Can you smell it? It’s that time of year again! The NBA’s regular season is winding down, with the playoffs looming on the horizon. It’s only a matter of time before LeBron turns it up, Durant gets to do what he came to do with the Warriors, Westbrook gets to try and win a playoff series on his own, and Paul Pierce gets to show up at some point to remind us that he is, in fact, still on an NBA team.
But before all that, there are questions to be asked and answers to be given. Thankfully, we have two of our writers here at Press Basketball—Joshua Howe and Andrew Miller—who have taken on that mighty task, answering here five fuming playoff questions.
Which team has the most to lose?
Joshua: I definitely already know who you’re going with for this one, and it’s probably a more interesting option than my pick, so let me get this out of the way—the Warriors have the most to lose this season, and that lies solely in the fact that this is their season to take.
Step back for a second. Can you imagine a team with a starting lineup of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Zaza Pachulia actually losing in a best-of-seven series?
Now imagine if they did lose.
Pan. De. Monium.
Anything less than a title for the Dubs is a failure, plain and simple.
Andrew: I agree and disagree with that. The Warriors sacrificed a lot of depth to sign Kevin Durant. The same depth that won them the title in 2015. But for me, as much as it pains me to say, the Clippers have everything to gain, and everything to lose this year. And I’m glad you mentioned Zaza, the forgotten hero.
The “Will the Clippers blow it up?” discussion has been going around for the past 2–3 years. But it’s never been more real than it is now. Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are likely going to opt-out of their current deals, and J.J. Redick is going to be a free agent as well.
They’ve started to show some signs of life again in the last few weeks—Blake and CP3 in particular—but the pressure is going to be weighing on them like never before. At this point, it has to be the Western Conference Finals or bust.
J: The Clippers are basically Rocky at the end of Rocky. They don’t necessarily need to win, but they do need to go the distance for this club to have any chance of keeping them all together. They’ve been beaten up so much that I wouldn’t be surprised if they were all playing with just one good eye each come the second round.
Oh wait, I can hear CP3 now. Is he screaming?
A: In my mind, a clip of a one-eyed Austin Rivers from last year’s Portland series is playing with Eye of the Tiger in the background.
But yeah, they’ve taken punch after punch, losing in round one last year, getting killed by the Rockets in 2015 after being up 3–1 and then losing in spectacular fashion to OKC in 2014. Even Sly Stallone knows when it’s time to throw in the towel. Unfortunately for the Clippers, that decision might be out of their hands if they suffer another premature exit.
J: You know, maybe the Clippers are more like the version of Rocky in Creed.
A: In all honesty. A Titanic reference is probably better at this stage. The band is still together, playing their musical sounds, as the ship sinks into cold, dark, icy water around them.
J: I can see Ballmer whispering now: “I will never let go, Blake. I will never let go.”
A: The other question to answer is: if a piece of wood only has enough room to keep one of Chris or Blake afloat, who drowns?
Are you taking the Warriors or the field?
A: I picked the San Antonio Spurs to win the title this season, and I’m sticking with it.
I just can’t face betting my hard-earned cash against Coach Pop and Kawhi Leonard.
J: I picked Kawhi to win the MVP and I would still vote for him today. I’m taking the field too, although I’m not too sure who is going to be the David to the Dubs’ Goliath. The Spurs have a shot, but Leonard will have to be incredible, and I just don’t know if he can be that incredible. Then there’s that team in the East who sports a guy named LeBron James, and I heard he’s decent at the game of basketball.
Oh, and let me clear this up—the Rockets can’t hang with the Warriors. Sorry. Ain’t happening. The only hope the Rox have is outshooting them, and against the second-best defense in the league, there’s just no way that’s happening four-out-of-seven games.
A: Yeah I’m with you on that. If you want to win games in a good old fashioned shootout, it’s probably best you don’t try to do it against the Splash Bros., and that other guy—Kevin, I think his name is?
I lost a lot of hope in the Cavs this season. They just haven’t shown me enough on the defensive end to make me believe they can really just turn it on like a switch. Kevin Love clearly still isn’t healthy and I just don’t know if they have enough in them to go all the way again. This would be LeBron’s seventh straight trip to The Finals. At some point, that has to take its toll. Even on a monstar like him.
J: You know what, I’ll just leave this here:
A: I mean … that pretty much ends any discussion. The Cavs are going to win the title. It’s settled.
J: Quick, to Vegas!
Do the Cavs still rule the East?
J: Speaking of Mr. Cleveland, now that we know they’re going to win the title, there shouldn’t be any debate about whether or not they’re the best team in the East, right?
A: I think that’s pretty clear. I love what Boston and Toronto have done this season, and even the Wizards. But in a seven-game series I just can’t see any scenario where Cleveland doesn’t beat them up and take their lunch money. If I did have to take one of those, I think Toronto has the best chance. But ONLY with a 100 percent healthy Kyle Lowry.
J: A fully healthy Raptors roster includes Drake, by the way (where you been, man?).
We’re pretty much in agreement here. One day LeBron will be mortal in the East, but I don’t think that time has come yet. We just saw what the Cavs did against the Celtics, and LeBron in particular imposed his kingly will on that game. He made Thomas look like a Cabbage Patch Kid. And they did it on their third game in five nights, without Tristan Thompson, Eater of Glass.
As for my Raps, I will die on their hill, but I have zero confidence against a LeBron-led team, especially after last year’s infamous post-Game 5 statement, in which LeBron told the media that he’s “been part of adverse situations—this wasn’t one of them.”
A: Yeah, there’s very little upset potential I think. But the NBA is a wonderful place where anything can happen.
The only other team in the East that I could see with the talent to win it all is the Heat. And by talent, I mean Dion Waiters of course.
J: You’ll be traveling to Waiter’s Island alone, my friend. But hey, at least you’ll have a kickass theme song to take with you.
A: Just wait. He’s going to shock the world … If Miami actually gets into the playoffs.
J: My body is ready.
Which free agent will the playoffs affect most?
A: Since we’ve already talked about the potential misery for all Clipper fans, I’ll go with Gordon Hayward.
He’s going to be a free-agent, and already made his intentions perfectly clear. He wants to win. If Utah doesn’t at least put up a fight, there’s a good chance he could bolt in the summer. He’s just entering his prime, he’s a first-time All-Star and, eventually, he’s going to want to add “NBA Champion” to his resume. I’m just skeptical of Utah being contenders soon enough.
J: Hayward does not get enough love for his hair. The dude has good hair. Probably top-seven in the league.
He’s also pretty good at basketball, and it would be a shame to see him leave when Utah is just starting to get things rolling. I’m excited about Rodney Hood (I’m still angry about you not taking him, Raptors!) and the Stifle Tower has a solid shot at winning Defensive Player of the Year.
Hypothetical: Boston makes it to The Finals. When the offseason comes, do they keep Thomas?
The Celtics are—very likely—going to be taking a future All-Star point guard in the draft. Thomas is 29 years old, about as tall as a barstool, and will want the max. Do you really want to have him at 34 and being paid $45 million? Especially when your freshly drafted PG might be better?
A: The Celtics are definitely an interesting case. They have a few key guys coming up for a big payday as well—Smart, Bradley and Olynyk are all going to make a pretty penny in free agency.
I’m excited to see what Danny Ainge does this summer. He’s been stocking up on assets and draft picks for the last few years. I think this is the year he really needs to decide on what to cash them in on. I agree, though. Thomas is an incredible offensive player, but scoring only counts for 50 percent of the game. You can’t ignore the serious defensive hole that he leaves in their team. For me, it depends on who they land in the draft. I could actually see Ball and Fultz playing pretty well alongside Thomas.
J: Can you imagine LaVar Ball and Tommy Heinsohn in the same arena? My god. That’s a dystopia-level scenario.
A: I’d feel pretty good about Lonzo being drafted in Boston. They’re probably one of the only franchises that’d be able to control LaVar.
Let me ask you this, though: Is this finally the year that the Lakers score on a big-name free agent?
J: Jeanie is going to do everything in her power to snatch one. Even if she has to sell out her entire fam—oh, wait. She did that already, didn’t she?
I have a strange feeling that if Paul George doesn’t stay in Indy, you could see him in purple and gold next season.
A: They’ve just struck out with so many free agents in the last couple of years I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Especially for guys who reportedly “want to win” like PG13. What do the Lakers really have to offer at this point? A roster full of rookies and vets on bad contracts. Yes, you have the assets to pull off a number of trades but does that put them ahead of San Antonio, Boston, Golden State, and Cleveland? For me, it’s a no.
J: I hear you. Maybe it’s time to change the free agent meeting strategy—just show your targets a slideshow of Magic’s tweets: “The Lakers are so much better when (insert player here) is playing well!” and then have the man himself bust through the screen in all the colours of the American flag. How could they resist?
A: You mean sort of like this?
J: Exactly like that. Bonus points if they can bring in Jennifer Aniston.
What is the best possible non-Warriors/Cavs Finals matchup?
J: This is fun. Hear me out: I want a Houston Rockets vs Toronto Raptors Finals.
Why? Because James Harden is my favourite NBA villain. I love to hate that guy. Ever since that time he kicked LeBron in the gonads (yeah, he got there first, Draymond) I knew he would rise to take Kobe’s place as my ultimate NBA baddie. He’s also fun to harp on because of his defense, and he’s so good that he makes himself a worthy player to dislike.
As for the Raps, not only are they my favourite team, but DeMar DeRozan has history with Harden. They grew up together in Los Angeles, and they have clashed many times outside of the NBA in places like the Drew League.
Even their games are kind of similar. Harden’s a better passer and three-point shooter, but they both get to the free throw line at will, and each is nearly unstoppable when they decide to attack the paint.
Based on that matchup alone, supervillain against superhero, how could you not want to watch those teams square off?
A: I’m personally offended that you even mentioned the great Kobe Bryant in the same sentence as James Harden.
I’m a huge Harden-hater. I’m not ashamed of that at all. I don’t enjoy watching him play, so the Rockets going out in round one is a best case scenario for me.
What I would like to see however, is a Gregg Popovich/Brad Stevens coach-off. Just send all the players home for an early summer, give both coaches a whiteboard and pen and just watch them let rip. The basketball brain power would make for spectacular viewing.
In all seriousness though, imagine the insane defensive schemes drawn up to counteract the offensive masterclass.
I’d also be over the moon with a Los Angeles Clippers vs Anyone Finals, for obvious reasons.
J: Pop vs Stevens would be just like that scene from X2 where Xavier squares off with Jason Stryker and they just stare at each other in reality while they have an insane mental battle inwardly.
Count me in.
That would definitely be a series with a bunch of x’s and o’s, and a matchup between Horford and Aldridge would be strangely fascinating to me.
As for the Clippers, for your sake and your own mental sanity, I hope they do … something.
A: That, plus I’m all in on the NBA Finals version of Marcus Smart. I just want to see him try to destroy the opposing team’s offensive players.
A Clippers vs Raptors series would be pretty cool as well. Lowry vs CP3 would be a battle for the ages. Then you have Griffin vs Ibaka, DeAndre vs Valanciunas and DeMar vs J.J. Re—actually, nevermind, let’s just forget about that one.
I’ve actually talked myself into that being the best possible series. And no matter who loses, we both win.
J: I would pay to see a heated Marcus Smart vs Patty Mills tussle.
I knew you were going here, and I agree: Raptors/Clippers would be fantastic. I’m banking on it going seven games with PJ Tucker ultimately winning Finals MVP and forcing CP3 into early retirement.
A: I think a low-key good series would be Oklahoma City vs Washington. Seeing Westbrook vs Wall for seven games would be incredible. Both guys just play at 100 miles per hour, and the head-on collision from that would light the world on fire.
J: We would have to watch the entire game in slow motion just to see what’s happening.
These playoffs have a ton of potential—can’t wait to see what happens.
A: It’s definitely going to be an amazing post-season.
Who wins the title, and who is your Finals MVP?
J: I’ll separate it for you.
Heart: Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James
Brain: Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant
Who you got?
A: I like your thinking.
Heart: Los Angeles Clippers, Blake Griffin
Brain: San Antonio Spurs, Kawhi Leonard