Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

NBA playoff first-round preview and predictions

Photo courtesy of NBAE/Getty Images

The 2015-16 season has featured some historically dominant performances. On the same night the Golden State Warriors earned an astonishing 73rd win to defeat the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ infamous regular-season win record, Kobe Bryant capped off a remarkable 20-year career by scoring 60 points against the Utah Jazz. Bryant gave some of the greatest jaw-dropping performances in the NBA’s history, including a defying 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006.

This year’s playoffs are undoubtedly going to be one for the record books. The Western Conference has two Goliaths in the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs, whereas the reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers are on a mission to represent the East once more with a healthy supporting cast for LeBron James.

Western Conference

No. 1. Golden State Warriors vs. No. 8 Houston Rockets (GS 4-0):

The returning NBA champions are seeking to translate their record-breaking regular season performance into a repeat championship. Arguably the greatest regular season team in history will first match up against the Houston Rockets – a first-round rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals. With the Rockets looking to pull off the greatest upset in sports, scoring superstar James Harden is expected to put up huge numbers to bring games within reach; however, the Warriors’ execution and Steve Kerr’s strategy will be overwhelming. The magic of Stephen Curry and the Golden State depth will be too much for the Rockets to handle.

No. 2 San Antonio Spurs vs. No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies (SA 4-0)

The San Antonio Spurs make their 19th consecutive playoff appearance after a franchise-record 67-win season. Overshadowed by the Warriors’ dominant season, this year’s Spurs team has had a historically dominant season of their own. Last summer, the Spurs added star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge, formerly of the Portland Trailblazers, to their already stacked roster in free agency, and Aldridge’s transition has been seamless. The Spurs match up against an ailing Memphis Grizzlies team that has played a whopping 28 players this season – more than any team in any NBA season. With Marc Gasol out for the year with a broken foot, a well-coached Grizzlies squad led by head coach Dave Joerger and veteran power forward Zach Randolph look to pound the rock with their grit-and-grind mindset. The Spurs should sweep the Grizzlies, as the collective talent Spurs coach Greg Popovich has meshed together will overpower the short-handed Grizzlies.

No. 3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. No. 6 Dallas Mavericks (OKC 4-1

After a rocky start to the year for rookie head coach Billy Donovan – formerly of the University of Florida – the Thunder capitalized on a historic season for point guard Russell Westbrook, who tied Magic Johnson for the most single-season triple-doubles by any player over the last 40 years. Equipped with former league MVP Kevin Durant, who has been a force all season with an incredible 64 straight 20-point games, Oklahoma City is prepared for a deep playoff run. The Dallas Mavericks, led by the 17-year veteran Dirk Nowitzki and stout head coach Rick Carlisle, look to give the duo a shot at another title run. Carlisle should utilize Dirk by pulling out shot blocker Serge Ibaka to exploit the paint for the Mavericks and assist the penetration ability of J.J. Barea with sharpshooter Wesley Matthews on the perimeter to win at least 1 game. Okla. City’s star power, especially the sheer explosiveness and ferocity of Russell Westbrook, seems too much to handle for the Mavericks, who have no proven defender to stop Westbrook from getting to the rim.

No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. No. 5 Portland Trailblazers (LA 4-2)

Despite the off-court issue of Blake Griffin being suspended for punching an equipment manager on top of a torn quad that kept him out 45 games, the Clippers endured and thrived in Griffin’s absence, led by savvy point guard Chris Paul and alley-oop specialist DeAndre Jordan. Coach Doc Rivers kept the team in tact despite the added media pressure due to the Griffin incident, and the team gained confidence as a result of improved bench performance. The Portland Trailblazers have defiantly surpassed expectations after losing four former starters to free agency and trade. A young and promising backcourt led by star point guard Damian Lillard and much improved shooting guard C.J. McCollum can score enough to win the Trailblazers two games at home, where they are tough to beat. But Doc Rivers’ championship pedigree will lead the Clippers to the next round.

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. No. 8.Detroit Pistons (CLE 4-1)

The reigning Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers appear motivated even more than last year’s run at a title but failing to do so against Golden State. With Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love producing more than usual during the last month of the season, a LeBron James led Cavalier team are poised to make a deep postseason run. The Cavaliers are the clear favorite to represent the East, but not without the battling against the rebounding motor of Andre Drummond and newly acquired point guard Reggie Jackson. The Pistons should be able to snag one game at home versus the Caveliers with an enormous 20-point, 20-rebound effort from Drummond, but LeBron James will find a way to lead his team to the next round.

No. 2 Toronto Raptors vs. No. 7 Indiana Pacers (TOR 4-2)

This year’s Toronto Raptors won a franchise-high 56 games during the regular season, led by all-star point guard Kyle Lowry accompanied by trusty counterpart DeMar Derozan. A healthy Jonas Valanciunas at center is producing more than ever after recovering from a hand injury. Entering the playoffs as the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed, Toronto’s expectations are at least a conference finals appearance. The Indiana Pacers, on the other hand, look to upset Toronto led by Paul George. Rookie out of the University of Texas (UT) Myles Turner has shown flashes of a productive big man in the NBA with his ability to stretch the floor with a mid-range jump shot and extend his range to the 3-point line occasionally. Indiana’s ability to shut down the Raptors’ penetration may cause the Raptors some troubles for two games, but I see the Toronto Raptors defeating the Indiana Pacers in 6 games due to the aforementioned players along with a great supporting cast including former UT guard Cory Joseph, who won an NBA championship with the Spurs in 2014.

No. 3 Miami Heat vs. No. 6 Charlotte Hornets (CHA 4-3)

The matchup between the third and sixth seeds is a particularly tough one to predict as these teams are pretty evenly matched. The Heat and Hornets both have a defensive identity that bode well for playoff teams. Miami – although without two-time champion Chris Bosh out for the year with recurring blood clots – have willed together a formidable team led by lifelong player Dwyane Wade and champion winning Head Coach Eric Spoelstra. The Heat have also seen improvements to their roster this year with the additions of forward Justice Winslow and guard/forward Joe Johnson through free agency after a buyout by the Brooklyn Nets.

Based on the point guard matchup between Charlotte’s Kemba Walker and Miami’s Goran Dragic, Charlotte will upset the Heat in seven games. The numerous point guards that have had stellar seasons overshadowed Walker’s phenomenal year. Dragic’s lack of defense will allow Walker to display his ability to handle the ball, create his own shot, set up his teammates and touch the paint.

No. 4 Atlanta Hawks vs No. 5 Boston Celtics (BOS 4-2):

The Boston Celtics and the Atlanta Hawks have identical records at 48-34. Although Atlanta won 3 out of their 4 matchups this season, I have Boston in a minor upset. The X-Factor for this game will be Boston’s depth at the front court with forwards Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson, floor-stretching big men Kelly Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko, and tenacious rebounder Tyler Zeller. The Hawks have two former All-Stars in power forward Paul Millsap and center Al “The Godfather” Horford with a solid point guard in Jeff Teague, but in a long, grind-it-out series with a deep team like Boston, the big men for Atlanta may exhibit fatigue. First time All-Star Isaiah Thomas, standing at 5-foot-9, knows how to score and get to the free throw line, which could make the difference in this series. The floor will open up to a plethora of 3-point shooters by sucking the defense in as he drives. The young, but wise 39-year-old Celtics Head Coach Brad Stevens from Butler University looks to make a big step in the franchise’s quest for a record 15 championships.

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