Saturday, April 18, 2015

NBA Regular Season Recap

  The NBA regular season ended on Wednesday and with it my regular season NBA picks. I was very close to finishing with a flourish on my last Friday of basketball picks. Unfortunately late baskets by the Knicks, Rockets, and Kings allowed all three teams to cover the point spreads and leave me with a 1-3 mark that was 4-0 with 30 seconds left in each game. My final record was 14-15 against the spread and 18-15 overall for a $150 mythical profit and renewed admiration for the odds makers of the world.

  As I pull out the crystal ball and look ahead to the playoffs I see only four teams that are contenders for the championship. The Warriors had an all-time great season with a 67-15 record, the Spurs closed the season on a 11 game winning streak before losing the season finale to the Pelicans, the Atlanta Hawks won 60 games, and the Cleveland Cavaliers rebounded from a 19-20 first half of the season to go 34-9 the rest of the way. My instincts say to the finals will match up the Warriors against the Cavaliers with the Cavaliers winning but matchups predominate in the playoffs and if the Spurs get past the Warriors I think they would beat the Cavaliers. The only dark horse team I see that could pull off a championship is the Chicago Bulls (who I predicted to win the championship in my 2015 prediction post). The Bulls are as healthy as they have been all year and have the talent to match up with anyone and are the one team to watch. It was an incredible NBA season with five teams in the west having a chance for the second seed and four teams in the east battling for the last two playoff spots into the last weekend of the season.

  There was a legitimate debate for the MVP award between Warriors’ Stephen Curry (the best player on the best team) and the Rockets’ James Harden (the best player on the most surprising team). It would be fitting if the pair could be named Co-MVP but if I had to choose I’d take Curry because in the last week of the season Harden couldn’t lead his team to a victory in either of their two games against the Spurs with the division title and second seed in the west on the line. Those are the games where a most valuable player must prove their worth and the Rockets and Harden came up short. I understand that the Rockets got the second seed anyway thanks to the Spurs loss. Harden’s triple double in the his team’s final game against the Jazz doesn’t impress me and neither does the Rockets 30 point win over a non-playoff team after blowing two chances to earn their playoff seeding by the front door.

  I predicted the Warriors to suffer a first round playoff upset at the hands of the New Orleans Pelicans in my 2015 predictions post but that was then and this is now. For the western conference first round I’ll go with three lower seeds and along with picking the favored Warriors to beat the Pelicans in 5 games, I'll go with the Mavericks to beat the Rockets in 6 games (+245), the Spurs to beat the Clippers in 6 games (-170), and the Grizzlies to beat the Trailblazers in 7 games (-190). In the Eastern Conference I’ll take the Hawks in 5 over the Nets, the Cavaliers to sweep the Celtics, the Bulls to beat the Bucks in 7, and the Wizards to upset the Raptors in 6 games (+160). (All odds courtesy of Bovada)

  If I had to pick a team I’m rooting for to do well in the playoffs I’d pick the Boston Celtics even though I just picked them to get swept. As much as I hate to compliment anything Boston, just look at what General Manager Danny Ainge has done in just two years. In 2013, the Celtics were an aging team on the last legs of the Kevin Garnett – Paul Pierce – Rajon Rondo team. The team went 41-40 and were the seventh seed, losing in the first round of the playoffs to the 54 win New York Knicks. The Los Angeles Lakers were the seventh seed in the Western Conference with a 45-37 record and lost in the first round of the playoffs to the San Antonio Spurs. In the summer of 2013 Celtic coach Doc Rivers left the team to join the Clippers and Ainge traded Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to the Nets for draft picks. The 2013-2014 was a disaster for all three teams. Rondo hurt his knee and missed most of the season and the Celtics missed the playoffs with a 25-57 record for new coach Brad Stevens. The Knicks finished 35-47 and missed the playoffs and the Lakers cratered to a 27-55 record. It was the first time in NBA history that all three of these storied franchises missed the playoffs in the same year.

  This year the Lakers and the Knicks both set franchise records for most losses while the Celtics had a 9-14 record on December 19th and traded their most marketable player (Rondo) to the Mavericks for draft picks and three backup players. On January 12th, the Celtics were 13-23 and traded their leading scorer Jeff Green to the Memphis Grizzlies for Tayshaun Prince (who they quickly traded to Detroit) and a draft pick. It looked like the Celtics were giving up on the season.

  After trading their point guard and leading scorer the Celtics played .500 ball for a month. On the trade deadline of February 19th they had a 20-31 record and were a couple of games out of the playoffs. At the deadline the Celtics traded a backup guard and a draft pick for disgruntled Phoenix point guard Isiah Thomas and the team caught fire. The team played .500 ball for another month and were 31-40 on March 26th. Since then the Celtics have caught fire and won 8 of their next 10 games to finish seventh in the Eastern Conference and make the playoffs.

  Clearly Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens have a better vision of what kind of team they want to build and what kind of players they want then either the Knicks or the Lakers and all the other teams who try to lose as many games as they can in order to get top draft picks. If I was a fan of the 76ers I’d be wondering why my team is purposefully losing 60+ games every year to collect top draft picks while the Celtics were able to rebuild their team in less than a year. The Celtics have everything they need to become a championship contender except a superstar. It wasn’t apparent at the time but this was the same formula that Ainge used in 2008 when he added Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to a solid core and the team went to 2 Finals and won one championship. The NBA salary cap is going to explode thanks to the latest 2 BILLON dollar television contract and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ainge grab another pair of top players and hang yet another championship banner in Boston within the next three years.

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