For an entire month I felt like the NBA players, “I can’t wait until the regular season’s over so we can start the playoffs.” Well, the 2015-16 regular season is over and it definitely went out with a “bang”, courtesy of Lakers icon and future legend Kobe Bean Bryant unloaded a clip on the Utah Jazz at the Staple Center. When the dust settled, The Black Mamba finished with an astounding 60 freaking points. It was the sixth 60-point game of his career, second most all-time behind fellow Laker great Wilt Chamberlain; and the most points EVER by a player in his final NBA game. He did so on 50 field-goal attempts, the most by any player in any one game dating back to the 1983-84 season, to lead the Lakers to a thrilling and unbelievable 101-96 win over the visiting Jazz.
Kobe becomes one of just four players in NBA history to take 50 shots in a game, joining Wilt, Elgin Baylor and Rick Barry. In going 6 for 21 from 3-point land, he becomes just the sixth player ever to cast off from beyond the arc more than 20 times in a game, alongside record-holder J.R. Smith, Damon Stoudamire, Vince Carter, George McCloud and Michael Adams.
Let’s not forget the excitement that was happening further north from Los Angeles where the Golden State Warriors finished the 2015-16 campaign with a record-breaking 73-9 Wednesday night with a 125-104 win over the Memphis Grizzlies at Oracle Arena in Oakland, CA. In beating the Bulls’ previous record by one victory, the Warriors also become the first team in NBA history not to lose a double-digit number of games in an 82-game season. 72 victories wasn’t the only 1995-96 Bulls record the Warriors broke. The Dubs also set the new NBA mark for road wins in a season (34) following their victory over the Spurs on Sunday.
With the season ending like that, we are in for apostseason. Here are my picks on who will win in the first round and advance. I think I might have a shocker for you.
#4 Los Angeles Clippers vs #5 Portland Trail Blazers
Terry Stotts and Neil Olshey should get Coach and Executive of the Year respectively for the magical work done this season after they revamped the roster that was missing 4 of the 5 starters from last year; the only player they kept was their star Damian Lillard. The Blazers finished the season on a 29-14 tear, giving them the third-best West record over the final three months behind Golden State and San Antonio. Now they’re playing with house money, which could be dangerous for the Clippers who are trying to acclimate Blake Griffin back into the lineup. I think the “X-Factors” for The Clips are JJ Reddick and Jamal Crawford. These two with Chris Paul as their floor general should put the Clippers over the top and advance to the second round. Clippers in 5
#3 Oklahoma City Thunder vs. #6 Dallas Mavericks
The Thunder should have the best one-two punch in the Association, with MVP candidate Russell Westbrook finishing off the season with 18 triple-doubles (tying the great Magic Johnson in the history books) and Kevin Durant dropping buckets. Here’s one of the key stats heading into the playoffs: When Durant and Westbrook share the court, OKC was plus-12.3 per 100 possessions. The Spurs’ league-leading net rating was plus-11.8. There primary problem is that they cannot finish games and there’s a substantial drop-off after the dynamic duo in terms of scoring.
The Mavericks just better be happy they are there. Of the 16 playoff teams, only two posted negative point differentials – the Memphis Grizzlies and Mavericks. Rick Carlisle is a great coach and is always capable of pulling a rabbit out of his hat, but this is going to be a quick postseason trip for Dallas. Thunder in 6
#2 San Antonio Spurs vs. #7 Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies a team that’s pretending to look like a M*A*S*H* unit with all of the injuries they suffered through out the regular season. They’ve had 28 different players put on a Grizzlies uniform this year, which is an NBA record. They finished the season without stars Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and starting Jordan Farmar and Chris Andersen, and giving significant minutes to Briante Weber and Xavier Munford while losing 10 of their final 11 games. Considering the roster they’re going into the playoffs with, their first-round matchup with the 67-win Spurs, who posted the best net rating since the 1996-97 Bulls, and had one of the three best defenses (96.6 defensive rating) of the last decade. This might be the biggest mismatch in NBA history. Spurs in 4
#1 Golden State Warriors vs. #8 Houston Rockets
Stop playing….I just told you how good the Spurs were this season, and then remember that they still finished six games behind the record-breaking Warriors. Of the 135 league-wide lineups that logged at least 100 minutes together, Golden State’s versatile lineup of Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala. Harrison Barnes, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green led the way with an crazy net rating of plus-47 per 100 possessions. The second-best lineup featured Andrew Bogut in place of Barnes, while the league’s third-best lineup saw Festus Ezeli replace Bogut. The best non-Warriors lineup was a plus-24.4.
The Rockets can steal a game from the Warriors is if James Harden catches fire, Dwight Howard is rejuvenated, the role players step up. But that’s the ceiling for a team that has proven time and time again to be rather mediocre this season. Warriors in 5
#4 Atlanta Hawks vs. #5 Boston Celtics
No playoff team suffered a costlier loss on the final night of the season, as Atlanta’s loss to the lowly Wizards cost them the 3-seed, and placed them in Cleveland’s half of the East bracket.
The Celtics are no longer just happy to be here, they are coming around to being a formable team to reckon with. Head coach Brad Stevens is doing a great job building a team that has chemistry and All-star guard Isaiah Thomas is a diamond in the rough that keeps shining brighter and brighter each game. Celtics in 5
#3 Miami Heat vs. #6 Charlotte Hornets
It didn’t affect their seeding, but there are few worse ways to enter the postseason than suffering the biggest collapse of the regular season, as Miami did in blowing a 26-point lead in Boston last Wednesday. Dwayne Wade looks like he set back the hands of time for now, Hassan Whiteside looks like he has found his game on the low blocks and if Chris Bosh is healthy enough to play, they are going to give the Cavs fits if and when they meet in the conference finals.
Charlotte is a scrappy team. Kemba Walker should be in consideration for the most Improve Player with Celtics Isaiah Thomas and Blazers CJ McCullum. The 48-win Hornets join the Warriors, Spurs, Cavs, and Clippers as teams to boast both a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense, and they have the non-Cleveland path to the East final. Heat in 6
#2 Toronto Raptors vs. #7 Indiana Pacers
The comparisons to past years have to stop. This is a consistent, 56-win squad that beat up on good teams all season, hell…they beat up on every single team in the East that are in the playoffs. The Raptors have a much more reliable defense than the one that entered the playoffs last spring.
Indiana’s top-five defense is legit, but this has essentially been a .500 team since they raced out to a 12-5 start in early December, and they own the worst offense of any playoff team. Paul George arguably is a top 10 player in the league, but after that….head coach Frank Vogel doesn’t have anybody else to rely on. Raptors in 5
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. #8 Detroit Pistons
Only a LeBron-led team could win 57 games and finish with top-10 units on both ends of the court while dealing with drama all season long. The Cavs has to be the best reality show out there. It would take a pretty special set of circumstances to prevent King James from a sixth straight Finals appearance. (Miami Heat or Toronto Raptors).
Andre Drummond actually managed to get worse from the free-throw line this season, converting a career-low 35.5 percent of his career-high attempts (586) from the stripe. Drummond’s Pistons are good, but they are not ready to advance in the playoffs if Drummond is a hindrance late in close game. Cavs in 5
Sit back and enjoy the first round of the 2015-16 NBA Playoffs.