LeBron James and Kyrie Irving vs. a Hawks team with no bona fide superstars.
James Harden vs. Stephen Curry.
It certainly doesn’t get any better than this.
What makes this year’s playoffs interesting is the fact a new NBA champion will be crowned this year. Other juicy sub-plots include the following:
- LeBron James winning his third NBA title and first for his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
- The Cavaliers or Hawks winning their first NBA crown.
- The Cavaliers winning the Larry O’Brien trophy without an injured Kevin Love.
- The Rockets winning their first title in 20 years.
- The Warriors winning their first title in 40 years.
- Stephen Curry winning both the NBA MVP Award and the NBA title.
- Rookie head coach Steve Kerr guiding the Warriors to the Larry O’Brien trophy.
The list goes on and on.
These four teams present many interesting points of discussion as the conference finals are under way. It’s as if a complete paradigm shift has taken place in the NBA—we are no longer seeing the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder this deep into the postseason.
Well, at least for now. Who knows, any of those four teams can bounce back next season.
As for us, we’re focusing on the present. So get your popcorn ready, because the NBA playoff drama has just taken on a whole new different twist.
CBS Sports’ 10 Things to Watch Out For in the Conference Finals
CBS Sports NBA writer James Herbert listed 10 things we should watch out for as the conference finals are upon us on May 17.
Let’s take a look at what he has to say and our own take on each one:
The Real MVP?
Herbert argues this season belongs to Stephen Curry, unarguably the heart and soul of the Golden State Warriors. He also goes on to say the race between Curry and James Harden of the Houston Rockets “should have been closer than what it was.”
Herbert also adds a Warriors vs. Rockets tiff in the conference finals becomes all the more interesting especially after Harden didn’t acknowledge Curry when he won the NBA MVP Award on May 4.
“It didn’t work out,” Harden told CSN Bay Area. “I heard it and that was it. It was nothing.”
Our bet is Harden felt slighted when he didn’t win the honor. Expect him to go out with all guns blazing in the conference finals.
As for Curry, we expect the same thing. That’s why he’s MVP unless someone else proves otherwise.
Can LeBron Be Stopped?
If the Cleveland Cavaliers are to win it all, they should get contributions from everybody, per CBS Sports.
However, it won’t hurt one bit if LeBron James continues to go on his playoff tear. Without an injured Kevin love and with an ailing Kyrie Irving, James has averaged a near-triple double of 26.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 8.8 assists through May 18, per ESPN.
James looked mortal in the Cavaliers’ Game 1 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the second round (19 points on 9-of-22 shooting, per ESPN). However, he did just enough the rest of the way for Cleveland to advance.
Herbert stresses the Atlanta Hawks have four All-Stars in Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap, Al Horford and Kyle Korver. However, the Cavaliers “do have the best player on the planet.”
James led the charge against a tough Bulls team without Love and with Irving at less than 100 percent. We don’t see the trend changing any time soon against the Hawks.
The Brilliance of Golden State’s Defense
Just by watching Steve Kerr’s Golden State Warriors play, we focus on their offense. How can we not? They’re a very exciting team—the Splash Brothers raining threes, Draymond Green doing a little bit of everything and Andrew Bogut plucking all those rebounds.
However, Herbert says the real reason why Golden State is where it is at is because of its defense.
The Warriors allowed the fewest points per possession in the regular season. They also stifled the Memphis Grizzlies in the last three games of their second-round playoff series, per CBS Sports.
All we have to say is this: As good as the Warriors’ D is, the Houston Rockets are not just a one-man team.
While Harden scored 31 points as the Rockets dispatched the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 7 on Sunday, Houston also got contributions from Trevor Ariza (22 points), Dwight Howard (16 points, 15 rebounds), Josh Smith (15 points) and Corey Brewer (11 points).
It will be anything but easy for the Warriors.
4. Kyrie’s Health
As previously mentioned, the Cavaliers are dealing with a hobbled Kyrie Irving.
While Cleveland has advanced, they still need Irving to produce. Herbert says the All-Star point guard has a sprained foot and tendinitis in his knee.
Herbert also stresses “there’s still no guarantee he’ll get back to anything close to 100 percent.”
It’s great Cleveland has Matthew Dellavedova, who scored 19 points in the series-clinching Game 6 against the Bulls on the road. Thing is, will he be able to keep it up while having to contain an All-Star in Jeff Teague on the other end?
Dellavedova will have his moments, but for him to carry the load at point guard for the entire series seems like a very tall order.
Perhaps it would be better for Cavaliers head coach David Blatt to pick Irving’s spots while giving Dellavedova ample playing time. You can bet the Hawks are looking at exploiting the Cavaliers at the point guard spot, where the former has a clear edge with Irving not at his best.
5. Dominant Dwight
Now is as good a time as ever for Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard to reclaim his past glory.
According to CBS Sports, the 2014-15 NBA season marks the first time Howard gets to enjoy a trip to the conference finals in five years. The last time he made it this far was as a member of the Orlando Magic in 2010. That year, the Boston Celtics beat the Magic in six games to advance to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers.
If the Houston Rockets go all the way, it will be sweet vindication for D-Howard.
First, he had to endure a miserable season with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012-13, mainly due to his displeasure with then-head coach Mike D’Antoni.
And then just this season, he had to sit out 41 games due to chronic right-knee issues.
The good news is “he’s healthy and been an elite defender and rebounder,” per Herbert.
That’s definitely bad news for the Golden State Warriors.
More on the 2014-15 NBA playoffs in tomorrow’s featured article.
Note: Unless otherwise stated, all stats are current as of May 18 and are courtesy of ESPN.com.