All eight series will have gotten underway by the end of Sunday as four more tip off today. What we got?
Celtics at Cavs
2:00 pm CDT
The Celtics did a great job hanging in there and securing a playoff spot in what was thought to be a lost year. They really turned it up late, especially after trading veterans Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green. The are incredibly young, with only 29 year old Brandon Bass older than 26 in their regular rotation. Brad Stevens is quickly making a name for himself among young NBA coaches. That said, they have no chance against the Cavs, who are filled with star power that took a while to get going, but a couple of mid-season trades have helped, especially on defense, and they have been among the best teams in the league in the 2nd half. Kevin Love gets his first taste of playoff action, though his marginalization has been a big story all year.
Cavs in 4.
It's terribly depressing that the Nets made the playoffs while teams like the Thunder are at home. The disparity between conferences is ridiculous. The Nets are a pretty decrepit bunch, and I find them one of the least appealing teams to watch in the entire league. The Hawks, on the other hand, are great to watch. They run a terrific offense predicated on ball movement without any single player dominating the action. Nobody averaged more than 16.7 ppg (Paul Millsap), which much be an all-time low for a 60 win team. At any rate, this won't be close, despite the fact that the Hawks went off the boil just a little bit late in the season.
Hawks in 4
Blazers at Grizzlies
7:00 pm CDT
The Blazers, after staying quite healthy for a couple of years, suffered some unfortunate injuries this season, including losing Wesley Matthews for the year. As a result, they cooled considerably after a hot start, and have to travel to Memphis (another team that had second half struggles) for their first round series. Last season, they rode the heroics of Damian Lillard and some absurd games from LaMarcus Aldridge to beat the Rockets in round one before succumbing easily to a Spurs team that was rounding into championship form. The Grizzlies bring much the same group back to the playoffs once again, where they have intermittent success mixed with some real disappointments. They didn't play well late in the season, but their ability to shut teams down with their defense remains among the best in the league. I like them to get it going again in the post-season and take care of the Blazers.
Grizzlies in 6
Spurs at Clippers
9:30 pm CDT
The headliner. The defending champion Spurs were looking like they were finally losing steam halfway through the year, but then turned it up when Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard got healthy and went on a huge run late. They could have secured the 2nd seed on the final night of the season, but lost to a desperate Pelicans, thus setting up a road match up with the Clippers in what could easily be mistaken for a conference finals. However...I actually don't think the Spurs are back to their championship level. This was true entering the playoffs last season as well--remember the Mavs took them to seven--so of course it remains possible for them to find yet another gear. We'll see. The Clippers have one of the top starting fives in basketball, but their bench is catastrophic; essentially the opposite of the deep Spurs. Chris Paul had another MVP caliber season, and DeAndre Jordan is a beast on the boards. Blake Griffin is back healthy, and their shooters are deadly playing off the stars. Still, they are only an average defensive team and really struggle when they have to go to the bench. I think I like the Spurs to barely get through this one, but it should be a terrific series.
Spurs in 7.