5 Storylines I’ll Be Following Closely this NBA Postseason

Miami Heat Going for 3-Peat

Image courtesy of talksport.sportal.com.au

Although March is widely regarded as one of the most exciting sporting months of the year, I argue that April nearly tops March from an excitement standpoint (I know, I know…this after we experienced 7 overtime games in the men’s NCAA Tournament, which tied an all-time record and a #7 seed beating a #8 seed in the championship game).

There’s no arguing that with the seasons turning, so too do teams’ fortunes across the sporting landscape. Basketball and hockey enter their stretch runs in the beginning to middle of April, jousting for playoff seeding, while baseball teams’ fans emerge from the depths of another winter across much of the country. Throw in the Masters, which is arguably the most decorated major championship of the year and one begins to realize just how special the month of April is for much of the major sports.

With the Masters now behind us (congrats to Bubba Watson on claiming his 2nd Masters in the last three years) and baseball’s opening weekend in the rearview mirror, let’s focus instead on the upcoming NBA playoffs. The first round games tip off this Saturday, 4/19.

Below are the top 5 storylines that I’m most excited about this May, April and June as we move through the NBA postseason (even though the regular season does not conclude until Wednesday, 4/16).

 1. Lower Seeds in the West Giving The Top Seeds Fits

Don’t be surprised if the lower seeds in the West give the Spurs, Thunder and Clippers fits in the first round. Golden State  (projected #6 seed this year and #6 seed last year) grew by leaps and bounds last postseason and have only added pieces to their roster that will make them more formidable in the postseason (re: Iguodala, Andre). While the projected #3 seed Clippers have a glut of 3’s, including Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Danny Granger and Hedo Turkogolu, I expect Iggy, despite an injury plagued year, to play a prominent role in this series and outplay every one of the Clippers’ 3’s.

The current core group of Grizzlies (projected #8 seed) is well aware of how to knock off #1 seeds. Just three years ago the Grizzlies dispatched the Spurs in the first round, in a #8 vs. #1 matchup, in six games. Let’s roll the tape:

Meanwhile, the projected #7 seed Mavericks is a dangerous team. In another first round rematch, the Mavericks will be facing the Thunder in the first round of the playoffs for the second time in three years. In 2012, the Thunder swept the Mavericks in four games (albeit requiring last second execution to win two of those games). I buy into the Monta Ellis, Vince Carter and Dirk Nowitzki triumvirate. While all were probably smack in their prime 5-7 years ago, this team is proud and has the veteran chops to make this series difficult for OKC (akin to Boston’s 2012 team). Throw in “The Matrix” (Shawn Marion), who has never averaged less than 10 PPG and 6 RPG in a season, (incredible considering the dude is 36 next month) and you have a formidable core that could steal a couple of games from OKC.

2. Miami’s Last Run

Let’s be clear: this is not LeBron’s last run by any means. The guy is 29 years old and from everything we have seen during the last several seasons, is showing no signs of slowing down. Even as he enters his low 30’s, I envision him abusing smaller players on the block and turning into a Karl Malone type of player (excellent court vision and an uncanny arsenal of post moves).

However, the team around LeBron will in all likelihood be completely different for the ’14-’15 season. Let’s run through the contract situation and status of each of their key guys:

  • Ray Allen – turns 39 in July and is an unrestricted free agent next season. All signs point to him resigning but the fact remains that his production has declined significantly in his second year with the Heat. He has averaged a career low 9.5 PPG and shot onlyRay Allen 37.5% from three point range, the lowest mark for him since the ’09-’10 season. Like his old running mate Kevin Garnett, Ray Ray’s time as a game-changing force appear to be quickly coming to a close.
  • Chris Anderson – turns 36 this summer and is an unrestricted free agent next season.
  • Shane Battier – turns 36 in September. Battier is an unrestricted free agent who will likely depart due to the outsized contracts already on Miami’s book.
  • Chris Bosh – turned 30 last month and has seen his PPG and RPG decrease in each of the last four seasons. He is owed $20.6 million next season and over $22 million for his age 31/32 season in ’15-’16 (player options for both of these seasons).
  • Mario Chalmers – turns 28 next month and is owed $4 million next season (team option). He’s a bargain and a youngster relative to the rest of their roster.
  • Norris Cole – age 25 and is owed $2 million next season (club option).
  • Udonis Haslem – is one of only two players (Dwayne Wade being the other player) who has played on all three of the Heat championship teams (’06, ’12, ’13). Haslem turns 34 in June and is owed $4.6 million next season – this for a player who has seen his PPG drop in each of the last six seasons and his RPG drop in each of the last three seasons. Although Haslem defines the very heart of soul of this Heat team, he has luxury tax casualty written all over him (that, or the Heat restructure his deal).
  • Dwayne Wade – although only 32 years old, Wade is finishing up his 11th season in the league. He has 850+ professional games on his odometer (and counting).  Wade peaked in the ’08-’09 season, when he carried his undermanned Heat squad into the playoffs that year, averaging over 30 PPG. Since that season, he has seen his PPG drop each of the last five seasons. Wade has never played more than 77 games in a season and has played in less than 55 games four times. Wade is owed over $20 million in ’14-’15 and nearly $22 million in ’15-’16 (both years are player options).

When only one of your key rotation guys is under the age of 28 and three guys are set to each make $20+ million next season, you know that the current constitution of your team is going to change sooner rather than later. I’m betting (not going out on a limb here) that this is the Heat’s last run with this current group of guys. Hard business decisions will have to be made this summer and we all know that Wade, Bosh and LeBron are all re-upping with their current contracts, which leaves little wiggle room for the rest of the rotation guys.

 3. Will Brooklyn even make it out of the first round?

I haven’t followed Toronto’s team too closely this year but I do know that the Nets drew another tough first round matchup this year, after getting beat up by the battle tested Bulls in 7 games last year. The Nets are an old, veteran team who has thrived off of small ball lineups with KG, Brook Lopez, Andray Blatche and Andrei Kirilenko missing large chunks of the season.

In their absence, Deron Williams has reverted back to ’09 Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston has been masterful as a starter in the Nets share-happy offense. I had the Nets slated to win their first round series for the last several months but now that they are facing a young, fast and hungry Raptors team, I have my doubts that the cagey vets will be able to hold up against the superior athleticism of the Raptors.

DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Jonas Valanciunas and Terrence Ross are all 28 or younger. DeRozan and Lowry have PER’s of 18.4 and 20.1, respectively, which is insane. Since the Rudy Gay trade in December, the Raptors have been one of the hottest teams in the league. No starters on the Nets have a PER above 18. This series will go at least six games…I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Toronto won this series to set-up a matchup with the Pacers in Round 2.

 4. Potential Last Postseason for Two of the Greatest Power Forwards to Ever Play

KG + Duncan

Image courtesy of: www.topsportsreport.com

2014 could likely mark the end of the line for two of the most transcendent power forwards ever to play the game. Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are strongly considering retirement after this season, with both turning 38 years old during the next two months. Here’s their mileage to date:

  • KG – 19 seasons, 1,375 regular season games, 131 postseason games, 1,506 total games
  • Duncan – 17 seasons, 1,253 regular season games, 211 postseason games, 1,464 total games

Here’s their career splits:

  • KG – 18.6 PPG, 10.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 2.8 STOCKS (Steals + Blocks)
  • Duncan – 19.9 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 2.9 STOCKS

Enjoy them this postseason because this is likely the last postseason that we’ll see both in uniform.

 5. The Field vs. the Heat

If you are a betting man, do you take the Heat or the field in this year’s NBA postseason? I’m going with the latter and here are my three reasons why I’m choosing the field:

  1. Dwayne Wade’s health – Wade’s health has declined precipitously during the last several seasons. While Wade recently returned from a 9-game absence, the health of his troublesome knees is always a day-to-day case. While the Heat has learned to adapt (and win) without Wade, they will need him to be healthy to win the East in what’s bound to be a long and difficult postseason run. When Bosh went down for a series and a half in the 2012 playoffs, we all saw how an elderly Boston squad nearly (and should have) toppled the Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals.
  2. Heat’s complimentary players are in decline – Ray Allen, Udonis Haslem and Shane Battier have all seen their production rapidly decline this year. Each of these guys has the heart of a champion but can they hold up in what’s likely to be a their third consecutive 2+ month postseason run? My bet is no.
  3. No team has won three consecutive titles in a dozen years. This is a silly stat and should be thrown out the window when LeBron is involved in the conversation but the reality of the situation is that a team with Shaq and Kobe in their primes “only” managed three total titles. I’m just saying…it’s hard to win championships, let alone three in a row. Imagine if Boston wins Game 2 at Miami in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals? Rondo went off for 41-10-8 and this win would have allowed the Celtics to win in 5 games, instead of allowing Bosh to return from injury for Game 6 and alas, the rest is history. What if the Spurs don’t melt down in Game 6 of last year’s Finals? I’m just saying the Heat could easily have zero rings instead of two rings. More than likely they should have one ring, not two, but that’s the beauty of sports. You have to play the game.

Cheers to another chapter in the rich history of the National Basketball Association. Regardless of whether the Heat wins again or not, I’m excited to see the best players in the world take center stage for the next two months.

About Jim Armstrong

Jim is a life-long sports fan and split his childhood between the ‘burbs of Chicago and central NJ, while throwing in a summer living outside of Boston into the mix. This explains his passion for the 90′s Bulls, late 90′s/early 00′s Knicks and late 00′s Celtics (he will explain in a future post). Jim never played a minute of college basketball or football but did complete a Tough Mudder recently and continues to play in basketball leagues year-round. If this doesn’t make him an expert, then I don’t know what does. Jim crunches numbers for a living and enjoys applying these analytical skills to his sports obsessions. In his free time, Jim enjoys spending time with his family, fishing and writing.

Comments

  1. Jim Nerney says:

    very astute article and very profound!

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