Wall/Derrick Rose lose their passports and aren’t able to get into Canada
The Clippers won’t win because: They have walked around all season like their shit don’t stink and a harsh reality check is coming for them; they’re secretly not athletic at all; their crunch time five, CP3/Reddick/Crawford/Blake/DeAndre can’t guard anyone; Spencer Hawes forgot to pack his basketball ability when he moved to L.A.; they need Jamal Crawford to carry bench units and basically average 25 points a game just for them to keep up; Blake’s more concerned with his summer commercial shoots than winning playoff games; Deandre’s more concerned with getting paid and not wanting to leave Los Angeles
The Clippers will win because: Chris Paul finally has his breakout spring and by sheer force of will puts the team on his back; Doc does his best 2008-2012 Doc impression; Hedu Turkoglu; meets Doc Brown over the All-Star Break and they travel back to 2009 and bring back the “trying to get paid one last time” Hedu to use for the stretch run; JJ Reddick goes bonkers from three and morphs into a mix of Kyle Korver and Reggie Miller…..I give up. This is a terrible roster and they have barely a 1% chance to beat all of these juggernauts in the West without a million things breaking right for them.
The Hawks won’t win because: They’re peaking way too early; they don’t have an extra gear to get to, and we’re seeing them play their best basketball right now; the don’t have “that dude” to get them a bucket when their sets break down; they will struggle to get that crucial stop in the last two minutes of a tight playoff game; a bad match-up doesn’t allow them to hide Kyle Korver as much as they’d like on defense; the shots don’t fall in one game too many against the wrong team; there will be at least one guaranteed “we just can’t make a shot today” road game in every series they play, just strictly based on their style.
The Hawks will win because: All five guys on the floor at any given time can shoot long shots effectively and provide spacing; the spacing vortex Kyle Korver causes leads every Eastern Conference coach to literally lose all sleep and they begin making all sorts of questionable decisions from the sidelines; on any given night one of nine guys will make 6 threes and completely dismantle your defensive rotations; Al Horford is way better than most people give him credit for; same goes for Paul Milsap; nobody they have on the court is a complete liability and adds zero to the team, they go 10 deep with actual contributors; Mike Budenholzer might be the best coach in the East; chasing three point shooters all over the floor is exhausting for seven games at a time and they’ll just wear people out.
The Rockets won’t win because: Sometimes mid range jumpers is all you’re going to get; James Harden not getting calls and simply checking out is always in play; Harden having to do literally all of the playmaking for 48 minutes a game is unrealistic for any basketball player, even Lebron; Dwight Howard’s general bitch-ass-ness; Harden being a crunch-time front runner; McHale will be out coached every single night unless they play Oklahoma City (Scott Brooks isn’t out coaching anyone); Josh Smith is on the active roster
The Rockets will win because: James Harden creates the most efficient shot in the game better than anyone else; Dwight and Harden bleed you out at the free throw night all night long over and over again; Trevor Ariza cares again because it’s the playoffs; Patrick Beverley injures every starting point guard they play against; Dwight Howard somehow convinces Josh Smith to not do nothing but play defense, rebound, and run the floor for two straight months; Dwight finds his old mojo and dominates everyone
The Bulls won’t win because: Two and a half years worth of basketball rust is just too much for Derrick Rose to shake off in time for the playoffs; Pau Gasol is too old and slow to keep up with the young bigs from Toronto/Atlanta/Cavs and can’t stay on the court in crunch time; After being so heavily relied on all season, Jimmy Butler’s body breaks down on him leaving the Bulls without a second playmakers from the perimeter yet again; The Bulls players have secretly tuned out Coach Thibs and his abrasive style will lead to his message being lost during the heat of playoff basketball; Because Lebron might as well have a leash and collar around the Bulls organization, he owns them in the playoffs; Joakim Noah never gets fully healthy in time and the Bulls second most important player isn’t ready in time; the moment gets too big for Mirotic and the bench unit loses all scoring and can’t be relied on; Aaron Brooks forgets he’s Aaron Brooks and start shooting the Bulls out of games; Over the speaker system at the United Center you hear “GRAB IT JO!” and glass shattering as Carlos Boozer comes jogging out of the tunnel in a full Bulls warm-up suit that leads the city of Chicago to let out a collective groan and begin rioting in the streets, forcing the cancellation of the NBA Playoffs in favor of national security.
The Bulls will win because: Jimmy Butler becomes player #807 to use the playoff as a springboard to a max contract; being able to bring in Taj Gibson off the bench to spell both Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah is a luxury teams only dream of having; Rose gets confidence in his jumper back just in time to revert back to MVP form and dominate the rest of the point guards in the East; they have enough shooting littered throughout the roster to keep up this time around; Pau’s championship pedigree is enough to galvanize the locker room for two months; Thibs finally learned his minute management lesson and the team is fresh enough to go through an entire playoffs playing Bulls style basketball without wearing down; Kirk Hinrich is on a plane that crashes on a remote deserted island and he becomes leader and when he makes his “If we don’t live together, we’re gonna die alone” speech, instead of leading them to prosperity like Jack Sheppard, everyone dies of starvation just like every offensive unit he’s ran point for the last three years has.
The Mavs won’t win because: Tyson Chandler can’t carry the same defensive workload as 2011 Tyson Chandler did; they don’t have any lockdown perimeter defenders for the Kevin Durants of the world; once you get passed the starting five on the roster, there isn’t much to be excited about; Rajon Rondo just doesn’t have the extra gear in him anymore that we’re all expecting him to bust out come playoff time; an elongated Monta Ellis shooting slump is in play; Rondo not having enough familiarity yet with his teammates to be able to do all of the Rondo-y things he wants to do; the wrong small ball team comes in and tears their defense to shreds
The Mavs will win because: A Rondo/Dirk pick play is the deadliest weapon in any playoff teams back pocket for the last two minutes of a game; after seeing Timmy winning another title last year, Dirk wants to get one more before he’s done and this is his best chance; We all know what motivated/playoff/national TV Rondo is capable of; unless they’re playing the Spurs, Rick Carlisle will be the best basketball coach in the building; I’ll go to war in the last five minutes of a game with Rondo/Ellis/Parsons/Nowitzki/Chandler as my five against anybody; JJ Barea being tiny and disruptive for 15 minutes a game completely swinging at least one series along the way; the 40 point Monta Have It All Game happens once a series
The Thunder won’t win because: There’s a real possibility that they won’t even make the playoffs; they’ll have to steal road wins the entire way to the Finals; Dion Waiters resorts back to his old ways and derails their already minimal ball movement; they still don’t have an offensive system that isn’t “Kevin and Russ take turns dribbling and shooting”; Serge Ibaka hasn’t gotten better at anything in two years now; Scotty Brooks will always be the worst coach on the sideline, always; the ghost of the James Harden trade gets even realer as he hoists up the MVP trophy before game 1 of their series; Reggie Jackson lays a complete dud in round one and torpedos the team while KD/Russ sit
The Thunder will win because: Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are two of the most terrifying athletes the basketball Gods have ever sent down to earth; on most nights, between KD and Russ, they will have the two best players on the floor; they were one Serge Ibaka injury away from beating the Spurs and being in the Finals last year; they’ve been in enough playoff battles together to know exactly when and how to turn it on; Steven Adams is on his way to becoming a pantheon level agitator and has at least one big moment in him every spring; Waiters gets into a “Fuck You Kyrie, Fuck You Lebron, and Fuck You Cleveland” mode and becomes the most dangerous 6th man any team has; Reggie Jackson uses the playoffs to become this off seasons wayyyyy over paid free agent
The Cavs won’t win because: They are a different team every night, and they won’t be able to stay consistent enough to win for four straight rounds; Lebron is secretly taking the year off to rest his “not filled with HGH anymore” body after taking on a larger burden than anyone else I’ve ever seen in my basketball watching life for the last five years; nobody in that locker room is playing for the same thing; won’t be able to stop a soul in crunch time; Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have played as many big time NBA playoff games as everyone who reads this combined; the subtle cat and mouse game Lebron and Dan Gilbert are playing through the media will become too much of a distraction for the team to stay focused
The Cavs will win because: Lebron James is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen in my life and the title still goes through him until proven otherwise; Kyrie settles down when it matters and does a scary Chris Paul impersonation in the playoffs; the Cavs have actually been statistically great when the Big Three have all been healthy and on the court together; the kinks all get worked out during the season’s second half and they become the juggernaut they’ve periodically shown flashes of; Kevin Love’s game translates really well to the playoffs as he takes on a larger role once the game slows down
The Blazers won’t win because: Nic Batum’s basketball ability was stolen from him by a very confused group of aliens and he doesn’t get it back in time; Aldridge’s recent thumb injury affects his shot just enough to make a tangible difference; Damien Lillard tries to put a little too much of the burden on him and shoots the Blazers out of games early; in the wrong match-up the Robin Lopez/Chris Kaman duo becomes a match-up problem; Lillard isn’t quite good enough yet; the Wes Matthews 1-8 from three game that’s coming happens in an elimination game.
The Blazers will win because: Damien Lillard is actually an assassin trained by the Faceless Men of Braavos; they turn into a Cinderella March Madness team and are carried by an insane three point shooting display; Aldridge kicks everyones ass for two months; they have zero pressure on them at all and can really just go play ball
The Spurs won’t win because: They are still emotionally drained from the two year basketball roller coaster ride they were just on; the shots just don’t fall like they did last season; they run into a fully healthy OKC and the nightmare match-up becomes reality; they never get fully healthy at the same time; the “we just experienced the second most devastating Finals loss ever and we have an enormous point to prove” chip on their shoulder is gone; father time finally makes his first appearance in the Spurs locker room, about six years after everyone thought he would, and the dearth of athletic point guards in the West wear them down.
The Spurs will win because: No NBA fan should ever count out the Spurs until they are officially eliminated; Gregg Popovich; Duncan and Manu winning one more title, and their first ones back to back, and ride off into the sunset is a storyline too cool to not consider; this is essentially the same team that really should be going for a three-peat right now; they are as battle tested as anyone else in the league; Kawhi makes his claim for Top Ten Player In The League status; they’re deeper than any other team they will play
The Grizzlies won’t win because: They don’t have that extra oomph of scoring punch to get over the top yet again; still don’t have a reliable answer when teams go small; Vince Carter chooses April and May to begin looking super old; Zach Randolph gets suspended for the wrong game again; because winning in the playoffs isn’t easy, and Marc Gasol’s impending free agency weighs too heavily on his mind
The Grizzlies will win because: There are no kinks to work out, everyone on the roster knows his role; Marc Gasol might be the best big man in basketball and he proves it on a national stage; 18 Courtney Lee points per game is exactly what they’ve been missing for the last two years; Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are just better than the other guys they play; they have enough sweat equity together to fill up an ocean; they won’t be intimidated by a single team or player they face off against because they’ve beaten them all before.
The Warriors won’t win because: I know I said I’d steer away from injury related hypotheticals, but this one’s obvious, Andrew Bogut’s health; not having a big man plan B if Bogut gets into foul trouble besides “hope Draymond Green and David Lee hold their own”; the open looks they’re beginning to get used to being a little tighter and less frequent in the playoffs; the right player on the right team (Tony Allen, Russell Westbrook, etc.) beats up Steph Curry just enough to get in his head; they have yet to experience the crushing “lick my wounds and make sure this never happens to me again” playoff loss that every great champion needs; this is Steve Kerr’s first crack at this and he’s bound to make a few mistakes like any first year coach
The Warriors will win because: Steph Curry is the most threatening human being on the planet with a basketball in his hands; the shots just keep going in and nobody can do anything about it a la the Spurs last year; Draymond Green’s swiss-army pocket knife versatility becomes so important that Kerr can’t take him off the floor; they have that un-quantifiable “this is their year” feeling to them; you just simply cannot steal a game from them in their arena; They’re guaranteed to have at least one Steph-wins-it-by-himself game and one Klay-wins-it-by-himself game every series; they have enough roster flexibility to match-up big or small with anyone; They keep at least four guys on the court at all times who can run, finish, pass, and shoot; Their relentless fast break becomes too suffocating, and it brings Scotty Brooks to visible tears on the sidelines