NBA conference finals preview: The best vs. the...
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May 19, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

NBA conference finals preview: The best vs. the best

There are MVPs and those who could have very well been MVP, there are teams that work together in some beautiful unison and teams that rely on the brilliance of a seminal player

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For all those dreary NBA regular-season games that so many thought meant so little, they did serve to weed out the pretenders and leave two conference finals that allegedly represent the best against the best.

No. 1 vs. No. 2 in both the East and West, the teams with the best records earned over the interminable regular season left to duke it out for a spot in the NBA Finals.

The series — Golden State and Houston in the West starting Tuesday night, Atlanta vs. Cleveland in the East beginning Wednesday — appear compelling on any number of levels.

There are MVPs and those who could have very well been MVP, there are teams that work together in some beautiful unison and teams that rely on the brilliance of a seminal player.

The teams are built to take advantage of the game in this era, they shoot three-pointers with abandon, the play with pace and they share the ball so that opponents can’t be sure which one player might have a huge game on any specific night.

They have all beaten quality opponents through the first two series, some easily, some with much difficulty and all are battling those niggling little injuries that tend to pop up at this point in the season.

And it’s not like there’s an awful lot of history for any of the four team to rely on because whoever emerges as the NBA champion sometime in the middle of June will be ending decades-long streaks of futility.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, the Hawks haven’t won since they were in St. Louis in 1958 and the Golden State Warriors haven’t been the lone team standing at the end of a season since 1975. Only the Houston Rockets, who won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, can lay claim anything resembling recent success.

Warriors vs. Rockets

• Point guard

Stephen Curry vs. Jason Terry

Curry is having a post-season for the ages and just seems to be the unstoppable offensive force in the game while being adept at running the offence for others. Terry is one of the reclamation projects of Rockets GM Daryl Morey but he’s really more a role player than a star.

Advantage: Golden State

• Shooting guard

Klay Thompson vs. James Harden

Harden lost the MVP race to Curry and you have to wonder how much he will want to prove his worth with so much at stake; he can score in so many ways. Thompson is the other Splash Brother and he will make Harden work defensively harder than perhaps he is capable of.

Advantage: Houston

• Small forward

Harrison Barnes vs. Trevor Ariza

Has Barnes really made it? He’s a huge beneficiary of playing with Curry and Thompson and takes advantage of teams maybe forgetting about him. Ariza is a crafty veteran the Rockets got on the cheap to replace Chandler Parsons and he can make a big shot when it’s necessary.

Advantage: Even.

• Power forward

Draymond Green vs. Josh Smith

All Green has done over the post-season is make himself a ton of money heading into free agency by becoming a multi-faceted weapon who scores and defends. Smith best not get caught up in the three-point shootout that’s ahead; he needs to manage his game well at both ends.

Advantage: Golden State

• Centre

Andrew Bogut vs. Dwight Howard

The presence of DeAndre Jordan limited Howard a bit offensively in the conference semifinals; he should be able to be much more effective against the less-mobile Bogut. If Bogut needs defensive help, it’ll test Golden State’s help-and-recover style and Harden may thrive.

Advantage: Houston.

• Bench

Shaun Livingston and Andre Iguodala give the Warriors two veterans who can defend. Houston’s Pablo Prigioni had the best game of his NBA life in Game 7 against the Clippers and is a wild card; Corey Brewer’s defence will be tested.

Advantage: Even.

Hawks vs. Cavaliers

• Point guard

Jeff Teague vs. Kyrie Irving

The schedule has greatly benefited Irving, who has time to get as healthy as he can after missing the second half of the clinching win over Chicago. If he’s on his game, he’s a constant offensive threat and big and strong enough to slow the electric-quick Teague.

Advantage: Cleveland

• Shooting guard

Kyle Korver vs. Iman Shumpert

Korver cooled a bit from what looked like one of the historically best shooting seasons ever but he’s still a workhorse who can’t be completely stifled; he’ll get his shots somehow. While Shumpert is lauded for his defensive abilities, chasing Korver around for an entire series won’t be easy.

Advantage: Atlanta

• Small forward

DeMarre Carroll vs. LeBron James

There doesn’t seem to be anything that James cannot do and it’s folly to think any one player can hold him in check; since he’s going for a fifth straight Finals appearance, he could be more focused than ever. Carroll is okay and a better defender than a scorer but, really, does he have a chance?

Advantage: Cleveland

• Power forward

Paul Millsap vs. Tristan Thompson

This is basically the “who’s going to make how much money in the summer” matchup and it could be delightful. Millsap is more well-rounded and plays away from the basket and Thompson might be the best offensive rebounder in the game today, even if he is offensively limited.

Advantage: Atlanta

• Centre

Al Horford vs. Timofey Mozgov

With how he dominated at times in the semifinals against Washington, it would seem this is the heyday of Horford’s career, and he’s a centre who is effective all over the floor. Mozgov is big and takes up space but this is an athletic battle that he can’t possibly win.

Advantage: Atlanta.

• Bench

How much hatred do you think the Hawks have for the New York cops who cost them Thabo Sefolosha? Yeah, a lot because they could use him; Denis Shroder’s okay, as is Mike Scott, but they need Sefolosha. J.R. Smith in a free-wheeling, three-point shooting series? The possibilities are endless.

Advantage: Atlanta

THE PICKS

• Warriors vs. Rockets

There will be threes. There will be a lot of threes. There will be more threes than you can imagine. While the Rockets might like to slow it a bit, they love to play fast and it’s worked for them. Trouble is, they are going to play fast against a team that’s just better at it than they are. This is a Horses For Courses matchup.

Warriors in five.

• Hawks vs. Cavaliers

Pick against LeBron James in this situation at your peril, this is a guy who got Boobie Gibson, an aging Eric Snow and Larry Hughes to an NBA Finals and this Cavs team is exponentially better. Still, the Hawks didn’t win 60 games by accident and their true team play can overcome a lot of things. If they are the mid-season Hawks, they’re special.

Atlanta in seven.

Toronto Star

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