The Road to the NBA Finals start on Saturday as 16 teams(probably only four or five realistically can win), compete for the title of “NBA Champion”. Here are some things I and you should keep a keen eye on as we start Round One.
1. Harden vs Westbrook. Of course, why not start off with the hottest topic in the league. These two have put on an absolute show on for us this season, and now we get to see the two go at it in the postseason. Expect nothing different in their playoff match-up, both guys trying to win not only a series, but possibly the MVP award as well.
2. Can Boston get out of the first round. For all of the success the Celtics have had, there are still doubters (me included) about whether or not the can advance. In the two appearances in the playoffs under Brad Stevens, Boston has failed to get out of the opening round. There is pressure on this franchise to advance and play up to their potential. What if they lose to Chicago?
3. Utah’s opportunity. The Jazz are back in the postseason for the first time since 2011. They have done with youth, defense, and toughness. Gordon Hayward is a star, and Rudy Gobert is establishing himself as a presence in the post. Will the young Jazz take advantage of the opportunity to be on the big stage or will they flop?
4. KD: Back in the Fold. After missing all of March with an injury, Kevin Durant is back and playing. In the three games he has played since return, he averaged 30.2 minutes played. I wonder whether or not Steve Kerr will increase those numbers against Portland or will he hold KD back?
5. The Clippers’ last hurrah. Doc Rivers’ squad I feel have been “stuck in neutral” in recent seasons. They have not reached the potential some might have thought they had. This is a team at a crossroads, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin both have player options for next season. There have been serious rumors about Griffin leaving LA for a while. If the Clips’ make a run, does that keep CP3 and Blake around? Will we see the end of Dunk City if they lose to Utah?
6. Where is(are) the first round upset(s)? In my opinion, I don’t see an upset. Maybe Milwaukee over Toronto or Oklahoma City beating Houston but that’s it really.
7. The Rockets, they might be the most intriguing team to watch. The Rockets are good enough to possibly win the West. Fans have been looking for someone to challenge Golden State and San Antonio. Could the Rockets be that team? A lot of pressure on James Harden and friends with an interesting match-up against the Thunder.
8. Will the real Cleveland please stand up? Last week they throttled Boston, and that got fans to think maybe they are back. Then they backdoor and lose a 26 point lead to Atlanta and lost in overtime. The Cavs have had a very uneven second half of the season. Will they get it together, I believe so. They should beat Indiana in round one, but my eyes will be glued to see how they play.
East: Boston over Chicago in 6, Cleveland over Indiana in 5, Toronto over Milwaukee in 5, Washington over Atlanta in 5
West: Golden State over Portland in 5, San Antonio over Memphis in 5, Houston over Oklahoma City in 6, Utah over L.A. Clippers in 7