The 2016 NBA Playoffs are upon us. The end of the regular season was epic; the Heat scored five points in the 3rd quarter and still got the 3 seed, Kobe dropped 60 including the game winning shot and the Warriors won 73 games.
I don’t know if I’m going to do playoff predictions but these are some things to watch for:
Free Agent Player to Watch –
I could easily say Kevin Durant or LeBron James here but that would be too easy. There are some other guys who might get big pay days this off-season. I want to focus on unrestricted free agents (basically guys who can go anywhere) rather than restricted free agents (guys who rights are controlled by their current team).
1. Al Horford – He might be the best available unrestricted free agent not named Durant or James. Horford had another solid season while adding a 3-point shot to his game. A strong playoff performance could raise the price for a Hawks team that cannot afford to lose a core player.
2. Nicolas Batum – Despite playing in one less game this season Batum bounced back in a big way for the Hornets. His shooting numbers were back up and he is a big component for this surprising Hornets season. He does a little bit of everything averaging 14 ppg, 6 rpg and 5 apg. A big postseason could get Batum a max offer from some teams.
3. Evan Turner – He’s not flashy but he does some things for this Celtics team. Although not a great shooter, he’s a playmaker and could get some intriguing offers if he plays well in the playoffs.
4. Kent Bazemore – He will get paid, his playoff performance will determine just how much. If he has a big postseason like DeMarre Carroll had last season for the Hawks then Bazemore will get a huge payday this off-season. Only question is will the Hawks let him go?
Teams to watch –
1. Golden State Warriors – This is a no brainer. They just won 73 games. Will anyone push them to 6 or 7 games? Will they sweep the playoffs?
2. Oklahoma City Thunder – Their success might affect Kevin Durant’s decision come this off-season. They will play the Spurs in the 2nd round of the playoffs so that should be a fun series. If they at least make it to the Western Conference Finals and a potential matchup with the Warriors then Durant might re-up for that extra year.
3. Los Angeles Clippers – Blake is still working his way back and anything can happen in a 4-5 matchup. Damian Lillard could swing a couple of games in a series. They have a potential matchup with the Warriors in round 2 and the Warriors have their number. Do they split up the big 3 if they fail to make it out of the second round again?
4. Cleveland Cavaliers – They are picked to make another run to the Finals. Will it be easy? Will they be healthy? If they don’t make it to the Finals we might see Kevin Love get traded this off-season. LeBron will come ready to play but will his co-stars be ready for the high stakes?
Best 1st round series –
1. Clippers-Blazers – This will be the best 1st round matchup in the Western Conference. Chris Paul versus Damian Lillard will be a lot of fun. On paper the Clippers should roll into the 2nd round but nobody expected the Blazers to be in this position. They can score the ball and should at least push the Clippers to six games.
2. Heat-Hornets – They played close games all year. Both teams are solid on the defensive end. It will be interesting to see if how often Batum guards Wade especially down the stretch. The Heat have the edge in playoff experience with Wade and Johnson. The Hornets have the edge in 3-point shooting as they rank in the top 10 in 3-point percentage and made 3s while the Heat are bottom 10 in both categories. It should be a fun series.
3. Hawks-Celtics – The Hawks won 3 of 4 against the Celtics this season. Again anything could happen in the 4-5 matchup in the postseason. Boston has a few players they can throw at Jeff Teague to slow him down including Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart. Both teams do a good job of limiting 3-point shots on the defensive end. Horford and Millsap should dominate on the inside while the Celtics will need big offensive numbers from Isaiah Thomas.