Friday, June 7, 2013

The Pick Is In: Detroit Selects Mo Cheeks as Head Coach

News broke late Thursday evening that the Pistons General Manger (Joe Dumars) and Owner (Tom Gores) have decided on a new head coach as the Pistons enter their next chapter of basketball. Mo Cheeks is expected to accept the job as they hammer out the details to his contract over the weekend.

Cheeks, who was an Assistant Coach on Scott Brooks staff in Oklahoma City for four years now, was considered a front runner for the job as was former Head Coach of the Portland Trailblazers and Seattle Supersonics, Nate McMillan.

Cheeks has had two stints as a Head Coach in  his career, one with the Portland Trailblazers (2001-2005) and the other with the Philadelphia 76ers (2005-2008). He has an all-time record of 284-286 over his two separate stints as Head Coach. Along with other personal accolades, Cheeks played in the NBA for 15 years at the point guard position, 11 which, were with the Philadelphia 76ers. He was a 4-time All-Star and help lead the 76ers to three separate trips to the NBA Finals (1980, 1982, 1983).

As a coach, Cheeks has been praised around the league with how well he develops young talent. He was a lead Assistant on Larry Brown's staff during the Allen Iverson era, and Brown praised him as a reason to Iverson's development as a point guard. Cheeks has also helped groom All-NBA Second Teamer and Oklahoma City Thunder star point guard Russell Westbrook.

Even though Mo Cheeks may not be a sexy pick for Piston fans, he is somebody that could help further the development of the Detroit Pistons young core, especially combo guard Brandon Knight. As GM Joe Dumars tried to groom his former "point guard of the future," Rodney Stuckey by trading away franchise point guard Chauncey Billups for the great (sarcasm) Allen Iverson, he tried to give Stuckey the wheel to the franchise. As we all know, that has not turned out as Dumars had envisioned. With four sub par coaches in Stuckey's tenure in Detroit, none of them have been able to get the best out of Stuckey. With the hiring of Cheeks, I feel Dumars is trying to learn from his mistakes and help properly develop Brandon Knight into the point guard he can become.

Cheeks will take over a young, hungry, and inexperienced team, with a determined and thirsty owner that is ready for his first taste of the playoffs. Another key factor to the hiring of Mo Cheeks is his relationship with about to be free agent small forward Andre Iguodala. With the ousting of Executive as well as Coach of the Year in Denver, a lot of things seem to be up in the air as to which direction the franchise wants to go in.

With a lot of money to spend in the offseason, it will be interesting to see the impact of what the hiring of Cheeks will have on the incoming free agent class of 2013.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

NBA Mock Draft 2013: Post-Lottery 1.0

With the NBA Draft just over a month away and the Draft Lottery behind us, it is officially NBA Mock Draft season. Like last year, I will have three installments and break down the buzz of each player. With team workouts still about a week away, players draft stock is based on a team's draft position and their performance at the college level.

The Cleveland Cavaliers (yet again) had luck on their side on the night of the Lottery as they receive the first pick in the draft for the second time in three years. With no clear cut player head and shoulders above the rest, the Cavaliers have a lot of work to do before they make the first pick on Draft night. Do they go with the injured athletic big man Nerlens Noel, the high flying shooting guard Ben Mclemore, or the fundamentally sound small forward Otto Porter.

Lots of questions need and will be answered by draft night and here is my first predictions for what should be an exciting and hectic night for the NBA.

Round 1:

1.) Cleveland Cavaliers - Nerlens Noel: C/PF
- For the first time in a few years, this is the first draft where there is no clear best player in the draft. The Cavaliers will have to due their due diligence and figure out which out of a pool of three players (Porter, Mclemore, and Noel) will make them a better team. As the Cavaliers are not too worried about making the playoffs next year, I feel that the Cavs will take the injured Center that by many reports "should" return by Christmas. This will give the Cavs yet another chance to land a great pick in next year's star studded draft.

2.) Orlando Magic - Trey Burke: PG
- The Orlando Magic are in a different type of situation where they already have a very productive center in Nikola Vucevic, and already have invested in Aaron Afflalo as their starting shooting guard. The Magic have a clear need at the point guard spot as veteran Jameer Nelson starts to age. Burke is the only point guard with star potential in this draft and would fit in nicely with Orlando's core group of guys.

3.) Washington Wizards - Otto Porter: SF
- With John Wall, Bradley Beal, and Nene all settled into their roles, the Wizards will try to figure out their two starting forward positions in this draft. This pick will most likely come down to Anthony Bennett or Otto Porter. I see the Wizards addressing the small forward position with the third pick and potential get a steal of a player with the fundamentally sound Porter.

4.) Charlotte Bobcats - Ben Mclemore: SG
- With yet again another unlucky lottery night, the Bobcats may come out with the best player in the draft with Mclemore. The Cats took Kidd-Gilchrist last year to address the small forward spot and can add some more fire power to one of the worst offensive teams in the league. Mclemore is freakishly athletic and has a sweet stroke behind the long line. The Bobcats are slowly but surely, improving year in and year out.
5.) Phoenix Suns - Victor Oladipo: SG
- At the NBA Draft Combine, it was reported that Oladipo was most GM's favorite player because of his demeanor and amazing athleticism. Some General Managers think he will be the best player in the long run to come out of this draft. The Suns need major help on the wing and Oladipo would fit in perfectly alongside up and coming point guard Goran Dragic.

6.) New Orleans Pelicans - Alex Len: C
- The Pelicans come into the draft with some needed front court players. They have Robin Lopez in the fold along with Ryan Anderson a stretch four. Lopez has not been nearly as successful as his older brother Brook, and the Hornets cannot call themselves a playoff team without an upgraded center. Len is the most intriguing center prospect in the draft coming out of the University of Maryland. He is a built 7'2" center weighing in at about 255 pounds.

7.) Sacramento Kings - Michael Carter-Williams: PG
- The Kings are in need of a floor general that can help call plays. Right now, they have 5'9" Isaiah Thomas running the point guard position, and that won't cut it if the Kings want to improve their roster. With Tyreke Evans maybe on the way out and big man DeMarcus Cousins needing help on the floor, look for the Kings to draft the second best point guard prospect in the draft. Carter-Williams averaged over seven assists a game this year showing that he can successfully run a team even though he is a 6'6" point guard.

8.) Detroit Pistons - Shabazz Muhammad: SF/SG
- After addressing the Center position in last year's draft and adding point guard Brandon Knight the year before to go along with big man Greg Monroe, the Pistons are in the market for a scorer, preferably an upgrade at the small forward spot. With both Bennett and Muhammad on the board, I feel the Pistons will go with the high scoring forward that fills a much needed position, unlike Bennett. Muhammad coming in at 6'7", may be called an undersized forward, but he is only an inch shorter than former small forward Tayshaun Prince, who had success at the three spot. Muhammad reminds me a lot of former Piston Richard Hamilton in a way, because of how he plays off the ball. He does not need to have the ball in his hand to get an open shot because of how well he moves without the ball in his hands coming off of screens. It will be interesting to see which way the Pistons go with the eighth pick, as they try to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

9.) Minnesota Timberwolves - C.J. McCollum: SG/PG
- The Timberwolves need help on the perimeter and McCollum can sure do that. He averaged 23.4 points per game at little known college Lehigh. McCollum has an extremely smooth shot and can shoot the lights out from distance. he also has exceptional ball handling ability to get himself to the basket at will. McCollum is the most dynamic scorer in the draft, and the T-wolves would be lucky to have him.

10.) Portland Trailblazers - Anthony Bennett: PF/SF
- In this mock draft, Bennett has taking quite a fall, this is because he does not have a true position. He is an undersized power forward at 6'7", and does not have the ball handling ability to play the three spot. He reminds me a lot of Paul Milsap in a way, and would be a great fit next to Nicholas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge in the front court. This would make for a formidable starting lineup with Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard and straight shooting Wesley Mathews in the back court. This would also allow Portland to not have to spend more money in the summer to bring back power forward J.J. Hickson.

11.) Philadelphia 76ers - Cody Zeller: C
- With the offseason trade that brought in perhaps the second best center in the league in Andrew Bynum, the Sixers haven't been the same because of Bynum missing the entire season. With both knees deteriorating in Bynum and his contract expiring this summer, Philly may look to draft his replacement in this year's draft with Cody Zeller. Zeller was thought to be the best player in this year's draft coming into the college basketball season, but has had quite a drop since the season got underway. Zeller still has loads of potential and he fills a need for the Sixers.

12.) Oklahoma City Thunder - Jamaal Franklin: SG
- Franklin is an athletic and aggressive shooting guard. He is always slashing to the basket trying to get off a shot by the rim. Even when he is not getting to the basket he still has the capability to shoot from the outside. With Kevin Martin hitting free agency this summer, the Thunder may be in need off some scoring next to Durant and Westbrook. Franklin can come along slowly in OKC and develop into a solid scorer off the bench much like last year draft pick could as well in Jeremy Lamb.

13.) Dallas Mavericks - Kelly Olynick: C
- The Mavericks are in need of youth as their team has been full of aging veterans and players out off their prime recently. With Chris Kaman and Elton Brand hitting the market soon, the Mavericks are in need off some help up front next to Dirk Nowitzki. Olynik is a skilled seven footer from Gonzaga that can score on the block. He may not be an extremely affected shot blocker, but he can get the job done. The Mavs may have bigger and better plans during free agency (Dwight Howard), but Olynik is a solid player that Dallas can fall back on and bring along slowly.

14.) Utah Jazz - Dennis Schroeder: PG
- Schroeder is a little known point guard from overseas. he is only 19 years old and the best point guard prospect on the board to end the lottery. The Jazz are in need of a point guard as they had long time NBA vet Mo Williams playing the position for a team that just barely missed out on the playoffs. Schroeder can learn from an NBA all-star on how to run a team and the Jazz can bring him on slowly behind Williams.

15.) Milwaukee Bucks - Allen Crabbe: SG
- With Monta Ellis already half way out the door in Milwaukee, the Bucks need an insertion of scoring in the back court next to Brandon Jennings. Crabbe played extremely well this year to help lead California to the NCAA tournament and an upset win in the first round against Anthony Bennett and UNLV. Crabbe averaged over 18 points per game and shot over 45 percent from the field. Crabbe can create a shot with his ball handling ability and has a lights out shooting ability. Crabbe would fit in nicely next to Jennings.

16.) Boston Celtics - Rudy Gobert: C
- With an aging Kevin Garnett possibly on the outs in Boston, the Celtics will be looking for some more help up front. Gobert is a seven footer from France that may be raw, but the Celtics think that they can then mold him to a player that fills their needs up front. Doc Rivers will try to work his magic yet again on anther young big man like he did with Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger.

17.) Atlanta Hawks - Kentavious Coldwell-Pope: SG
- With Josh Smith out and taking his defensive abilities with him, the Hawks need help on the defensive side of the ball. Coldwell-Pope is a defensive minded guard from Georgia University. The Hawks will try to mold him into one of the better on ball defenders in the league, joining the conversation of Tony Allen of the Memphis Grizzlies and Avery Bradley of the Boston Celtics.

18.) Atlanta Hawks - Steven Adams: C
- With their second of the two back to back picks in the first round, the Hawks will look to add some big bodies up front with the departure of Josh Smith. Adams is a big man that has the athletic ability to get the big blocks. he would join a big man rotation that would include, Johan Petro, Ivan Johnson, Zaza Pachulia, and NBA All-star Al Horford.

19.) Cleveland Cavaliers - Mason Plumlee: C
- After drafting Nerlens Noel with the first overall selection in the draft, I expect the Cavaliers to continue to go big with the 19th pick because of Noel's absence the first half of the season. Plumlee is an extremely athletic power forward/center that can help protect the paint upfront with about to be third year forward out of Texas, Tristan Thompson.

20.) Chicago Bulls - Gorgui Dieng: C
- Another big man comes off the board here with NCAA Men's Basketball Champion Louisville Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng, Coming into the year Dieng was a very raw offensive player but began to come into his own when it counted, during their Championship run in the NCAA tournament. Dieng averaged 2.5 blocks a contest and shot over 53 percent from the field. Dieng would come in and fit nicely next to Joakim Noah and make a paint protecting 1-2 punch in Chicago.

21.) Utah Jazz - Dario Saric: SF
- The Jazz will look to improve their scoring ability with their second first round pick in the 2013 Draft. Saric is a young (19 years old), tall, lanky forward, coming in at nearly 7'0" tall. He is listed at 6'10" tall and weighs in at 220 pounds. Saric can come in slowly playing behind small forward/shooting guard Gordon Hayward. Saric will be drafted to eventually take the spot of present Jazz forward Marvin Williams.

22.) Brooklyn Nets - Tony Mitchell: PF
- As the Nets' season got underway they have had a problem filling the hole at the power forward position. The first half of the year, Kris Humphries started at the four spot, but eventually fell out of favor in interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo's rotation. Reggie Evans started the second half of the year at the forward spot, as well as in the playoffs. Evans is a monster on the glass, posting multiple 20 rebound games since being inserted in the staring lineup, but has failed to provide any offensive help for Brooklyn, that's where Mitchell can come in and help. Tony is a scoring forward on the block, he averaged 13 points per game and grabbed nearly 9 rebounds a contest. He also is an above average rim protector averaging 2.7 blocks a game.

23.) Indiana Pacers - Glen Rice Jr.: SF
- Rice is one of the best athletes in this year's draft and would be a nice fit to what is already an extremely athletic team. Rice played last year for the NBA Development League team the Rio Grand Valley Vipers. He help lead them, along with Andrew Goudeluck to a league championship.

24.) New York Knicks - Giannis Adetokunbo: SF/PG
- Giannis is one of the most intriguing players in the draft, He is a 6'9" point guard from Greece that has gotten the attention of almost every general manager in the NBA. He has the ability to play the small forward position, but thrives when he is setting up his teammates for open baskets. His range of where he could go in the draft goes from mid-lottery to mid-second round, quite a range, for such a unique player. I don't expect him to fall out of the first round because of how versatile he can be because of his skill set and size. The Knicks took a chance on Iman Shumpert a few years back that got some criticism from Knick fans, and this pick might do the same.

25.) Los Angeles Clippers - Archie Goodwin: SG
- With Chauncey Billups getting up there in age, and Willie Green taking the starting shooting guard spot for most of the season. Kentucky shooting guard Archie Goodwin would be a nice insertion of young talent on the wing for the Clippers. Goodwin played well for the Wildcats, playing in the shadow of projected top three pick Nerlens Noel. Goodwin averaged just over 14 points per game and almost five rebounds per game. Goodwin is a slasher that gets most of his baskets attacking the rim, he needs to develop his jump shot more if he wants to succeed at the next level. This will help space the floor for Blake Griffin when he is working in the post, and it would create a nice kick out option for Chris Paul when he penetrates the lane.

26.) Minnesota Timberwolves - Reggie Bullock: SF
- The Timberwolves are set in the front court with NBA All-star Kevin Love and emerging big man Nikola Pekovic. They are also sound at the point guard spot with young Ricky Rubio and the effective small guard J.J. Barea. The main need for Minnesota is the shooting guard spot even after addressing it with their first selection of the draft. Bullock comes from a great program at North Carolina under head coach Roy Williams. Bullock is a good outside shooter that would make a good fit next to Rubio.

27.) Denver Nuggets - Deshaun Thomas: SG/SF
- The Nuggets may be losing starting shooting guard Andre Igoudala in free agency so I see them targeting a guard in the first round. Thomas averaged over 19 points a game at Ohio State University and is a lights out shooter behind the long line. He may very well be the best three point shooter out of the entire pool of players in the draft. He would be a nice fit next to Ty Lawson and Andre Miller in the back court.

28.) San Antonio Spurs - Tim Hardaway Jr.: SF/SG
- The Spurs, year in and year out, always seem to pluck a diamond out of the rough when it comes to the draft. They have selected the likes of Dejuan Blair, Tiago Splitter, and Manu Ginobli in the late first round and the second round. Hardaway Jr. would be a really nice fit in head coach Gregg Popovich's system and can help space the floor for Tim Duncan and Tony Parker.

29.) Oklahoma City Thunder - Jeff Withey: PF/C
- Withey is one of the most interesting players in this year's draft. He was expected to take a big leap after the departure of Thomas Robinson last year. He did take a little bit of a leap, but nothing big enough to create a lot of buzz around him. He scores well in the post and has developed a decent mid-range jumper. He also is an above average shot blocker that can help the Thunder rotation up front.

30.) Phoenix Suns - Colton Iverson: C
- The Suns also need help up front, Marcin Gortat was the only solid player up front for the Suns. Jermain O'Neal did a solid job for the time being, but the aging veteran is not the answer up front going forward for Phoenix. Iverson is a solid scorer and rebounder in the paint, averaging almost 15 and 10 last year. He is not a shot blocking big man, but can affect a game with his scoring and rebounding ability.

Round 2:

37.) Detroit Pistons - Myck Kabongo: PG
- With Brandon knight the only point guard on the roster heading into free agency, Dumars will be looking to find a solid backup for Knight if they cannot retain either Calderon or Bynum this summer. Myck Kabongo did a solid job leading his troops in to battle night in and night out. he is a willing passer that likes to get his teammates involved more than himself, a "true" point guard. Kabongo, even though he is on the small side, can be an instant spark plug off the bench to help get the second unit going, like Will Bynum was accustom to doing. Kabongo averaged 14 points per game to go along with 5 rebounds and 5 assists a game.

56.) Detroit Pistons - Alex Abrines: SG/SF
- This late in the draft, and already full of young talent, it wouldn't surprise me if the Pistons try to package this as well as their other second round pick to move into the late second round. They also might be open to just trading this pick for cash too. But, if they do decide to keep the pick, Detroit will most likely decide to draft an international player that will play overseas for a few years to keep a roster spot open. I like Alex Abrines because he is an attacker, he likes to get his points close to the basket and scores well in bunches. In just 11.3 minutes a game overseas, he averaged just over 5 points per game and shooting 65 percent from the field. So if the Pistons do decide to keep the pick, expect them to go foreign and keep a player overseas for a few years while they prepare and improve their game for the next level.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

NBA Predictions: Playoff Edition

With the NBA Playoffs set, it's time to look at the matchups and see who is on the right road to the NBA finals. It's been a fun and entertaining regular season, but is now time for the top sixteen teams in the league to make their run at the Larry O'Brien Trophy. The playoff seeding came down to the last game between the Rockets and the Lakers and now it is time to see who will go the farthest in their playoff run.

Eastern Conference First Round Series:

1.) Miami Heat -vs- 8.) Milwaukee Bucks
- The Miami Heat are the reigning NBA Champs and the league's best team during the regular season winning a league high 66 games. On the other side, the Milwaukee Bucks have the least amount of wins out of all the playoff teams and the only team  under .500 in the playoffs. On April 17th, Bucks star Brandon Jennings came out and said that he sees Milwaukee winning the series in six games. A rather gutsy comment, but you have to stay confident this time of year. I don't see the Heat laying down at all this series, so I don't see this series getting extended at all.

Verdict: Miami over Milwaukee (4-0)

4.) Brooklyn Nets -vs- 5.) Chicago Bulls
- This is going to be a fun series between the Nets and Bulls. These teams are totally opposite when it comes to how they play the game. Tom Thibodeau and the Bulls are an all defensive team, and win their games on the defensive side of the ball. Bulls are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league but always find themselves in to the very end of a game through their defense. On another note, the Nets, like to run and gun with their elite backcourt of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. I see this series going down to the last game with a surprising twist.

Verdict: Bulls over Nets (4-3)

3.) Indiana Pacers -vs- 6.) Atlanta Hawks
- With the young up and coming Pacers going against a mix of young guys and veterans in the Hawks, it should be fun to see who comes out of this series. The Pacers have one of the best defensive teams in the league and the Hawks love to run with their athletes and shooters that they have on the wing. Josh Smith and Al Horford will have to come up big if the Hawks want to upset the young Pacers. Jeff Teague will be the "x-factor" in this series if the Hawks want to beat the Pacers. This should be a fun series, but I don't see the Hawks soaring over the Pacers at the end.

Verdict: Pacers over Hawks (4-2)

2.) New York Knicks -vs- 7.) Boston Celtics
- Another great playoff series is about to take place between these two sport rivals in Boston and New York. With the tragedy that has taken over Boston over the last few days, I expect a much better and more inspired Celtics team here in the playoffs than we saw in the regular season. Even with all-star point guard Rajon Rondo out, I feel the Celtics are the toughest matchup the Knicks could have gotten in the first round. Doc Rivers and the savvy Celtics will look to upset the Knicks in the first round and I think they can do it behind future Hall of Famers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Verdict: Celtics over Knicks (4-2)

Western Conference First Round Series:

1.) Oklahoma City Thunder -vs- 8.) Houston Rockets
- The NBA could not have gotten a better one versus eight first round matchup, it's James Harden's return to Chesapeake Bay Arena. The Rockets loss to the Lakers on Wednesday drew them this series and it won't go too well in Harden's case. The Rockets don't matchup well against the Thunder in many key positions. Jeremy Lin, Rockets point guard, will have a fit trying to stay in front of all-star guard Russell Westbrook and Chandler Parsons will, have to try and stay in front of the second best player in the league, Kevin Durant. I don't see this series going far, but it should be a fun one.

Verdict: Thunder over Rockets (4-1)

4.) Los Angeles Clippers -vs- 5.) Memphis Grizzlies
- This should be one of the best series of the first round, if not the playoffs between these two heavy weights. Run and gun Lob City will take on the slow it down Memphis Grizzlies. Whoever takes control of the tempo and plays the game their way will win the series. I expect a great matchup between rivals Zach Randolph and Blake Griffin, and it will be fun watching former teammates and NBA Finals champs go at it in Chauncey Billups of the Clippers and Tayshaun Prince of the Grizzlies. I expect this series to go to the last game in an exciting 7-game series. I just think the depth of the Clippers bench will be all too much for Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies to handle.

Verdict: Clippers over Grizzlies (4-3)

3.) Denver Nuggets -vs- 6.) Golden State Warriors
- This is a matchup between two very well coached teams. They also are two of the best teams on their home court. the Nuggets were an NBA best (38-3) on their home court and the Warriors were (28-13) on their court. These two teams love to run and gun and fire at will outside the three point line. The Warriors have probably the very best three point shooting back court in the entire league in Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. Curry just recently passed Ray Allen for most threes made in a season with 272. This should be a fun and entertaining series with not many road wins.

Verdict: Nuggets over Warriors(4-3)

2.) San Antonio Spurs -vs- 7.) Los Angeles Lakers
- Until after the last game of the year, the Lakers did not know if they would even be in the playoffs, but now they stand as the 7th seed ready to take on the San Antonio Spurs. Without Kobe Bryant the Lakers will have to try and find a way to be one of the best teams in the league. Even with injuries, the Spurs shouldn't have as much of a problem as people seem to think. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol will have to be phenomenal if they want to make some noise in this series. Steve Nash, who is a game time decision for game 1 will have to hold his own against NBA MVP candidate Tony Parker. The series should be very entertaining and draw a lot of media attention, but don't expect it to be extended beyond a few games.

Verdict: Spurs over Lakers (4-1)

Eastern Conference Semi Finals Series:

1.) Miami Heat -vs- 5.) Chicago Bulls
- With former league MVP Derrick Rose most likely sidelined against the Nets, if Chicago makes it out of the first round, we may see Rose back in action, and that could make this series extremely interesting. The Heat are the best team in transition so the Bulls will have to try and keep Miami playing in the half court, where the Bulls thrive. I expect a much more competitive series in the semi finals for Miami, but nothing that will make them fear elimination.

Verdict: Miami over Bulls (4-2)

3.) Indiana Pacers -vs- 7.) Boston Celtics
- After upsetting the Knicks in the first round, the Celtic's confidence are at an all-time high and that should make for an extremely exciting series between two of the best defensive teams in the League. The two deciding factors in the series will be who wins the matchups between Paul Pierce - Paul George, and Kevin Garnett - David West. With the whole state of Massachusetts behind them, don't expect the Celtics to go down without a fight.

Verdict: Pacers over Celtics (4-3)

 Western Conference Semi Finals Series:

1.) Oklahoma City Thunder -vs- 4.) Los Angeles Clippers
- The Clippers draw another NBA heavy weight in their next matchup against the best in the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Clippers will test the Thunder in every game and could very well upset the reigning Western Conference champion Thunder. The Clippers will have to try and slow down Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook if they want to have a chance in this series, and it is pivotal for the Thunder that Serge Ibaka frustrates Blake Griffin and not allow many show time dunks to get the crowd involved. This series may be the two best teams in the West going at it, but you still have to give the nod to the Thunder to win the series even without James Harden.

Verdict: Thunder over Clippers (4-2)

2.) San Antonio Spurs -vs- 3.) Denver Nuggets
Another great Western Conference playoff matchup, as the best home team in the league takes on the third best home team in the Spurs. These two know how to win on their home court and it will be extremely difficult for either team to win in the others arena. With the Spurs having home court advantage in the series, I'm not sure the depleted Nuggets without Danilo Gallinari, will be able to withstand the talent of the Spurs big three in Manu, Parker, and Duncan.

Verdict: Spurs over Nuggets (4-1)

Eastern Conference Finals:

1.) Miami Heat -vs- 3.) Indiana Pacers
- The Indiana Pacers have come a long way since their first playoff series with this group of guys three years ago. Three years later, they are playing for a trip to the NBA Finals for the first time since 2004. The Pacers young star Paul George will have to deal with MVP LeBron James coming off yet another career season. This series will be competitive to the very end and will have some bad blood between the two just like last year, but I just can't see the Pacers pulling out upset against the reigning champion Miami Heat.

Verdict: Heat over Pacers (4-2)

Western Conference Finals:

1.) Oklahoma City Thunder -vs- 2.) San Antonio Spurs
- Just as last year's Western Conference finals, the Spurs and the Thunder will meet once again with a trip to the NBA Finals on the line. Only this time, the Thunder will have to win it without James Harden. The Spurs, before all of the injuries and Miami's 27-game win streak, had the best record in the NBA. The Spurs when healthy, could take out the Thunder unlike last year. The Spurs failed to take advantage of their 2-0 series lead last year, but don't expect that same thing to happen again if the same scenario occurs.

Verdict: Spurs over Thunder (4-2)

NBA Finals:

1.) Miami Heat -vs- 2.) San Antonio Spurs
- The Heat and the Spurs came into the season with championship aspirations and each will have a chance to achieve that with just four more wins. The Spurs were built through the draft and have grown together over a long period of time. While the Miami Heat were assembled just two summers ago. The Spurs may have better chemistry and coaching than the Heat, but Miami has two of the best players at their position on their side. This series is bound to be extremely competitive as long as injuries stay out of play. Here is how I see each game playing out:

- Game 1: Heat over Spurs 105-96
- Game 2: Heat over Spurs 92-88
- Game 3: Spurs over Heat 88-80
- Game 4: Spurs over Heat 90-89
- Game 5: Heat over Spurs 101-94
- Game 6: Heat over Spurs 110-98

Verdict: Miami beats San Antonio (4-2)