Cavaliers in 6
The best news for the Cleveland Cavaliers is that they have had nearly a week of rest between series, after dispatching the Chicago Bulls in six games. The Cavs have taken their share of bumps and bruises in the first two rounds, losing Kirk Love to a shoulder injury while Kyrie Irving has dealt with pains in both legs. Of course the key is LeBron James who has carried his team into the Conference Finals once again. The key point in the series against the Bulls was LeBron’s buzzer beater in Game 4 that evened the series and took momentum away from the Bulls.
The Hawks meanwhile have yet to really impress this postseason; they needed six games to dispatch a mediocre Nets team and again needed six to beat the Wizards who were playing without a healthy John Wall. In fact a second here and a second there and it could have been the Wizards in this series and not the Hawks.
The Hawks do have home court as their great edge thanks to a 60 win season and did beat the Cavs three out of four meetings in the regular season, but in the playoffs the game changes and the Hawks will need to find someone to be the go scorer when the game is on the line.
The key for the Cavaliers is LeBron James, who knows Kyrie Irving is not 100% and will need to continue to raise his game to a higher level. However, for the four time MVP that has been to the NBA Finals four straight years, it’s nearly a sure thing that LeBron will be at the top level again. The Cavs have gotten big games from bit players so far in the playoffs, and that has been key with their injuries. Iman Shumpert has been a big spark off the bench while Timofey Mozgov has played great defense.
If the Hawks are to win this series, they will need to find someone to match LeBron in each game, while preventing him from having an explosive performance. The Hawks have had a nice season and have gotten big games throughout the whole year, but they do not have anybody who can match or stop LeBron and that means the Cavs will win in six games.
Warriors in 5
The only one happier than the Houston Rockets to see the Clippers second round collapse may have been the Golden State Warriors who swept the Houston Rockets in the regular season, winning all four games by double digits. Quite simply the Rockets just don’t match up well with the Warriors who are seeking to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in four decades.
The headliners of this matchup are the two top vote getters for MVP, with Stephen Curry leading the way for Golden State, while James Harden is the leading man in Houston. Curry has continued putting MVP numbers in the playoffs, while Harden has struggled at times. In fact the biggest moment of the series, when the Rockets rallied from down 19 in Game 6, saw James Harden watching from the bench. If Houston is to have a chance in this series they will need James Harden to play the best basketball of his career.
The Warriors faced perhaps their toughest test in the second round when they took on the Grizzlies a tough physical team that was able to give them a battle winning two of the first three games. However, once Stephen Curry found his shot from the outside the Grizzlies were finished. The series perhaps would have been different if Mike Conley was 100%, but it was clear that the facial fractures took their toll when he ran out of gas at the end of the series. Dwight Howard can give some of the same defense in the middle that Marc Gasol provided for Memphis, but defense is the big flaw in James Harden’s game and if the splash brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson get too many open shots the series is going to be over fast.
The only thing the Rockets have going for them is emotion and momentum. After coming back from the dead against the Clippers, down 3-1 in the series the Rockets are essentially playing with no pressure as they are not expected to do much in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets must find a way to steal one of the first two games in Oakland if they are to have a chance in the series. However, that in itself will be a tall order as the Warriors will have to have an off day, it’s hard to imagine the Rockets taking more than one game in this series.