Eastern Conference: SM
- Can Kyrie stay on the floor?: Kyrie is not healthy. He has a bad left leg (knee and foot) and will need to dig deep to stay on the floor. It is a dream to think that Matthew Dellavedova will score 19 a game against the Hawks, even though he has given the Cavs more than expected in the playoffs. Irving is a top five point guard in the NBA. The Cavs are without Kevin Love. Lebron is great, but he needs a Robin. I don’t know if Kyrie can stay on the floor, but the Cavs need him if they want to advance.
- Can the Hawks contain Lebron?: Demarre Carroll had success guarding Lebron in the regular season. Lebron shot 3-15 and committed 5 turnovers when guarded by Carroll. The Hawks better hope Carroll can guard James for 80% of the series or else the King will get whatever he wants. Who else do they have to guard him? Thabo Sefolosha’s season ended when the cops hurt him while arresting him. So, the Hawks would need to throw Kent Bazemore at Lebron when Carroll needs rest or is off the floor. That is right. Kent Bazemore. The Hawks will need to play good team defense to slow down the King.
- Bench play: Advantage Cavaliers. Reason? James Jones and J.R. Smith have been shooting the ball well. The Cavs will need that to continue. The Hawks have been getting solid minutes from Dennis Schroder. Kent Bazemore has had some success, but won’t show up much in the box score. All in all, both of these teams really heavily on their starters. Bench play will be the difference maker and I don’t see the Hawks bench outplaying the Cavs bench.
- What team will win the three point battle?: If you know basketball, then you know how teams get open three point shots. Penetration. Lebron gets to the paint better than anyone else in the NBA. But, do the Cavs have anyone else who can get to the paint? Again, can Kyrie stay on the floor? We don’t know. Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder both do a good job of attacking off the dribble and finding shooters. Kyle Korver is one of the best shooters in the league. My answer to this question is this: The Cavs will make more threes, but the Hawks will shoot a better percentage. This series will not be decided by the three point line.
- Should the Cavs be the favorite?: The Hawks are the 1 seed in the East. The Cavs are without Kevin Love. Kyrie Irving is far from healthy. The Hawks won 3 out of 4 meetings in the regular season. Why does it feel like the Cavaliers are the favorite? Lebron James. That is it.
Prediction: This series will be decided by the turnover battle and offensive rebounding. Cavaliers in 5.
Western Conference: AK
- Who matches up on Steph Curry?: After what Chris Paul was able to do to the Rockets scoring wise, I would expect someone other than Jason Terry to be guarding Curry most of the time. My guess is we see a heavy dose of Trevor Ariza on Curry to try to combat him with height. The bad part of this for the Rockets is that puts a smaller player on Klay Thompson or Harrison Barnes. I think they would prefer one of those guys having to score instead of Curry.
- Can James Harden find his shot vs the Warriors?: His numbers have been good on the outside but when you look deeper and see he was 5-29 from 3 in the 4 games they played this season you may think that won’t get it done. GS has a lot of guys to throw at Harden with Thompson, Green, Iguodala, Barnes, and even Livingston. Harden will need to lead this team in most categories to get the win in this series.
- Which Dwight Howard will show up?: Howard was great, for the most part, against the Clippers. He has been better than average in the playoffs as a whole, but will that continue. Howard, though often injured, has had a below-average year by all standards and will need to be the All-Star, All-Defensive team Dwight Howard to win this series.
- Bench Play: The Warriors bench has been great all year. You don’t win as many games as they did with an average bench. In the Playoffs, the Rockets have gotten a huge lift from Corey Brewer and Pablo Prigioni. You can bet that one or two games at least, will be decided by which bench can contribute when a starter gets in foul trouble or has an off night.
- Can the Splash Brothers stay hot?: Ask Charles Barkley, jump shooting teams can’t win championships. You could see in the two games Memphis won that when shots are not falling the Warriors can struggle to score. The good news is that the Rockets are not as good defensively as the Grizzlies, but if the Splash Brothers can’t continue to shoot well, it may be tough to keep up with the Rockets scoring.
Prediction: This will be a great series to watch, both teams want to get up and down and play fast. I’m predicting Golden State in 6.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Alex Kjellsen and Sean Melmer