The 9 Best Storylines of the 2015 NBA Playoffs…So Far
It’s hard to believe that we’re not even halfway done with the 2015 NBA playoffs yet. We’ve seen enough action for two or three years’ worth up to this point, and I’m guessing as the stakes get raised and teams dwindle, we’ll get even more drama. I mean, we’ve still got eight teams left in the mix, with most series fairly even up to this point. Once that falls to four, we’ll get the real stories going as focus shifts to stars and unknowns playing under the microscope of NBA fans across the world.
So parsing out the plotlines so far can be pretty arbitrary, and some of these could disappear entirely in the next week. But we choose to live in the moment, so let s take a look at where we are right now, occasionally glancing back on the first round, and determine the 9 best storylines of the 2015 NBA playoffs up until now.
(And yes, I realize that all these points are phrased as questions, but within those questions lies the story of a player or team up until that point. It’s just an easier way to convey the issue, in my opinion, than simply saying “LeBron’s Pressure.”)
The Clippers have been on the rise for years now, but when Spencer Hawes becomes anything resembling a clutch player, you have to acknowledge they’re on a roll, even by their standards. In any other universe, a team this young, this disparate, with some pretty big weaknesses, does not beat San Antonion in 7. They might go on a streak and beat them in 4, but 7 requires focus and consistency. And they’re showing it again against Houston. Is this the doing of Doc Rivers? Chris Paul? Is DeAndre Jordan, who’s already got a foot out the door, as dominant a big man as the stats would have us believe? Yes to all. They’re realizing something close to cohesion right now. Let’s see if they can keep it together.
9. How Long Can the Clippers Overachieve?
Let me start off by saying this: NO. Steph Curry is on track to be a dominant player, and certainly great, but it’s not do or die for him right now. He’s got a great infrastructure, a promising career, youth, and a phenomenal team. If they go to the finals and win, it might be because Steph was great. But not necessarily so. We’ve seen Klay be pretty damn great, too. It’s not entirely clear that Steph has that Jordan/Kobe streak in him to will his team to victory. But he’s an amazing player, and they certainly wouldn’t be where they are without him. Let’s leave it at that and enjoy the show.
8. Will Steph Curry Achieve Greatness with a Championship?
The Hawks have been an odd team all year. What’s most odd about them is that they found regular season success without many name players. They had the best record in the NBA, and now it looks like they’re faltering against the Wizards. They might get past them. They should get past them. They probably will get past them. But I don’t like them against Chicago or Cleveland one bit. Those teams have pedigrees over the past decade that the Hawks just don’t. They’ve been a perennial eighth seed, and to find success over a team over a seven-game series, they’re going to need more of an identity than they have now. And wearing themselves out against John Wall and Co. isn’t going to help.
7. Will the Hawks get by Cleveland or Chicago?
Initially, I would have thought that the East had a huge advantage in playing cream puff teams in the first rounds while the West teams had to grind it out against more talented squads. But the Eastern teams don’t seem to be capturing that advantage. Atlanta struggles in the second round (see above) and Chicago and Cleveland are at each other’s throats. And there’s still a round left before the two conferences meet. The East is wearing itself out more than we would have thought. But the West is wearing itself out EXACTLY as much as we thought.
6. Does Parity in the West Give Hope to the East in the Finals?
We went down this road once for the MVP race, and Curry got the call. However, as we’re now in playoff mode, fans have a shorter memory. Setting a record for three pointers made is nice, Steph, but what have you done this week? It always struck me as funny that the MVP would be awarded before the playoffs. But I guess that’s why we have the playoff MVP. Both Golden State nor Houston could miss the finals, but this question will get an answer one way or another, and I think it’s a serious coin flip right now.
5. Steph Curry or James Harden? (Redux)
He looks like he’s been upgraded to balsa wood for the playoffs. I don’t think anyone expected him to return in time for the Bulls’ playoff run, let alone make a difference for them, but he seems to be largely back. He’s not luminous or anything, but he’s better than we expected, and the Bulls were playing well without him. This is a great opportunity for him to find that seventh gear and put the Bulls in the drivers seat in the East. But Cleveland has a few things to say about that.
4. Is Derrick Rose Still Made Out of Toothpicks?
I think they are. It pains me to say that Dwight Howard has a fire inside him, but he does. And the impact of James Harden can’t be underestimated. You’ve even got guys like Jason Terry with a thousand years of playoff experience making a difference. They’re not a cohesive bunch, and it’s hard to put a pinpoint on their style, but they are amazingly athletic, and now they’re starting to play with purpose. They’re my darkhorse pick to win the whole thing. And I hate that.
3. Is Houston As Good As Their Playoff Run Indicates?
Before we look at this year, let’s look at next year. LeBron will be a year older, Kyrie will be a year better with actual playoff experience, the team will have meshed, and Kevin Love will be back. Or not. That’s a free agency question. But I’d think that even if Kevin Love does leave, which I don’t think he will, they can get a new free agent to join the gang in Cleveland. So this isn’t LeBron’s only year to make a move. But that probably doesn’t mitigate the pressure that he’s feeling to win anyway.
2. Is It Do or Die for LeBron in Cleveland?
The Wizards are the Grizzlies of the East. Which, because they’re in the East, means they’re worse than the Grizzlies. But they are hanging tight with the Hawks. They shouldn’t be here, even with the paly of John Wall, who they missed for the past few games. They’re overachieving as well. And with them overachieving, and the Hawks playing the way they are, I could see a life for them in the next round. But then, facing Cleveland or Chicago, they definitely die.