Hello, and welcome to The Bonus, a brand new NBA blog from a random dude that likes basketball too much. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree, the internet does need another basketball blog, so here we are. Unfortunately, I did not have the foresight to debut this thing on Wednesday night, which saw a memorable NBA regular season end in dramatic fashion, as Marv Albert might say. The Warriors won their record breaking 73rd game, Kobe dropped 60 to end his career, the Celtics (the favorite team here at The Bonus) came back from 26 down to beat the Heat, and we had a four way tie in the Eastern Conference, with the Heat, Hawks, Celtics and Hornets all finishing 48-34. The fact that I didn’t document my basketball watching experience that night is something that will haunt me forever, and has ensured that this blog got off to a lousy start before it even began. Instead, I’m forced to go with what was the plan all along: start this thing off with a Playoff Preview, so without further ado, let’s usher in The Bonus era as we prepare for what should be another exciting NBA Playoffs…
Sometimes, the first round of the Playoffs get a bad rap, and this year is no exception. During the Warriors season finale, announcer Jeff Van Gundy could be heard lamenting that none of the matchups in the West were going to be even a little competitive. Others might say that it’s too predictable, or that there’s not enough teams that are actually fun to watch. I think that nothing could be further from the truth. There’s always something interesting and worth watching during the Playoffs, even during the most lopsided of matchups. Why, I bet I can find something intriguing about every first round series this year. Let’s start in the Western Conference…
(1) Golden State Warriors (73-9)
(8) Houston Rockets (41-41)
Something interesting: …damn. Right away, I’m facing an uphill battle, as the Rockets are a team that nobody outside of Houston wanted to see in the Playoffs. We’d rather be seeing the Jazz, right? Houston disappointed their way through a listless season in which they sometimes looked like they hated playing with one another, but still managed to make the Playoffs, where they face the team that just set the record for wins in a season. Luckily, that team has been able to remain interesting all year long, and it should be fun to watch them banish this Rockets team out of the Playoffs, where they belong. On top of that, when the Warriors are on, there’s always a chance that some sort of record is about to be broken, and that alone is an interesting reason to watch. Plus, who knows, maybe the Rockets will find their mojo from last season and make this a series. It’s not like James Harden and Dwight Howard are a couple of slouches. Just one year ago, they made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals…where they were beaten in five games by these Warriors. Yeah, this is a tough sell, but there should at least be a ton of three pointers between these two teams, and maybe Steph Curry and James Harden will get into a duel. Let’s just hope it’s a scoring duel and not a turnover duel.
Prediction: Warriors (4-0)
(2) San Antonio Spurs (67-15)
(7) Memphis Grizzlies (42-40)
Something interesting: Overshadowed by the Warriors incredible season are the Spurs, who became just the 12th team in NBA history to win at least 67 games. This could be our last time watching Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, which should be enough to make you want to watch them play the unfortunate Grizzlies, who are so injury-riddled, they had a record 28 different players suit up for them. Making the Playoffs while facing that sort of adversity is an outstanding achievement, and you might have a fun time on Basketball-Reference as you look up just who some of their players are. They might be outmatched, but they’re still the gritty and grindy Grizzlies that we’ve come to enjoy over the past few years, and you know they won’t go down without a fight.
Prediction: Spurs (4-0)
(3) Oklahoma City Thunder (55-27)
(6) Dallas Mavericks (42-40)
Something interesting: Not only are the Thunder back in the Playoffs, they’re healthy again! Last year just wasn’t the same without Durant and Westbrook storming through the Playoffs, and with Durant’s potential free agency looming over this year’s Playoff run, the intrigue will be high. As for the Mavs, they’ve got a pretty rag-tag roster, but coach Rick Carlisle has them playing well together. Owner Mark Cuban also lurks as a loose cannon who could always make things interesting at the drop of a hat.
Prediction: Thunder (4-0)
(4) Los Angeles Clippers (53-29)
(5) Portland Trail Blazers (44-38)
Something interesting: Perhaps no team in the Western Conference has as much pressure on them as the Clippers do. They’re still looking for their first appearance in the Conference Finals, and if they don’t make it past the second round this year, they may start thinking about making major changes. The Trail Blazers, on the other hand, weren’t even supposed to make the Playoffs after losing four of their five starters in the off-season, yet here they are up here in fifth place. They’ve got one of the best home court advantages in the league, as well as a superstar that can win a game or two by himself in Damian Lillard, and their supporting cast is one of the hardest playing groups around.
Prediction: Clippers (4-2)
I know three sweeps and a six game series doesn’t sound very interesting at all, but when you combine the star power and the high expectations of those top four teams, how can it not be? Will one of them emerge as a potential threat to the Warriors championship defense, or are we all just wasting our time? Speaking of wasting time, you’ve wasted enough to make it through the Western Conference, so why bail out now? The Eastern Conference could be even more interesting…
(1) Cleveland Cavaliers (57-25)
(8) Detroit Pistons (44-38)
Something interesting: LeBron’s teams always seem to be interesting in one way or another, and this year was no exception. They fired their coach, LeBron said the team needed to be tougher, and they’ve looked less than invincible throughout the season. This time, we’ll hopefully get to see them at full strength throughout the Playoffs, which will take a mammoth amount of pressure off of LeBron. With Kobe officially gone, James takes over as the most polarizing player/villain around the NBA. Bonus points because if the Cavs struggle, he might get passive-aggressive. Meanwhile, Detroit’s in the Playoffs for the first time since 2009, and they’ve got a bright future. This could give them the Playoff taste that many developing young teams before them have used as a stepping stone towards further improvement. That, and I feel like Reggie Jackson has a monster Playoff performance lurking within him. We’ve seen him come up big in the postseason back when he was with the Thunder, and there’s no reason to think he’s not capable of single-handedly stealing a game for the Pistons.
Prediction: Cavaliers (4-1)
(2) Toronto Raptors (56-26)
(7) Indiana Pacers (45-37)
Something interesting: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the greatest Raptors team of all time, and that has to count for something. Of course, it won’t, unless they can finally get themselves past the first round, something they haven’t done since 2001. That’s right, there’s kids in high school who haven’t seen the Raptors make it to the Conference Semifinals, and the rest of us have only seen it happen once. This seems like it could be the year, and their rabid fan base deserves a deeper trip through the postseason. In their way is the Pacers, back in the Playoffs after last year’s absence. Paul George rebounded from his terrible injury the year before with his best season to date, and that’s reason enough to be excited about this Pacers team.
Prediction: Raptors (4-2)
(3) Miami Heat (48-34)
(6) Charlotte Hornets (48-34)
Something interesting: And so begins the great Eastern Conference four-way. It’s the first time we’ve seen four teams finish with the same record heading into the Playoffs, and it’s created quite the mess in the middle of the East. The Heat came out on top of the tie-breakers, and they’ll host the Hornets. What’s great about this cluster of teams is that, on any given night, any one of them could beat the other, which should hopefully lead to a couple of great Playoff series. As far as we know, the Heat will remain without Chris Bosh, but the team has gelled nicely in his absence, especially with the addition of Joe Johnson, who is still someone that can scare you if he’s going up against your team. Meanwhile, the Hornets have quietly crafted a fun team that can really light it up from deep, led by Kemba Walker. Much like the aforementioned Reggie Jackson, Walker is a dude that can go off and win a game by himself. He was a killer back in college where he won a national title at UConn, and proved that he can rise to the challenge of a big game. Also, in his only previous foray into the NBA Playoffs, he shot a solid .473 from the field, much higher than his career percentage of .403. Between him and Joe Johnson, we’ve got two guys that can hit the big shots, and could very well treat us to a shootout. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say that this is going to be the most fun series of the first round.
Prediction: Heat (4-3)
(4) Atlanta Hawks (48-34)
(5) Boston Celtics (48-34)
Something interesting: The other matchup amongst the Eastern Conference foursome features the Hawks and the Celtics. Did you know the Hawks have the longest streak of consecutive Playoff appearances in the East? Were you aware that the Celtics are the highest scoring team in the East this year? It’s true! On top of that, Atlanta might field the most underrated trio of players in the league with Al Horford, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague, and for all we know, this could be their last ride together. Horford is a free agent, and Teague could be traded if the Hawks decide to hand the keys over his backup, Dennis Schroeder. Then there’s the Celtics, who as I mentioned earlier are the favorite team here at The Bonus Headquarters. They can be a lot of fun, and they can be maddeningly frustrating. Both qualities were on display Wednesday night as they fell behind by 26 points to the Heat, only to come back and win. You can never count them out, and they never stop scrapping, which is why I and my fellow New Englanders love them. My only question is should I give the Hawks the benefit of the doubt because they have home court advantage, or should I remember that the last time these two teams met in the Playoffs, the Hawks had home court, and lost the series in six. This is a big decision because being seen as a homer could ruin the credibility of this new blog.
Hawks (4-3) Celtics (4-2), no, Hawks (4-3), I shouldn’t let my team affiliation get in the way of objectivity, oh screw it, Celtics (4-2).
One thing I have to say as I wrap this up is as a resident of the Eastern Conference, I’m glad that for the first time in recent memory, we’ve got the more interesting and competitive side of the first round, and hopefully the games live up to it. As the Playoffs roll along, we here at The Bonus will be posting all sorts of nonsense, including daily accounts of our Playoff viewing, and whatever else we might think of as the Playoffs inspire us, anger us, or sadden us, so hopefully my biased Celtics pick didn’t ruin the entire idea of this blog for you, and we can all enjoy the spectacle of another NBA Playoffs together.