2 shockers already on this first Sunday of the NBA Playoffs. The top 2 seeds in the Western Conference went down at home. Could the Spurs and Lakers legitimately lose these series and turn the NBA Playoffs into April/May Madness? It would be totally awesome with a capital A, but it will not happen.
The West is very deep. I admit that I feel the East’s top 4 have finally caught the top 4 in the West. It has been over a decade, but the East’s elite are finally on the same wave length as the cream of the West. But 5 through 8? The West still owns the East. The first 2 days of the playoffs have been prime examples why. Now granted, take note that I am writing this before the Knicks take on Boston and before the Nuggets and Oklahoma City battle. But lets take a look at the tale of the tape thus far pitting the East and West’s 2nd tier.
#5 Atlanta Hawks vs Denver Nuggets: Now I will admit, the Hawks have been a very talented team these past 3 years that has struggled to take that next step. This year, they ended the regular season on a 6 game losing streak, but then shocked Orlando with an outstanding performance in game one. Out of the 5 through 8 in the East, they are the only team with a prayer of pulling off the 1st round upset in my eyes (though I do not see it happening still). Then you have the Nuggets. A team that limped through the first half of the year dealing with Melo-Drama. Since the departure of Carmelo though, this has been arguably the hottest team in the NBA. The records do not lie. The Nuggets won 50 games this season. Atlanta won 44. Though the Hawks are a dangerous opponent, the Nuggets score more points than any team in the League and would be a tougher playoff foe in my eyes. I will state this though. Atlanta will have the better shot at pulling off the 1st round shocker than Denver due to their opponent, but Denver is still a far better team. So I am going with the Nuggets in this matchup.
#6 New York Knicks vs Portland Trailblazers: In a couple of years, or maybe even next year for that matter, these two teams could be back to the top of their respective conferences. New York is a lock down defender (or 2) away from being a legitimate contender in the East, while Portland is a missed injury bug away from competing to win the West. Once again though, the records do not lie. Portland won 6 more games than the Knicks. Portland is a team that plays great defense. And though I see New York being a major contender in the East soon, the Trailblazers are not only the scarier team right now, but they have a far better shot at upsetting their 1st round opponent (even though they lost Game 1).
#7 Philadelphia 76ers vs New Orleans Hornets: Both of these teams looked great in their playoff openers this year. There was one major difference though. The team out of the West knew how to finish the job while the 76ers choked away a major opportunity to steal Game 1. Philadelphia has a decent team, but they also do not have a prayer to knock off Miami. And though I do not think the Hornets have a prayer at knocking out the Lake Show, they do have CP3. Paul proved today the importance of having a point guard who can not only run the offense, but can take over the game down the stretch. The Hornets went 10 games over 500 this year. The 76ers went 500. Though neither team will pull the upset, the Hornets would handle the 76ers with ease in a 7 game set.
#8 Indiana Pacers vs Memphis Grizzlies: This may be the biggest laugher of all the East vs West matchups. Each of these teams opening games demonstrated the difference. Indiana was presented a major opportunity to win Game 1. They had no idea what to do . The Reggie Miller days of “Winning Time” looked like a long-lost memory. Maybe those days will be extinct for another decade. The Grizzlies on the other hand were presented an opportunity today, and took advantage. Now do I think Memphis will win a 7 game set versus a beat up, injury riddled San Antonio team? No way. But if San Antonio leaves the door open, they will take advantage. Chicago could leave the door open for Indiana, and the Pacers would shut it on themselves.
So as you can tell, it is a no brainer on how much stronger the West’s 5 through 8 are versus the East. The big difference I think is that the teams in the West when given an opportunity will take advantage. When they see the door open in the 4th quarter, they know how to finish the job. The East’s 5 through 8 teams do not have the ability to finish the job. Now the 1 through 4 teams in both conferences are an entirely different story. But I will admit, I have enjoyed these first couple of days and the upsets have been fun.
But this will not be March Madness in April. There will be upsets, but the NBA has 7 game series for a reason. Typically the better team grinds it out in a full 7 game set. Please remember that I have the 3 and the 4 seed matching up in the Eastern Conference Finals though (Celtics/Magic), and the 2 versus the 4 seed (Lakers/Thunder) in the Western Conference Finals.
So do not expect to see any 8’s make it all the way to the finals like Butler. The Knicks of 1999 were an extremely rare happening. But upsets will happen. They will just be a lot more subdued. And I can promise that no 11th seeded teams will dance their way to the Conference Finals.
Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.