It’s time for NBA Playoff basketball in the Western Conference! The Golden State Warriors are looking to clinch their third straight NBA Finals appearance and their second championship in three years, while the likes of Kawhi Leonard and James Harden look to help their team dethrone the Warriors and get to the Promised Land themselves. For a look at the West’s playoff landscape, we gathered several of our writers for a roundtable discussion. Our participants are:
- Kyle Allan (@kallan441)
- Martin Soaries (@marsoaries)
- Ralph Cortes (@ralphjc)
- Felix John-Baptiste (@TwoSmooth2)
- Justin Kirkland (@jkirk41)
1. Is Jazz/Clippers the best first-round series we’re getting in either Conference?
Allan: I would have to say yes. It is going to be interesting to see who comes out on top of this series. The Clippers have always been that team everyone writes off come playoff time because they have been known to lose early or blow a series, like two years ago against the Rockets. For the Jazz, this is a young team that everyone is excited to see flourish in the playoffs.
Soaries: It’s looking like the most intriguing matchup because there’s plenty at stake for the Clippers and the Jazz, while not as commercially popular, have the potential to beat them. There will be lots of lobs and plenty of good basketball.
Cortes: I personally think that the Houston-Oklahoma City matchup will be the best first-round series in either conference. What’s more entertaining than the top-two MVP candidates battling it out in a seven-game series? This is as intense as they come and it will be one for the ages.
John-Baptiste: As interesting as the Jazz/Clippers series will be, all eyes are going to fall on the Rockets-Thunder series. The two leading MVP candidates will be going head to head, both requiring a similar style of play for their teams to be successful. The Rockets won the season series 3-1, however, in 3 of those match-ups the teams were within 3 points of each other in the final score. Pay close attention to this one.
Kirkland: I like the Bucks/Raptors series a lot. Giannis Antetokounmpo should pretty much run away with most improved player of the year and can give anyone fits. It’s going to be fun to see him and the rest of the young guys go at the Raptors and push them to what I think will be 6 games.
2. Which player in the Western Conference has the most riding on this postseason?
Allan: I am going to say it’s Russell Westbrook. We all know he has had probably the best statistical season in regular season history, but it will be interesting to see how he carries that into the playoffs. His individual play is something that has carried them all the way to the sixth seed, but will he keep being this selfish throughout the playoffs? Part of me thinks he has to in order for them to have a chance of getting through the first round. He will have to get through a Rockets team featuring James Harden, who’ll be looking to silence the people saying that Westbrook has been the best player in the NBA this regular season.
Soaries: I think it’s Kevin Durant and I don’t think it’s that close. Golden State looks as scary as we thought they would with him. He’s fully acclimated and comfortable. This is exactly why he made this move and they’re in the position to make a run, so I’m looking at Durant more than anyone this postseason because coming up short won’t be deemed acceptable, and he’ll endure more scrutiny about having left Oklahoma City in the first place.
Cortes: Kevin Durant. It’s simple. He made one of the biggest moves in NBA history when he joined the Golden State Warriors. He did it to win, and he has to prove that he made the right decision in leaving OKC for the already stacked Warriors. If he doesn’t win it all this season, the backlash from it could be far greater than when he made the actual decision to join the Dubs.
John-Baptiste: Really? Let me leave my current team to join the team that beat us and I won’t have any pressure moving forward in the subsequent postseason. WRONG! Kevin Durant might be the only player with the ‘championship or bust’ expectations while risking being ridiculed and criticized for failing. The other Warriors stars have won a ring and have a 73-9 record to bolster their career attributes. Every other team/player in the West will be satisfied just making it further than they previously have. Not Durant. With such a drastic move, he needs to win now.
Kirkland: Kevin Durant by a long shot. He HAS to win this championship because his move to Golden State already tarnished his legacy in the eyes of many. He not only has to win this year he needs to be a top performer during the entire process. He came to the Warriors for one reason and one reason only. Get it done.
3. Which team is a bigger threat to the Warriors’ shot at another Finals appearance: Rockets or Spurs?
Allan: Rockets. I think the Rockets are a team that the Warriors should be a little worried about. The Rockets know how to play against the Warriors because they were going up against them in the conference finals just two seasons ago. Yes, that team had a very strong inside presence with Dwight Howard, but they did not feature this James Harden. This Rockets team features a James Harden that has accounted for almost half the points of one of the most efficient offenses in history without an All-Star teammate. James Harden wants his rematch against the Warriors, and I would not be surprised if he gets it.
Soaries: The Rockets are more equipped to score with the Warriors if need be, but when it comes to dictating matchups, I think the Spurs would have a better chance. Playing the high-paced scoring game with the Warriors might give the Rockets a chance or it could work against them. The Spurs tactically would have a better shot at taking the Warriors out of their comfort zone, but that’s not to say either of these teams have a lineup that can realistically match up with the Warriors’ best five.
Cortes: I would say the Spurs. While the Rockets can keep up with Golden State in terms of offensive firepower, the Spurs are most likely to counteract Golden State’s strengths while the Rockets cannot. When it comes to the playoffs, it’s about gaining an advantage over the opposing team, not trade jabs and that’s what the Spurs are ready to do.
John-Baptiste: The Houston Rockets. We all know that you can’t out-Warrior the Warriors. However, the Rockets wouldn’t be attempting that because this is their style of basketball. They spread the floor and have multiple shooters hitting at a high clip. When teams change their identity to match the Warriors they get ran off the floor. This shouldn’t be the case with Houston, as this style of play is their bread and butter. Not to mention with their athleticism they have to be able to switch on defense.
Kirkland: The Rockets can keep up with not only the Warriors three point shooting but also their deep and talented bench. Eric Gordon and Lou Williams are annually in the 6th man of the year conversation and provide consistent volume scoring off of the bench. James Harden is a threat to get anyone in foul trouble and Pat Beverly is never afraid of the moment and will push Steph every single second of every game. The Rockets will be a tough out for anyone.
4. True or False: Whatever happens between the Thunder/Rockets should be factored into the MVP voting.
Allan: As much as I want to say true, it is a regular season award. I am the biggest James Harden fan you will meet, and, as stated before, he has accounted for half the points on one of the most efficient teams in NBA history, but Russell Westbrook is this year’s MVP. For a guy to break the number of triple-double games, previously held by Oscar Robertson, is just mind-boggling. They said Robertson’s season was one of the best in NBA history, so Westbrook should get credited for achieving something even great than that.
Cortes: Not really. Considering that votes are sent in during the end of the regular season, it can’t really change voters’ opinion after the series because it is a regular season award. The MVP should go to the player who performed the best during the regular season. Take last season, for example, although Steph Curry stunk it up in the Finals, he still deserved the MVP award due to an amazing regular season. This season is no exception. Whoever wins the series between shouldn’t be a factor in determining the MVP award for the regular season.
John-Baptiste: False. The MVP award is a regular season award. If the NBA so chooses, maybe they introduce a separate award for the postseason. Or they can change the parameters around the MVP award to begin with. The Finals MVP only encapsulates the production of the best player in that Finals series. Therefore, if we want the postseason production to be included in the Regular Season MVP award, maybe we should name it something else.
Kirkland: It’s a regular season award.
5. ____ will represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.
Allan: The Golden State Warriors will represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. The spraining of Kevin Durant’s right knee could turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the Warriors. The Warriors proved over the time of his absence that they are fully capable of performing without him. They were able to achieve a 14-game winning streak during that span. Now, with some of the most dominant playoff players on the Warriors side in Curry, Thompson, and Durant, the Warriors are going to be a tough out.
Soaries: Golden State.
Cortes: The Golden State Warriors will represent the West in the Finals. The Dubs were on a pretty large winning streak without Durant and that says a lot about the talent on this team. Steph is looking like Unanimous MVP Steph again, Klay is hitting his shots, Draymond is playing DPOY-worthy defense, and Iguodala is thriving again. Add one of the greatest scorers in NBA history? Come on now.
John-Baptiste: The Warriors. This is pretty simple math. 3 deadly shooters + 2 defensive oriented/ball-handling forwards equal NBA Finals. Any questions?
Kirkland: Warriors. They found some swag during the Durant injury and now KD is back. The roster is ridiculous. They will be back.