We’re down to two series in the NBA Playoffs to settle which teams will be crowned respective champions of the Eastern and Western conferences. In the East, the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers are set to tackle the Atlanta Hawks. The Western crown will be contested by James Harden’s Houston Rockets versus the Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors. Both the Hawks and Warriors finished with the best records in the regular season. While the Warriors are considered favorites in their series versus the Rockets, the Hawks are regarded against underdogs against James and company.
Eastern Conference: Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Atlanta Hawks
This is an interesting contrast of teams. The Cleveland Cavaliers are down to two of their “Big Three” with Kevin Love out for several months with a shoulder injury. The Atlanta Hawks, on the other hand, have no true marquee stars to speak of, just excellent ball movement and a well-oiled team oriented effort that has been the secret to their success throughout the season. Their recipe for success saw four of their players get spots in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game and that was no small feat.
One of the biggest swing factors in this series is the health of Kyrie Irving. He was banged up during the team’s series against the Chicago Bulls, but after five days of rest and apparently effective rehab, Irving says he’s good to go for Game 1 of the Eastern Finals. History has shown us that LeBron James, despite his talent and skill cannot carry a team to ultimate victory by his lonesome. The Cavaliers may have enough of a support crew thanks to some in-season moves, mainly the addition of Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert, but at the end of the day the team sorely needs Irving to be on the floor. Kyrie’s ability to beat almost any defender off the dribble and cut into the lane and finish with either hand keeps the opposing defense on its toes.
The Atlanta Hawks, despite not having any true superstars on their roster, are expected to give the talented Cavs a run for their money. They have a solid, two-headed point guard tandem in Jeff Teague and Dennis Shroeder as well as one of the league’s best three-point shooters in Kyle Korver. But the Hawks will need to lean heavily on both Paul Millsap and Al Horford to do damage in the paint in order for them to dictate the pace of the game.
Can talent be enough to carry the Cavaliers through in this series or will teamwork, solid play, and depth win it for the Hawks?
Western Conference: Golden State Warriors vs. Houston Rockets
Make no mistake, this series will be settled beyond the three-point arc. Expect bombs to be lobbed from both ends of the floor. Golden State’s backcourt duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson a.k.a. the “Splash Brothers,” will be looking to score and have been known to rain down threes on their opponents with reckless abandon. Not to be outdone, the Rockets have a dynamic scorer in James Harden as well as Trevor Ariza who is a threat from both beyond the arc and on the defensive end. Both teams have dynamic, multi-category contributing defenders. The Warriors have Draymond Green, who has truly come into his own this season, while the Rockets have high-flier Josh Smith on their end.
The Warriors have already been tagged as solid favorites to take this season’s NBA title, but the Rockets are riding some strong momentum which they’ve revved up during their comeback win in their series against the Los Angeles Clippers. Dwight Howard and his ability to score in the paint will be a key factor for the Houston in this match-up. He will need to play in such a way that he commands a double team every time the ball touches his hands, which should in turn free up his teammates for some much needed open looks. As always, Howard will get fouled a lot and his poor free-throw shooting will be a thorn in Houston’s side. All of their offense will flow through Harden and it will be a matter of how well his team can rally around him and provide enough support.
After stripping away all other factors that will come into play in this match-up, things will boil down to a duel between Stephen Curry and James Harden. In the end, it will come to which guard will be able to best serve as a catalyst for his respective team to come together to provide a winning effort.