After a rollercoaster ride filled with buzzer-beaters, collapses and quite frankly, a lot of ugly basketball, the top two seeds in the East and West have reached the Conference finals.
Despite the results going to form, there’s new blood to get enthused about since top-seeds Golden State and Atlanta haven’t had this level of success in decades.
Actually, in the Hawks case, they’re deeper than they’ve been since 1970 after just coming to town from St. Louis two years prior. Cleveland reached the Finals for the only time in ’07, while the Rockets, owners of the most championships among this final four, haven’t won in 20 years.
As far as experience winning at this level goes, Cleveland definitely has an edge. The Warriors are in the tenuous position of relying on Leandro Barbosa to play mentor since reaching a conference finals with Phoenix qualifies him as Golden State’s elder statesman in terms of postseason experience.
The head coaches of all four teams are in uncharted waters. Cleveland’s David Blatt and GS’ Kerr are rookies, Budenholzer is in his second season and Houston’s Kevin McHale obviously has rings as a player, but hadn’t gotten out of the first round until this season despite over 400 career games on the bench.
Splash brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson will have to deal with gifted perimeter defenders Trevor Ariza and Corey Brewer, but get a reprieve facing James Harden and Terry, who could struggle against guys who move around so much.
Dwight Howard could have an edge against Andrew Bogut, but often gets frustrated by physical 7-footers, so monitoring extra-curricular will be a must here.
In the East final, DeMarre Carroll’s defense on LeBron James is likely to be a major factor, although Millsap will likely also try and take on some of that burden. Look for a key variable to be Millsap’s 3-point shooting, since the Cavs are likely to let him shoot away from beyond the arc while keying on Kyle Korver.
Kyrie Irving is expected to give it a shot in Game 1, so a critical x-factor in this series will be not only his availability, but his mobility if he does get out there. Chicago made it a point to take advantage of his injuries, targeting him on pick-and-rolls.
Ultimately, I see both of these series ending in 6 with Golden State and Cleveland in the finals.
Tony Mejia is a national sports writer and senior contributor at VegasInsider.com. He’s also the owner and operator of Antony Dinero, the most successful documented volume handicapper in the industry. View his analysis daily at VegasInsider.com. Contact Tony at [email protected].