Getty Images

NBA Playoff Predictions: Plenty of Warriors love…and Bucks, too

Leave a comment

It’s prediction time… and of course we’re talking Golden State Warriors a lot.

How could we not? They are the most talented team, they’ve won the last two titles, and they are the clear favorites for good reason. However, we’ve got love for the Bucks (and Raptors) and see a few upsets along the way.

Here are our predictions:

Do you predict an upset in the first round (lower seed beating a higher seed)?

Eastern Conference:

Kurt Helin: While I think Indiana can push Boston — especially with Marcus Smart out injured — there will be no first-round upsets in the East. There is too big a gap between the top four and bottom four (if Indiana had a healthy Victor Oladipo, this could be a different conversation.

Dan Feldman: No. The top four of the East is loaded. The bottom three is… not. Though I do predict with Marcus Smart out, the fifth-seeded Pacers will push the Celtics to seven — the home team winning every game.

Dane Delgado: I could certainly see the Indiana Pacers beating the Boston Celtics in the first round. Boston will be without Marcus Smart for at least the first two playoff series, and the Celtics are a mess internally. Rotationally, they still haven’t fully recovered from Gordon Hayward‘s injury, and they have not shown the flashes of brilliance that they did last year. We still don’t know if Jayson Tatum or Jaylen Brown will step up the way they have in the past, and this team only won one more game than the Pacers. Indiana is spunky and is playing without their best player. I wouldn’t count on it, but the Celtics are weirdos and the Pacers are a capital “T” Team.

Western Conference:

Kurt Helin: Denver’s gambit to get the Trail Blazers the three seed (and put the Rockets on the Warriors side of the bracket) helps out Oklahoma City. The Thunder have stumbled and struggled since the All-Star break, with Paul George‘s shoulder issue a big part of that, but OKC is a team better built for playoff basketball. Combine that with Portland being without Jusuf Nurkic and the Blazers will fall again in the first round. Also, while I think Houston will be Utah, that series will go deep and be close.

Dan Feldman: Thunder over Trail Blazers. It’d be different if Jusuf Nurkic were healthy, but Portland is not the same on either end of the court without him. It’s not that I especially like Oklahoma City. I don’t. But the Thunder swept the Trail Blazers in the regular season, and Portland tried to avoid this matchup. It’s as if the Trail Blazers know what’s likely coming.

Dane Delgado: The West is almost the opposite of the East. Three out of the four first-round playoff series could end with the “lower” seed beating the “higher” seed. Utah could strangle the life out of Houston’s offense. The Oklahoma City Thunder have swept the season series with the Trail Blazers, who are also missing Jusuf Nurkic. The Denver Nuggets are a fast-paced team with no playoff experience going up against the stalwarts of the playoffs in the Spurs. If I had to pick a series to go south, I would go with the Spurs beating the Nuggets in a major upset. Or the Thunder. Hmm… can I get back you?

Who will win the conference finals?

Eastern Conference:

Kurt Helin: Toronto over Boston. These are not the Raptors that fall short in the playoffs, new coach Nick Nurse has worked all season to find different lineups that make this team more versatile, plus they have a closer now in Kawhi Leonard. I’m predicting Boston to beat Milwaukee in the second round, but if Malcolm Brogdon is back healthy and Marcus Smart is not, the Bucks will win that series. Either way, I’ll take the Raptors to represent the East.

Dan Feldman: Bucks. I really like these Raptors. The 76ers and Celtics have the requisite talent to have a chance. But Milwaukee has been the NBA’s best team throughout the season. We ought to take that more seriously.

Dane Delgado: The Milwaukee Bucks. Many times it’s reasonable to expect that teams with no playoff experience won’t be able to plow through the postseason the way a more veteran team might be able to do. But the East is riddled with flawed teams top to bottom, particularly at the top. Milwaukee is the most complete team in the conference with the best player.

Western Conference:

Kurt Helin: Golden State over Denver. The only things that will beat the Warriors are injuries or boredom, and I don’t think they will get that bored. It’s trendy to pick Denver to get upset in the first round, but I believe in this team and they set themselves up with an easier path to the conference finals (I would have picked Houston over Denver, but that’s not how the seedings shook out).

Dan Feldman: Warriors. Houston could test them in the second round, but there’s no way to pick anyone else. The Warriors have all the talent and experience anyone could want.

Dane Delgado: Who would pick against the Golden State Warriors at this juncture? Unless something affects this team’s health, they should make their way to the Conference Finals and beyond. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be the cakewalk it’s been in the past. The Warriors still need to flick the proverbial switch into playoff mode, so there is some doubt cast about their readiness for this moment. It might take them few games to ramp up, and the second round could actually be their biggest test, but I expect to see them in June once again.

Who will win the NBA Finals?

Kurt Helin: Golden State over Toronto, but this is going to go six or seven games. For the first time in a couple of years, the Warriors biggest test will be on the biggest stage in the NBA Finals, but in the end they just have too much and they know they are trying to win one more before this team breaks up this summer.

Dan Feldman: Warriors. Whether to pick Golden State or the field is a tough question this year. There are teams that can beat the Warriors. But if asked to pick a single team, there’s no way I’m choosing anyone else.

Dane Delgado: There’s no reason to bet against the Golden State Warriors… until there is a reason. This team still has the most talent, the most experience, and the best track record. Health is the biggest thing with the Warriors, and when Stephen Curry rolled his ankle the last week of the season Golden State fans collectively gasped for their playoff lives. Still, Kevin Durant seems ready, Draymond Green is rested up from not doing anything all season long, and Andre Iguodala still is able to contribute. My heart wants the Milwaukee Bucks to win this whole thing, but my head says they will have to wait.

Kings’ De’Aaron Fox: ‘I don’t crave to be in a big market’

Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

De'Aaron Fox was the breakout star of the Kings’ breakthrough season. The future looks bright in Sacramento.

But we’ve seen this story play out so many times. A young player excels in a small market then eventually moves to a more desirable destination. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George.

Will Fox be different?

Fox, via Corban Goble of ONE37pm:

“I don’t crave to be in a big market,” he says. “After last season, there was a buzz in Sacramento. Everyone in Sacramento is a Kings fan. If we start making the playoffs, or if we become a championship contender, the entire city is going to go nuts. That’s the difference between a big market and a small one.”

I’m glad Fox is happy in Sacramento. He had minimal say in getting there. The Kings picked him in a draft that gives teams massive control over top young prospects. That he landed somewhere he likes so much was largely coincidental. He could’ve easily wound up with Boston, Phoenix, Orlando, Minnesota or any other team picking in that range.

Some of this is Fox’s attitude. I suspect he would’ve found joy nearly anywhere. Now, he’s with the Kings and feeling positively about them.

They’ll have to continue to keep him happy as he approaches free agency. Unrestricted free agency is still several years away. A lot can change between now and then.

But Sacramento ought to feel good about Fox’s outlook now.

Damian Lillard on leaving Trail Blazers for super team: ‘We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?’

Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Kevin Durant left for the Warriors for many reasons. LeBron James left for the Heat for many reasons. Anthony Davis and Paul George forced their way to Los Angeles for many reasons.

Those are life-altering moves. Nobody does something so consequential for a single purpose.

But whether or not it intended, each of those stars took an easier route to a championship. That’s just the reality.

Damian Lillard, on the other hand, has done so much to elevate himself then pull up the Trail Blazers with him. Lillard has often touted his loyalty to Portland. He showed it by signing a super-max extension that locks him in through 2025.

Lillard, via Adam Caparell of Complex:

“To leave, what did I invest all this time for just to leave, you know?” he says. “If I go play with three other stars, I don’t think that many people would doubt that I could win it. We would win it, but what is the challenge or the fun in that?”

I disagree with Lillard’s certainty about winning a title if he teamed with other stars. Not every perceived super team has won. A championship still must be earned. It’s not easy.

But it would be easier.

It also probably wouldn’t be as rewarding.

Durant has admitted winning a championship with Golden State didn’t fill the void he thought it would. Maybe for other reasons, but it’s easy to see the Warriors’ talent advantage as a reason. He joined a title contender and made it even better. He didn’t build that team. Perhaps, a championship with the Nets would mean more to him.

Lillard is less likely to win a title by staying Portland. I think he knows that. He enjoys the city, and the $196 million he projects to earn on his four-year extension doesn’t hurt, either.

But if Lillard ever wins a championship with the Trail Blazers, it would be so gratifying. That’s what he’s chasing.

Lillard made clear he’s not criticizing stars who chose an alternate path. He’s doing what’s right for him, just as they did what was right for them.

His quest should earn him plenty of fans. For everyone who disliked Durant joining Golden State because it offended their sensibilities of how a title pursuit should work, Lillard is a great foil.

Andre Iguodala recalls Draymond Green doubling Kevin Durant in practice: ‘he was mad … We was tryna win’

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

Devin Booker complained to his opponents for double-teaming him during a pick-up game.

That has sparked a Great National Debate: Is it right or wrong to double-team during pick-up games?

Kevin Durant:

That’s a reasonable conclusion. The primary defender is missing an opportunity to work on his defense by getting help. But I also think it fails to address the main point. Booker wasn’t complaining to help the defender. Booker wanted the ideal training environment for himself, the offensive player.

How should the offensive player feel about it?

It’s a reasonably interesting question that’s getting taken far too seriously because the NBA is in a dead period. But to give it more juice, let’s add the Kevin Durant-Draymond Green relationship to the equation.

Andre Iguodala:

Durant:

It seems Durant can laugh it off now, but this story feeds into what so many people think they know about these players – that Green is a relentless competitor (accurate) and that Durant is soft (inaccurate).

NBA players spend so much time playing basketball. Sometimes, it’s helpful to face game-like conditions, where double-teams can happen at any point. Other times, it’s helpful to have more-relaxed conditions.

I don’t know enough about Booker’s pick-up game or the Warriors’ practice to say what was appropriate in each.

Report: Executives expect Thunder to say they are not trading Chris Paul (but they are)

Brock Williams-Smith/NBAE via Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s all about leverage.

Right now the vultures are circling the Oklahoma City Thunder, hoping to get a free meal. Everyone knows the Thunder are moving into a rebuilding mode and want to trade Chris Paul for picks/young players, so other general managers — the vultures — are throwing out lowball offers hoping to get a steal of a trade. And by steal we mean making the Thunder throw in a first-round pick as a sweetener to get CP3 and the three-years, $124 million left on his contract off their books.

Oklahoma City’s response? Say “we’re not trying to trade him” and be patient. Here is how Brian Windhorst phrased it on ESPN’s The Jump (hat tip Real GM):

“Here’s what executives expect to happen: they expect the Thunder to put out a message that we’re not looking to trade Chris Paul…We want him to work with our young guys. Because they don’t want anybody to think they’re panic-trying to trade him, and they want to hope that somebody has something happen where they need Chris Paul,” said Windhorst.

Royce Young, who covers the Thunder for ESPN, added that he believed the Thunder would hold on to Chris Paul rather than surrender a draft pick.

This is the smart play. CP3 is still a top-flight point guard in the NBA, even if he has taken half a step back, and there are at least eight NBA teams going into this season thinking they have a shot at a title, and a few more looking at deep playoff runs. Some team is either going to realize they are not as good as they thought they were, or are going to suffer an injury, and be looking for an All-Star level player and replacement. Enter the Thunder and Chris Paul.

What this ultimately means is expect this to drag out. Not just through the summer and through training camp, but maybe all the way to the trade deadline.