With the playoffs well underway it’s time to see how each team is tracking on a big picture scale – which teams are looking like real contenders? Basically, which team is playing the Heat in the Finals? Time to pull out some NBA Playoff Power Rankings.
1: Miami Heat
The question is no longer whether the Heat will win the Championship, it’s how many games will they lose along the way. Their destruction of the Bucks was a joy to behold, seeing Brandon Jennings struggle in every single game after picking a Bucks six-game series win was just hugely satisfying.
How soul-crushingly dominant were they? Dwyane Wade turned up to play Game Four, participated in warmups, and then Erik Spoelstra decided to rest him. THEY’RE RESTING PEOPLE IN PLAYOFF GAMES!?!? C’mon guys, don’t rub it in.
To be honest, the Bucks actually played some good ball at times, yet never took a lead of more than five or six points all series such was the Heat’s dominance. It’s likely to be a series against the Bulls next up for the Heat, and while the Jimmy Butler/Luol Deng combo may prove to be pesky for LeBron James and co, it should be a five game series.
2: San Antonio Spurs
If the Heat’s sweep was a joy to behold, then the Spurs’ complete crushing of the Lakers was the funniest thing of all time. Sadly, it wasn’t just deluded Laker fans who thought they had a chance; many respected basketball writers were picking the series to go to six or seven games.
Thankfully, the Lakers got crushed, only leading the series for a measly six minutes (less than the Bucks), while their backcourt disintegrated around them. There was something amusing about watching Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock and Chris Duhon playing massive playoff minutes, and Dwight Howard’s meltdown means that the ever-present Laker drama will continue into the offseason. As for the Spurs, they get a ton of rest before their next series against either my Golden State Warriors or the Denver Nuggets. In a big picture regard it really doesn’t matter who goes through, because the Spurs are going to kill either side, and be the favourites going into the Western Conference Finals.
3: Oklahoma City Thunder
The Thunder still deserve to be the third favourites for the title in my book. They have a super star, a good supporting top 30 player, and a bunch of effective role players. Sounds like the Clippers and the Knicks right?
While Russell Westbrook (oh the irony of his injury) is a big loss, and will prevent them from being a legitimate title threat, Durant is definitely capable of still taking the team to the Finals, depending on who they face in the next round. I think the Grizzlies would be a tougher opponent than the Clippers for the Thunder to face, although either could realistically beat them, but having more touches for one of the most efficient players of all time is no bad thing. In my book, they’re still odds on to make the Western Conference Finals, and get drubbed by the Spurs.
4: Los Angeles Clippers
5: Memphis Grizzlies
Yes, I’m placing both of these teams ahead of the Knicks and Pacers. Why? Because the East stinks. It really does. Unfortunately, due to the Heat’s dominance we won’t be able to confirm this hypothesis, but I do reckon that both the Clippers and the Grizzlies could, and would, beat the Knicks or Pacers in a seven game series. Also, they have a much easier run of making the Finals, as they, you know, don’t have to play one of the best teams of all time.
Before I delve into the East, let’s just run through this series quickly. The Clippers went up 2-0 on the back of some Grizzly foul trouble and great Chris Paul play, but it seems the Grizzlies have found a blueprint to beat the Clippers, winning their two home games extremely comfortably despite not shooting superbly.
As I pointed out in my preview of this series, the Clippers have three very dodgy starters, shown when they scored a combined two points in Game Four. While they do win the battle of the bench depth, it’s often outweighed by the awful starters they trot out. This one could really be a case of whoever has home advantage wins it, so that’s why the Clippers get the nod, but if Chris Paul keeps getting hounded by Allen and Conley then this one could be over in six, and providing a very tricky match-up for the Thunder in Round Two.
6: New York Knicks
7: Indiana Pacers
This series is going to happen, and it’s going to be fascinating. The Knicks have coasted through their first round series with the Celtics, claiming three games on the back of the Celtics being awful offensively, and losing the fourth when the Celtics finally got something out of their old man trio. I haven’t been sold all season on the Knicks, and I’m still not, their offence consists of two streaky scorers, one dunker and then a bunch of role players relying on Jason Kidd and Ray Felton getting them the ball. Against the stingy defence of the Pacers there’s going to be some problems.
I think the Pacers are the better team here, but I have to rank them below the Knicks just because of this damn Atlanta hoodoo. For some reason, they just can’t win in Atlanta, which could easily result in a seven game series. Game Three highlighted what happens when their big men can’t start going, as they put up a bizzaro-Warriors performance (nobody shooting above 50%). All things equal, I would back the Pacers, but home advantage and rest could mean the Knicks get the edge.
8: Golden State Warriors
Well I didn’t see that coming. After a pretty gloomy post about our chances once David Lee went down, my Dubs have proven me totally wrong with some awe-inspiring performances which have made me proud to say I’m a Warriors fan. The small-ball lineups we’ve trotted out have been hell for George Karl to deal with, and everybody has stepped up in the squad – Harrison Barnes and Klay Thompson early, then Andrew Bogut and Jarrett Jack recently, providing a great complement to the Greatest Shooter Who Ever Lived. Heck, even Draymond Green has been hitting threes. What a ride.
Denver are probably going to win Game Five on the short turnaround, but with three chances to win the series I’m one happy writer as this point in time.
(Lets not mention what’ll happen if we face the Spurs)
9: Chicago Bulls
Another team who are likely to win in six games, this has been my best prediction so far. While everyone was talking themselves into a mediocre Nets lineup, I jumped on the Bulls to win the series (paying $2.70, in case you wondering), and it’s looking great even after a Game Five loss earlier today.
The madness which unfolded in Game Four was crazy to watch, with Nate Robinson hilariously nearly breaking several of Michael Jordan’s records, and if Kirk Hinrich is healthy they should take Game Six at home and make me look smart (Not easy to do).
10: Denver Nuggets
Hellllooooo Denver. Well, you weren’t expecting this, were you? Seems like you just can’t handle small ball. What’s happened to Kenneth Faried? Why does Andre Igoudala only seem to play in the first half? What happened to being the best home in the league? Why am I only scared of Ty Lawson?
(Lets stop before I jinx the whole Warriors squad.)
11: Brooklyn Nets
When I said that Joe Johnson and Deron Williams would struggle against the perimeter defence of the Bulls, I meant Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng, not Kirk Freaking Hinrich. Somehow, Captain Kirk has turned into the untalked about X-Factor, shutting down D-Will until his injury in Game Four.
The win in Game Five has given them hope, but if Hinrich is back and Noah’s series-turning play continues then it could be goodbye to the Nets before they could record that elusive playoff series victory.
12: Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have bounced back with two wins against the Pacers thanks to the supremely odd Highlight Factory hoodoo. In doing so, they've found a way which could work in Indiana too, playing Johan Petro and Ivan Johnson extended minutes while sticking Josh Smith on Paul George, instead of the out-of-his-league Kyle Korver.
If the Pacers' record in Atlanta is anything to go by, and by now it's more than bad luck, then we will be seeing a GAME SEVEN BABY! GAME SEVEEEEEEEEN!!!!
13: Boston Celtics
As you can probably tell from some of the stuff you've read on the blog, I am a MASSIVE basketball fan. Massive. During the regular season I streamed the Bobcats play the Pistons, because I can watch almost anything.
That almost? It's the Celtics.
The Celtics are as close to unwatchable as it gets for me with a basketball team. The Hawks v Pacers series nobody has been watching? I'm transfixed by it. The slow-it-down Grizzlies and Bulls? Love em. But the Celtics, with all their 19 foot jumpshots and half court sets just don't do it for me.
Thankfully, they'll be vanquished in Game Five. Good riddance.
14: Houston Rockets
Despite their inevitable first round exit, their style of play is likely to be the style the league adapts to, with plenty of threes and very few mid-range shots, and their trade for Thomas Robinson didn’t end up hurting their potential playoff run, so a nice job all round by Daryl Morey and co: Expect to see the Rockets return to the playoffs next season.
14: Houston Rockets
The Rockets avoided the gentleman’s sweep thanks to not having to play Jeremy Lin, but they won’t win Game Five in OKC. Game Four was a mere bone thrown to the Houston crowd, but a delicious bone after some crazy antics - Francisco Garcia being a KD stopper was almost as illogical as Carlos Delfino dunking on Durant's head.