Last month, we had an NBA Playoff overview, looking at the teams that we thought were going to make a big impact in the 2014 NBA Playoffs this spring. Now, we are, for all intent & purposes, at the end of the regular season & the NBA playoffs will begin on Saturday & Sunday around the league. This post will take an in-depth look at the entire playoff picture & each team in the NBA playoff picture this year. We will start with the NBA Eastern Conference.
The Miami Heat have been in a bit of a daze seemingly the entire season getting ready for this playoff run. While we know that veterans tend to wait more for the NBA playoff run, it was very evident to the back-to-back NBA Champions. LeBron James has had a strong MVP-level season, but it hasn’t been the season that just wowed long time NBA fans who are used to LeBron doing great things on a nightly basis. Chris Bosh has been more consistent this season, but the team hasn’t had the opportunity to see much of the “Big 3” together on a regular basis this season because of Dwyane Wade being out with a myriad of injuries that have piled up over his long career in the league.
If the Miami Heat are going to be the team that is expected to get back to the NBA Finals, they need to understand that the playoffs aren’t just about going against the Indiana Pacers. The Heat will need to know that teams such as the Charlotte Bobcats & the Atlanta Hawks are going to be teams that will give the Heat their absolute best shot (the Heat & Pacers are fighting for who will get the #1 spot in the Eastern Conference as of this writing).
As far as the Big 3 go, you know what to expect out of them when healthy, but what about the rest of the crew? Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole can lock down that guard rotation, & Michael Beasley can be a minutes-eater in the frontcourt & can spell Udonis Haslem well, but two guys to take a good look at as the NBA Playoffs play themselves out is Chris “Birdman” Andersen & Greg Oden.
Birdman is the energy guy, he is what he is. You can’t quantify his worth in terms of stats & numbers, but if you need a block, a dunk, a big rebound or defensive play to ignite a team, Birdman normally comes through. With Greg Oden, the Miami Heat are basically having him on the roster to use up some minutes against the Indiana Pacers’ Roy Hibbert in the NBA Conference Finals. Oden has had a rough NBA career with his knees not being the best so the team has been having him play on a very limited basis, basically just getting him ready for the NBA playoffs & keeping him fresh & ready to go for maybe 15-20 minutes per night & just bother Hibbert a bit.
When the two teams played in Indianapolis in March, Hibbert had a field day against Oden, who was taken out of the game & didn’t end up coming back in. If Oden can just bother Hibbert enough to take him out of his game in the low post, the Miami Heat will have the edge overall in terms of getting to the basket & having playmakers against the Pacers.
Overall, the Heat are their own enemy. They have all of the talent to win another NBA Championship, but right now, its the small things they will need to do in order to be a true force in the Eastern Conference & take out any sort of drama early in the playoff picture.
The Pacers, from day one, have been talking about having home court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals & the NBA Finals, & that could be a way to beat the Miami Heat this year. Well, while the Pacers have been playing great basketball all season long, the team has sputtered down the stretch, going only 4-7 in their last 11 games & watching their lead over the Miami Heat get as low as a half game up in the race for the #1 seed in the East.
The team, from top to bottom, is one of the most complete teams in the NBA. They have the big center in Roy Hibbert, they have toughness in David West & pretty much the rest of their roster, they have the big time scorer in Paul George, & they have great role players in George Hill & Lance Stevenson.
So, where is the problem? There aren’t that many, to be very honest. The Pacers are an excellent defensive team, quite possibly the best defense in the NBA, & have the defensive scheme & coaching from Frank Vogel to stop any team in the league for a 7-game series.
The main question is there offensive output. The Pacers are a team that struggles to score 90 points in a night, which is not the worst thing in the world because of the playoffs meaning much tougher defense & more half-court sets, but the team must be able to outscore other teams.
If the Pacers can average around 95 points per game, while keeping their strong defensive intensity, the Pacers will be able to beat any team in the league & potentially win the NBA Championship. Right now, the team has to get their heads & minds out of the mindset that home court is the end all be all to winning a title. That is the mindset that young, immature teams bring to the table during this time of the year.
David West is going to have to be the guy who does the main work in terms of keeping this team together mentally & making sure that if they don’t have conditions their perfect way that they don’t fall apart at the seams & seem vulnerable to other teams they will go against before the Miami Heat. West has tremendous senior leadership on this team, & this will be the type of leadership that goes far beyond the actual physical talent that is on the basketball court.
Now that we have gotten to the end of the regular season, the Pacers have so many questions fromt the “experts” regarding the team being able to flip the switch & be ready for the playoff run coming up. The team has played bad basketball in the last 2 months, to the point where Pacers coach Frank Vogel recently sat his entire starters for a game for what he called “rest.” If the Pacers can turn it back on by this weekend for the start of the playoff run, the team will be a favorite in the East.
The Toronto Raptors came out of the woodwork this year to be one of the most dynamic, fun teams in the NBA. The team was aggressive in getting the players that they needed in order to make a true splash in the playoff race this year, in particular bringing in former Memphis Grizzlies guard Rudy Gay, who has been a great complement to young forward Demar Derozan.
Gay brings in the extra scoring punch to give the Raptors an important 1-2 combination with Derozan, but most importantly, brings in experience & leadership to a team who has still not reached the maximum potential of what they can do as a collective unit.
During the season, the Raptors brought in a variety of new pieces into the organization in Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson & John Salmons, who all have been great pieces off the bench for the team & helped with depth, something the Raptors hadn’t had in their team in the entire franchise’s history.
In terms of the starters, Rudy Gay helps out Demar Derozan, who has developed into one of the most exciting & dynamic players in the NBA. Derozan is averaging just under 23 PPG with 4 rebounds & 4 assists. At the forward position, when the playoffs begin, Derozan will need to increase those rebound numbers a bit as he will be asked to be in the paint much more as opposed to working just as a perimeter player on a constant basis. Derozan’s shooting statistics aren’t the greatest, but because he has great help around him, it may not make much of a difference.
At the point guard position, Kyle Lowry has come into his own this season, averaging 17.9 points per game & 7 assists per night. Lowry has shown at times that he can take over a game but also keep everyone happy with his pinpoint passing & the ability to keep the offense flowing. His defense has progressively gotten stronger, as well, as he is averaging close to 2 steals per game.
In the Eastern Conference, having a solid, tough big man is going to be a critical point to going far in the playoffs, & the Raptors have Jonas Valanciunas, who has developed into a viable C all season, averaging 11 points & 8 rebounds per game. At 6’11”, 231 lbs, Jonas is a bit smaller than many of his counterparts in terms of width, but where he makes up for it is in pure skill. He is able to take the pressure off of Derozan, Gay & Terrance Ross in terms of being able to contribute some & make the defenses be honest when guarding.
The Raptors have the overall talent to make a deep run, but the problem is that they don’t have any real playoff experience on their roster. The team is going to have to mature very quickly when having to go up against teams like Chicago or Brooklyn & even further if they are to make it that far, & for that reason, I don’t know if I can see them going far this year. The Raptors are on the rise, no question about it & teams can not sleep on the Raptors & assume that they will be an easy out in the playoffs because this is a team that can hang with the best in the NBA, without any doubt.
A match up against the Washington Wizards in the first round could be a great way to show off the future of the NBA with all of the great young players in that series. Could be the best first round series to watch early on.
The Chicago Bulls have been one of the NBA’s greatest enigmas & mysteries over the last 4 years. The team thought they would have a healthy Derrick Rose in the lineup this year, but unfortunate injuries have severely derailed his career, to the point where fans have no idea if Rose will ever be the dynamic point guard to lead the Bulls to an NBA Championship.
However, when Rose went down earlier this season against the Sacramento Kings, the team kept on moving & in many ways, became better & had more chemistry in their lineup due to the fact that they had become so used to playing without Rose.
Coach Tom Thibodeau has done a fantastic job coaching his defensive style of basketball & making the players believe in themselves in the sense that the season wasn’t over & that they had enough to compete on a nightly basis. C Joakim Noah has been one of the most dominant big men in the NBA, not just through stats, but the emotional leadership & hustle that he puts into every play on the court. Noah is the heart & soul of the team & with Rose being out for so long, Noah has become the overall face of the organization.
The Bulls, as mentioned before, hang their hat on defense, which is #1 statistically in the league, allowing 91.8 points per game. They play a great team-oriented concept which is very much an in-your-face style that frustrates teams & throws teams out of their offensive rhythm. Here is a video on how the Bulls defense works so well against teams.
While the old saying is that defense wins championships, offense has to get you to the point for the defense to do its job, & this is where the Bulls have fallen short in past seasons. This year, the Bulls rank 30th in offense in the NBA, & stats like that will not win an NBA Championship against teams like Miami, OKC or San Antonio.
Noah is a great player in terms of doing a little bit of everything, the team doesn’t have that go to scorer that can carry a team on their back. Last playoff year it was Nate Robinson, who has since moved on to the Denver Nuggets. The team’s leading scorer is Carlos Boozer at 13 points per game. That is not going to get it done in terms of being able to win a championship, flat out.
If the Bulls go up against Brooklyn in a rematch of the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference first-round, it has potential to be an exciting series, but because of the lack of offense from even last year’s team that was truly built around Robinson, Noah, a little bit of Jimmy Butler & tons of defense, I would say that the team may not make it out of the first round, which should hopefully convince the organization to go out & get 1-2 big time scorers ala Carmelo Anthony.
We, at the DraftKingsMaster, were very wrong about Brooklyn Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd taking the job & thinking he should be fired. It was simply a rocky start & the team had to gel together as a unit with so many new pieces in place. In the summer, Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokorhov wanted to shake things up & make a commitment to winning – and winning now.
The team has a strong sense of toughness now with former Boston Celtics legends Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce working together in the front court along with an emerging Mason Plumlee, who has become one of the better defensive forwards in the NBA this year. The Nets also have strong guard play with a healthy Deron Williams & Joe Johnson being the model of consistency as he has been his entire career with Phoenix & Atlanta before he signed with the Nets before last season.
The reason why the Brooklyn Nets should have the confidence that they can make a true run in the NBA playoffs is confidence. The Nets swept the Miami Heat this season in all 4 games against them, which will give the team a strong hope that they can match up against any team in the East. The team has the size down low, the guard leadership, as well as a great bench with Shaun Livingston & Alan Anderson, who can both provide strong offense at any time.
Clearly, however, the key is the veteran leadership & the coaching of Jason Kidd. Kidd, who was just in the playoffs last season with the New York Knicks, has that experience that will be invaluable to pass on to some of the younger players & along with Garnett & Pierce not allowing for any let downs, the Brooklyn Nets have the pieces in place to be the true shocker in the Eastern Conference playoff run, possibly being able to go all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Washington Wizards are one of the best up & coming franchises in the East. They have franchise players who have begun to show their potential in all-star John Wall & future all-star Bradley Beal, making up one of the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA. If the team can keep these two together for the long run, the Wizards will be in the upper tier of the NBA very soon, similar to how the Clippers made their rise to the elite in the NBA after years of futility.
With Wall & Beal in the backcourt, the Wizards have been able to get great contributions out of Martin Gortat, Trevor Ariza & Nene. This will be an exciting team to watch early on in the playoff run, & for their sake, they need to see the Raptors more than the Bulls because the Bulls defense will shut them down very quickly & make it difficult to get baskets on a regular basis.
The Wizards are a year away from being a true contender, but this playoff experience will help grow the franchise & its players immensely.
Many of us have really given Bobcats owner Michael Jordan a hard time about being a terrible owner and general manager during his tenure with the organization, but the last 2 seasons, Jordan has done a tremendous job putting together a contender for years to come in Charlotte, as the city is seeing their team be a winner for the first time since the old Charlotte Hornet days of the 90s.
The team has been built on the shoulders of the most underrated player in the league in Al Jefferson & one of the top young point guards in the game in Kemba Walker. Jefferson leads the team in points (22) & rebounds (10) while Walker has been averaging 17 points & 6 assists this season. The team doesn’t have the horses to compete with the top of the East right now, but this is going to be a building block for the next few seasons as more talent is put around them.
The Atlanta Hawks have been a team in the last few years that has just been a side team that many top tier teams use as a stepping stone to get to the second round of the playoffs.
Unfortunately, this year won’t be much different. The Hawks have some great young pieces in Al Horford, Paul Millsap, & Jeff Teague, but not enough to deal with the Miami Heat.