As the 2013-14 NBA Regular Season comes to a close, the playoff race is getting more and more intense day by day in both the Eastern and Western Conferences, even if the West is infinitely better.
With several solid teams in the West, the the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth seeds are still yet to be determined, and there are five teams competing for them. Nevertheless, I can still give you a good picture of what the the first round matchups will look like. Because the lower seeded teams in the West are so solid, they have the potential to defeat many of the higher seeded teams. This is going to be one very entertaining first round no matter the opponents.
What about the East? Well, as there are only 3-4 legitimate teams there, it may not be so exciting. A couple of the series are going to end in sweeps, and the ones that don’t may not be as exciting. Still, the playoffs are a magical time and any team, no matter their skill-level, has the opportunity to upset a very good team: we just don’t see it that often.
1. Phoenix Suns:
The Suns ceaselessly seem to amaze me. This is a team that most people hadn’t expected much from at the beginning of this exciting season. Then, however, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic quickly became a very formidable backcourt, meshing well in a very short period of time. Things took a turn for the worst when Bledsoe sustained a knee surgery and required surgery, sidelining him for more than two months.
At this point, it didn’t look too bright for the Suns, as they needed to find someone to fill his shoes. Trading Luis Scola for Gerald Green proved a very successful move for the Suns, as they were able to rejuvenate his career and get him in the talks for an Most Improved Player Award. In Bledsoe’s absence, Green torched his opponents and brought his scoring average through the roof. At his prime, he scored 41 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder in a victory.
Now that they have Bledsoe back in uniform, Green has learned how to play off the bench and is still keeping up his high scoring averages. With Marcus and Markeiff Morris as side players, the Suns are destined to upset.
If they playoffs started today, the Suns would be the 7th seed. I suspect that they may be able to maintain that spot, but they also have teams like the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks breathing down their necks. So far, they have split the contest 1-1, with a third game coming on April 6th. Mark your calendar. Against the Thunder this season, Eric Bledsoe scored 26 points, and Gerald Green is averaging 31 points against them, so scoring shouldn’t be a problem.
Against, the San Antonio Spurs, the first seed, the Suns trail them 2-1, but have shown glimpses of hope in their loss. Green has averaged under his season average against them at just 11 points per game, but in his place stepped Goran Dragic, one of the NBA’s up-and-coming point guards.
A free-wheeling offense led by Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe makes Phoenix a threat to beat absolutely anyone it faces. With nine games left and six potential playoff opponents on the slate, you’d think the Suns might fizzle out against tough competition.
Bleacher Report’s Grant Hughes writes that the fact that Phoenix is such an underrated team is what makes them good. This is a typical Cinderella Story, with a group of guys that aren’t All-Stars leading their team to the playoffs. No one is the face of the franchise but many players fill supporting roles quite nicely. With this high-powered and dangerous offense, the Suns are a threat to “anyone” they face.
2. Golden State Warriors:
I’m sure that most you reading this article won’t be surprised to see the Golden State Warriors on this list. Let’s be honest. All bias aside, I think that the Warriors had one of the most exciting first rounds against the Denver Nuggets in the past couple of years. Although the 2013 NBA Playoffs were filled with excitement, the energy of Stephen Curry got fans to really open their hearts to him and the Warriors until they were all rooting for them.
Fortunately for the Dubs, they overcame adversity, beat the best home team in the NBA in the Nuggets’ arena, and played some very inspiring basketball. They were stopped by the runners-up San Antonio Spurs in the first round, but along with the Miami Heat, who won the championship, the Warriors were the only other team to hand the Spurs a loss in the postseason. Exciting praise like that even garnered respect and appraisal from the illustrious Greg Poppovich.
Right now, they have three basic players carrying the team. Klay Thompson, David Lee, and Stephen Curry seem to be doing all the work right now. The Warriors are still on a hot streak with one of the best records in the NBA since the All Star Break. They’re not counting solely on those three players, however, because guys like Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and Andre Iguodala always come through when it matters the most.
If the playoffs started today, the Warriors would finish 6th place – this is exactly where I’m projecting they’ll end up. So far, they have been fairly equal with the 3rd-seeded Los Angeles Clippers, splitting the games 2-2. The Warriors won their two home games and the Clippers won their two. Also, many people consider these guys to be rivals, but they haven’t met in the playoffs yet. This may be destiny.
Against the Clippers this season, Curry has averaged 22 points per game, and David Lee 21.8 points per game. Those two have proven that they are just as dynamic a combo as Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, able to match their intensity.
The playoffs are a magical time for every single team. There are the ones who are seeded lower, but are still in great spots, and there are teams that have absolutely no hope of making it out of the first round. The Warriors and the Suns have good shots to upset teams such as the Spurs, Clippers, and Thunder. Should be a wild finish!