Dueling dudes: The NBA finals

Zack Burley, Sam Lounsberry, and Emmett McCarthy

In the second edition of Dueling Dudes, Zack Burley, the Collegian’s opinion editor and resident basketball nut, joins Sam Lounsberry and Emmett McCarthy to discuss the NBA Playoffs — in particular, who will make it to The Finals. Take a read:

Emmett’s Take

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Emmet McCarthy
Emmett McCarthy

Don’t overthink it. This is Golden State’s year.

In a stacked Western Conference, the Warriors are still clearly the juggernaut. (Yes, I saw Game 2 against Memphis. No, I’m not worried.)

The way things have unfolded, the Warriors seem primed for their first trip to the finals since 1975.

Normally, I would not be so confident in such a young corps that has never gone past the second round. But, this Warriors team is different than regular season kingpins from the past. And, the rest of the league looks different as well.

The Cavaliers are not the 2011-2012 Heat. The Thunder are not even in the postseason. The Spurs would have been well equipped to handle the Warriors’ league-best defense, but now they are out of the picture, too.

That leaves the Clippers to seem like the biggest potential roadblock, after taking out the reigning champs in a slugfest. They showed a new toughness and a real sense of urgency. When you have got two of the top 10 players in the league, you’ve got a shot.

But, then again, when you’re relying on Austin Rivers to carry your bench in, it’s definitely a longshot. Hedo Turkoglu and his awkwardly loose undershirt should probably not be on the floor during crunch time of a playoff series in 2015.

The Warriors took seven games last year without defensive anchor in Andrew Bogut. With the big man back and the benefit of home court advantage, Golden State has to be the favorite in that series.

The Clippers were the only team to rank ahead of Warriors offensively. Unfortunately for the Clip Show, the Warriors have everything to take away their starters. Draymond Green will hound Blake Griffin, Bogut can limit DeAndre Jordan’s impact and Andre Iguodala can deny J.J. Redick better than anyone in the league. Chris Paul is impossible to guard, but Klay Thompson and Shaun Livingston can make life tougher for him than most.

For now, though, Golden State has its hands full with Memphis. The loss in Game 2 was not that troubling, though. The starters went a combined 3-for-22 from deep (Curry was 2-for-11 and Thompson was 1-for-6), and they still only lost by single-digits. While Tony Allen and others deserve credit for shutting them down, I would not expect to see a repeat of that in the shooting department. Also, do not expect to see the Warriors going under screens for Mike Conley again.

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When firing on all cylinders, Golden State is the best team on both ends of the court. Do we really believe these teams could win four out of seven games against them?

The Warriors just happen to be in a rare class.

In league history, only seven teams have ever outscored opponents by an average margin of at least 10 points. Golden State came just short with a plus-9.9 point differential.

Of those seven teams, only one did not go on to win the finals (1971-72 Bucks). The last team to do it was the 2007-08 Celtics, who defeated the Lakers in the finals in six games. So, history points in their direction.

Sure, the Warriors have looked less dominant in the postseason. That should have been expected.

At the end of the day, if you have seen what GSW is capable of defensively, along with their pace and depth, it’s hard to imagine any team getting the better of them in a seven game series.

Wardell Stephen Curry II with the shot, boy.

Collegian Sports Reporter Emmett McCarthy can be reached by email at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @emccarthy22.

Sam’s Take

The Cleveland Cavaliers will make The Finals. And, there’s no reason to think they won’t win a championship once they get there.

That is, if they can make it through this series with Chicago.

Sam Lounsberry
Sam Lounsberry

This is the last series the Cavs have to worry about losing before The Finals. Neither the Hawks nor the Wizards can beat the Cavs, even when they lack Kevin Love. They just can’t. Lebron James is too good to be stopped by anyone on either of those rosters.

Who guards him for the Hawks? Kyle Korver shouldn’t even try, which leaves DeMarre Carroll as the only other option, who I foresee James easily posting up to lead his team to victory creating from the block. For the Wizards? All they have is Otto Porter Jr., who would be giving up over 50 pounds to the best player in the world at age 21. The Wiz can put Paul Pierce on James, which would be great if he could guard him the whole game since there probably isn’t a player more familiar with how to guard Lebron, but his minutes are limited and he’s probably a step too slow at this point in his career.

A guy who can guard Lebron well enough? Jimmy Butler. The Bulls are the last team between the Cavs and The Finals. They have a legitimate chance, especially if they win Game 2 tonight, which they had better since Cleveland’s X-factor in J.R. Smith returns from suspension for Game 3. If Lebron can will his team to four wins over Chicago, he will make The Finals. He can do it. His basketball mind is one of the greatest in the world. There aren’t a lot of players better at making adjustments mid series after losses to come back and win. Look at his 2013 Finals win over the Spurs, when he realized Gregg Popovich wanted to give him mid-range jumpers. He practiced the pull-up from the elbow, and then led the Heat in Game 6 by draining crucial mid-rangers. He will figure out a way to get his team to win this Bulls series.

And, with the Spurs gone, whatever team comes out of the West has never dealt with the greatest player in the world in the playoffs.

With The Finals picture in the West so unpredictable, it’s hard to tell who the Cavs will face. But, each potential Western Conference Finals matchup likely lasts six or seven games, and that follows conference semi-finals series between the Warriors-Grizzlies and Clippers-Rockets that also look like they’re going at least six. Whatever team comes out of the West will be more worn down than the Cavs. Neither the Hawks nor Wizards can last more than five games against Cleveland. By the time The Finals roll around, it’s been a long season for both teams, and fatigue becomes a huge factor.
Lebron is hungry this year. Since he returned from injury in January, fans have witnessed him make a viable case for the MVP, and a man who wants to bring the city that drafted him a long-awaited championship. Plus, Kyrie Irving is young and just as hungry, and wants to prove he belongs among the likes of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Steph Curry in the conversation on best point guard in the NBA. Players like Curry, Paul and Harden may be salivating just as much as these two, but they just aren’t the best players in the world. When the greatest player of a generation is desperate for a ring, it’s all up to him. Lebron is the only one who can stop himself at this point. He’s been to four straight Finals. He knows what it takes to get there, and he knows what it takes to win.

Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at sports@collegian.com and on Twitter @samlounz.

Zack’s Take

It’s tradition for graduating editors to write a goodbye column, summarizing the college experience, passing wisdom onto silly freshmen, inspiring each student to be their best, etc. But, that sounds really sentimental and bittersweet in a week exceedingly full of emotions and tears, so I’ll just write about what I really care about: what teams will make the NBA finals?

Zack Burley
Zack Burley

Eight teams remain in the second round of playoffs, which is already underway. The consensus crowd favorite finals match-up is the Cavaliers versus the Warriors, and I concede that match-up is the most likely to occur. But watching LeBron stroll through the Eastern Conference to another finals appearance has all the novelty appeal of Bush versus Clinton … again. Oh, sure — he’s not in Miami, it’s a different team with different players and Cleveland’s half-century championship drought is the stuff nightmares are made of. But, come on. Lebron has made four straight finals. For the first time since 1998, we will have a Finals without Kobe Bryant, Dwayne Wade or Tim Duncan. A window has opened — let’s not spoil that freshness with repeats of past winners: it’s time for a new champion to rise, which is why the best finals scenario has to be the Clippers versus the Bulls.

I picked this finals prediction one game into the playoffs. Cue skeptical expressions from my fellow basketball comrades. Banking on a rusty Derrick Rose, a shallow Clippers bench and incredibly difficult match-ups in their respective conferences made me look … let’s go with idealistic. It was a big “maybe” then, but now it’s starting to make more sense.

Kevin Love is out for the season, and Cleveland looks vulnerable after losing Game 1 to Chicago. The Bulls are finally healthy, following year after year of injury-derailed playoffs, and have a hungry, “win now” mentality. Pau Gasol (the sole player exception to my past winners argument, unless you count the ghost of Turkoglu’s 4.6 minute per game) becomes a huge matchup advantage. With Love out, Derrick Rose is running the pick n’ roll to perfection, and with Jimmy Butler being one of maybe four guys in the league who can defend the King, it’s not inconceivable. If the Bulls win three more games against Cleveland, it seems unlikely that either the Hawks or the Wizards have the depth, athleticism or playoff experience to keep up with the Bulls.

Here is a picture of Chris Paul in Game 7. (Photo courtesy: Creative Commons)

The Clippers were the bigger question mark having to face the defending champion Spurs in the first round. But, after upsetting Pop & Co. in the most entertaining display of basketball perfection I have ever seen, and stealing Game 1 against the Rockets sans Chris Paul, you can see the Clippers having a moment like a reincarnated Neo at the end of “The Matrix”: they are beginning to believe.

Now, you may not like the Clippers because of the unfair narrative that they complain too much about fouls. First, I saw hardly any of that so far these playoffs, certainly not enough whining to set them apart from any other team. Second, that is a terrible reason to write off the beautiful basketball they play. Blake Griffin’s domination of Aaron Baynes and Chris Paul’s Game 7 heroics on an injured hamstring warrant respect from Spurs fan (and players) unconditionally.

Of course, there are those pesky Warriors. Although the Kerr-coached Warriors have yet to prove themselves in the playoffs against a legit and/or healthy contender, they are undoubtedly the team to beat in the West this year. The Clippers match up well on the first six guys, but their bench is paltry compared to the Warriors. That disadvantage is likely widened considering the heavy number of minutes Griffin, Paul and Jordan will have to play just to meet the Warriors in the conference finals. Even so, that is how legends are born: overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds. The Clippers already beat the Spurs, Blake Griffin has three triple-doubles in eight playoff games, Austin Rivers looked competent against the Rockets and Chris Paul is still a force no matter what “hasn’t gone far enough in past playoffs to be able to win now” hot take you’d like to bring up.

Clippers-Bulls would see two equally fun story lines: the laughingstock second-fiddle of Los Angeles seeking its first ever championship, and the once-proud Bulls restored to NBA regality on the shoulders of its darling local boy. As for who wins … well, it’s my last column and word limits are a thing. #senioradvice. We’ll just have to wait and see. Enjoy summer, Colorado State University.

Opinion Editor Zack Burley has loved writing for the Collegian and wishes CSU a very sincere farewell. He can be reached at letters@collegian.com for another week or so, otherwise, reach him on Twitter @zackburley.