NBA Stretch Run: The Best of the East
By: Jim Feist
Wednesday, April 12, 2017
It's been a long haul, this NBA regular season,
but the playoffs are just around the corner. So who wins the NBA title?
We all know the favorites don't waltz to the NBA Finals. Last year
eventual champion Cleveland won its first 10 playoff games, but that's not the
norm. Golden State, the defending champ, had that record-setting regular
season, then started 9-5 straight up in the playoffs, even falling behind
Oklahoma City 3-games-to-1.
Three years ago San Antonio had to
go 7 games with Dallas in the first round, then six with Oklahoma City. Four
years ago Miami needed to go seven games with Indiana to get there, then had to
pull off a miracle in Game 6 to stun the Spurs. Five years ago San Antonio was
a No. 1 seed and up 2-0 on the young Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.
Then, Oklahoma City won 5 in a row to take a 1-0 lead in the Finals. Then,
Miami won 4 in a row to shell-shock young OKC.
It takes teamwork and effort, lots of
effort, to hoist the crown at the end of a long season. Cleveland exemplified
teamwork a year ago on the way to winning the title and the Spurs have done is
multiple times. The West has won 12 of the last 18 NBA titles. This week, it's
the best of the East.
Cavaliers: The defending champs excelled much of
the season, but hit a rough patch down the stretch after losing Kevin Love, but
his return hasn't stabilized things. The biggest concern has been serious
defensive lapses, ranking in the Bottom 12 in points allowed and in the middle
of the pack in field goal shooting defense. Those are flaws that could be
exposed in the postseason. Still, any team is a threat with 32-year
old Lebron James (26 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 8.7 apg) and 25-year old Kyrie Irving (25
ppg), a dynamic one-two offensive punch. 28-year old Kevin Love (19 ppg,
10 rpg) is still a force and the Cavs have very good role players like Tristan
Thompson. Have to give the nod to the champs in the East until someone
can dethrone them before the Finals.
Celtics: General Manager Danny Ainge has already
built one championship team in Boston (2008) and another that went to Game 7 of
the 2010 NBA Finals. He has been patiently building another strong team that
does a lot of things well. Guard Isaiah Thomas (29 ppg) is a sparkplug that
runs the uptempo attack, but they also play good defense for Coach Brad
Stevens, #14 in points allowed, #10 in field goal defense. The Celtics are also second in the NBA in
Golden State in three-point defense. It's a guard-oriented lineup behind
Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart, while newcomer Al Horford
(14 ppg, 7 rpg) added some much-needed physical frontcourt muscle.
They've also held their own against the Cavs, losing by 6 on the road and
winning at home (103-99).
Raptors: Toronto is a fascinating team, hoping
to get guard Kyle Lowry back for the playoffs. They've weathered his injury to
stay in the thick of the East with great balance, Top 10 in points scored and
allowed. 27-year old DeMar Rozan (27 ppg) has shouldered the offensive load
while 6-10 Serge Ibaka has added defensive prowess under the glass despite
missing much of the season.
Wizards: Young Washington is a tough matchup
with a deadly offense, led by lightening-quick John Wall and sharp-shooting
Bradley Beal. They can be a tough matchup for teams that lack quality backcourt
defense. However, Washington has several weak areas that can't be overlooked
come playoff time: Youth, a below-average defense, and they struggled on the
road. That last point can't be overlooked for a team that is not the No. 1
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