Just when my level of productivity managed to climb back to a healthy level following the devastating illness that is March Madness, a new and arguably more powerful plague has surfaced in the form of the NBA Playoffs.
Thus far, it’s already shaping up to be a postseason for the ages. Anthony Davis is erasing any and all doubts that he is the future of the sport with his jaw-dropping shot-blocks and killer crossovers that have kept the Pelicans in striking distance of the Golden State Warriors — a squad that routinely blows out the best basketball teams in the world by 20 points — so far.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have looked impressive in their playoff debuts as they join Lebron James in attempting the minor miracle of bringing a championship to the city of Cleveland. And out West, the San Antonio Spurs, in what might be the last run of the Tim Duncan era, are engaged in a tight first-round battle with the Los Angeles Clippers, fueled by an extra-intense version of Chris Paul who knows that his own clock is beginning to tick.
With so many tight series and phenomenal players seeking championship glory, it’s hard to absorb everything that’s happened in just the first few days alone. Nevertheless, I can’t help but look ahead to the most intriguing potential Finals matchups because an NBA season as good as this one deserves an appropriate culmination.
Golden State vs. Atlanta
The obvious pick. The two best teams in the regular season by a country mile would make for some mouth-wateringly good basketball, especially because this series would involve two passionate and hungry fan bases who have never tasted this kind of environment. The Warriors are 40 years removed from their last championship and it’s been even longer for the Hawks.
While it’s hard to talk about elitism and fairness in an industry where people are paid millions to put a round ball through a net, the NBA is an oligopoly and this matchup would be a series for the masses. Two teams (the Celtics and Lakers) have combined to win 33 of the 55 championships contested and only once in the past 15 years have we seen two first-time participants square off in the Finals (Miami vs. Dallas in 2006).
The NBA could definitely benefit from some fresh blood on the sport’s grandest stage, and the highly fine-tuned offenses and savvy defensive tactics of both teams would make this series a celebration of good basketball over any individual player.
Right now, I would have to give the edge to the Warriors. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are simply too good to go quiet over a seven-game series, and they have the best bench in the association to back them up. Home court advantage matters in this series and the Dubs will benefit from finishing the season strong (unlike the Hawks) and hosting the first two games at Oracle Arena.
Golden State vs. Cleveland
Imagine if the Warriors had actually pulled the trigger on the Klay Thompson-Kevin Love deal. Would they be anywhere close to where they are now? How many 37-point quarters would Thompson have put up playing with a handful of rookies in the tundra?
While Love’s tenure in Cleveland has been rocky at times, he’s still an elite player who could put the Cavs over the top, much like the role Chris Bosh played in Miami during the LeBron years. And Cleveland would definitely have a shot in this series because of the aforementioned No. 23 No. 6 No. 23. Another fascinating development in this contest would be the battle between Curry and Irving to claim their first ring and perhaps seize the reins as the premier young guard in the game. Overall, this matchup would be pure entertainment from start to finish, but I’d have to again give the edge to the Warriors, who probably couldn’t be happier about keeping Thompson.
Chicago vs. Los Angeles
This one is a little out of left field, but consider the possibilities. Returning from his third knee injury in the last three seasons, Derrick Rose is slowly rounding into form and displaying flashes of the explosiveness and creativity around the rim that made him such a delight to watch.
Don’t forget: In 2011, Rose led his team to 62 wins and the number one seed in the East while snatching the MVP award from Lebron at the height of his dominance. If Rose is really feeling as good as he says, Chicago could give Cleveland and Atlanta a real run for their money. Joakim Noah and Jimmy Butler are stars in their own right and could put this team over the top. And for all of the controversy surrounding Tom Thibodeau, the man still has the best defensive tactics in the game and could make things difficult for Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
The Clips ended the season on a furious win streak and just took the Spurs to the woodshed in Game 1 of their first-round series. This squad has played together for four seasons now and finally look to be healthy enough to present the toughest challenge to the Warriors’ hopes of getting out of the West.
San Antonio vs. Atlanta
The Spurs of the East vs. — well — the Spurs. If you haven’t listened to Mike Budenholzer’s heartwarming thanks to his mentor, Gregg Popovich, in his NBA Coach of the Year acceptance speech, take a few minutes right now. The intrigue of the grandmaster going up against his protégé would be more than just a fun storyline — it would make for an intricate chess match over the course of potentially seven games.
As mentioned earlier, this will be — in all likelihood — the last run of this current nucleus of Spurs stars. Tim Duncan is 38; Manu Ginobili 37. Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard, amongst others, are free agents at the end of this season and, while it’s unthinkable to imagine them wearing another uniform next season, you never know what might happen. The Spurs getting an opportunity to cap off one of the greatest empires in sports history against their doppelgangers would be a thrilling conclusion to the end of the season.
In this matchup, San Antonio would likely have the edge because of the way it smashed the Hawks in Phillips Arena back in March. When the Spurs are fully operational, they are one frightening, well-oiled basketball machine. If this really is the end of the road for Tim Duncan, my favorite player of the last 15 years, I wouldn’t mind seeing him cap off his career with his first consecutive championships — even if it came at the expense of my favorite team.
Like most of the nation, Georgia native Vihan Lakshman has been captivated by the Hawks’ 60-win season. However, the success of the team has both increased his homesickness and strengthened his man crush on Kyle Korver. Send Lakshman your favorite Zac Brown Band song and Korver action shot, along with your NBA finals predictions, at vihan ‘at’ stanford.edu.