This NBA season has been one of the most exciting seasons since the early 2000’s. Offensive numbers have been at an all time high, and we’ve seen teams obliterate scoring and three point records. Russell Westbrook is the triple-double king while James Harden is producing the most points in NBA history (points+points off assists). Both MVP candidates are rewriting the history books in their own right that it almost feels wrong to pick one over the other.
With no set definition of Most Valuable Player for voters to go by precedent should win out, and James Harden will take home the trophy with the better record.
Besides one of these stars having to settle for second the saddest part of this MVP race is that the winner is no longer announced during the playoffs. We will not find out who the MVP is until after another team has already won the championship and these two historic seasons are far in the rearview mirror. In an attempt to elongate the NBA presence in the sports sphere all of the awards will now be presented in a televised awards show on June 26th. I think this is a mistake and only takes away from some of the playoff excitement. Luckily this postseason needs no added excitement as the stage is already set for an exhilarating journey to the finals.
Western Conference match-ups have been locked in and are as followed:
1. Golden State Warriors vs. 8. Portland Trail Blazers
Golden State enters the playoffs coming off their hottest streak of the season and will only get better with Kevin Durant returning to the lineup. If Jusuf Nurkic comes back from a fibula fracture fully healthy and in time for this series the Blazers should be able to steal a game from the Warriors. But even Portland’s high scoring guard duo won’t be able to keep up with Golden State for a full series. Golden State should handle this one easily with a sweep (4-0) or a gentlemen’s sweep (4-1).
2. San Antonio Spurs vs. 7. Memphis Grizzlies
This 2-7 matchup will be an interesting defensive duel, both teams can adjust and adapt like few others can in the league, but points will be at a premium. Although Memphis enters the playoffs as the coldest team out west, going 3 for 7 out of their last 10 games, they’re one of the few teams that consistently cause the Spurs trouble. Spurs should win in 6 in a hard fought, low scoring series.
3. Houston Rockets vs. 6. Oklahoma City Thunder
The MVP voting will already be over but that won’t stop James Harden or Russell Westbrook from putting on a spectacle in what is probably the most anticipated first round matchup. Potential MVP candidates haven’t played each other in the first round since Steve Nash and the Suns defeated Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in 2006. That series went to 7 games, this one should be over in 6. The Rockets have too much firepower for Westbrook to overcome himself.
4. or 5. Los Angeles Clippers vs. 4. or 5. Utah Jazz
Los Angeles has been much improved the last few weeks of the season. Their big 3 are fully healthy now and will be able to attack Utah with all aspects of their potent offense. On the other side the Jazz will boast a robust defense that should give Doc Rivers and the Clippers trouble all series. I expect the experience and current hot streak to lift the Clippers past the Jazz but it will take a full 7 game series.
Golden State Warriors vs. Los Angeles Clippers
DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin might pose the biggest mismatch problems for the Warriors in the West but it won’t be enough to substantially disrupt their game plan. Durant, Curry, and Thompson will still make enough threes to keep the Clippers bigs off balance. Getting Draymond Green and Zaza Pachulia in foul trouble will let the Clippers steal a game or two but without enough fire power there is really no shot at taking the series. Warriors should easily win in 5 but might have to play a game 6.
San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
As witnessed in the regular season, this will be an extremely even series. Three of their regular season matchups were decided by only two points and this playoff series will be no different. What will be different is who these teams play in the first round and I expect the grit and grind series against the Grizzlies to be a bigger toll on the Spurs than Houston’s first round matchup. While this series could go either way I expect Houston will utilize its fast pace offense to outpace the winded Spurs. Rockets take the series after 7 full games of basketball.
Western Conference Finals
Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
Houston Rockets have admitted to arming up to try and keep up with or even outscore the Warriors; however, they are not there yet. Golden State still has the most explosive offense in the NBA and a top 5 defense to back it up. Houston’s streaking 3 point shooting will allow them to take a couple of games from the Warriors but won’t be enough to carry them to the Finals. Golden State wins the series in 6 games.