We Can Build You: Another Weekly Roundtable
USA Today Sports
These weekly roundtables have quickly become a part of our regular routine and we have every intention of extending them through the rest of the regular season. We hope you’re enjoying them as much as we are.
1. While not all the seeds are finalized, what looks like the most compelling first round playoff matchup?
Kevin Ferrigan (@NBACouchside): Out West, I’d say the Spurs vs. Suns matchup will feature some of the prettiest ball movement and spacing in the first round, so that’s my nominee. It’ll likely be a short series, so watch it while you can! Most of the Western matchups could go here, honestly.
Kyle Soppe (@unSOPable23): Lob City vs the Splash Brothers would be the most fun to watch in my opinion. But as far as “compelling” goes (bias alert), I’m watching the Raptors first round series if they draw Washington or Charlotte. The West is full of teams that feel like they are supposed to be here, while this matchup would feature to franchises that are happy to be involved in meaningful spring basketball. Could the Spurs, Thunder, Heat, or Pacers potentially take a night off? Sure. You’re not getting that in this series, not to mention we’ve already been treated to a triple overtime Raptors/Wizards contest.
Dan Lewis (@danlewismedia): I’m hoping for a Mavericks-Spurs series. It’s been seven years since the Mavericks were upset by the 8-seed Golden State team, and it’d be neat to see Dirk make history by being on the opposite side. The series would have two of the best head coaches in the game, with cagey veterans mixed with talented benches squaring off against each other. Dirk would have to score 30 points a game for the Mavericks to have a chance, but there’s nothing quite like watching him take over games and just score at will. If any of the Spurs core players gets hurt, watch out.
Kris Fenrich (@dancingwithnoah): The Pacers. It doesn’t matter who they play, just the possibility that this descent could continue is enough for me to tune in.
Rich Kraetsch (@richkraetsch): Kris beat me to the point I was going to make and that’s the fact that I’m gearing up for a Pacers first-round loss and thus whoever they face be it Atlanta or New York or even Cleveland is going to be an intriguing matchup. The potential for the total destruction of a once-highly thought of title contender is so interesting. Out West, I’m really looking forward to Warriors vs. Clippers for a multitude of reasons. One, those games are going to get super chippy and there will be an incredible atmosphere surrounding them, especially at Golden State. Also, c’mon, it’s the Splash Bros vs. Lob-City, that’s about as fun as a basketball game can get. Lastly, it’s a toss-up. Golden State would win it in 5 just as easily as the Clippers can sweep. There’s no prediction associated with that series that will seem crazy.
2. What becomes a bigger playoff storyline–the James Harden’s offense or James Harden’s defense?
Ferrigan: It depends on if he steps up the effort on defense or keeps playing at the level he’s been at all season. A lot of Harden’s problems on defense are due to a lack of effort, so if he can step that up in the “games that matter,” he can mostly eliminate his defense as a story. He’s a competitive guy, so I’m going to say his offense becomes the bigger story. He’s the best offensive SG in the league, so let’s hope that’s the story.
Soppe: I’ll say it’s his offense, but not because of his defense improving. I think even a less than healthy Dwight Howard can clean up a lot of defensive mistakes, but at less than 100%, he isn’t very reliable on the offensive end. The Rockets have proved they can win with limited defense, but if the offense struggles, they aren’t winning multiple games, let alone a series.
Lewis: If Dwight Howard is able to play at near-peak levels, then nobody will notice Harden’s defense. If the Rockets play the Trail Blazers, Harden’s going to be able to destroy them on offense. In four games this season, he’s averaging 30 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists against them. If the Rockets draw the Warriors, there are only two teams Harden has averaged more points against this year – the Knicks and the Lakers. In the playoffs, being able to break down elite defenses and score is vital, and that’s what Harden does best. He disrupts. He just needs to make sure he isn’t a turnstile on the opposite end.
Fenrich: While Houston’s collective defense is improved, it’s never been built on the lack of effort or awareness that Harden puts forth. His defense won’t help them, but his offense is special enough to carry this team. Since the All-Star break, his ORtg, usage rates and shooting percentages have all increased. With Howard and Beverly out, he’s taken on even more of the offensive load and while Houston’s losing slightly more frequently post-All-Star, Harden’s been the primary force keeping them locked into the 4th seed.
Kraetsch: Kyle made a good point about Harden’s bad defense not costing Houston any games during the regular season but I tend to believe the playoffs are a different animal and you simply cannot have the “Ole” defensive-mindset and win a series. Ideally, Harden steps up his defense once the playoffs gets going but that remains to be seen.
3. Has Kevin Durant done enough to secure MVP?
Ferrigan: Yes. He’s been better on defense than LeBron by a significant margin, and his volume scoring on crazy efficiency in Westbrook’s absence has been incredible.
Soppe: For sure. He’s statistically superior, dumb-stupid efficient, and is going to finish with a better winning percentage in a much deeper conference. LeBron still gets my vote for most irreplaceable player, but the 2014 MVP debate is over.
Lewis: I believe so. He has one more nationally televised game against the Pacers, and if he scores 30 points, he’ll win the award. Wait, he averages 32 points a game and his team is probably going to have 60 wins in the West? Okay, yeah, he’s won. I tip my hat to you, good sir.
Fenrich: Yes yes yes. This guy is so damn good that he could be a worse defender than Harden and still win the award. Not to get off on a side topic, but what would OKC look like if Harden was still on that team? And given what’s turned into shit sandwich of a return, couldn’t Presti have done better than Kevin Martin and a couple rookies? We’re talking about the best shooting guard in the game. Amazing.
Kraetsch: Absolutely and it’s not just voter fatigue. He’s been the story of this NBA season and what he’s been able to do with the Thunder in Westbrook’s absence has to be noted. As others have mentioned, playing in the ultra-competitive West and still being able to put up the crazy efficient numbers are worth more points. Just give him the damn award.
4. Which bottom seed has the best chance at a first round upset?
Ferrigan: I’d say the Bobcats or the Warriors. The Bobcats mostly because they play elite defense and the Pacers offense has collapsed in on itself the second half of the year. I don’t know if the Pacers have enough firepower to even win this series anymore. The Warriors because they really aren’t that much worse than the Clippers and they might be able to beat them out of pure hatred and spite.
Soppe: Give me the Memphis Grizzlies. This team is better than an eight-seed and with a healthy Marc Gasol, I think they can ugly up a series enough to give themselves a chance. They need to get into the playoff picture before they win a series, so there’s that, but I Zach Randolph has shown some glimpses and Mike Conley is a stabilizing force. Oklahoma City and San Antonio are not going to be beat by teams that play a similar style, thus giving the methodical Grizz the best chance in the West (I don’t think the Heat or Pacers have any shot at getting knocked off in the first series).
Lewis: The Knicks. I just want to see Carmelo get the Marvel Comics treatment like Amare, and he needs a playoff win to do that. Plus, look at all their veterans, that has to count for something, right? Anyone?
Fenrich: As much as I want to say “Whoever plays the Pacers,” it’s looking like their opponent (if they hold onto the #1) will be Atlanta and this bunch of Hawks inspire me about as much as a glass of warm milk … whatever that means. So with that in mind, I’m going with Memphis. They aren’t as fierce as they were a couple years ago when they upset the Spurs, but they’re fierce enough to muddy up a series against San Antonio and advance.
Kraetsch: Does Portland count as the 5-seed? That’s kind of a lame answer, nevermind. Give me Charlotte. While I like the Raptors playoff chances, the Bobcats are sneaky good and I can definitely see a situation where they steal a few games and actually win the series.
5. How many weeks do I have before my Pacers’ heartbreak?
Ferrigan: Despite Jacob’s great post on the larger sample size being more significant, I think the Pacers are getting bounced pretty quickly. Probably in the second round and maybe even in the first, depending on who they are matched up against.
Soppe: I’m buying Pacer stock right now (it’s Friday morning). Are they struggling at the worst possible time? Yes. But this roster hasn’t changed. There aren’t injuries to worry about. Paul George is still a top ten talent, Roy Hibbert is still a force in the paint (defensively if nothing else), and Lance Stephenson still has the ability to take over for a five minute stretch. They are a deep team that has postseason experience. I thought they had about a 35% chance at winning the East coming into this year, and I’m not backing off of that (60% Heat and 5% other).
Lewis: Does your heart break the first time they lose or when they fail to score 90 points in six straight games and lose in the second round? Either way, I’ve got this coupon for Edible Arrangements, maybe that’ll help ease the sting.
Fenrich: If your heart isn’t breaking already, then you’re a cold, hard man Mr. Levy and I fear for your students. Anyways, if it ain’t broke, don’t break it. Isn’t that how the saying goes? Indiana added a couple malcontents and have since lost whatever it was that had guided them to first half greatness. It’s not just that they’ve played poorly, but every game has the look of a struggle. They’re fighting for survival against the Pistons, getting thrashed by the Hawks, benching starters to refresh against the Bucks. So how long until your NBA paramour finally hammers home that last stake into your heart? Shit man, 3-6 weeks?
Kraetsch: I wish I could give you some reassurance but man does this team just look absolutely lost. I just can’t fathom a situation where everyone goes “AH-HA!” and everything is back to normal, how does that even happen? They’ve been so mediocre for so long now, I’m not sure that on-off switch exists anymore, they are so far removed from being a dominant team, that maybe this is what they are. So, sorry, but I think you have a few more weeks. Cherish them.