Way back at the beginning of the NBA season I posted the following tweet:
Picking the Miami Heat, the defending champ’s, to return to the Finals was pretty easy given the fact that Miami’s big three (LeBron James, Dwayne Wade & Chris Bosh) were set to return, as well as most of their important secondary players (Ray Allen, Birdman, Haslem). Picking the Los Angeles Clippers to go to the Finals this season was definitely not a safe choice. It would have been much easier to go with San Antonio or Oklahoma City, but I thought the Clippers had a legit outside shot at winning the whole thing and as the playoffs begin I see no reason to change my mind.
Here are the current odds for teams in the playoffs and what the odds were in the preseason:
Miami Heat — Current: 2/1 | Preseason: 2/1
San Antonio Spurs — Current: 3/1 | Preseason: 12/1
Oklahoma City Thunder — Current: 4/1 | Preseason: 8/1
Indiana Pacers — Current: 6/1 | Preseason: 10/1
Los Angeles Clippers — Current: 9/1 | Preseason: 9/1
Houston Rockets — Current: 20/1 | Preseason: 10/1
Brooklyn Nets — Current: 25/1 | Preseason: 10/1
Golden State Warriors — Current: 28/1 | Preseason: 16/1
Chicago Bulls — Current: 40/1 | Preseason: 8/1
Portland Trail Blazers — Current: 40/1 | Preseason: 150/1
Dallas Mavericks — Current: 66/1 | Preseason: 50/1
Memphis Grizzlies – Current: 66/1 | Preseason: 28/1
Toronto Raptors — Current: 66/1 | Preseason: 150/1
Washington Wizards — Current: 150/1 | Preseason: 100/1
Atlanta Hawks — Current: 250/1 | Preseason: 150/1
Charlotte Bobcats — Current: 250/1 | Preseason: 500/1
I never thought the LA Clippers would win the Western Conference. I thought the Clippers would end up being seeded somewhere between #3 and #6 in the ultra competitive West, but I thought they would be peaking in the playoffs and would be a very dangerous team in deal with. I became very bullish on the Clippers as soon as they hired Doc Rivers to be their Head Coach. I thought the Clippers were pretty good before they hired Rivers, but that his addition significantly enhanced their chances because his proven ability to win a championship, which he did with the Boston Celtics. However, I also thought it would take at least a full season for the Clippers to fully adjust to and embrace Doc Rivers’ coaching principles, as well as adjust to new players that were added to the team in the offseason and during the course of the regular season. I
The Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers were clearly the best two teams in the East going into the season and they essentially lived up to expectations. The Pacers actually exceeded the expectations of many when they amassed the best regular season record in the East and edged out the Heat for the number #1 seed in that conference. However, even with home court advantage I don’t think the Pacers will be able to defeat the Heat in a seven game series. Despite finishing with the best record in the East the Pacers looked vulnerable going down the stretch, losing key games, and barely hanging on to win the East. The Heat weren’t quite as dominant has they have looked in the past two seasons. The wear and tear of playing many extra playoff games over the past two seasons appears to be taking a toll on Miami, but they haven’t lost any key players to significant injury and I think when the Heat really turn it on they can handle any team in the Eastern Conference. Brooklyn beat Miami four times in the regular season and Chicago has proven to be unexpectedly tough, despite the mid season loss of star PG Derrick Rose. But again, I just don’t think either one of teams, or any others in the East will be able to unseat the Heat if they should meet in the playoffs because Miami’s intensity will be elevated.
I expect the Western Conference playoffs to be a total dogfight. Yes, I’ve already predicted that the Clippers will emerge victorious, but I won’t be shocked at all San Antonio or Oklahoma City or if even Houston wins the Western Conference. Heck, I can’t totally rule out the Portland Trailblazers. This entire conference is loaded with very talented teams and there is not a lot separating the top 4 or 5 teams. If any of these teams lose a key player in the playoffs it could totally upset their chances. I would included Golden State as a possible contender, but recently lost starting center Andrew Bogut to injury, and I think that puts the Warriors at significant disadvantage to the Clippers.
When I originally posted my tweet predicting that the Clippers would meet the Heat in the Finals I honestly thought that Heat would win that series and threepeat as NBA champions. Now I’m not so sure. If indeed the Clippers get past the OKC Thunder and the SA Spurs I think they can beat the Miami Heat this year. With Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan the Clippers are one of the few teams that have stars that can match Miami’s vaunted Big Three. The mid season additions of Big Baby Davis, Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu help bolster a bench that I think is deeper and stronger than Miami’s. Doc Rivers, as I mentioned earlier, has a championship pedigree and is exactly the kind of coach that can guide the Clippers to a championship in my opinion.
If the Oklahoma City Thunder defeat the Los Angeles Clippers in the 2nd round I think the Thunder will advance to the Finals and defeat the Heat. The Thunder, with MVP favorite Kevin Durant and All Star guard Russell Westbrook, is another team that has elite stars that can match up well with the Heat’s stars. Moreover, the Thunder, like the Clippers, have a deep bench and I think that would give them an advantage over the Heat.
What about the Spurs, the team with the best record in the league? Well, they are obviously very good too. Hard to pick against any team with their talent and coached by someone as good as Gregg Popovich, who is easily one of the best coaches of the last 20 years. Frankly, I’m not sure the the Spurs will able to keep up with the OKC Thunder or the Clippers in the latter stages of playoffs. The Spurs primary stars are all well over 30 yrs old and I think that may put them at a disadvantage. We’ll see. I may be totally wrong about that, but I think the Clippers or Thunder will prevail in the West and ultimately be crowned as the new NBA champions.
I will post my thoughts as the playoffs progress from round to round. We’ll see, I may have to revise my picks by the time the Finals roll around, but until I’m proven wrong I’m sticking with the Clippers.