“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.”
― Frank Herbert
The end of the regular season is just around the corner and I decided now was as good a time as any to get some of my thoughts down. This isn’t a full power rankings post or the last but It’s meant as a window into what my feelings are on the season as of 3/25/2015.
Let’s start with:
Man, nobody is beating Golden State this year. This team is just too much.
— The man with the #’s (@ArturoGalletti) March 22, 2015
I’ve been watching a lot of Warriors basketball recently. Now that they have their full compliment of players? There is an inevitability to their games that I haven’t felt since the 96 Bulls.They toy with teams but the hammer is coming. I don’t see how anyone (other than history and the ref bias) is stopping this team.
The power rankings pretty much agree:
The Warriors, at #1, look to be in a group by themselves. When you actually watch their games and realize they’re only really going at 80% speed and resting everyone? Yikes. Some more numbers for the Warriors.
The Warriors have the 7th best point margin per game after 71 games. Of the top 20 teams of all time on that list, 15 won the title, 2 lost to another team on the list (1972 and 1986 Bucks, that’s some rough luck Milwaukee), 1 lost their second star to injury in round 1 (Russell Westbrook and the 2013 Thunder) and one was coached to ignominious defeat by Hall of Famer George Karl (The 1994 Sonics). History favors this Warriors team.
The talent isn’t far behind.
Golden State was dominant before Iguodala found his form, Livingston got comfortable and Bogut got healthy. Now It has gotten downright silly. Player’s 6 thru 12 on the depth chart for the Warriors (Livingston, Leandro, Iguodala, Lee, Holiday, Speights and Ezeli) might be good for 50 wins and the 3 seed in the east.
So it’s the Warriors versus the field right now. It’s not really the field though. It’s the contenders: the Cavs, the Spurs, the Thunder, the Hawks, the Blazers, the Grizzlies, Clippers, Rockets and the Bulls. Let’s walk them down.
#2 The Cavaliers:
The Cavs have Lebron James. This means they automatically have a chance. They do also almost no meaningful playoff experience in the rest of their playoff rotation (JR,Kyrie, Love, Iman, Thompson and Mozgov) and their coach. The matchups could also be a problem. Miami (2-1 versus Cleveland) in round one could be a really difficult test particularly given that: Dwayne Wade is aware they don’t drug test in the playoffs (yay health!) and McRoberts might be back. Round 2 sees a possible matchup with Chicago who, say it with me, if healthy, could give the Cavs fits with defense and size.
Atlanta should be waiting for them in the conference finals with Home Court, a 3-1 record against.
Right now, I see the conference finals as their ceiling.
#3 The Spurs:
The Spurs remain the most likely spoiler to the Warriors coronation. Don’t be fooled by some of their recent losses. Popovich has realized that what he wants is the 6 or 7 seed and avoiding the Warriors until the Western Conference Finals while resting his older players. Kawhi, Tim, Danny, Tiago are all in top form but they need one of the guards (Tony, Patty) to round into form and Manu to be healthy.
The likely path for them is actually ideal. Memphis and Portland are teams they know how to beat. Getting those two teams in first two rounds is better for them than Houston, particularly with a healthy Dwight or the Clippers.
With a healthy Kawhi, I’m picking San Antonio to make the conference Finals.
#4 The Thunder:
Russell Westbrook has been everything for this team but let’s give credit were credit is due. Sam Presti has done a great job of assembling an above average ensemble of bigs (Ibaka, Kanter, Adams, McGary). It’s this competent size that has kept OKC afloat in the face of devastating injuries.
Is it enough? No, it’s not. For all of Westbrook’s greatness recently, a smart defensive team just needs to take the ball out of his hand and force everyone else to beat them. Warriors, Grizzlies, Spurs, Rockets and Clippers all have the personnel to do this (the Blazers did but injuries suck).
Basically, the key to beating the Thunder is to put the ball in Dion Waiters eager hands. Sorry OKC, I got you getting soul crushed by the Warriors in round 1.
#5 The Hawks:
The Hawks have, like the warriors, been playing half speed. They also, like the Warriors did early in the year, have had some key injuries (Thabo and Kyle). Both Thabo and Kyle are back though and I fully expect the Hawks to roll thru the East playoffs and see, and dispatch, the Cavs in the ECF. The Pacers with Paul George could be a fly in the ointment but I just think that makes them go 6 in round 1 if it happens.
The Finals might just be coming to Atlanta.
#6 The Blazers:
Losing Wes Mathews was killer blow to this team. Throw in an ailing Aldridge and Batum and I’m not sure they can get out of round 1. If they hold on to their division, they’re looking at a Clippers team in round one that I would expect to take them out in five.
Let’s move on.
#7 The Grizzlies:
This graph neatly summarizes the main issue for the Grizzlies. Their best player right now is Tony Allen. Their best five is Conley, Allen, Green, Marc and Zbo. That five player unit doen’t have enough shooting to hang with San Antonio or Golden State. They need a healthy Courtney Lee to have a shot.
Don’t discount Dallas or OKC giving them fits in round 1 either.
I’d have them 5th in straight title odds (Golden State, Spurs, Hawks, Cavs then Memphis).
#8 The Clippers:
On any given night the Clippers might have two of the best three players on the court. Remember my Best Ball Metric (The Wilt)?
On a per night basis, CP3 and DeAndre are 4th and 5th in the NBA behind only Curry, Harden and Anthony Davis amongst qualifying players (>1000 Minutes played). That, their coach, the best third banana in the NBA (Blake) and the excellent J.J. Redick, give them a shot.
The fact that, with the Crawford injury, everyone outside their top four is a net minus player makes it a long shot. Folks, having Big Baby, Austin Rivers and Hedo involved in a title run in this Western Conference? The degree of difficulty is off the charts.
#9 The Rockets
Look at who the the Rockets are rolling out on a night to night basis. There isn’t a single player on this team other than Harden that would start on Golden State (and people will argue for Klay over Harden, wrongly, but they’ll argue). Here’s a crazier thought, outside of Harden, does any of the dudes on this chart make the second Warriors unit? I’d take Livingston over Beverly, Iggy over Ariza and Lee over Jones. Josh Smith or Ezeli is a toss-up.
James Harden is the goddamn MVP but does that mean the Rockets have a chance? The best case scenario is Miami in 2006 with Harden cast in the Wade role and Dwight in the Shaq role. If D12 comes back at 90% of his powers and Harden gets the right officiating crew, this team can go all the way. Their best case scenario sees the Spurs and Warriors meet in the semis with the Spurs getting a win and the Hawks looking like shoo-ins out East.
I’m sure the league office might be less than impartial in that scenario.
#11 The Bulls
Look, the East is so bad that if the Bulls catch health for a month at the right time they can win the title. Their chief advantage is size. They have more skilled bigs (Mirotic, Taj,Gasol and Noah) than anyone in the league. Throw in a healthy Butler and this team can win a war of attrition.
I don’t see it myself but it should be on the board.
Right now? I’ve got Warriors over Spurs in the West, Hawks over Cavs in the East and Warriors over Hawks final.