2015 Conference Finals Mini-Preview

At last, we are here. The Conference Finals, featuring: your 2014-15 MVP, the NBA’s Coach of the Year, a rejuvenated team-killer whose old team is on the other side of the bracket, a left-handed scoring assassin who believes he should have won the MVP, but has “bigger things to worry about”,a man who scored 37 points in a single quarter, two rookie NBA coaches, a recently lost and found NBA stud who protects his team’s rim with a #12 on his back,numerous role players who were blessed to play on a contender after starting on lottery teams, a lot…. A LOT of three-point shots, the biggest mouth in the league, and of course, the returning King.

We didn’t get a sexy matchup like, Golden State Vs. Los Angeles, or Cleveland Vs. Chicago (oh wait), but if you’re a basketball fan you love these matchups because of the match ups within the matchup!

Cleveland Vs. Atlanta

Remember the last time that LeBron James had to face a team with a similar bloodline/interior wiring/team-first mentality as Atlanta? Hint: Think 2014 NBA Finals

Well first off, that doesn’t mean Cleveland is going to get blown out the way that Miami did. LeBron played great in that Finals, but you can only do so much by yourself. After four straight NBA Finals, the Miami Heat just ran out of gas — particularly Dwyane Wade. And almost five straight NBA Finals for LeBron. He doesn’t have Kevin Love, he doesn’t have Dwyane Wade, he doesn’t have Kevin Love, he doesn’t have a healthy Kyrie Irving, he doesn’t have a coach who’s been in this position before, and he doesn’t have home-court advantage (not that Atlanta’s is very special anyways, but could play a factor because it’s against… LEBRON!!!).

With that being said, the Atlanta Hawks don’t have LeBron James. Alright, I’m done making obvious statements to back up my points, but having LeBron in a Cavaliers uniform swings the pendulum even for Cleveland.

Injuries are effecting both teams, but with Love out, and Kyrie not close to 100% you have to wonder how much of this game will have to go through LeBron. I mean, in last year’s Finals, it was obvious that LeBron couldn’t keep a gang of role players in the game against a team that moved to ball effortlessly like the Spurs, or Hawks. Who could?

It’s a lot tougher when San Antonio shoots the way they did. We might not see a shooting display like that for a long, long time again (FG .528, 3P% .466, FT% .746).

Everybody knows it. LeBron is going to win or lose at all costs. And if that means there needs to be blood, he will cut off his leg or arm (or headband) to win. He’s the best player of his generation, many still think he’s the best player in the world, and he can influence his team positively regardless of who’s playing.

That being said, we know he’s going to show up, it’s up to others to join him…

Not having Kevin Love hurts the most for this series because you don’t have anybody who can stretch the floor against Atlanta, without playing small (helping the Hawks). Their weakness is their strength, spreading the floor. Kevin Love brings a big outside of the paint so that LeBron can enter his 2013 NBA Finals No Headband Mode Instead, Tristan Thompson and Mozgov set ball screens and role to the hoop, or play a game of lets see if we can get 30 offensive rebounds. Not a bad thing, obviously, it just changes the dynamics for LeBron.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time to meet DeMarre Carroll. If you don’t know who DeMarre Carroll is, you will soon because he’s one of the few players in the NBA who can guard LeBron off the dribble, in transition, or on the perimeter (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Draymond Green, Tony Allen). Now, he can’t stop LeBron unless it’s Kawhi Leonard dressed as DeMarre Carroll, but he can bully him, beat him up, make him tired. Carroll is a DOG and he is licking his chops with an opportunity to light social media on fire.

*Note: I didn’t say down low in the post because LeBron does whatever he wants down there against perimeter defenders. He might have to retire down there if they want to win the Finals this year because jump shooting James might not be enough without Kevin Love and fully equipped Kyrie Irving.*

It’s going to be really interesting who Blatt (LeBron) decides to have LeBron defend for the majority of the game considering the health of Kyrie Irving. Jeff Teague WILL absolutely shred Kyrie Irving if he isn’t healthy. And regardless of Ky’s health, Teague was going to shred him on offense anyways. Why does this matter to LeBron? Guarding Teague can becoming very strenuous because he loves to run, and run, and run.

Why wouldn’t Smith, or Shumpert jump to Teague instead of LeBron? Well, one of the three is guarding Kyle Korver who shoots 49% from deep and loves to run more than almost anybody on Earth as he is constantly moving without the ball up, down, and around screens trying to get open for a half second to hoist up a three. Why not play Smith and Shumpert and just let LeBron run the show on offense? Ask the Knicks. I have a feeling LeBron isn’t going to take any risks in the Conference Finals.

Leaning Towards: Atlanta — The injury bug bites and it bit Cleveland a little harder than usual. The Hawks are a great team, can exploit a few matchups, and have a good defender for LeBron. If Kyrie was healthier going into series I’d be more confident in Cleveland. Atlanta needs to shoot like they did in the regular season and REBOUND!

I’m just kidding. Seriously? I mean Atlanta has been cute, but I’m not in love with them. Cleveland can win in five games. Those are just reasons I think Atlanta COULD win.

Actually leaning towards: Cleveland. 

Houston Vs. Golden State

Will Golden State fight like true Warriors, or fall like an untrained army? The question I’ve been waiting to have answered all season. So far, they’ve checked every box on their way to what many NBA fans believe will be a championship season. They’re by far the favorite, and have seemed untouchable all season.

The Warriors have the most exciting backcourt in the NBA, the best defense, the best shooting team, etc. It’s ridiculous how good they are. In my eyes they’re the best team in the NBA. They changed the style of basketball, they are the first of their kind, and everybody else is trying to catch up. They have everything you’d want in a basketball team… everything!

With that being said, the Rockets play similar, but aren’t known as the “Splash Bros”. Sometime during the Clippers/Rockets series, some sort of angel came down from the clouds and rubbed James Harden’s beard so the could transform into a legit two-way team that dominates every phase of the game. They not only finally learned how to play together — understandable because of how many injuries they dealt with through the regular season — but most importantly they learned why they’re playing. They started playing with heart, and effort. They’re really fun to watch when they play like that.

James Harden has a lot to prove this game — I believe he had his MVP trophy stolen from Curry with the help of Vine, Twitter, and other social media forms that only show a crazy highlight not what a player does for his team night in and night out. But he isn’t the only player that is trying to show he belongs on this stage — Dwight Howard has resurrected his career from LA form with 19.9 points and 14.0 boards per game in the playoffs thus far.

Not only are Harden and Howard very good players, but they learned how to play together. James Harden is nearly impossible to stop on the pick-and-roll with Howard for a few reasons — 1) Harden is the best player in the league at driving to the rim and it isn’t close. 2) He is as good of a distributor as anybody in the league… ANYBODY. 3) Harden has shooting options all over the floor for threes.

*Mike Breen Voice — Harden uses the screen, hesitates, SPLITS the double…. kick out!… Terry for three.. BAAAAAAAAAAANG!!!!*

Dwight Howard is such a skilled offensive player down low, it’ll be tough for even a great defender like Andrew Bogut to defend him, considering the athleticism difference of the two players. People have forgotten how good Dwight Howard is because he’s been in LA listening to the Lakers babble on and on about how they’re going to magically win multiple championships, or he’s been injured. He even dusted off one of his NBA Defensive Player of the Year trophies before the Houston turnaround last series (not sure which of the three trophies).

I think the most important parts of this series is how Golden State defends Howard, how successful Josh Smith is, if Curry plays like an MVP or averages 23 points per game, and how many times can Harden get to the free throw line for free points.

Leaning Towards: Houston — Don’t call me an idiot. I’d be very surprised if Houston was able to win the series, but at the end of the day they are healthy, hungry, and talented. They’re playing their best basketball, they’ve been tested, and outside of the big names on each team, I’d ride with Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, Clint Capela, and PABLO!!!!! They have 2/3 best players in the series (Harden/Howard), a bench that can match Golden State’s, and GREAT perimeter defenders in Ariza/Brewer — two pit bulls barking at every neighborhood kid who walks past their yard. Besides, it’s more fun to cheer for the underdog.

*Note: I think the Warriors are for sure the favorite and could easily win this series in 5 games, but for the sake of not writing another “Conference Finals Preview” that has the Warriors beating Houston, I went against the grain.*

*Another Note: I think Houston can actually win.* 

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