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May 19, 2015
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The 2015 NBA Playoffs has been unpredictably predictable. Allow us to explain. For the second straight year, the top two teams of the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively, face off in the Conference Finals. The road each of the final four teams took to get there, though, was full of unbelievable twists and turns. Remember those three straight games decided by buzzer-beaters?

nba conference finals

Take the Houston Rockets, for example. There’s not many outside of Houston and China (apparently popular there because of the Yao Ming link) who liked their chances of beating the LA Clippers—conquerors of the defending champs, San Antonio Spurs, at that—after being down 1-3 in the conference semis. Thankfully for them, in Magic Johnson’s words via Twitter, "the Clippers are still the Clippers." We'll live it to you to find out what that means, but we believe it has something to do with what happens when food goes down your windpipe.

Or the team the Rockets face next, the titans of Golden State. They were seriously tested by the Memphis Grizzlies, going down 1-2. But coach Steve Kerr showed he’s no ordinary rookie tactician, switching Andrew Bogut to Tony Allen and reinforcing their defense to get past the Grizz easily in the next three games.

Over at the East side, the Atlanta Hawks’ mighty offense stalled and were two Paul Pierce treys away from being upset by the Washington Wizards. And the Cavs had to thank their bench for helping them beat the Chicago Bulls despite poor shooting from LeBron James (40-percent from the field, 15-percent from deep) and the injuries hampering Kyrie Irving.

It’s back to zero now. Throw away the regular season series numbers and dig in on the hoops matchups and storylines coming our way. Welcome to our little preview of the NBA Conference Finals!


WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

(1) Golden State Warriors vs. (2) Houston Rockets

nba conference finals

What to expect, based on their regular season series:

There will be lots of threes. In their previous four encounters, the Rockets hoisted almost 33 from beyond the three-point line each game while the Dubs were as trigger happy with 26 attempts. They both made an identical 9.8 triples a game.  If you like shootouts, there’s no better show than this.

But don’t expect…

nba conference finals

A 4-0 trashing by the Warriors, like they did in the regular season. These Rockets, if you didn’t know yet, are playing monstrous basketball, thanks to awkward acquisitions-turned-difference-makers in Josh Smith, Corey Brewer, and Pablo Prigioni. Coach Kevin McHale did a masterful job on this one, and also on the switch to start Smith over Terrence Jones midway through their last series. McHale is showing some mean coaching tricks under his sleeves. The matchup on the sidelines between McHale and Warriors coach Steve Kerr is as juicy as…

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Must-watch matchup:


Video via Straxwade77

…the battle of the chefs. We’re not talking about cook-offs. It’s MVP-slash-chef Stephen Curry of Golden State up against Houston’s own cook James Harden, who came in second in the MVP voting. There will be fireworks in the "kitchen" a.k.a. the basketball court when these two play. Both men, by the way, dropped several 30-pointers on each other in their regular season matchups. Can’t wait to smell what these chefs are cookin’.

The experts are calling:

Warriors in over/under five. Because they are phenomenally good on offense and defense; can play big and small seamlessly; are long, athletic, and at most 9-deep; and are exceptionally coached. You know what other team fits such description? Houston.

The Chances of the Underdogs Winning

nba conference finalsImage via Usatoday.com

…lies on the wide shoulders of Dwight Howard. In the regular season, the Warriors manhandled the Rockets that had Howard absent for the first two games and still recovering in the final two. In the playoffs, it’s more than safe to say Howard is back—averaging 17.2 points on 59 percent shooting, plus 13.8 boards and 2.5 blocks. And did you know that Andrew Bogut is the only legit big for the Warriors?

How do you like them apples, Madam Rosa?

Hard not to agree with many pundits' predictions but we’re calling this in 6 games, maiba lang, for the Warriors.


EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

(1) Atlanta Hawks vs (2) Cleveland Cavaliers

nba conference finals

What to expect, based on their regular season series:

A classic case of contrast. The East’s top seed relies on its balance for offense, averaging only 7.2 isolation plays per game but has the league-best assist rate at 67.6. The Cavs, as you know, have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, both ball-stoppers and playmakers that result in a league-high 12.1 isolations per game. But this is a team designed for James (or Irving) to break down the D and dish to an open shooter when the lane clogs.

But don’t expect…

nba conference finals

An easy time for Atlanta, like it did in their 3-1 domination of the Cavs with an average gap of 15.3 points. The passing is still there, but the problem for the postseason version of the Hawks is that two of their main cogs on offense are faltering. Sharpshooter Kyle Korver has gone cold—against Washington, he shot 31.3-percent from the floor, 28.6-percent from deep. He’ll have a tougher time against the Cavs wings. Jeff Teague is also a mess, and his backup Dennis Schroder is erratic. The good news for Hawks fans: they face a struggling Cavs team as well. LeBron only had one good game in the past round and Irving is one bad landing away from being sidelined.

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Must-watch matchup:


Video via A.R. Shaw

LeBron against the Hawks—DeMarre Carroll specifically. When guarded by Carroll, LeBron’s only made three out of 15 shots so far this season. Small sample size, sure, but LeBron has had trouble with physical wing defenders (Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard comes to mind). And this is a team that resembles the Spurs that's given LeBron nightmares over the past two seasons. For Cleveland fans, there’s no better time to pray for LeBron to exorcise his demons than now.

The experts are calling:

...for an upset! The lower-seeded Cavs have a 61-percent chance of winning the series, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index. The Hawks better stretch this to seven games. LeBron’s team has faced number one seeds three times in the past, winning them all in six or less.

The chances of the underdogs winning

nba conference finalsImage via Nypost.com

…is still good at about 40-percent. And if Teague can just be his old self again, this team can get back to its surgical efficiency on both sides of the floor (only the Warriors and Spurs are as lethal on both ends as the Hawks).  

How do you like them apples, Madam Rosa?

Kyrie Irving will see the first Game 7 of his career. Kevin Love would wish he could be back because LeBron James and Irving’s limping legs will not be enough to overcome the talented Hawks. Unless you see a Mike Miller game in the clincher. Hawks in seven. Yeah, we called it.

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