Aren’t you glad it’s NBA playoff time again?

We’re down to the NBA’s Final Four: The Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets.

We may not be so uncertain about the outcome of the conference finals series, but here are two things we’re pretty sure about: There will be a new NBA champion and the playoffs will be more exciting than ever.
 
While we’re all pumped up about the pros’ version of the Final Four, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell says these four teams ought to be called the “Frantic Four.”
 
Why is this so? For starters, Powell says four franchises haven’t won an NBA championship in a combined 162 years. The Hawks last won one when they were still based in St. Louis in 1958. The Rockets last time was in 1995 while the Warriors last held the Larry O’Brien Trophy 20 years earlier.
 
And as for the Cavaliers? Never. Or maybe not yet.

Speaking of Cleveland, four-time NBA MVP LeBron James tipped his hat off to Washington Wizards forward Paul Pierce in a May 17 interview with Chris Haynes of The Northeast Ohio Media Group.
 
James told Haynes he gives credit to Pierce for helping him become the player that he is today:

Obviously, if he says he’s not quite sure about next year, but he’s Double-P, man. I’ve been competing against him my whole career and our battles that we’ve had, our differences that we’ve had.

But you know one thing about it, when you face him; you’re going to always compete. I wish him the best in whatever he decides to do.

Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time. I knew I had to become much better individually. He’s one of those guys.

LBJ also told The Northeast Ohio Media Group on Sunday he feels “The Truth” will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
 
After 17 seasons in the league averaging 20.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.7 assists in more than 1,200 career regular-season games, we’re not going to dispute that.
 
Pierce, who has a $6 million player option for 2015-16,  told The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore on May 16 he’s not even sure if he will play basketball ever again.
 
Our take? The 37-year-old Pierce can still dish it out. He has what it takes to lead the Wizards deeper into the NBA playoffs and possibly get another NBA championship ring.

But with LeBron James and the Cavaliers around, that might prove to be a bit difficult.

 

CBS Sports’ 10 Things to Watch Out For in the Conference Finals 

 
Yesterday, we discussed five of the 10 things CBS’ Sports James Herbert says we should watch out for in the upcoming conference finals series.

We will now delve deeper into the other five hot-button NBA playoff issues Herbert discussed in his article:
 

6. Missing Korver

 
Herbert says he misses Korver’s scoring sprees. He has made it a habit to hit his three-pointers in bunches, exciting the Philips Arena crowd.
 
Well, we miss it too.
 
Korver, the Asthon Kutcher deadringer, averaged 15.5 points on  39.7 percent shooting from three-point distance during the first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.
 
Those numbers dipped to 7.0 points and 28.6 percent against the Wizards in the second round.
 
Think of Korver’s gunslinging as the equivalent of LBJ’s fastbreak dunks, Stephen Curry’s creativity in getting shots off and Kevin Durant’s smooth stroke: signature moves that endear the fans to their teams.

Korver needs to get his stroke back for the Hawks to contend. No ifs and buts about it.
 

7. Iguodala’s Time to Shine

 
Herbert argues Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr must utilize veteran shooting guard Andre Iguoadala more.

Why’s that?
 
Two words: James Harden.
 

 
Yes, this makes perfect sense. Klay Thompson may now be the Warriors’ No. 1 option at the 2-spot. He’s a decent defender, but nowhere the defender Iguodala is. Let’s not forget the latter was an NBA All-Defensive First Team member in 2013-14.
 
Iguodala is at that point in his career when he gladly will let the younger guys take center stage for the sake of the team. However, he’s Golden State’s No. 1 option in trying to put the clamps on Harden, the third-leading scorer in the playoffs at 26.7 points per game.
 
Stopping Harden is easier said than done, but if Iguodala can at least stymie him, the Warriors have a chance of winning the NBA title for the first time since 1975.
 

8. Who’s Deeper, Atlanta or Cleveland?

 
Herbert presents an interesting scenario: The bench situation of the Hawks and Cavaliers.
 
Back during the regular season, the Hawks, the No. 1 team in the East for the most part of the year, enjoyed great success thanks in large part to their shock troopers.

Guys such as Dennis Schroder, Pero Antic, Kent Bazemore and Mike Muscala came up big when called upon. However, they’re almost nowhere to be found during the playoffs, per CBS Sports.
 
On the other hand, the Cavaliers relied mainly on their Big Three of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. When the latter came down with a season-ending shoulder injury, Cleveland’s bench (Matthew Dellavedova, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert) was a big factor in eliminating the Chicago Bulls.
 
Let’s not forget, Irving, a two-time All-Star, is hobbling with knee and foot issues.

Between the two teams, the Cavaliers’ bench are more hard-pressed to deliver because of Love’s absence and Irving’s injuries. James can’t do it alone.
 
On the other hand, the Hawks can’t just rely on their four All-Stars (Kyle Korver, Jeff Teague, Al Horford and Paul Millsap). Their bench must shake off the funk it has been in.

In the end, the outcome of the Eastern Conference Finals may very well be determined by the play of the teams’ second units.
 

9. One Man’s Trash…

 
According to Herbert, these playoffs have been the second coming of Josh Smith and Corey Brewer.

These two players combined to shoot 53.6 percent from the field in the final three games of the Rockets’ second-round comeback from a 3-1 series deficit against the Los Angeles Clippers, per CBS Sports.
 
Herbert reminds us the Rockets acquired Smith after the Detroit Pistons cut him last December while they got Brewer via a salary dump.
 
And let’s not forget about Iman Shumpert and J.R. Smith of the Cavaliers as depicted in the latter’s May 15 Instagram post:

Couldn't have said it better myself!!!@imanshumpertthe1st

A photo posted by JR Smith (@teamswish) on


 
All we can say is this: A change in scenario really reaps benefits.

Ask any of these four guys.
 

10. Can the Hawks and Cavs Redeem the East?

 
Finally, Herbert dubs the Eastern Conference as “disappointing.” He also says neither the Cleveland Cavaliers nor the Atlanta Hawks “has been particularly inspiring in the postseason.”
 
Let’s see: Cleveland beat a young and inexperienced Boston Celtics team in the first round and then dispatched a dysfunctional Chicago Bulls team (the Tom Thibodeau vs. front office issues).
 
As for the Hawks, they got by an underachieving Brooklyn Nets team and then a pesky Washington Wizards squad.

Yes, neither team has been inspiring. However, all that may change when they collide in the conference finals.
 
No. 1 vs. No. 2.

This has been the pecking order in the East for a good part of the 2014-15 NBA season. It’s about time we see for ourselves who is deserving to go to the NBA Finals.
 
Our bet is it will be the Cavaliers, who, despite not being at full strength, still have the game’s best player in LBJ.

That is, of course, unless the Hawks prove otherwise.

 

Note: Unless otherwise stated, all stats are current as of May 19 and are courtesy of ESPN.com

 
[Photo: CBSsports.com]
 

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