The moment we’ve been waiting for is here and that’s the NBA Playoffs. This might be the most unpredictable postseason that we’ve had in a while. The writers at Basketball Society are here to give their thoughts on a few topics dealing with the Western Conference race. Check it out:
Felix John-Baptiste (@TwoSmooth2)
Evan Anderson (@Jordainian21)
Justin Kirkland (@jkirk41)
DJ Allen (@DJAllen23)
1.) Is this the year that we see James Harden and Chris Paul overcome their stigma of folding in the playoffs? What will it take for them to win it all?
John-Baptiste: YES! From the off-season, many members of the media proclaimed that this pairing wouldn’t work. They said that because Chris Paul and James Harden were both ball dominant players, there’s no way they can be successful together. WRONG! We’ve seen them flourish with each other this season to the point that they have the best record in the league. Having each other to lean on will give them the confidence to go against any team they may face this postseason.
Anderson: From the looks of the regular season and how they produced together on the court, absolutely. All season, the backcourt of James Harden and Chris Paul have been consistent shot creators and distributors. Showing they can successfully lead the team to the top of a tough Western Conference, its hard to see them folding this time. The bench has to stay confident and consistent scoring the ball and getting defensive stops in order to make it through this postseason.
Kirkland: Yes because both future Hall of Famers are healthy and have dominated all season long. The difference this season for these guys is the shared workload. The fact that both are great facilitators surrounded by snipers makes them a constant offensive threat every single night.
Chris Paul and James Harden are a great story together this year. Two vets that have not seen their brilliance translate into the postseason come together to possibly change the direction of their stories to date. They have the franchise record in wins this year (65) and are one of only four teams to be top ten in both offensive and defensive ratings. Playing with James Harden might very well extend Chris Paul’s career as well. This playoff will be the start of a good run for Houston.
Allen: Yes and no. I think they will make their way to the Conference Finals however, I don’t think they can overcome the Golden State Warriors. While they’ve had their way with the defending champions during the regular season, the playoffs are a different animal and I think the Warriors will come out with a vengeance. I just don’t think they’re ready to dethrone the champions.
2.) The Golden State Warriors have looked dreadful without Stephen Curry. Is there a chance that they get bounced out by the Spurs in the first round without him?
John-Baptiste: Haha, that’s cute. If the Spurs happen to bounce the Warriors out the first round, I’ll go on Instagram Live from the Basketball Society account with a Spurs snap-back and publicly apologize. Even without Stephen Curry and how bad the Warriors have looked, the Spurs are one of the teams they likely do not fear. In a playoff series where the game slows down, who can they turn to outside of LaMarcus Aldridge for consistent baskets? You can never really count Pop out of a series, but I don’t think the Spurs will have enough to get 4 of 7.
Anderson: Well, yeah they do have a pretty good chance of sending the Warriors out of the playoffs early. I know hearing that sounds weird but if the Warriors continue to struggle on the defensive side, they will have to make up for it even more on the offensive side. With Stephen Curry out, young pieces like Quinn Cook and Jordan Bell will have quickly adjust to the Playoff atmosphere and help the Warriors score. Pop and the Spurs have fought all season to solidify a spot in the Playoffs and matching up with a Golden State team without their all-star point guard will give them the confidence they need make it to the next round.
Kirkland: I am just not seeing it. One of the most important traits of the Golden State Warriors is their depth. I am not buying a team full of veterans and champions getting bounced in round one just because Steph will not be in action. The uninspired basketball that we have seen from Golden State comes with the end of the regular season and guys wanting to stay healthy. The Warriors will advance comfortably.
Allen: No I don’t believe so. I do think this first round will be tougher than it should be. The Warriors have looked shaky as of late without Curry which scares me but I think they can overcome a Leonard-less Spurs team and once Curry gets back, its the road to the NBA Finals from there.
3.) The Oklahoma City Thunder strive off of the greatness of Russell Westbrook but who or what needs to be their key focus to progress in the playoffs.
John-Baptiste: Rebounding! And with that said, Steven Adams will likely be the key player here. Russell is a do it all juggernaut, but if Steven Adams can dominate the offensive glass, it will cause huge problems for the opposing team. Kick-outs to Russ, PG, and Melo off an offensive rebound will be a nightmare for any team that matches up with the Thunder.
Anderson: Steven Adams is the key player. Adams can get to the right spot around the basket which is why he is a dominant rebounder. He has to be consistent with rebounding so he can give them the extra possession for an outside look. Everyone on the outside must be ready to knock it down if Adams is working down low for the extra rebound.
Kirkland: Use your strength! That strength is Russell Westbrook. James Harden and Westbrook both sputtered out in the playoffs last year from fatigue and sheer workload. The difference for both this year is the supporting cast. Westbrook can still be his own beast but now Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are part of the equation offensively. Both are knockdown shooters off of the drive and my guess is Russ will be doing a lot of that as he is not worn down from a full season of being the only offensive catalyst. With the playoffs here just give Brodie the ball and let him work.
Allen: Efficiency! Steven Adams has to play big and dominate the paint. At the same time, the Thunder have to have solid possessions. Keep the turnovers down and take good shots has to be the focus. I would love to see an efficient Carmelo Anthony as well. He has to hit those trail and spot-up threes if the Thunder are going to be successful. Their starting lineup has to play great because they’re not going to get much out of anyone else.
4.) Minnesota won their last game of the season to squeeze into that 8th position. With the roster that they put together, is it safe to say that they underachieved this season?
John-Baptiste: Underachieved? No way! They won 47 games this season after missing Jimmy Butler for an extended time due to injury. Two more wins would’ve catapulted them into the 3rd seed. that just goes to show how crazy the Western Conference has been. This season has been more about game-play and wins as opposed to seeding, and they were just fine.
Anderson: No it’s not safe to say. After the trade for Jimmy Butler, this past offseason and how the Western Conference has been crazy this year and the Timberwolves had to just make it in the playoffs first. Once Jimmy Butler was out for some time, the Wolves struggled were still able to make it to the postseason. Now it’s just a matter of advancing to the next round to really tell how their whole season was defined.
Kirkland: It is a step forward for the franchise for sure. They have a well-balanced roster that took some time to gel defensively this season. While they still don’t play a successful brand of Tom Thibodeau’s patented system, they have found what they do execute well and a heavy dose of Jimmy Butler in the 4th quarter does not hurt. I think Thibodeau’s coaching is outdated and his teams will always fall just short but for this year their roster moves worked. They are a better team.
Allen: I’m saying yes! I’m sorry with this roster that they put together, I would’ve never thought that they would be playing in for the 8th seed. Jimmy Butler, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Andrew Wiggins are key names. I still hate that we haven’t seen Wiggins take that next step yet that I’ve been waiting on but I think they should be a lot better than what they are. With that being said, don’t be surprised if they get swept in the first round because Houston is just too fast for them.
5.) What Western Conference series excites you the most in this first round?
John-Baptiste: It has to be the Thunder-Jazz series. That will likely be the closest series, as the others are somewhat clear as to who will be the victor, at least in my eyes. The up and coming, young Utah team going up against a Thunder team that most people expected to be more dominant in the regular season, should be extremely competitive.
Anderson: The Thunder-Jazz series has to be the one that excites me most. This matchup has been dominant for the Thunder during the regular season, defeating the Jazz 3-1, but Utah will be locked in at the Vivint Smart Home Arena for the home court advantage this series. With a young, playmaking rookie like Donovan Mitchell and defensive big Rudy Gobert leading this team, the series will go to 6 or 7 games with the Thunder. Any other series does not excite me enough that they will go to 7 games.
Kirkland: Portland/Pelicans for sure. Anthony Davis got my Defensive Player of the Year vote and has a solid case for MVP as well this season. Damian Lillard should be first team All-NBA. Jrue Holiday will make an All-Defensive Team. CJ McCollum is one of the premier two-guards in the league. This series won’t get a lot of attention because Portland is seen as a second-tier Western Conference team and the Pelicans’ reputation is even worse. However, some of the games brightest stars will be involved and McCollum and Lillard certainly carry that underdog chip on their shoulders. There’s gonna be FIREWORKS!
Allen: It has to be Thunder vs the Jazz. I’m curious to see how Mitchell balls out after having a great rookie regular season. At the same time, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Thunder responds and if we can see some consistency out of this team. Also, look out for the Paul George vs Mitchell match-up. It should be a good one!