2021 NBA Conference Finals: The Passing of Torches

By Saransh Sharma, Nikhil Pradeep, & Anish Dhondi

*NOTE: Western Conference Finals Predictions were made BEFORE Game 1 on Sunday, June 20th

Devin Booker, Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and Trae Young. Those are the 4 superstars leading our current Conference Finals teams, and one of these young talents is going to get themselves their 1st ring. To see guys like Booker and Young be able to compete for a championship at such an early stage in their careers, and for guys like Paul George and Giannis, also young but with more experience under their belts, to go this far, is astonishing, and something many of us did not expect coming into this season. Put all the narratives about injuries, COVID, etc. aside, and let us appreciate the passing of torches. There is a chance for a new champion to be crowned after years of waiting (only the Bucks have won a championship of these 4 teams), and a glimpse into the future of the NBA.

Saransh’s Predictions

  • Western Conference Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

The Phoenix Suns seemed like they were going to have a good season for the first time in Devin Booker’s career after last year’s 8-0 bubble run, and then they acquired Chris Paul to make themselves even more dangerous. While many believed they were too young to be contenders, they were a dark-horse contender. While people can debate all they want about the health of the Lakers and Nuggets, the Suns were not fully healthy either in these Playoffs, much like every other team.

The Clippers came into this season as major contenders and after going down 0-2 in both of their Playoff series so far and losing Kawhi Leonard due to a knee injury, there are concerns, but this team has persevered and they are in the Western Conference Finals for the 1st time in franchise history.

Both teams come into this series without a star player of theirs, but both teams also come in with one of their two star players, as the Suns have Devin Booker, and the Clippers have Paul George. Booker has been nothing short of superb, showing he is among the best-of-the-best as a scorer, and an underrated playmaker. George has bounced back and finally lived up to his ‘Playoff P’ moniker after years of disappointment in the Playoffs. Both teams are very deep and have made several adjustments to their rotations and gameplans to get to this stage, but at the end of the day, while the Suns can manage without CP3, the Clippers cannot manage without Kawhi, whose status is too uncertain right now. The Clippers will keep it close, but their incredible season will come to an end here. Suns in 6.

  • Eastern Conference Finals: #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

What is crazier than the deep run in these Playoffs by the Suns has to be that of the Atlanta Hawks. A team that many viewed as an improving yet non-Playoff team has now shocked the world as the 5-seed in the East. They have overcome two of the best teams in the East, and two of the best defenses in the East in the Knicks and 76ers. Trae Young has ascended himself into one of the best playmakers, scorers, and leaders in the NBA, and is surrounded by one of the deepest and most exciting supporting casts in the NBA.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee has been on a mission, getting revenge against Miami in the First Round, and then eliminating the title-favorite Nets in the Conference Semifinals in a thrilling 7-game series (yes, the Nets were injured, but they were still heavy favorites). Giannis Antetokounmpo has also silenced all of his doubters who said he could not be an elite Playoff performer and leader. 

This series comes down to coaching, star power, and depth. Milwaukee has Mike Budenholzer, who despite this deep Playoff run the Bucks are on, is a terrible coach who got bailed out by his star players coming out and performing. Atlanta has Nate McMillan, who despite his struggles in Indiana has proven that those struggles were not on him but more on that roster that he had to work with, as in Atlanta he is proving he can win and adjust. Advantage: Atlanta. 

As for the star power, Atlanta has just Trae Young, and as good as the Hawks’ supporting cast is, you never know from whom or when you will get big production. Milwaukee, however, has Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday, who all can perform at a high level and get big buckets. Advantage: Milwaukee.

Now, the depth. As said previously, you never know from whom or when you will get big production from the supporting cast, but the supporting cast consistently shows up, and it is everyone, from John Collins and Clint Capela in the paint to Bogdan Bogdanovic, Danilo Gallinari, and Kevin Huerter on the perimeter, not just one guy. That depth is something Milwaukee cannot match. Advantage: Atlanta.

Despite the heavy star power advantage, Trae Young proved that even when he has bad shooting nights, he is tough to stop with his playmaking, and with Atlanta having even heavier advantages in coaching and depth, I have them continuing their Cinderella run. Hawks in 7.

Nikhil’s Predictions

  • Western Conference Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

The Phoenix Suns have looked dominant over the last few weeks, pretty much dismantling the Denver Nuggets in 4 games, and having their way on offense. The team has risen to pretty much any task expected of them, and even some that most experts around the league didn’t expect either. Devin Booker has solidified himself as a bonafide All-NBA player, and someone that has outgrown his stardom in Phoenix and is now performing brilliantly at the national level. Chris Paul has asserted his veteran savvy from day one within the Suns organization, and it can be easily stated that his contributions at point guard are one of the driving reasons why this team has propelled itself forward so well. Couple this with solid surrounding cast performances from Deandre Ayton, Jae Crowder, and Mikal Bridges, and you have an insanely robust team, one that in all honesty, is completely shattering my previous predictions and is very hard to bet against at this point in the season.



On the other side of this matchup, we have the bruised and battered Los Angeles Clippers, who have had to WORK their way to the franchise’s first-ever conference final appearance. Having had to struggle to win in seven games against both the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz, this team has taken a beating just to be where they are, and there is no question that it will take a toll on them continuing onwards, especially given the potentially season-ending injury to their best player Kawhi Leonard. Immense pressure and hopes now rely on the shoulders of Paul George, who needs to regain the All-Star performances of his Pacers past to continue in these wild playoffs. But what is arguably more important is the play of the surrounding cast, which on paper looks better than that of the Suns. The Clippers need big performances from Reggie Jackson, Rajon Rondo, Pat Beverley, and desperately need the shooting of Marcus Morris and Nic Batum, otherwise, their season will end in the usual disappointment that fans are used to.

Given the momentum the Suns carry into this matchup, it’s hard to bet against them. Both teams carry injuries to their respective star players, however, Chris Paul is expected back soon due to the nature of his outage (Covid protocols). Kawhi Leonard looks to be out for a longer duration, and thus leaves the Clippers much more vulnerable in my eyes. The emergence of a very solid supporting cast around Devin Booker in Phoenix is enough for me to give them the edge in this series, and in all honesty, I don’t see the Clippers being able to overcome the loss of their workhorse to put up a decent fight. Suns in 6.

  • Eastern Conference Finals: #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

Now, this is by far the most unexpected matchup anyone could have expected in the Eastern Conference. Sure, the Bucks are good and have the pieces to win, but the Hawks are a complete surprise and one that is by all means welcome. Looking at both teams’ path to the conference finals up until this point, we see that both have defied some sort of odds just to be here, however it must be noted that Atlanta’s upsets carry a lot more weight and meaning given their comparatively lesser expectations and roster. Milwaukee, having just knocked off the presumed favorite Brooklyn Nets, are all in on Giannis Antetokounmpo and seem to have finally put it together and make a deep playoff push. The acquisition of PJ Tucker proved huge in their series against the Nets, and although Kevin Durant still put up otherworldly numbers, the fact that the Bucks won the series still serves as a testament to his quality of play. Jrue Holiday and Khris Middleton have proved to be a very solid backcourt pairing, and although they underperformed most of Game 7 against Brooklyn, they showed up when it mattered and allowed some pressure to be taken off Giannis. Some argument will be made about the Nets’ injury woes and lack of bench production, but in the end, a win is a win, and it is no easy feat to pull that off against a blazing-hot Kevin Durant.

Compare this to the Atlanta Hawks, and the differences are staggering. The Hawks looked the more dominant side against the New York Knicks, but their series win against the 76ers was more so to the lack of production from Philadelphia rather than the production of Atlanta. The media is one big wrecking ball aimed at Ben Simmons’ career as of late, and for good reason, he is one of the reasons (along with injuries) that the Sixers lost this series. Still, Trae Young is proving to be an up-and-coming superstar in this league, and his ability to make shots and create chances for his teammates is starting to become a genuine problem for offenses to figure out. The rest of the team shows up too, and most notably when Young has off-shooting nights. However, this team is too unproven and to be frank, too small to match up against the Bucks. Young is a liability on defense, but they more or less got away with it due to the horrible play of Simmons during the 76ers series. However, even when not directly matched up against Antetokounmpo defensively, the Bucks offense is so potent to where his defense is bound to cause problems. And when the Hawks are on offense, they will be met by a stagnant defense, one that is arguably better than the 76ers, and most notably something Trae Young can’t dribble out of. I see this matchup ending rather quickly, Bucks in 5.

Anish’s Predictions

  • Western Conference Finals: #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

This series between the Suns and Clippers is an interesting one because there are some things to consider. Suns Guard Chris Paul is currently out on health and safety protocols, while Clippers Forward Kawhi Leonard is out with a knee injury. Both of these players are considered by many as the best players on their respective teams. Their health is crucial for whether or not their team can advance to the NBA Finals. Due to these main guys being out, I believe this series will come down to Booker vs. George on whoever performs better. I give the edge to Booker as he has been nothing short of spectacular in these playoffs. However, credit is due to Playoff P as he reclaimed his confidence in the playoffs following last year’s shutdown and has been putting up good numbers. Now, when it comes to the teams as a whole (not considering the All-Stars), the Suns have a better system in which their players work very well together. DeAndre Ayton has been a great big man in the playoffs so far, and the rest of their roster with Crowder and Bridges gives the Suns great support. 

The Clippers do have a good roster, but they are far less consistent. The emergence of the sophomore Terrance Mann who dropped 39 points in the Clippers’ Game 6 against Utah was a huge factor for them making it to the WCF. The Clippers have guys like Mann and Reggie Jackson who can get hot quickly but without these bursts of scoring the team can fall behind as the rest of the roster is too inconsistent scoring-wise. Terrance Mann and Reggie Jackson will not put up big numbers every night, so the Clippers are going to have to spread their scoring out better like the Suns. Assuming that CP3 and Kawhi will both come back for Game 3, my prediction is Suns in 6.

  • Eastern Conference Finals: #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks

Now, this matchup is intriguing as both teams we see here dramatically upset their opponents. The Bucks drew the Nets out to Game 7 in an OT thrilling game where Kevin Durant’s big scoring night was not enough to defeat them. The Hawks also took the Sixers to Game 7, in which Trae Young did not even have a very efficient night, but Kevin Huerter dropped 27 points, and the Sixers fell to pieces as all fingers pointed to Ben Simmons unwillingness to be aggressive in crunch time. Now both these teams come off a Game 7 pulling off an upset, so momentum-wise, no one has the advantage. One crucial thing about this series that makes my decision is Jrue Holiday’s defense. 

So far, Trae Young has been putting up 30 and 10 in these playoffs like it is nothing. First defeating the Wizards, no good perimeter defenders, then they defeated the Sixers, they ran through multiple rotations trying to guard him, including Ben Simmons, but it failed. Now all eyes go on Jrue Holiday to guard Trae Young. Jrue Holiday is an elite defender, and in the last possession of Game 7 against the Nets, he forced an airball by Kevin Durant, a much taller player. With Trae Young’s usage so high, being able to even slow him down a little will disrupt Atlanta’s offense and change the outcome of the game. I am not saying Trae Young will be clamped but I believe he will get his share of points and assists as usual, but the Milwaukee defense will throw him off. Giannis’ drives will be limited by Capela’s inside presence, so Middleton and Holiday offensively will have to be the X-Factors. This Bucks team has multiple good scorers, while this Hawks team is led by one bonafide scorer in Trae Young and a good roster as a whole around him. The Hawks dominate in the depth category so it comes down to the All-Stars in Giannis, Middleton, and Holiday to score when it matters. Trae Young’s pick and roll game will be hard to stop and he will get his points which is why I have this series going to 7. Had Jrue Holiday not been on this team, I would have Atlanta winning. However, with him guarding Trae Young, my prediction stands at another very close series in Bucks in 7.

2021 NBA Western Conference Semifinals Preview

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

The Utah Jazz breezed through Round 1 as the #1-seed in the Western Conference as expected, as they downed the very exciting and young Memphis Grizzlies team in 5 games. The Phoenix Suns pulled off a historic First Round victory over LeBron & the Los Angeles Lakers, albeit injuries and whatnot, have to give credit where credit is due. The Denver Nuggets overcame Damian Lillard’s insane series to beat Portland in 6 games. The Los Angeles Clippers, after falling 0-2 down and later having their backs against the walls down 2-3 going to Dallas, pulled off the series win in 7 games and overcame the transcendent brilliance from Luka Doncic. With no LeBron James to lead the way in his conference, and the first Finals set to come without him or Stephen Curry since 2010, the NBA is seeing a new opportunity in 2021, a glimpse of what the future without the NBA’s two best players currently, could look like. Here are our predictions for the Western Conference Semifinals:

Saransh’s Predictions

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

The Clippers finally look like the team we have been waiting for them to be. Since last season, this team has been very underwhelming compared to their high expectations, which, with players like Kawhi Leonard and Paul George on your roster, it makes sense. This season seemed to be even worse than last, as they were staring down a First Round exit twice, but through some adjustments from Head Coach Tyronn Lue and incredible play from Kawhi and PG, the Clippers prevailed in 7 games. 

Utah, on the other hand, shut doubters up after dominating the Grizzlies in the First Round, showing their variety as a team, whether it be with their elite 3-point shooting, their stifling defense, or their incredible depth. Donovan Mitchell has been getting foreshadowed throughout these Playoffs, as people are constantly talking about Trae Young, Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker being the rising superstars in the NBA, but Mitchell has to be in that conversation. Donovan Mitchell was exquisite against Memphis, and he will cause major problems for the Clippers and got consistent help from Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, and Rudy Gobert on both ends of the floor once he returned to action in Game 2. It was easy for the Clippers to beat the Mavericks due to Luka not having much help offensively despite his great playmaking, and yet they still struggled to finish off LAC in 7 games. Utah will be a whole different team compared to the Clippers, as Utah is the deepest team in the NBA this season. Jazz in 6.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Denver Nuggets

It took 18 seasons, at 36 years of age, for LeBron James to be eliminated in the First Round of the NBA Playoffs. It took 10 Playoff appearances in the past 11 seasons for LeBron to be halted from making the NBA Finals. That is how gritty this Suns team is, and all credit to them. Devin Booker showed he is a superstar in this league and will continue to be for years to come, Chris Paul showed his value even while playing through injury (let us not take away too much from Booker, however. He is the biggest reason they got past the Lakers, not Paul, as many think), and the rest of this young core of players, along with Head Coach Monty Williams, showed why they are a force to be reckoned with. Denver, without Jamal Murray, and a rather limited rotation, got past Portland in 6 games, and Nikola Jokic showed that he is the best Center in the NBA. This Suns team now comes into this series being the favorites and with even higher expectations. This series seems to be in their favor on paper, but despite being shorthanded, 

DeAndre Ayton, a big part of the Suns’ series win, struggled for the most part against Anthony Davis, and it does not get easier against Jokic. Not only will he have to guard Jokic in the post and on the perimeter, but he may need to have a larger scoring role to keep up with Jokic and the high-scoring Nuggets, and he has little to no chance at that. Denver presents the coaching advantage, as well as the scoring option advantages, and the CP3 injury and his erratic play at the moment have me favoring Denver. Worrying about Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris, Austin Rivers, and Facu Campazzo all as consistent scoring options, and having to stop the selfless play and ball movement of this team is much different from what the Suns saw against the Lakers. For this young team, it could prove to be too much. Nuggets in 6. 

Anish’s Predictions

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

After the Clippers barely slip away and make it past the Mavericks in Game 7 despite Luka’s heroics, they will now be facing the best regular-season team in the league. The Jazz beat the Grizzlies easily, and we did not expect anything less, but how they will stack up against a good team like the Clippers will be interesting. People underrate the Jazz despite having the best record in the league because they do not have any flashy, big-name superstars. This team is led by Donovan Mitchell offensively and Rudy Gobert defensively. But what makes this team dangerous is not their star power, but their ability for any given player to score 10+ points a night. This makes it harder for opposing defenses to defend because this team does not rely on one superstar. However, when it gets down to it, Donovan Mitchell can step up to take that role. The Jazz are a very well-constructed team with one of the best defenses intimidating offenses with Gobert right in the middle of it. Even with all this, the Clippers have Kawhi Leonard who will not go down without a fight. Kawhi will get his points but I think this series is defined by who performs better between Donovan Mitchell and Paul George. Based on the recent series’, I do not have full confidence in Paul George’s playoff performances and will trust Mitchell to perform better. The series will be close but I believe the Jazz will come up top because of their depth and defense in which the Clippers rely on a big performance from Kawhi to win. This game will stretch out to a Game 7 but the well-rested Jazz team will be able to come out on top while the Clippers run out of energy after fighting past the Mavericks just recently. Jazz in 7.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Denver Nuggets

Phoenix has been fantastic in these playoffs led by Devin Booker and defeated the injury-ridden Lakers knocking LeBron out of the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. This Suns team will be tough to beat and matchup up against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets will be good. For the Nuggets vs. Blazers series, the Nuggets won primarily because Portland had no one on the floor who could guard Jokic without getting into foul trouble, thanks to Jusuf Nurkic. I believe Jokic will still get his 30 points a night because he is the league’s MVP. However, the Suns will be able to contain him late game much better having Ayton and can even limit MPJ with Crowder’s defense. In the end, the Suns’ offense is just too hard to stop as Devin Booker has been cooking, and if the Nuggets try to completely trap him after the first couple of games as they did to Dame, the Suns have much better support to step up and take this series. Chris Paul looks healthy again and DeAndre Ayton has been the best big man in the Lakers series so this team can be scary even aside from Booker. The Nuggets will put up a fight and even without Jamal Murray the bench players have stepped up, but in the end, the Suns are the better team and have a good shot at going to the NBA Finals. Suns in 6.

Nikhil’s Predictions

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #4 Los Angeles Clippers

I think it is time we give the Jazz the respect this team deserves. Now that LeBron James and the Lakers are out of the conversation, the entire Western Conference opens up hugely for any team to take the now vacant throne. The Utah Jazz have 3 All-Stars on their roster and a deep bench that allows them to stick with pretty much any team they want. And in their last series with the Grizzlies, they handily took care of business after an off-color performance in Game 1, the only game they conceded in the series. Donovan Mitchell has fully grown into his role as a leader on this team, Rudy Gobert is a defensive force, and Mike Conley provides veteran savvy. To top it all off, the team still has 6th Man of the Year nominee Joe Ingles and 6th Man of the Year winner Jordan Clarkson. Now, all that being said, it is NOT going to be easy. The Clippers are an established team that we know the limits and potentials of, and it is very clear that Kawhi Leanord is the key to their success. If he gets shut down or at the very least slowed down during each game in the series, there is immense room for failure, given the rest of the team’s inability to make up for lack of offensive production. You have to give credit to Utah for their counter-offensive proficiency. Paul George is the hit-or-miss factor in this series as well, and him being either All-Star PG13 or Playoff P impacts the Clippers’ chances in this series. It is also worth keeping in mind that the organization barely beat the Dallas Mavericks in 7 games to a team that only had Luka Doncic doing all of the scoring for them. When matched up against a much better all-around team, I do not see the Clippers breaking their streak of disappointing finishes to seasons, and I predict the Utah Jazz moving on. Jazz in 7.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #3 Denver Nuggets

This matchup is a rather odd one because there is no LeBron or Steph to catch the media’s eye. For Phoenix, it is clear that Devin Booker is the key piece to the puzzle, and stopping him slows down the entire Suns’ offense. But that is much easier said than done, as was proven in their 6-game series win versus the Los Angeles Lakers. Couple this with the mastermind that is Chris Paul, even with an apparent shoulder injury, and you get a team that has the pieces to contend. The issue lies outside of those two players. Deandre Ayton is a force near the basket at both ends, but he is not the Rudy Gobert-type of dominant the Suns may require. Jae Crowder is streaky and cannot be depended on for a bucket at crucial points in games. The rest of the supporting cast is young and unproven, but still, they do have the skills necessary to stick with it and stay in games as they did pretty much all season. On the flip side, Denver looks like a more complete team, even with the loss of Jamal Murray. Nikola Jokic has picked up the slack and added to his already crazy MVP case, and the rest of the team is stepping up. The mid-season addition of Aaron Gordon has proven very useful, as he provides spacing as well as energy to a now lacking Denver attack (again due to Jamal Murray’s injury). Michael Porter Jr. is very much living up to his draft hype, providing that spark whenever he is in the game. Monte Morris is putting up career numbers when they matter most, and Austin Rivers has proven to be a pivotal late-season signing as well. Denver looks like what Phoenix can be with a couple more free-agent signings and trades. The Suns are too unproven and young for me to pick them winning this series, and for that reason, I have the Nuggets in 6.

2021 NBA Playoff Predictions: Opening Round

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

In the first full NBA season played in the Coronavirus pandemic, the NBA yet again outdid themselves with how they handled it and how they kept everyone safe. Adam Silver continues to show that he is an innovator off-the-court, as well as on, adding in a Play-In Tournament for the Playoffs, which proved to bring some of the most entertaining basketball we have seen in years. With the Play-In Tournament now at a close and the Playoffs fully set, here are our predictions for the Opening Round of the NBA Playoffs:

Saransh’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-0

What an epic Play-In Game we saw between the Grizzlies and Warriors, and what an incredible win it was for this young Grizzlies team. The issue is that this team is far too young and inexperienced (youngest team by average player age in the last 10 postseasons) to handle the Jazz, who have tons of experience and are as elite as they come defensively. 

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Mavericks win series 4-3

The Mavericks and Clippers series is the one series that should go to 7 games in the Opening Round of the Western Conference Playoffs. Both teams are very stout defensively and can put up points at rapid-fire paces, but what separates the two teams is the big man play, and Kristaps Porzingis, while he has had durability issues this season, has quietly averaged 20.1 PPG and 8.9 RPG. This production will be difficult for the Clippers to match, and coupled with Luka being unfazed by any sort of defensive pressure and the role players of the Mavericks always finding a way to contribute, they take it in 7.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers win series 4-2

If Denver had Jamal Murray, this would be much more of a ‘toss-up’ series but the inconsistencies of Nikola Jokic’s supporting cast this season, will ultimately be what sends Denver home, as matching Dame, CJ, and Melo will be too much for Denver. Jokic will show why he is the MVP (or at least why he is an MVP finalist), but the Blazers will show to be the better team this time around.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-1

The Suns have had a magical season, and this young team has been great, led by the ageless wonder, Chris Paul, but the Lakers, who have not been healthy most of this season, are beginning to get back to full strength, and that will be too much for this young Suns squad to handle. No one can guard LeBron James or Anthony Davis, and the inexperience of everyone on Phoenix outside of Chris Paul will be too much to overcome.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-2

Embiid and Simmons vs. Westbrook and Beal, could we ask for a more appealing matchup? In what should be a very entertaining star player battle, we see a big gap in the talent and depth of both teams, and with no one to guard Joel Embiid, the Wizards will not have a chance at the upset. They can experiment with giving Daniel Gafford more minutes, but even his freakish ability to block shots will not be enough to stop Embiid. The stars of Washington should get a game or two and slow down Ben Simmons, but slowing Embiid down and match the role players’ contributions will be the downfall for Washington.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Hawks win series 4-3

What a season for the Knicks it has been. A team built for a complete rebuild has suddenly turned into the best defensive team in the NBA and one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NBA thanks for Coach of the Year finalist Tom Thibodeau. Players like RJ Barrett, Julius Randle, and Derrick Rose have also come into their own and found their strides once again and have helped this Knicks team get to where they are today. The Hawks also had a magical season led by Head Coach Nate McMillan, who was hired midseason and has turned a team that had an awful season start into a strong playoff team, finishing the season with a 27-11 record. The concern with McMillan is his Playoff record as a coach, as he is 17-36 in his career, and 3-16 with the Pacers, his last head coaching job. But the youth of this team, the innate ability to score at ease, and the defensive anchor by Clint Capela has helped McMillan create a gameplan that works night after night to help this team succeed. This series will be more of a defensive battle than most expect, as I expect Capela to lockdown Julius Randle, and I expect the supporting cast around Trae Young to produce while he is slowed down by the elite Knicks defense. All in all, the Knicks do not have enough offense to keep up with Atlanta, but this series is as much of a toss-up as you can have.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Heat win series 4-3

Well, well, well, here we go again, yet another year where Miami underperforms and everyone sleeps on them. Jrue Holiday has been an incredible upgrade from Eric Bledsoe for Milwaukee, Khris Middleton has improved his game a ton, and Giannis had another MVP-caliber season, yet everyone seems to forget how great Miami is at stopping him. Giannis averaged just 16.7 PPG and 9.3 RPG against them this season and forced players like Middleton and Holiday to step up and take the scoring helm in the regular season, but the Playoffs are a different animal, and if Milwaukee wants any chance to win this series and avoid last year’s embarrassment, they need Giannis to be the MVP-caliber player he has played like for so many seasons. Not to mention, Milwaukee still has no answer for Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Miami has also seen their 3-point shooting catch fire late season, and that was what ultimately drove the Bucks to their downfall in last year’s series. Miami gets the upset again.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

Boston, congratulations on making it to the Playoffs via the Play-In Tournament, but Jayson Tatum is not dropping 50 points every night, no matter how inconsistent the Nets’ defense may be. Not to mention, a healthy Nets’ Big 3 and Blake Griffin is a lot to ask a team to defend.

Nikhil’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-0

The Utah Jazz have proven themselves as a quality basketball organization with high hopes for the present and future this season, and by that reasoning, they are fit to take on any team when fully healthy. This team has one of the deepest rosters in the league, and the likes of Mike Conley, Donovan Mitchell, Rudy Gobert, and Jordan Clarkson off the bench will prove tough to handle. On the flip side, the Grizzlies are too thin and inexperienced to contend with the red-hot Jazz. Unless they can put together multiple performances akin to that shown against the Golden State Warriors, I do not see them posing any challenge to the much more complete team in the Utah Jazz.

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers win series 4-3

The Clippers and Mavericks matchup is intriguing because both teams have so much offensive firepower, that every game played in this series has the potential to be a shootout. The Clippers are the more established and deeper team, which is why I give them the nod. The likes of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will be tested heavily by Luka Doncic and company. An important note: Rajon Rondo has been the key to the Clippers’ recent success, and if he steps up and provides that veteran savvy and knowledge, it will be hard for the relatively younger Mavs roster to keep up. Again, however, Doncic manages to find the most spectacular ways to keep himself and his team in contention, so expect this series to be a close-fought battle.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Nuggets win series 4-2

The Nuggets and Trail Blazers present a similar matchup as the Clippers-Mavs one. However, I would say there is a bit more of a defensive element for both teams. The Nuggets are down on offensive power with the injury to Jamal Murray, but MVP candidate Nikola Jokic has rallied the team, and they seem to be carrying lots of momentum into the playoffs. The Blazers have had a rocky last couple of games but managed to get enough victories to avoid the Play-In tournament. Even without Jamal Murray, the Nuggets seem to have so much offensive proficiency solely from Jokic’s MVP caliber play, and I do not see the Blazers being able to match that, even with Damian Lillard in the team.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-2

Finally, the strangest matchup in this slate, the Suns and Lakers. Phoenix has been the surprise team this year by a large margin, and it can all be attributed to the leadership of Chris Paul. The team itself is surprisingly young outside of the point god, however they manage to play like a veteran squad that has been deep in the playoffs before. That being said, they are playing LeBron James, and if history has taught us well, it is that you almost never bet against LeBron James. The only reason why the Lakers will not sweep the Suns here is because of their recent game against the Warriors, where they showed that they are vulnerable to a game-breaking player. Devin Booker of the Suns is not at that level yet, but I do seeing him posing a problem enough to where they might steal two games from the Lakers.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-2

The Washington Wizards have defied all odds from the beginning of their season to make it to the 8-seed in the playoffs, and the consensus around the league is that they are one of the most dangerous teams in this league. That being said, I find it hard for them to contend with the 76ers, who have been the epitome of excellence for most of this season. Doc Rivers in his first year with the team has taken them to the top of the Eastern Conference, and MVP caliber performances from Joel Embiid, defensive clinics from Ben Simmons, and a stellar supporting cast in the rest of the roster quite simply are too much for the Wizards to handle. Unless Russell Westbrook and Bradley Beal drop insane performances for every game in the series (which is somewhat possible), I see them only taking two games of this series and losing to the 76ers.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Knicks win series 4-3

The New York Knicks are back and better than ever, and the play of Julius Randle, Derrick Rose, and the old but gold coaching from Tom Thibodeau has paid off tremendously. On the other side of this matchup, the Atlanta Hawks have also come back from adversity, growing through a coaching change in the middle of the season and finding their form finely as well. Both teams are riding a lot of momentum into this series, and in my opinion, the winner will be decided by who plays better defense. Both teams are offensively proven, but the Knicks, under defensive guru Tom Thibodeau, seem to be better conditioned to come up with key stops down the stretch. It will be close, but the better all-around defensive structure of the New York Knicks team will be the deciding factor and send them through to the next round of the playoffs.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Bucks win series 4-2

The Miami Heat have more or less stayed the same from their Cinderella story run to the championship last year, and that sort of plays to their disadvantage. Jimmy Butler and co. are by no means a pushover, but if you look at the rest of the conference, nearly every team in contention has gotten better and more suited to take the crown this year. The Bucks are the prime example of this, having added Jrue Holiday and PJ Tucker to the already explosive talent that is Giannis Antetokounmpo. As defensively sound Bam Adebayo is, there simply is not enough within the Miami roster to hold the offense of the Bucks down for a 7-game series. Given their expanded roster, the floor becomes stretched, and they become that much tougher to defend. I have the Bucks progressing to the next round in 6 games.

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

Finally, the team that everyone has as their favorite, the Brooklyn Nets. Oddly enough, we have not seen this team run at full capacity very much this season, with KD, Kyrie, and Harden all missing time for large chunks of the season for a variety of different reasons. However, they all should be back for the playoffs and will be back during the series’ that matter most. If we are being honest, this one does not entail that. The Celtics have been on the downward trend since losing Jaylen Brown to a wrist injury, and while they handily beat the Wizards to claim the 7-seed, a team of this caliber should not be down in the Play-In tournament in the first place. Jayson Tatum simply cannot drop 50 points in every game in this series as he did against the Wizards, and when you have 3 of the biggest stars on the opposite side of the ball along with an established sub-star in Blake Griffin, it is almost certain that the Celtics make a quick exit.

Anish’s Predictions:

Western Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Utah Jazz vs. #8 Memphis Grizzlies: Jazz win series 4-1

Now no one expected this Grizzlies team to even be in the playoffs. Everyone was talking about a Warriors Jazz series and a potential upset there. Not to be rude or discredit any of these team’s success, but this is the most irrelevant series in the playoffs. It probably has to do with both team’s lack of star power and being small market teams. The Jazz took first seed this year yet not a single person has them winning the championship. The Jazz will take this series and I say Jazz in 5 because I believe the Grizzlies can steal a game if Ja Morant goes off again or if Donovan Mitchell is not 100% healthy.

  • #4 Los Angeles Clippers vs. #5 Dallas Mavericks: Clippers win series 4-2

The Mavericks vs Clippers seems to be a repeat matchup of last year’s first round. That in which the Clippers won in 6 games. In my opinion, I see a repeat of that this year. I do not feel like the Mavericks have improved significantly in any way and Porzingis just is not using his talents like he should get them to the next level. Kawhi will take over this series, but it will come down to how Pual George plays to determine how many games it takes for the Clippers to win, so I say Clippers in 6.

  • #3 Denver Nuggets vs. #6 Portland Trail Blazers: Trail Blazers win series 4-2

Denver vs. Portland is a matchup that also occurred in 2019 in which Portland made their biggest playoff run in recent history to the WCF. The matchup was very close, in which the Blazers won in 7 games. That said, the Blazers feel like the favorites to win this series. Not only are the Nuggets missing their starting point guard in Jamal Murray, but the Blazers now have Jusuf Nurkic, who is known to be a much better defender than Enes Kanter. In 2019 the Blazers were able to defeat the Nuggets without Kanter so Nurkic will make it easier. Along with the Nuggets improving with Aaron Gordon and the emergence of Campazzo and MPJ, the Blazers also have new pieces in Robert Covington, Norman Powell, and Derrick Jones Jr., all of whom will be able to match with Denver. Portland’s backcourt is the strong suit of their team, and Denver missing Jamal Murray takes a huge hit which gives me the Blazers in 6.

  • #2 Phoenix Suns vs. #7 Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers win series 4-3

I feel bad for the Suns here. When looking at this, you would assume the Suns are favorites because of their high seed, but having LeBron James on the opposing roster changes the whole game. LeBron has proven to never count his team out, as he has made the NBA Finals countless times with different rosters, and with Anthony Davis alongside him, and being the defending champions, they will not go down easy. The veteran leadership of CP3 will push this series out to be very close but in the end, the Suns do not have anyone who can guard LeBron or Anthony Davis and will fall to the Lakers in 7.

Eastern Conference Opening Round:

  • #1 Philadelphia 76ers vs. #8 Washington Wizards: Sixers win series 4-1

The Sixers have the clear edge here, as Washington was barely able to make the playoffs. They had to go on an incredible 17-6 run to end the season after starting 17-32. The Wizards have no one who can contain Joel Embiid as they rotate through 2-3 centers depending on matchups. The Sixers will dominate the game with not only their offense but their good defense too, which the Wizards lack. I give the Wizards one game because I can easily see Beal and Westbrook going off with crazy stats, the scoring running up to near 130s, and the Wizards winning a close game. But that type of play is not sustainable. Give me the Sixers in 5 games.

  • #4 New York Knicks vs. #5 Atlanta Hawks: Knicks win series 4-3

The Knicks vs Hawks is not what you would expect to see in the NBA Playoffs, especially given these team’s recent history. The Hawks started the season not so great, and then Nate McMillan took over and coached them to a 27-11 record. On the other hand, Tom Thibodeau coached the Knicks to make the playoffs and have one of the best defenses in the league. Both these teams have their stars in Julius Randle and Trae Young so it will be an entertaining series. There is no clear favorite in this series and it will be close, but with the Knicks’ defense, I give them the slight edge and say Knicks in 7.

  • #3 Milwaukee Bucks vs. #6 Miami Heat: Bucks win series 4-3

The Bucks vs. Heat series will be interesting because the Heat is one of the few teams able to contain Giannis, especially in the playoffs. Last season when the Heat made its incredible trip to the NBA Finals, they defeated Giannis and the Bucks in 5 games. One key difference is the Bucks now have Jrue Holiday, an elite defender and scorer. Paired with Middleton and Giannis this team looks even scarier than last season. The Heat on the other hand have been battling injuries and did not make any big leaps this season. They acquired Victor Oladipo, only for him to be out for the season and not play in the playoffs. Although the Heat are good at containing Giannis, the Bucks firepower besides him still outmatch the Heat, and it will be too much for Jimmy Butler and the Heat this season. I got Bucks in 7. 

  • #2 Brooklyn Nets vs. #7 Boston Celtics: Nets win series 4-0

The Nets vs Celtics series is not going to be close. The Celtics have been dealing with bad injuries all year and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have been carrying them to barely make the playoffs. Now, with Jaylen Brown out for the playoffs, it is all up to Tatum to carry this team. Kemba Walker is too inconsistent to rely on and when it comes to offensive firepower, Jayson Tatum is no match for Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden. For the Celtics to beat the Wizards in their Play-In Game, it took Jayson Tatum having to drop 50 points, that type of offense from Tatum is not consistent, and with the Big 3 of Brooklyn, this series feels over before it even started. If Jaylen Brown was healthy, I would give the Celtics a game or two, but he is not, leading me to pick the Nets in a sweep.

2020 NBA Playoffs Biggest Storylines – Conference Quarterfinals (Post-Game 1s)

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, & Nikhil Pradeep

With the Western Conference play-in now officially completed and the Portland Trail Blazers having won and gotten the 8th-seed, the entire NBA playoffs is set and the Conference Quarterfinals will commence. To see our NBA Playoff Predictions from before the NBA Bubble started, click the link here. We now will dive into the biggest stories to watch going into the start of the playoffs.

Saransh’s Storylines:

How Will Houston Play Without Russell Westbrook?

This entire season, while James Harden has always been the top scorer for this team, Russell Westbrook has been the leader and glue-guy for the team. Westbrook was the one who helped him and Harden get over their differences that they originally had to start the season, he was the one who helped the team get through midseason trade rumors and speculation that OKC won the Russ-CP3 had been rising. When Head Coach Mike D’Antoni wanted to start his small-ball experiment and thus GM Daryl Morey traded starting Center Clint Capela, Russ elevated his game the most. Russ had career-highs in shots per game made and field goal percentage, and overall was a more relaxed and under control player compared to what he was in Oklahoma City. He honestly is now an underrated player (surprising to say), but deserves the most credit of all the players for Houston’s success, especially since small-ball began. 

That being said, after seeing how Harden, along with Eric Gordon and Jeff Green, played yesterday, if they play like this in Game 2 as well, having Westbrook back could have a highly-anticipated series end very quick. Only having an 8-man rotation will be tricky to manage with Westbrook back and also playing big minutes, but it means that playing guys like Gordon and Green more in the series, could be the difference. The series will hinge upon that bench support for Houston, and their health.

Did The Refs Sell The Mavericks And Ruin Their Series Momentum?

The Dallas Mavericks controlled Game 1 on Monday in nearly every facet possible, besides the final score, of course, but the referees had a lot to do with that. The ejection of Kristaps Porzingis, which was due to a slight shove, was probably the softest ejection I have seen in my entire life of watching basketball. If Porzingis got ejected for that, shouldn’t Carmelo Anthony get suspended every time he curses after getting a rebound? There were a few other questionable calls here and there after Porzingis got hurt which halted the momentum of Dallas, but had he not been ejected, the way Porzingis was dominating the paint with his rim protection and rebounding at the time, they would have won the game and taken all that momentum into Game 2 and prolonged this series more than expected. If you are Dallas, you could not have asked for a better start to the series against a heavily-favored Clippers team, but the ridiculous ejection, and final score, left nothing but a cloud of frustration for the team.

Does Brooklyn’s Overachieving Bubble Run Concern Toronto?

Simply put, no. Kevin Durant nor Kyrie Irving is walking into Orlando to suit up and play the defending champions. That being said, the run that the Nets had, including almost knocking Portland out of the playoffs (should have called timeout and drawn a play), and beating teams like the Clippers and Bucks in the process, the Nets showed that they are not here to be messed with despite their extremely shorthanded roster, but the defending champions have been way too good defensively to let Brooklyn get on a roll and shock the world. In Game 1, the Nets cut a 33-point Raptor lead to 9, but the Raptors defense was just too much, and they showed that their roster is simply too much to handle, and that they do not need Kawhi to be as scary of a contender as they are. As much as I would love to see the Nets make the series competitive, Toronto is too much to handle.

Nikhil’s Storylines:

Can The Miami Heat Make Noise In The East?

This Miami Heat team has defied a lot of expectations this season, and having accomplished everything that they have has taken a lot of grit, a lot of grind, and most importantly, a LOT of team chemistry and self-confidence. Everyone, including myself, saw this year as being a lottery pick year for this team. That being said, there are still many limitations going forward though. In order to contend for a championship in this day and age, most teams require at least a superstar tandem (Ex: LeBron & AD, Kawhi and PG, Russ and Harden). The Heat do not have a bonafide duo that they can rely on during crucial moments in a speculative deep playoff run. Yes, Jimmy Butler is a given, but who can be that other piece? Bam Adebayo has proven himself as a worthy candidate, but his game is still raw and he simply isn’t at the level of most superstars in this league, even with his first All-Star appearance. One thing I will say is that Miami manages to find a way. As of this post, they have already gone one game up on the Indiana Pacers, and contributions as a team from Nunn, Herro, Crowder, Robinson etc. can really turn this team into a viable threat in the East, and give powerhouses Toronto, Milwaukee, and Boston a run for their money.

Are The Denver Nuggets a Real Threat In The West?

Everyone seems to be infatuated with the possibility of a Clippers vs. Lakers Western Conference Finals, to the point where the third-seeded Denver Nuggets seem to be completely overlooked. This team is STACKED all things considered. Jokic and Murray comprise a deadly starting line-up, and up and coming players like Michael Porter Jr. and Bol Bol are both surprisingly sturdy in their play as well. Combine this with a perfectly crafted bench unit as well as key role players, and you have a team that could very well take down either one of the two LA teams. What’s even more appealing is that this team is built for the future, and can become a powerhouse in the Western Conference if they simply hold onto their assets they have, and continue to develop the young players they have right now as well. Yes, they might not have the complete answer for LeBron and AD, and may have not figured out the complete puzzle of Kawhi and PG, but this team has the resources necessary to piece it all together. And the best part is that even if they don’t find winning ways now, they can easily find it a few years from now, when the LA teams start to see players past their primes. Watch out for this Nuggets team to shock a lot of people now, and establish themselves for the future.

What’s Wrong With The 76ers?

Philadelphia on paper looks like a very dangerous team, yet in person they just seem lackluster. When you headline a team with 4 prominent figures in Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, and Al Horford, you expect production, and plenty of it. What we see though is a rather uninspired team that is missing something, and no one can really place a finger on it. Couple this with the injury to Ben Simmons, and you get a downward spiral of a situation for Philadelphia, one that puts head coach Brett Brown in the hot seat. Don’t get me wrong, the team is definitely winning games, and are placing themselves well within the provisional playoff picture, but many believe that the team just isn’t built or even inspired enough to contend with the likes of Toronto, Boston, and Milwaukee. Joel Embiid himself has said that he needs to step up for his team, and yes, maybe his lack of production on both ends of the court is somewhat to blame for the team’s woes, but I don’t see it as an end all be all solution. Whatever their issue may be, they need to figure it out soon in order to get past the rather difficult first-round matchup with the Celtics.

Anish’s Storylines: 

Do the Blazers Have a Legitimate Chance To Defeat The Lakers?

After the Game one, upset over the Lakers, the Blazers have the league talking. Everyone knew before the Blazers would be a tough fight for the Lakers in the first round, and after game one they proved them right. The Lakers looks sloppy in their game and despite LeBron’s big triple double the Lakers couldn’t finish the game. The Lakers had issues making free throws in the clutch and Portland capitalized by hitting their shots. However, despite LeBron’s triple double, I feel like there is more left in the tank for King James. The real question is whether LeBron will activate playoff mode this early in the playoffs and completely take over the game or will he continue to dish out the ball and rely on his teammates to hit shots next game. The Lakers did a great job of hammering down in the paint and causing 3 of the Blazers starters to get 5 fouls and be in foul trouble late in the game. The Lakers definitely have the ability to defeat the Blazers on paper; it’s just a matter of chemistry and team experience (besides LeBron) which the Lakers lack.

Are the Bucks Still The Favorite To Win The East?

Similar to the Blazers pulling off an upset against the Lakers, the Magic defeated the Bucks in game one. This came to a surprise to practically everyone as the Magic seemed like the most forgotten team in the playoffs. After the Bucks loss, everyone is now beginning to question the Bucks potential. Now the real question is can just Giannis be enough to lead the Bucks to the Finals? Khris Middleton has been horrible in the bubble so far, and he is supposed to be Giannis’s secondhand man and without a consistent performance from Middleton it puts too much pressure on Giannis. Initially I had the Bucks making the finals, but because of their recent struggles I am leaning towards the Raptors-Celtics side of the bracket. It will be interesting to see the Celtics without Hayward but I still give them a slight edge over the Raptors. I believe whoever comes out of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference (Raptor/Celtics side) will defeat the Bucks and move on into the Finals. The Bucks are still a great team but I don’t see them as winning the championship, rather I see an Eastern Conference Finals loss coming their way.

Are We Sleeping On The Jazz?

Monday’s Game 1 against the Nuggets was one of the best games this year. The battle between Donovan Mitchell and Jamal Murray was like no other, it seems like in the clutch neither of them could miss and Murray got the slight edge in overtime. But we can’t forget about Donovan Mitchell’s historic 57 point game! Even with missing Mike Conley the first game the Jazz were neck and neck with the Nuggets. Conley is expected to be back for Game 3, this is important because Conley is another elite defender and to put him on Jamal Murray and contain him. This makes Jamal Murray use more effort with a better defender on him and Donovan Mitchell will be alongside another scorer and facilitator. The Jazz have always shown they are underdogs in the playoffs and are well capable of pulling off upsets. Although last year they struggled against the Rockets, the year before they defeated the Thunder, and the year before the Clippers. This Jazz team is improved from last year and have developed a better chemistry with great defense, good wing shooters and Donovan Mitchell taking the clear superstar position in this playoff series. The Jazz could make a decent push in the playoffs starting with an upset on the Nuggets. Don’t sleep on the Jazz!

NBA 2019-20 Awards Predictions

By Saransh Sharma, Anish Dhondi, and Nikhil Pradeep

With this season happening and being completed in the most unusual of circumstances due to the continued outbreak of the Coronavirus in the United States, the NBA Awards could be affected a little differently this year. The NBA has announced that these 8 seeding games in Orlando will have no effect on who wins what award, and that the voting will take place from today until July 28th, and award winners will be announced during the playoffs (late August, early September timeframe). It hurts award voters because they cannot focus in too much on what is going on in Orlando with their contenders, but instead go 4 months back to see the whole season before the Coronavirus outbreak. That being said, here are the candidates for each award, and our predictions for the winner of each award. 

Most Valuable Player

  • Candidates
    • Giannis Antetokuonmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
    • LeBron James, SF, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Luka Doncic, PG, Dallas Mavericks

Defensive Player of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Anthony Davis, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
    • Giannis Antetokuonmpo, PF, Milwaukee Bucks
    • Rudy Gobert, C, Utah Jazz

Most Improved Player

  • Candidates
    • Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
    • Devonte Graham, PG, Charlotte Hornets
    • Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat

Rookie of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies
    • Kendrick Nunn, PG, Miami Heat
    • Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

Sixth Man of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Montrezl Harrell, C, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Lou Williams, SG, Los Angeles Clippers
    • Dennis Schröder, SG, Oklahoma City Thunder

Coach of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Nick Nurse, Toronto Raptors
    • Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City Thunder
    • Mike Budenholzer, Milwaukee Bucks

Executive of the Year

  • Candidates
    • Pat Riley, Miami Heat President of Basketball Operations
    • Lawrence Frank, Los Angeles Clippers President of Basketball Operations
    • David Griffin, New Orleans Pelicans Executive VP

Saransh’s Award Predictions

MVP Winner: LeBron James

The debate between Giannis and LeBron for MVP has been going for the entirety of the season, and with both playing like the two best players in the league, and being on the two best teams in the league, no real separation has been created as to who should be the Most Valuable Player. Again, however, like previous years, we have to look at which player is more ‘valuable’ to the team, and which player has helped their team improve and win more this season. Last season, we saw LeBron miss 27 games due to an injury, the most in his career, and this season, his team is the 1-seed in the Western Conference and looking to secure homecourt throughout the playoffs against their Western Conference opponents. Giannis, on the other hand, is playing in a weaker conference, and playing for the better team, both record-wise, and statistically, despite putting up similar numbers. The biggest argument I have heard is that Giannis carries more of the load than LeBron, but that simply is not the case. Aside from Anthony Davis, no starters average double figures this season, whereas Giannis has 3 other starters averaging double figures. Milwaukee has also only changed their starting lineup once, whereas Los Angeles has had 10 different starting lineup combinations. With uncertainty and less support from starters, LeBron still being 11th in scoring and 1st in assists is as impressive as it gets, especially at age 35. Giannis will have more chances in the future, but LeBron takes this one.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis joining Los Angeles last summer to team up with LeBron James did not scare people because of his offensive ability alongside LeBron, but because of what he brought to the defensive end. James, while his defensive stats have been down, has had a great impact on the defensive end as a Laker, as last season, the team was top-5 in defensive efficiency before his injury, so adding Davis on just makes them even tougher. Davis is already 3rd in the league in blocks (2.4), tied for 8th in steals (1.5), and the team is 3rd for the season in fewest points allowed (106.9). The stats are huge, but his impact that is shown beyond the stat sheet, by often guarding the best player on the other team (alongside LeBron) both on the perimeter and inside, is what separates him from Giannis and Gobert on that end of the floor.

Most Improved Player Winner: Bam Adebayo

Bam Adebayo, fan-favorite amongst all Miami Heat fans, especially myself, has proved to Miami that taking him 14th overall in the 2017 NBA Draft was a huge steal, and he has turned himself into the franchise cornerstone. Bam went from playing 23 minutes a game and splitting playing time with elite rim-protecting center Hassan Whiteside, to now being the starter, playing 34 minutes a game, and nearly doubling his production in points, steals, and blocks, and averaging a double-double on over 56% shooting from the field. Adebayo has become the great sidekick to Jimmy Butler, both by being a complementary scorer, as well as the rim-protecting defensive anchor. Despite how much Devonte Graham and Brandon Ingram improved, Adebayo changed the future of Miami, and helped them go from a team many thought would be rebuilding or a fringe playoff team, to now being a championship contender. Adebayo is a player Miami has built around this year, and will do so in the future. 

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

Memphis, a team that this offseason had: let its last piece of the legendary ‘Grit and Grind’ team go in Mike Conley, finished out of the playoffs for many years, but for once in the lottery were able to go low enough to get a good draft pick, and picked up a new head coach in Taylor Jenkins after spending over 2 months searching for one, finds themselves as the current 8-seed in the Western Conference, and putting all their faith and pressure on the shoulders of rookie sensation Ja Morant. Ja has been an efficient scorer like everyone expected him to be, but to be the floor general and defensive menace he is on the perimeter, was something unexpected. Ja has taken this team over in one season and completely redefined the culture, as now from the old ‘Grit and Grind’, veteran-built look, Memphis now is a fast-paced, pace-and-space team surrounded by a plethora of young talent, and then the right veterans at the right spots. Had guys like Kendrick Nunn, Zion Willamson, and maybe even Tyler Herro been more healthy, this discussion might be a lot harder, but even then, Ja would still be the well-deserving winner of this award, solely on his impact on the team alone.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

The Sixth Man of the Year award has largely been dominated by Lou Williams, who has won the award in three of the past five seasons, and his 3 wins are tied for most all-time. The only problem for LouWill is the fact that his teammate Montrezl Harrell played just as much Sixth Man as he did, and Dennis Schröder has outplayed both of them. Schröder has been as true a Sixth Man as you can get, be a reliable, big-time scorer off the bench, and start if necessary. While Schröder has only had to start once this season, his presence off the bench has been unmatch, being third on the team in scoring, second in assists, and third in minutes played, he has been a vital part to the success of Oklahoma City, which has been largely unexpected, considering the fact that they traded Paul George and Russell Westbrook and went into a complete rebuild mode with the multitude of draft capital they acquired for them. Trading Carmelo Anthony for D-Schro 2 summers ago has definitely paid off for OKC, as his impact and full potential is on full display for the first time in his career.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

Imagine this. Your first year into your job, in fact not even a month into your job, your franchise cornerstone in Demar DeRozan, is involved in a massive trade for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green, both of whom are on expiring contracts and unhappy. You are sworn in to coach these guys to become championship contenders after years of heartbreak at the hands of LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but now that LeBron is in Los Angeles, the Eastern Conference is as wide-open as ever. He not only leads Toronto to the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference, but knocks off the 1-seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, and then wins the NBA Finals over the dynasty Golden State Warriors. 

Now what if I told you that both Leonard and Green would end up leaving in free agency, and Toronto signed no replacements, would you still think that they can be Finals contenders and defend their crown? Most people would say no, but Nurse proved them wrong. Leonard and Green are both doing great playing in Los Angeles, but Nurse’s situation in Toronto is no different than last. Same seed as last year, same record, same team they are chasing at the top of the East. Nurse helped this team become a consistent contender that they failed to be before the Kawhi trade, and made Pascal Siakam an elite power forward and franchise cornerstone, and looks to take his team to yet another NBA Finals. As great as the team has been, they were never this good before Nurse, and it shows.

Executive of the Year Winner: Pat Riley

Much like Sixth Man of the Year, this is a no-brainer. Let’s go back to last April, when Pat Riley signed Kendrick Nunn to a 3-year, $3 million deal (non-guaranteed) right as the regular season ended from the Golden State Warriors G-League affiliate team. Come June, Miami held a lottery pick, but not the greatest one ever at pick 13. Instead, they managed to turn that into Tyler Herro (whom many compared to Devin Booker), he then, without making a dent on the cap space, traded Josh Richardson and a first-round pick for Jimmy Butler in a sign-and-trade during free agency, and in that same 4-team trade, traded the often-disgruntled Hassan Whiteside for Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless (who found his way onto the New York Knicks after being traded by Miami to the Clippers, then to the Knicks). Then, fast-forward to the trade deadline in February, he traded away James Johnson, Justise Winslow, and Dion Waiters, his 3 biggest contracts, for experienced vets Andre Iguodala and Jae Crowder, and then on top of that, signed Iggy to a 2-year extension which includes a team option, therefore not hurting the team’s cap space come 2021, when they try to make a push for Giannis. This team went from dealing with the retirement of Dwyane Wade in the form of a multi-year rebuild, to a championship contender with a fast-paced development for young players like Nunn, Herro, and Bam Adebayo. Those 3, along with Jimmy Butler and the rest of the players they traded for, will be part of the Heat Culture for a long time, and made them a contender for years to come.

Anish’s Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player Winner: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Giannis has been in the runnings against LeBron for the Most Valuable Player. The reason I give Giannis the edge over LeBron is because the Bucks currently sit 53-12 with the best record in the league. Although the Lakers are second, LeBron gets the strong support of co-star Anthony Davis while it feels Giannis is more of a one man show in Milwaukee. Statistically the two are close, however Giannis obtains an advantage in the defensive side where LeBron continues to lack late in his career.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Anthony Davis

The reason I chose Anthony Davis is because of his presence in the paint for the Laker. Davis and McGee duo has been a problem for many teams against the Lakers as they make it very hard to score in the paint with their block totals. Anthony Davis currently averages 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals which are among the top defensive players in the league which is why he is my pick for Defensive Player of the Year.

Most Improved Player Winner: Brandon Ingram

This was a close decision between Brandon Ingram and Bam Adebayo. Ingram upped his PPG by 6 and Adebayo upped it by 8 PPG. The reason I chose Ingram over Adebayo is because Adebayo was given more minutes this year by 10 and performed better with more time he was given. Ingram on the other hand maintained the same minutes per game and still increased his PPG drastically. Although he was given another opportunity with the Pelicans and more chances his improvement in a new setting and team makes him my pick for Most Improved Player.

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

While all the hype is currently surrounding star Zion Williamson as he was also announced as one of the 2K21 cover athletes, my prediction for Rookie of the Year would have to be Ja Morant. Although Zion has been extraordinary in his few games played, those games aren’t a large enough sample size to win this award and the only other person who comes close in comparison is Ja Morant.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

Schroder has been the backup to Chris Paul with the thunder but still has managed to put up a great 19 PPG. He is competing for this award with two other Clippers players in Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. The reason I have Schroder winning it is because Lou Williams already has won this award consecutively and it’s rare for the NBA to give it to him again. Also, these two Clippers are competing for the award with each other giving Schroder a slight advantage and with their stats so close I give Schroder the edge to win.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

This one is a no-brainer. Nick Nurse should definitely win this award because of how he kept the Raptors in such great shape. After coming off a championship win and losing their finals MVP to the Clippers, no one expected the Raptors to even make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference anymore. Not only are they in the playoffs but they sit second in the East (46-18) only behind Giannis’ Bucks. To take a new team that Nurse hasn’t worked with before that just lost its superstar and has no real ‘star player’ to rely on and still be competing in the Eastern Conference is why Nick Nurse is my pick for Coach of the Year.

Executive of the Year Winner: Lawrence Frank

Lawrence Frank is my pick for Executive of the year for orchestrating the biggest offseason steal of this year. Kawhi was constantly rumored to go to the Lakers or stay in Toronto during the offseason and it came to a huge shock when we found out he’d go to the Clippers. But not only did the Clippers add former Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, but they managed to add Paul George too in the package. Frank strategically knew that Leonard wanted to work with another superstar but didn’t want to necessarily be a shadow to LeBron, so bringing Paul George in to co-star Leonard was the perfect move. The offseason completely changed the future for the Clippers as now they’re neck and neck with the Lakers for who will come out Top in the Western Conference. This big move to acquire not one but 2 superstars during the offseason is why I chose Lawrence Frank as Executive of the Year.

Nikhil’s Award Predictions

Most Valuable Player Winner: Giannis Antetokoumpo

The fact of the matter is that Giannis Antetokoump has put up another season’s worth of historic numbers, and has vaulted his Bucks team into the best record in the league. Averaging nearly 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists despite playing less than 31 minutes per game is not an easy task, and Antetokoumpo did it in dominant fashion. Even though Lebron James was league leader in assists before the break, and put up staggering numbers of his own at such a late stage in his career, (25.7 PTS, 10.6 AST, 7.9 REB), I don’t think it’s enough to compare to the accomplishments of Antetokounmpo, and thus I wouldn’t pick him for MVP.

Defensive Player of the Year Winner: Giannis Antetokoumpo

With this take, Antetokounmpo is slated to win the MVP and DPOY awards, a feat that only Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan have ever accomplished. The numbers simply don’t lie when it comes to Giannis’ defensive contribution. He leads the league in defensive win shares with 4.8,he leads the league in defensive plus-minus standings with 4.1, and finally, he also leads the league in defensive rating with 96.3. Combine this with an average of 13.7 rebounds per game, and the most defensive rebounds in the league, and you get a freak of nature worthy of both the MVP and DPOY awards.

Most Improved Player Winner: Brandon Ingram

This can easily be given to Bam Adebayo, who like Ingram snuck his way onto the Eastern Conference All-Star team roster, and make no mistake what he has done this year is very much worthy of praise. However, many people expected him to undertake this maturation and this increase in skill, albeit not as quickly. Brandon Ingram on the other hand was written off by so many people, including myself. He simply didn’t fit under LeBron’s Lakers, and that stunted his growth as a player, to the point where he had to pack his bags and wonder if the NBA was the right place for him. A wildly unexpected coming of age season followed up this culture shock for Ingram, and he, to put it frankly, balled out this season. Since the Pelicans did not have the monster that is Zion Williamson for a good stretch, Ingram picked up the slack and produced OUTSTANDING figures, including 24.3 PTS, 4.3 AST, and 6.3 REB. I’d call it a comeback story for Ingram, one definitely worth the MIP award.

Rookie of the Year Winner: Ja Morant

This might be the easiest pick of the bunch: when you have a rookie who can take a rather mediocre team like the Grizzlies, and put them in playoff contention, you have to recognize the achievement. And when the next closest competition is Zion Williamson, who only played 19 games for the Pelicans, this shouldn’t even be a discussion. An honorable mention has to go out to Kendrick Nunn of the Miami Heat, who put up respectable figures for a player whom many have not never heard of before, however they pale in comparison and impact to a team than that of Ja Morant. Just give my man the award already.

Sixth Man of the Year Winner: Dennis Schröder

Dennis Schröder has been one of those cornerstone bench pieces for years in this league. When Jeff Teague finally left Atlanta way back when, Schröder finally had his change in a starting role, and largely underwhelmed, granted the team was pretty below average as well. In his new role behind Chris Paul with the Oklahoma City Thunder, he’s enjoyed some of the best basketball of his career, and gets to do it under the guidance of the point-god himself, Chris Paul. He is an instrumental piece of OKC’s playoff push, something that NO ONE thought would even happen since the departure of Russell Westbrook. Averaging 19 PTS, 4.1 AST, and 3.7 REB, he provides that spark off the bench for one of the league’s surprise stories. Thus, I think he provides a better case for 6th Man of the Year than Montrezel Harril, and Mr. 6th man himself, Lou Williams.

Coach of the Year Winner: Nick Nurse

Nick Nurse took a championship team that lost the greatest thing to ever happen to it’s franchise in Kawhi Leanord, as well as an instrumental piece in Danny Green, and brought it back to 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, with almost no real big replacement. I think that’s enough validation in it’s own right. Just for argument’s case though, compared to Billy Donovan, who by all means has done a fabulous job with underdogs OKC, and Mike Budenholzer, who also has done very well with the league’s best team, Nurse simply outclasses them. Point proven.

Executive of the Year Winner: Pat Riley

Given the expectations for the Miami Heat and the actual outcome, Pat Riley deserves every ounce of praise he can get. When the news of Jimmy Butler leaving Philadelphia broke, I personally wondered why he would go to a non-contender, and one that didn’t even have much of a rebuild in mind. However, the likes of Kendrick Nunn, Bam Adebayo, Tyler Herro, Derrick Jones Jr., and others have given this team so much life and so much firepower, they’re honestly one of the most fun teams in the league to watch, and by all means not where most thought they would be at this point in the season. Once again the NBA is treated to the genius of Pat Riley, and somehow he and Erik Spoelstra seem to work their magic once again.

Links you can use to help educate yourself, donate, sign petitions, and much more for Black Lives Matter and Ending Racism and Social Injustice, as well as the Yemen Crisis, Coronavirus, and so much more. With so much going on, it is very hard to keep up with it all, but it is still important to educate yourself, so please feel free to use all of these resources to help you out:

https://www.adhoc.fm/post/black-lives-matter-resources-and-funds/

https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

https://www.thezoereport.com/p/10-black-lives-matter-organizations-you-can-donate-money-to-right-now-22948855

https://nymag.com/strategist/article/where-to-donate-for-black-lives-matter.html

https://blacklivesmatter.com/partners/

https://yemencrisis.carrd.co/

http://issuesintheworld.carrd.co/

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-04-28/coronavirus-charity-how-to-choose-and-donate

The New Winning NBA Formula: Dynamic Duos for the Win

The 2019 NBA Free Agency was by far the best free agency in NBA history. While it might not have had guys like LeBron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade the way the 2010 Free Agency was, it changed the entire complexion of the NBA and created an NBA which is more evenly-balanced than ever. The number of teams that are now contenders is immensely high, as over half of the NBA is in a position to compete for an NBA Championship next season. Here are my thoughts on some of the best new NBA dynamic duos, how they will actually work, and other predictions for the dynamic duos:

D-Lo Will Get Traded, Steph and Klay Will Attempt to Revive the Warriors

I am not in any way saying that D’Angelo Russell is not an elite player or scorer in the NBA, in fact, he is one of the best, but as great of an offensive team as the Warriors have been for the past few years now, they have always relied on defense, especially against the main perimeter players of teams. Whether it has been Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala or Klay and Kevin Durant, they have always had 2 of their 3 perimeter players be elite defenders to make up for the defensive liability that is Stephen Curry. With Russell and Curry, however, in that backcourt, and no small forward who can be a solid perimeter defender, the Warriors defense simply will not work the same. Draymond Green is a great defender, but you cannot expect him to guard other great perimeter scorer’s night in and night out. Russell will be the one who will have to take the fall for Golden State’s defensive struggles, especially with Thompson out until about March. Not only that, but Russell will not be the leader of the team as he was with the Lakers and Nets, so him being able to defer to Curry and Thompson will not be something he is used to.

Kyrie and KD Will Be the Best in the East, But Maybe Not in the NBA

Kevin Durant suffered an Achilles injury during Game 6 of the NBA Finals which ended his career with the Golden State Warriors and ended his 2019-20 season, in which he will now be a member of the Brooklyn Nets, joining Kyrie Irving. Durant should be back to near his best, if not best form, even coming back from this devastating injury. That being said, it may not be enough to beat teams like the Lakers and Clippers, or even the Bucks, teams with more experience and depth. The Nets, outside of Durant and Kyrie, are very young and have little playoff experience, which may make it difficult for them to win an NBA Championship for a few years but contending shouldn’t be an issue.

LeBron and AD Will Be the Better Duo than PG and Kawhi

Before Paul George had been traded from Oklahoma City to the Clippers for 2 players and an absurd amount of draft picks (5, 4 of which are unprotected), Kawhi Leonard was set on joining the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers, where he would’ve joined LeBron and newly-acquired superstar Anthony Davis, making the next superstar-driven dynasty. However, Kawhi convinced PG to request a trade to the Clippers, and Kawhi joined after the trade. That being said, I think that not only will Davis and LeBron be a better duo, but the Lakers will be the better team. For starters, I think LeBron would be able to defer to Anthony Davis very well and even let Davis be the primary scorer, as there would be less defensive pressure on both of them. While the same would be true for Kawhi and PG, Paul George has struggled in the playoffs for years since leaving Indiana. ‘Playoff P’, as he calls his playoff self, isn’t a very threatening player, and doesn’t compare to ‘Playoff LeBron’. As far as the Lakers being the better LA team, they are simply the deeper and more experienced team, and it poses them as the NBA Finals favorite for years to come. Let the ‘Staples Center Locker Room’ rivalry begin and be the best NBA rivalry for years to come.

 

What the Finals Loss Means to the Legacy and Future of LeBron James

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers fell to the Golden State Warriors in 5 games in the NBA Finals, proving me wrong about the buildup of the Golden State Warriors team. However, one thing that has not and will not change for me is my opinion towards the legacy of LeBron James. LeBron played his heart out, averaging a triple-double in the NBA Finals (33.6 points per game, 12 rebounds, 10 assists), becoming the first player to average a triple-double in the NBA Finals. LeBron has 3 wins and 5 losses in NBA Finals, but his legacy is still as steady as Michael Jordan’s. Jordan went 6-0 in the NBA Finals, but was 6-7 getting there. LeBron is 8-4. What’s better, getting to the Finals, or just getting to the playoffs? Yeah, getting to the Finals, even if you lose. LeBron is the one who has made himself and others so good that he is guaranteed to make it to the Finals, just ask any team in the Eastern Conference. This year, his Cavs were outplayed by a much more superior Warriors team in the Finals. Sure, LeBron had All-Stars in Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but Golden State has 2 MVPs (Steph Curry and Kevin Durant), 3 of the greatest 3-point shooters ever (Steph, KD, and Klay Thompson), a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Draymond Green), and a Finals MVP (Andre Iguodala), just to beat LeBron and Cleveland. To me, that just proves how much talent is needed to beat a perfectly assembled LeBron James team. Now, let us take a look at the legacy of James, and his future.

LeBron’s Legacy

LeBron James, as we mentioned, is 3-5 in Finals, but let us look at the wins and losses more closely. In 2007, LeBron James single-handedly took his Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Finals. LeBron, who was 22 at the time, was on the rise of being the ‘best player on the planet’, was playing stellar, but the San Antonio Spurs were too much in the NBA Finals, as he got swept. Then again, when you are only 22, your 2nd best player is named Jamario Moon (who was pretty bad, actually), and you are playing 3 Future Hall-of-Famers, expect to be swept. In 2011, when he became a member of the Miami Heat, he disappeared, not playing like himself, not wanting the ball, losing in 6 games. In 2012 and 2013, he became the ‘best player on the planet’, winning back-to-back championships over the OKC Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. 2014, in the rematch against the Spurs, the Spurs got their revenge. 2015, in LeBron’s return to the Cavs, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love both got injured, and LeBron fought his way on his own to take the Warriors to 6 games, but needed help to win. 2016 and 2017 were split with Golden State, with a 7-game thriller (Warriors blew a 3-1 lead), and losing in 5 games this year. Overall, you cannot blame him for the losses to Golden State. This year, he played his heart out and got beat by a superior team, and in 2015, he did the same, but didn’t have his star counterparts. LeBron really is 3-3 (in terms of wins and losses responsible for in NBA Finals), but the fact that he has gotten there with more success than Jordan (not to mention that LeBron has always gotten past the first round, whereas Jordan has been swept in the first round), speaks volumes to his ability to lead a team to success.

LeBron’s Future

LeBron James won’t be getting much more talent for this Cavs team anytime soon without trading Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, or Tristan Thompson. Paul George and Carmelo Anthony are options, but just Kevin Love for them isn’t enough. I think he should play it out next year, get to the Finals, maybe acquire better role players, and then test free agency in 2018.

LeBron fulfilled his lifelong promise of bringing a championship to Cleveland in 2016, so he has every right to leave the Cavs (again). Reports from Bleacher Report and CBS Sports say that James has considered going to Los Angeles, as he has a house there, and is looking to pursue ventures outside of basketball, and Hollywood is the best place to do it. He has been linked to LA for quite a few years now, dating back to 2007. Kobe Bryant decided to ask for a trade from LA, letting his ego get in the way as he wanted to win desperately. The trade never happened, but it put into perspective for the rest of James’ career that LA would be a possible place to go. If he is to leave, he is to go to either the Lakers or the Clippers. Both teams have great opportunity to beat the Warriors with James. The Lakers can get Paul George or Jimmy Butler (they should be able to get one of the two this year), they can draft Lonzo Ball who has huge superstar potential, and they can trade D’Angelo Russell or Jordan Clarkson for another superstar (of George and Butler, whichever one they do not get). LeBron could even build his dream superteam of his best friends Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, and get them to play with him in LA. This would allow him to have a young team with veteran leadership around him, and allow him beat Golden State. Since LeBron can beat the Eastern Conference with his eyes closed, he can win many more championships.

With the Clippers, if they keep Chris Paul and Blake Griffin this year, they will have their Big 3 with them and DeAndre Jordan. Then they can lure James in, who has a great relationship with Paul, acquire another guy like Carmelo or Wade, and then get more role players, and LeBron can have a team that can beat Golden State, and win championships. Either way, he will have more success down the road going to LA than in Cleveland, so it makes sense that he leaves (sources say he wants to and will leave in 2018). Who knows, maybe LeBron will have more rings than Jordan after all, and become the GOAT.

Sources of Info:

 

NBA 2012-13 Christmas Game Predictions

The NBA will have possibly the greatest Christmas schedule in NBA Christmas Day game history. Here are the games and the predictions. These will be tough for certain people to predict, though I’ll take my best guesses.

The Christmas Day Matchups

Boston Celtics @ Brooklyn Nets, 12 p.m. EST

The Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets are playing in a huge and very important Atlantic division matchup. Both teams have talented backcourts, as Joe Johnson and Deron Williams will lead the Nets, and Rajon Rondo leading the way for the Celtics. The Celtics have been struggling this season, and hope to end those struggles ASAP.

My call: The Boston Celtics will leave Brooklyn with a huge and unforgettable performance from Rajon Rondo, but come come up short of a win. The Final Score… Nets 109, Celtics 99

New York Knicks @ Los Angeles Lakers, 3 p.m. EST

The NY Knicks and the LA Lakers have already faced off this season, and the Knicks won 116-107, though the Lakers were Nash-less. Carmelo Anthony had left the game with with a left ankle injury after taking a hit from Lakers Center Dwight Howard on a very physical foul. Though both of these injured players are expected to return.

My call: The Lakers will finally show that they are good enough with Nash and that they are still a championship-caliber team. The Final Score: Lakers 111, Knicks 108

Oklahoma City Thunder @ Miami Heat, 5:30 p.m. EST

The Miami Heat will play their 2nd straight Christmas against their NBA Finals opponent. This year, they’ll face the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Heat beat the Thunder in 5 games, as LeBron James, probably the best player in the NBA right now, got the best of Kevin Durant, probably the 2nd best in the NBA right now, Dwyane Wade got the best of Russell Westbrook, and Chris Bosh got the best of defensive-minded player Serge Ibaka. The Thunder have been very quiet since then, and not as good as the James Harden-Thunder team from last season. The Heat have improved since last season by adding Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis. Though still, you can’t count any of these teams out, and this sure will be one exciting matchup in the 2011-2012 NBA Finals rematch.

My call: This will be the best game this Christmas and will be very unforgettable, as The Durantchula (Kevin Durant), and King James (LeBron James) post up eye-popping numbers. The Miami Heat will show that they are the best team in the NBA right now, as well as show why they were the winners of the 2011-2012 NBA Finals, and why they are the favorites for winning a repeat championship and adding one more Christmas win (and possibly one more ring to the Big 3’s resume’). The Final Score: Heat 120, Thunder 116.

Houston Rockets @ Chicago Bulls, 8 p.m. EST

The Houston Rockets are lead by James Harden and Jeremy Lin. The Bulls are lead by  Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. These are 2 teams that have had average seasons. None of the teams have eye-popping stats, they have multiple injured players, and both teams are not number 1 in their division or conference. The Rockets seemed like Western Conference favorites, and the Chicago Bulls seemed like ultimate flops, though the Rockets teams starting falling apart, and Tom Thibodeau started getting his team back on track.

My call: This will be the lowest-scoring Christmas Day game this season, though the Rockets have shown that they can challenge some great teams this season and will for many seasons to come. The Final Score: Rockets 86, Bulls 82.

Denver Nuggets @ Los Angeles Clippers, 10:30 p.m. EST

This game shows some Western Conference playoff atmosphere, and Lob City will play its 2nd Christmas Day game.

My call: Lob City, lead by Chris Paul, will blowout the Nuggets. The Final Score: Clippers 111, Nuggets 80

Your Thoughts? Leave a comment below…

My Top 5 NBA Power Rankings 2012-13

The NBA season is nearing, as tipoff is October 30th. Here are my power rankings and my expectations for each team this season.

(1) Miami Heat

The defending champions are coming in to this season as huge championship contenders for this season. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had stellar performances in the playoffs, and should carry the load for the rest of the season. Mario Chalmers and Ray Allen will help out the Big 3 when certain struggles start happening.

(2) OKC Thunder

The Western Conference champions are turning into one of the more younger teams in the NBA. Kevin Durant and Co. have the talent to return to the Finals, though teams such as the Lakers and Clippers could come in their way and effect their huge run for this season.

(3) LA Lakers

The 1980 LA Lakers were called “Showtime” for their stellar offensive play. “Showtime” seems to return after the arrivals of free agent Steve Nash, and the 4-team deal in a trade which got them Dwight Howard, adding to the phenomenon called Kobe Bryant. Expect them to be competitive, though don’t be surprised if OKC surpasses them in the tough Western Conference battles.

(4) LA Clippers

The Clippers certainly got some hope when Chris Paul signed the deal with LA. The Clippers can get No. 1 in the Pacific Division, though their defense will need to improve for that to happen.

(5) Boston Celtics

The Boston Celtics have one of the oldest starting lineups in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Rajon Rondo has showed the world why he deserves to be the best point guard as well as the best passer in the NBA. Though this team certainly doesn’t lack any depth in their bench, with players like Leandro Barbosa, Keyon Dooling, Jason Terry, a fresh and healthy Jeff Green, and aging Darko Milicic, who is still considered a great jump shooter for a center and a great defensive player who continues to excel in his ability to help his team off the bench.

And the 2012-2013 NBA champion is…

The Miami Heat are repeat-champions thanks to the great bench play and help from Ray Allen. The LA Lakers will be the Western Conference champions and will surpass the OKC Thunder who have a struggling bench and are expected to lose James Harden near the trade deadline late February.

Award Picks:

MVP: LeBron James

Defensive Player of the Year: Dwight Howard

Rookie of the Year: Anthony Davis

Coach of the Year: Eric Spoelstra

Most Improved Player of the Year: Jeremy Lin

Sixth Man of the Year: Ray Allen

* All Logos used here are property of the NBA and the respective teams.