The NBA Playoffs are shaping up to be one of the most fun in many years, & with the NBA Western Conference, there is so much depth across all 8 teams involved. The style of the Western Conference teams is strikingly different than their Eastern Conference counterparts in that there is much more wide open basketball, with a slightly bit less emphasis on the defensive end. Many of the west teams on the lower end of the scale would be high seeds in the East this year.
Here is our overview of the 2014 NBA Eastern Conference playoff teams.
San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs are one of the most successful franchise in the history of sports. The team has 5 NBA Championships in 6 tries since 1999, which was Tim Duncan’s second season in the NBA. The team is run expertly by Gregg Popovich & R.C. Buford & are pretty much the model franchise in the league.
From a basketball standpoint, the Spurs are consistent as usual. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker & Manu Ginobili are steady, as well as Kawhi Lenord & Danny Green. Some new pieces have been added & put into place along the way throughout the season, but the Spurs have not wavered at all.
There isn’t much to really say about this team, except that they are my pick to get back to the NBA Finals out of the West, simply because of their strong consistency in winning, as well as their commitment to the fundamentals of the game. Every other team in the West has some kind of basic flaw in their game, but the Spurs are almost the perfect team from the top to the bottom in terms of starters, depth & being healthy coming into the NBA Playoffs, due to Popovich being willing to rest players throughout the season when he sees fit.
Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City THunder come into the NBA Playoffs with a chip on their shoulder in that they know that their main competition is going to be the San Antonio Spurs. The team has the usual stars, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook & Serge Ibaka. Jeremy Lamb came on this year as a great option for points & Reggie Jackson has been a great back-up point guard & his skills developed well.
The Thunder are a complete team, very similar to the Spurs, but the issue again is the idea of having to just beat the Spurs. There isn’t anything that the Thunder don’t have – size, toughness, finesse, explosiveness to the basket – nothing that another team can match them with over a 7-game series. The question will be whether or not they can stay focused enough to get back to the Western Conference Finals & go up against the Spurs for a possible 7-game series. I don’t think this is going to be the year for the Thunder to get back because of the will of the Spurs to get back before the team possibly breaks up.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Los Angeles Clippers have continue to evolve & get stronger as a franchise this year. The Clippers – the team that no one liked to play for for many years, are now the most dominant team in the city of Los Angeles, replacing the Lakers as the #1 team playing in the Staples Center.
The Clippers have their version of the Big 3 in Blake Griffin, Chris Paul & Deandre Jordan, all 3 we know what they can do on the offensive & defensive end of the court. The guard play will be strong with Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes & the sharpshooting of J.J. Redick. This season, though, I can’t see the Clippers getting past the Thunder or Spurs. The team has much to hang their hat on, but they are one more big scorer away from being one of the elite teams in the NBA. Blake Griffin is a great option but he is still developing his game. CP3 is a future hall-of-famer & Jordan is a shot blocking machine, but in order to be great, they have to get another big scorer this offseason.
Until then, its going to be an out in the 2nd round or possibly the Western Conference Finals.
The Houston Rockets could be a dark horse to get out of the west this year. The team has been a consistent winner this season, especially after bringing in C Dwight Howard from the Los Angeles Lakers. Howard has paid dividends, averaging 18 points & 12 rebounds per game this year & giving a bit of a reprieve to James Harden from having to be the main scorer every night.
Howard & Harden aren’t alone though; Chandler Parsons & Jeremy Lin have given great contributions, but where the Rockets could fall apart is that their 3-point shooting is great, but they can get very dependent on the 3 & their defense is not at championship level. This could possibly get them out of the first round against Portland, & if the shooting is hot, the Rockets could go all the way, but if the right team puts them into a half-court game, the Rockets will be finished.
(Part 2 of this review comes later today.)
Ok Let’s continue –
Portland Trail Blazers
The Blazers have had another strong season in terms of getting back to the middle of the upper tier in the Western Conference. The team has great, young starters & leaders in point guard Damian Lillard & F/C LaMarcus Aldridge, who is quickly making a claim for being the best big man in the NBA right now, even ahead of the Rockets’ Dwight Howard.
Portland has strong individual talent that is good enough to take them to the NBA Finals & its evenly distributed. Lillard & Nicolas Batum are players that can shoot from long range & operate a defense while Aldridge is working down low in the post. Robin Lopez is a great hustle guy & Mo Williams & Thomas Robinson can get to the rim with the best in the league.
The issue is going to be their defense – the Blazers ranked 22nd in the league in points allowed per game at just over 102. While they can make defensive plays at key moments, in order to be successful in the playoffs, there has to be a sustained effort for 48 minutes & the Blazers haven’t shown the ability to put together a complete defensive game recently. I see them being out in the second round at the latest.
Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are a franchise who has the ability to be a dark horse & go all the way to the NBA Finals if the cards fall right. They have quite possibly the best guard combination in the league with Stephen Curry & Klay Thompson both being 3-point marksmen, as well as good big men in Andrew Bogut & (if healthy) David Lee.
Wing players Harrison Barnes & Andre Igoudala are lethal for going to the basket as well as shooting from outside, but the key to the Warriors having any success at all will be their willingness to play defense, which is something that Head Coach Mark Jackson preaches to his team on a regular basis & has worked to instill more into their high flying style of play, which has made Golden State rank in the top 10 in overall defense in the league.
The Warriors can outscore any team in the playoffs in the West or the East & if they are shooting well, like the Rockets, they can be a dangerous test for anyone they will go against, especially against the Clippers in the first round, especially with the Clippers not being one of the best & elite defensive clubs in the playoffs this year. They will have matchup advantages across the board with many teams they may go up against & the Warriors will need to be a team to keep your eye out for if they can bring it all together for a 7-game series.
The Grizzlies are one of the teams that many NBA purists would consider a throwback – they don’t go up & down the court a ton & they wear you out with their big men – Zach Randolph & Marc Gasol. They play very good defense & they are mentally tough, especially with the leadership & mindset of noted tough guy Tony Allen.
The issue with the Grizzlies is that they simply don’t have enough scoring punch to last in the playoffs this year. Their main options don’t average 20 points per game & against the Thunder, who can be one of the most entertaining offensive teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies will need to put up points & their team is not equipped for that style of basketball, as was shown last year in the playoffs – & unfortunately will be the same result this year. Out first round.
The Dallas Mavericks had to fight this year to be back into the playoffs after a one year absence, & the team rode the back of quite possibly the greatest Maverick of all time, Dirk Nowitzki, who averaged over 21 points per game this year. The addition of guard Monta Ellis has helped, but the Mavericks are not going to have the firepower to deal with the San Antonio Spurs in the first round this year. The Mavs will be able to give them a run, possibly a 6-game series, but the Mavs still have some work to do & roster decisions to make before they are a legit contender for a championship again.