Western Conference clubs best placed for NBA title in postseason of problems
Injuries and poor form has halted many in these playoffs, but the Rockets and Warriors are making a strong case.
The NBA playoffs are the most gruelling and demanding professional basketball can get, something that the eight teams left in the postseason can attest to wholeheartedly as the Conference semi-finals ebb to a close and the battle for the NBA title gathers pace.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the first side to book a spot in the next round. The rest that their 4-2 win over the Chicago Bulls affords them is likely to be greatly appreciated at the Quicken Loans Arena, as a few banged up stars gratefully receive an extra recovery period.
Kyrie Irving is the major concern for the Ohio club. The All-Star point-guard is currently playing through injuries to his right foot and left knee and suffered yet more pain in the Game 6 victory when falling in the second quarter. He left the game after the fall and did not return.
With Kevin Love, the third piece of Cleveland’s All-Star trio, already ruled out of the rest of the playoffs with a shoulder injury, it’s handy that LeBron James has remembered he is the best player on the planet.
As the postseason rumbles on, the matchups get tougher. It remains to be seen whether the Cavs can make it all the way to Championship victory purely on James’ back.
Either the Atlanta Hawks or the Washington Wizards will face the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Final once their series, currently sitting at 3-2 to the Hawks, is decided.
The Hawks entered the postseason as the East’s top seed, but have so far struggled to live up to that moniker through the first two rounds.
Particularly in this Wizards series, Atlanta have struggled to exert the team-first philosophy on offence that has propelled them to such a high standing in the regular season.
They head back to Washington needing one more win to advance to the playoffs, but do so with the confidence of their point-guard and playmaker, Jeff Teague, shot.
Teague elected to remain on the bench for the final five minutes of the Game 5 win that Al Horford secured at the buzzer, despite generally poor play from the Hawks all night.
The Wizards’ own point-guard, John Wall, is playing with five non-displaced fractures in his hand and wrist, but has no intention of sitting out what could be his side’s last game of the season.
No easy ride
In the Western Conference things are no less chaotic. The LA Clippers have never been to the Conference Finals in their history and have now blown two chances against the Houston Rockets to alter that fact.
Having led the series 3-1, the Staples Centre crew are now locked up at 3-3 after blundering in both outings since, most recently blowing a sizeable lead to hand the Rockets both the momentum and home-court advantage.
Should they complete their rally from a losing position, the Rockets will be well-fancied to in the future rounds.
Their two star men, James Harden and Dwight Howard, are both playing exceptionally and they are finding key contributions from their bench players.
A potential Western Conference Finals between the Rockets and the Golden State Warriors would be eagerly anticipated.
Such a matchup would see the regular season’s two MVP rivals, Harden of the Rockets and Steph Curry of the Warriors, do battle. Expect Harden will go all out to show why he shouldn’t have been overlooked for the accolade.
Although the Warriors were impressively dominant over the entire NBA during the regular season, they have found the defensive haranguing of the Memphis Grizzlies, and in particular Tony Allen, tough to beat in their current series.
It was telling that in the first game without Allen, the Warriors torched the Grizzlies for an easy win. They’ll need one more to advance to the next round, which should be achieved even with an unfit Allen returning.