The NBA postseason continues with the other four series playing game 1: Detroit Pistons at the Cleveland Cavaliers, Charlotte Hornets against the Miami Heat, Memphis Grizzlies at the San Antonio Spurs and the Portland Trail Blazers against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Detroit Pistons vs Cleveland Cavaliers: The Pistons dominated the Cavaliers during the regular season but split the games in which LeBron James played. So, what now? Well, this will be another test to the proven theory of James taking it up a notch in the postseason, which usually means sweeps in the first round regardless of how they’ve done against these teams in less important games. James, if you don’t remember, has never lost an opening series in the postseason.
Both teams do a great job on the boards (top 5 in defensive rebounding percentage), but the Cavaliers are better in most other metrics, including offensive and defensive efficiency. The Pistons will rely on Andre Drummond to dominate the boards and give them an edge in the paint, while hoping that Reggie Jackson, resting in the final two games of the season, is as close to 100% as possible, with a point guard duel against Kyrie Irving in the cards for him.
For Cleveland, it’s better if Irving doesn’t turn this into a one on one show against Jackson. They’re at their best when Irving does take a big part of the offense, but not the selfish kind. Kevin Love is in the postseason after missing most of it a year ago, hoping for something of a redeeming experience and not just in the first round. The more the Cavaliers don’t have to lean on James to try and get them out of trouble, the better off they’ll be.
Charlotte Hornets vs Miami Heat: The middle tier series in the East are difficult to predict as the Hornets and Heat finished with an identical record (48-34) and split their season series 2-2. The difference is that both teams will be looking to make it a different kind of series in terms of playing style. The Hornets might have a star player in Kemba Walker who loves the half court, isolation heavy offense, but playing quicker basketball should benefit them greatly.
Why? The Heat were 25th this season in Pace, and while their per 100 possessions numbers both defensively and offensively are slightly inferior to those of the Hornets, they won’t be trying to turn this into a track meet. Dwyane Wade is good when things are slower these days, and their ace off the bench, Hassan Whiteside, isn’t someone who’ll shine if this becomes a basket to basket sprint. The Heat will be looking to take advantage of the weak interior defense by the Hornets, but that’ll happen only if they keep the game slow.
How can the Hornets turn it into a fast paced game? Give Jeremy Lin minutes with the ball, not just as the shooting guard. He isn’t the only fast player on this team, but he does a better job than both Nicolas Batum and Walker when it comes to pushing the pace. Usually, Steve Clifford prefers giving Walker and Batum the ball, combined with Al Jefferson, who might not have such an easy time if he and Whiteside share most of their minutes.
Memphis Grizzlies vs San Antonio Spurs: Like the two Western conference series played yesterday, this one has sweep written all over it. Not just because the Spurs won all four games against the Grizzlies in the regular season, but because of who Memphis are missing going into the series: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and that’s just the lineup players. On the other side, San Antonio have only LaMarcus Aldridge’s finger problem to worry about.
Memphis actually finished the season with a -2.8 net rating. Combine that with the Spurs going 40-1 at home this season and their fantastic defensive ratings, it’s hard seeing the Grizzlies coming close to an upset, especially not when the only player they have who can create shots for himself and others is Lance Stephenson. He’s been able to revive his career in Memphis after a terrible time in Charlotte and with the Clippers, but that’s not close to enough.
The Spurs swept the Grizzlies in the 2013 conference finals but were upset by them in 2011 in the first round. The Spurs struggled in the first round against the Dallas Mavericks in 2014 but won in seven games. Last season they were also knocked out in the first round after possibly the best series in the 2015 postseason, losing in seven games to the Los Angeles Clippers.
Portland Trail Blazers vs Los Angeles Clippers: The Clippers begin another postseason with the hopes of finally going past the conference semifinals, but once again it’s hard to see them in a favorable matchup past the first round. The Blazers have a different set of expectations. Obviously, they’re not just about making a playoff appearance and want to win it. However, considering they lost four starters in the offseason and still made it back, they feel a lot less pressure than the Clippers.
The Clippers are obviously putting a special focus on Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, who combined to score 46.3 points per game during the regular season. That might be difficult for the Clippers if J.J. Redick is injured which puts even the bigger defensive liability of Jamal Crawford on the floor. The Blazers don’t have much of an inside threat, which means a lot more of Blake Griffin and Jeff Green helping out and leaving DeAndre Jordan to fend for himself.
Chris Paul was a little bit forgotten in the whirlwind of the Stephen Curry phenomenon and the Russell Westbrook triple double bonanza. However, he kept the Clippers going despite Blake Griffin missing so many games, and he seems as ready as ever to finally let that chip of never making it to the conference finals off his shoulder. The problem for him has always been weird crunch time decision making, playing on a team that constantly misses something crucial and Doc Rivers, who is turning into more and more of a liability.