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Why the 2015 NBA playoffs feel wide open – but probably shouldn’t

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The Golden State Warriors just completed one of the best regular seasons of all-time.

They went 67-15, posting the NBA’s best defense and second-best offense. They won their six fastest-paced games of the year and their six slowest-paced. They have two All-Stars (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson), a probable MVP (Curry), a probable Defensive Player of the Year (Draymond Green), someone who might be even better defensively (Andrew Bogut), a possible Sixth Man of the Year (Andre Iguodala) and a possible Coach of the Year (Steve Kerr). They project to get substantially better once they narrow their playoff rotation.

Of the 16 teams to win 65 games in a season, 13 won the title.

So why aren’t the Warriors treated as overwhelming favorites to win the 2015 championship?

I suspect it’s because they didn’t win a playoff series last season.

There’s comfort in familiarity, and this year, there’s little familiarity with the NBA’s top regular-season teams performing well in the postseason. The Warriors haven’t played a series as the higher seed since 1992 or won a series as the higher seed since 1977. The Cavaliers had been miserable for the last four years. Neither the Hawks nor Clippers have ever made the conference finals (though Atlanta reached what was then called the division finals). The Rockets have won only one playoff series since 1997.

That’s why so many people are clinging to the sixth-seeded Spurs, who are the defending champions, have reached the last two NBA Finals and have made 18 straight postseasons.

San Antonio is really the only familiar contender in the field. Last year’s other conference-finalists – the Thunder, Heat and Pacers – missed the playoffs entirely.

Since the NBA went to a 16-team playoff format in 1984, just nine conference-finalists missed the playoffs the following year – 2010 Suns, 2004 Lakers, 2004 Timberwolves, 2001 Bucks, 1998 Bulls and 1988 Mavericks and a whopping three from last season.

Most years, there are more returning conference-finalists as No. 1 seeds than there are returning conference-finalists in the entire 2014 postseason at any seed. Every single year, there had been a returning conference-finalist in a top-two seed.

This year, it’s the sixth-seeded Spurs, and that’s it.

Here’s each postseason in the current format and the seeds held by returning conference-finalists:

  • 2015: 6, X, X, X (SAS, IND, MIA, OKC)
  • 2014: 1, 1, 2, 7 (IND, SAS, MIA, MEM)
  • 2013: 1, 1, 2, 7 (MIA, OKC, SAS, BOS)
  • 2012: 1, 2, 2, 7 (CHI, MIA, OKC, DAL)
  • 2011: 2, 3, 4, X (LAL, BOS, ORL, PHO)
  • 2010: 1, 1, 2, 4 (CLE, LAL, ORL, DEN)
  • 2009: 1, 2, 3, 8 (LAL, BOS, SAS, DET)
  • 2008: 2, 3, 4, 4 (DET, SAS, CLE, UTA)
  • 2007: 1, 1, 2, 4 (DAL, DET, PHO, MIA)
  • 2006: 1, 1, 2, 2 (DET, SAS, MIA, PHO)
  • 2005: 2, 6, X, X (DET, IND, LAL, MIN)
  • 2004: 2, 3, 3, 5 (NJN, SAS, DET, DAL)
  • 2003: 2, 2, 5, 6 (SAC, NJN, LAL, BOS)
  • 2002: 2, 3, 6, X (SAS, LAL, PHI, MIL)
  • 2001: 2, 4, 7, 8 (LAL, NYK, POR, IND)
  • 2000: 1, 3, 3, 4 (IND, NYK, POR, SAS)
  • 1999: 2, 3, 4, X (IND, UTA, LAL, CHI)
  • 1998: 1, 1, 2, 8 (UTA, CHI, MIA, HOU)
  • 1997: 1, 1, 2, 7 (UTA, CHI, SEA, ORL)
  • 1996: 2, 2, 3, 5 (ORL, SAS, IND, HOU)
  • 1995: 2, 3, 3, 6 (IND, NYK, UTA, HOU)
  • 1994: 1, 2, 3, 3 (SEA, NYK, PHO, CHI)
  • 1993: 2, 3, 4, 6 (CHI, CLE, POR, UTA)
  • 1992: 1, 1, 5, 8 (POR, CHI, DET, LAL)
  • 1991: 1, 1, 3, 4 (CHI, POR, DET, PHO)
  • 1990: 1, 1, 3, 5 (DET, LAL, CHI, PHO)
  • 1989: 1, 1, 8, X (LAL, DET, BOS, DAL)
  • 1988: 1, 1, 2, 7 (BOS, LAL, DET, SEA)
  • 1987: 1, 1, 4, 6 (LAL, BOS, MIL, HOU)
  • 1986: 1, 1, 3, 3 (BOS, LAL, DEN, PHI)
  • 1985: 1, 1, 2, 8 (LAL, BOS, MIL, PHO)

It’s jarring how much 2015 sticks out, and I think this has created a false sense of parity.

But everything we know about the Warriors suggests they have filled the vacuum created when LeBron James left the Heat, Paul George got hurt and Kevin Durant got hurt.

The Warriors might not win the title (the field is always a safe bet). But if you don’t consider them clear favorites – especially if you’re picking the Spurs – consider whether you’re leaning too much on comfort rather than a sober view of the season.

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.

Pelicans reportedly pick up option year on coach Alvin Gentry

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David Griffin, the guy with the hammer in New Orleans, likes Alvin Gentry. They have a relationship that goes back to Phoenix, where Gentry was the coach and Griffin was in the front office (and was eventually GM).

Gentry also has a style of play — he wants to run and be up-tempo. That should fit very well with soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick Zion Williamson.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise the Griffin and the Pelicans want to keep Gentry around, as reported by Malika Andrews of ESPN.

This is another smart, stabilizing move by Griffin. The Pelicans want to build an athletic, fast-paced team and Gentry is the right coach for that style.  Maybe it doesn’t pan out, maybe the Pelicans ultimately need to go another direction with their coach, but right now this seems a good fit.

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.