Last week, I forced the entire Hope College community to read through my predictions for the first round of the playoffs, in the Western Conference. Instead, this week I won’t necessarily have predictions, but I will highlight certain key components, which I think would have a significant impact in the shaping up of the series, both in hand and yet to come.
LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers
The King has always, for at least the last decade, been the man to beat, for any team to either make it to the finals or win a championship.
It’s a testament to LeBron’s legacy and his impact on the game. The man is 6’8”, weighs 250 pounds, plays stellar defense and moves as quick as some guards.
The 32-year-old still has his athleticism and is, in my opinion, the most complete player the game has ever seen. Paired up with arguably the best offensive point guard in Kyrie Irving, a spot up shooting big man in Kevin Love and a rebounding juggernaut in Tristian Thompson, I believe that the Cavs have a cake walk to the finals to give LeBron yet another appearance to add to his resume.
LeBron is also a fantastic passer—in my eyes, one of the top three passers in the league so when he drives into the lane and commands attention from the defense, he can easily kick it out to one of the snipers to knock it down, whether Irving, Kyle Korver, J.R Smith, Kevin Love or Channing Frye.
The only question to me would be how they match up against the Golden State Warriors, who to me are the favorites to make it out of the Western Conference.
John Wall and the Washington Wizards
Scott Brooks has done a great job in turning a team that couldn’t make the playoffs last year to a team that may be able to hold their own against the defending champions.
The Wizards, under the leadership of John Wall, have a special thing going. Wall is the best point guard in the Eastern Conference and the most complete in the league at the position.
The man averaged 23.1 points and 10.7 assists in the regular season and showed his dominance in the first four games against the Atlanta Hawks. 23 and 10 may not seem like a lot, especially in a season where a man averaged a triple double, but his numbers are solid, especially with arguably the deepest position in the NBA.
Wall is, in my eyes, the fastest player in the league and one of the top three passers in the league. He is also a leader who can carry a team and make those around him better by involving everyone in plays. His defense is there and he finds his teammates on the floor in a Chris Paul-like manner.
Bradley Beal has been healthy, and a healthy Beal is a man to be feared. He plays off the ball excellently and although his defense could improve significantly, Beal has proven himself to be a versatile scoring option.
Otto Porter Jr. is one of the most efficient players in the league who shoots excellently from the three-point line. He should also be in the running for the Most Improved player of the year, especially considering how far he’s come from his days at Georgetown.
Ultimately, I would give it to Denver’s Nikola Jokic, but Otto has stepped up and improved his overall game significantly.
These three, coupled with a defensive bruiser in Markieff Morris and a reliable big man in Marcin Gortat, could possibly make it to the Eastern Conference finals.
They also possess the athleticism and lengthy defense Kelly Oubre Jr. has to offer, and I’m glad he’s seen some more playing time this season.
Off the bench, the Wizards front office did a great job by acquiring Bojan Bogdonovich who is a good scorer, as well as veteran guard Brandon Jennings, who offers some life off the bench, as well as a scrappy enforcing presence to opposing teams.
The Wizards, who took home their first division title in over 35 years, could take the Hawks down in five or six games, to move unto the next round.
To me, consistency, especially on the defensive end is the key for Scott Brooks’ Wizards side to go far this post season.
Boston Celtics vs Chicago Bulls
This is the trickiest match-up in the East and I find it interesting that a lot of people didn’t even give the Bulls a chance to make an upset and take down the number one seed holders. I, however, am not one of those people.
First and foremost, All-star guard Isaiah Thomas has been spectacular and has proven himself to be one of the if not the most, reliable scoring point guards this season, especially once the fourth quarter begins.
I.T certainly has the right mind set and the versatility in scoring, be it from the three-ball, mid-range or even attacking the basket against significantly taller defenders.
Other players on the Celtics, however, need to step up, particularly Al Horford. You can’t make the money he makes and score seven points in a game, especially considering that he’s a versatile big man, who can spread the floor.
I.T is not the best defender, but he’s lucky enough to have players like Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, who are pests on the defensive end of the floor. To me, the key for the Celtics is surviving the battle of rebounds and not leaving the entire weight of scoring on I.T, even though he has been sensational, regardless of the family tragedy he was recently struck with.
The Celtics certainly have a good chance to come out on top, especially because of the depth their team possesses.
For the Bulls, the biggest strength they have is in experience and talent. When I say experience, I refer to Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, and when I say talent, I refer to the greatness that is Jimmy Butler.
Wade and Rondo are both NBA champions and have seen the worst the post season has to offer. The composure and veteran leadership which they bring to the team is important, especially now with Rondo’s injury.
Robin Lopez has also done a great job on the boards, bullying the Celtics to give the Bulls good second chance points, but I think it surprisingly all comes down to who can win a game on their home floor.
I truly don’t know how this one turns out, but I am eager to see it unravel.
The Greek Freak vs The North
The Toronto Raptors have one of the most balanced teams in the league, and to me that was a result of the acquiring of Serge Ibaka and P.J Tucker.
Of both defensive studs, Ibaka has shown himself to be a versatile scorer who can intimidate players on the defensive end of the floor.
He’s a proven shot blocker, who is fast enough to keep up with some guys outside the paint. He can also stretch the floor and shoot the three-ball, if the opportunity presents itself.
P.J Tucker on the other hand is a defensive rock, who can hold most players who he’s matched up against. Coming from the Phoenix Suns, it’s interesting to see his defense get the recognition it deserves on a winning team.
The All-star back-court they have in Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan can prove to be a nightmare for anyone to face on a good night. DeRozan particularly can be difficult to guard, especially with his mid- range game and his athleticism.
The only problem I have with the Raptors is the offensive inconsistency and that starts with DeRozan. He needs to play as well as we know he can, on any given night, especially considering that he carries most of the scoring load for the team.
For the Bucks, they have Giannis “The Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, who is a special player. He is as tall as a center, as quick as a guard, handles the ball excellently, passes superbly and plays stellar defense, especially in the paint.
His length is so that he needs only two steps to get to the rim, and he has the size advantage and strength to go low in the post. The only flaw in his game is his jump shot, which he is working on.
Malcolm Brogdon is solid and has performed well in his rookie season and the same can be said of Thon Maker, especially in the playoffs thus far.
The Bucks have played well, especially considering the fact that they lost Jabari Parker to a torn ACL injury. They also have Matthew Dellavedova and Jason Terry, who bring to the table a winning mentality and veteran leadership to a young Bucks team.
Tied at 2-2, this series could equally go either way and I look forward to seeing the result. As always, feel free to let me know what you think on the website.
This will be my last article as Sports Co-Editor here at The Anchor.
To Isabel and Andy, thank you for being great partners and thank you for working so hard. I admire you both.
To the rest of the entire Anchor staff, thank you for walking hand in hand with me along the way and thank you for the nights filled with laughter. I couldn’t have done it without you.
To Professor Doshi and Professor Lewison, thank you for making me a better writer. I’m grateful that I could learn from you and I respect you.
Lastly, to the Hope College community as a whole, thank you for a phenomenal four years of life-changing experiences. I truly cannot forget you.
Spera in Deo,