The playoffs are underway in the 2014-15 NBA season. Based on the regular season, the Association is at a crossroads. Will it be the new guard taking the title or the old guard hanging onto it?
The Golden State Warriors won a league-high 67 games this season, and feature the most up-tempo style in the league. It is ‘80s style basketball watching Golden State play. The amazing ‘Splash Brothers’ backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson lit up the night all season. The Warriors led the league in scoring at 110.0, FG% at 47.8, 3-pt. % at 39.8, assists at 27.4 and scoring margin at 10.1. First-year Coach Steve Kerr took what Mark Jackson had started, tweaked it a little, and literally ran with it.
The top seed in the East are the Atlanta Hawks, the most surprising team in the league this season by far. NBA Coach of the Year Mike Budenholzer used the lessons learned from years at Gregg Popovich’s side in San Antonio and the Hawks look like those Spurs teams in a lot of ways. Atlanta was the only other team to win 60 this season. While experts kept looking for them to falter, they only got stronger. They are also driven by their backcourt with point guard Jeff Teague and the shooting of Kyle Korver, with Al Horford anchoring the post.
But for Golden State and Atlanta to raise the gold trophy, they must face down the old guard coming for them with more than enough to compete. In the West, this means the defending world champion San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs were in line for the #2-seed until an untimely loss to New Orleans on the final night of the season. This dropped them to #6 and a clash with the L.A. Clippers. Still, the Spurs are considered the team to beat by most—or maybe the Clippers if they beat the Spurs.
In the East, when talking old guard (despite it being technically a return to the playoffs) you are talking about LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The new ‘Big 3’ (so quickly put together with James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love) have caused interesting dynamics all season. The Cavs were but 19-20 at one point dealing with injuries and unease working together. They finished 34-9, and at least three of those losses were due to resting players. Kyrie Irving has perhaps been the best point guard in the league this season while James has been helping him to flourish. Love has been a bit of a head case this season, at times a malcontent who may opt-out of his contract at season’s end. But he is ferocious on the glass.
Conversation of other contenders for the championship must begin with the Chicago Bulls. Derrick Rose is healthy. He is the most confident in his body as he has been in three years, and is producing. Jimmy Butler turned into an all-star during Rose’s extended absences, and of course there is the emotional leader Joakim Noah. The Bulls seem destined for a showdown with the Cavs in the second round. Can we only hope?
Besides the Clippers/Spurs winner, the other lead contender out West to challenge Golden State would be the Houston Rockets.
Dwight Howard is finally healthy and James Harden was neck-and-neck with Curry for league MVP this season. Another team to challenge GS could be Memphis. Their team defense can clog up the smooth offense, but having Tony Allen is critical.