With the NBA playoffs right around the corner everyone is anticipating the rubber match between the Cleveland Cavilers and the Golden State Warriors. However, contrary to popular belief there will be other teams “invited” to the NBA playoffs this year. These are my Top 5 teams that I believe can disrupt the 3rd consecutive finals between the Cavs and Warriors.
Number 5 – The Washington Wizards and their self-proclaimed title of “best backcourt in the NBA.” For the Wizards to have any shot at a finals birth they will need superstar level play from John Wall and Bradley Beal. They both are having a fantastic regular season but it is time for them to show up in the playoffs.
X-factor: Otto Porter Jr. After being selected 3rd in the NBA draft he is now in his fourth season having a career year averaging 14 ppg and 6.6 rpg. Should the Wizards run into the Cavs in the playoffs, Porter will be given the almost impossible task of slowing down Lebron James.
Number 4 -The Boston Celtics and the shortest big time player in the NBA. In the case of Isaiah Thomas size doesn’t matter. Thomas is averaging a shade under 30 points per game and performing at a MVP level on a nightly basis. Any hope in Boston to dethrone the King, starts and ends with Thomas. Should these two meet in the playoffs, prepare for plenty of “clutch gene” debate as the series unfolds.
X-factor for Boston won’t even suit up for the playoffs, that’s because in my opinion its head coach Brad Stevens. One of the bright young minds the NBA has ever seen. Coach Stevens has led his team to the biggest stage in college basketball while at Butler, and his NBA squad got a small taste of the playoffs last season. We know they will be hungry and Coach Stevens has the experience to keep his players grounded for the big stage.
Number 3 – The Houston Rockets and their 3-point posse. The Rockets let it fly under head coach Mike Antoni (he does not deserve a “D” in his last name since he does not believe in defense). With an arsenal of 3pt weapons that include MVP candidate James Harden, newly acquired Lou Williams, and the All Star Weekend 3pt Champion Eric Gordon, the Rockets are a matchup problem for just about every team in the West. They don’t have to stop you, if they believe they will just outscore you.
X-factor for Houston will be the two leading 6th Man of the Year candidates in Lou Williams and Eric Gordon. In fact, the Rockets should create a 7th Man of the Year award, so neither one feels slighted. For a deep playoff run the Rockets will need to both to score, score, and score some more.
Number 2 – New year new players same old Spurs. With the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as a bonafide superstar in the league, the Spurs are once again in a race for the #1 seed. With future hall of fame coach Greg Popovich on the sidelines, it’s a given come playoff time, this team will not beat themselves. Warriors beware, this will be one tough out.
X-factor for the Spurs is Danny “I forgot how to shoot” Green. The last time the Spurs won an NBA championship Danny Green seemed to show up every game and hit clutch, timely 3 pointers for the Spurs. After 5 years in row of shooting over 40% from 3, the last two years have been sub par for Green. He currently has a field goal percentage hovering around 37%, to go along with 31% from three. For the Spurs to have a shot he will need to fix this soon.
Number 1 – The real best backcourt in the East, the Toronto Raptors. I don’t really believe the Raptors are better than the Spurs or the Rockets. However, I do give them a better chance of beating the Cavs than those other teams have at beating the Warriors. The combination of 7-footer Jonas Valanciunas and 6’10 Serge Ibaka will be a formidable twin towers once the playoffs begin. All Star guard Demar DeRozan has clearly separated himself as “the guy” on the team averaging 27.6 points per game, which is good for 5th in the NBA. Sure, Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan are once again dominating the regular season, but inevitably they will be judged by their performance in the post season.
X-factor “The Bench” – which begs the question, “who the hell is on the Raptors bench?” Outside of PJ Tucker ad Corey Joseph, average players at best, you will need an arena program to identify the rest of these guys. Look for the Raptors to have the shortest bench rotation in the playoffs and rely heavily on their starters to produce at a high level.
So there you have it, my Top 5 teams with the best chance to give us something different this June. While I’m sure ABC/ESPN execs are hoping for a Warriors/Cavs NBA Finals, Round 3, you kind of get the sense the of rest of America is pulling for one of these five teams to pull the upset…and when it happens, just remember, I told you so.
Written by: Aaron Ernest