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Friday, 17 April 2015

NBA Play Offs Power Ranking 2015 (April 17th)


NBA Play Offs Power Rankings 2015

You have to love this time of the season- finally the long winded regular season is over where less than half of the teams that begin the season are eliminated and we can get ready for some NBA Play Off basketball.

The expected names, outside of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat, have all negotiated the regular season and can get ready for what they have all been preparing for.

The Western Conference is clearly the one loaded with the majority of the talent, but that also means teams from the Conference have the tougher path through to the NBA Finals. The Eastern Conference might be top heavy, but whichever teams come through is likely to be the underdog in the Finals, unless of course LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers fight their way through.

This Power Ranking list is not simply picking the teams in order of the most talent and ability, but is factoring in the likely Play Off run that these teams will have to go through to reach the 'Promised Land'.

Steph Curry and Klay Thompson can hit a barrage of three pointers to win games on their own

1. Golden State Warriors (Regular Season Record 67-15)
They have the best record in the NBA and I think the Golden State Warriors will be quite happy going against the Number 8 Seed New Orleans Pelicans in the First Round.

Being outside of the Memphis Grizzlies, LA Clippers and San Antonio Spurs bracket helps the Warriors, while their home court advantage has been spectacular all season and it is going to be incredibly difficult for any team to stop them going all the way.

Steve Kerr's inexperience as Head Coach entering the Play Offs might be an issue, but the Splash Brother and the depth the Warriors have makes them very exciting and they could be well-rested before the Western Conference Finals.

Can the 'Big Three' take Cleveland all the way to the NBA Championship?

2. Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)
The Cavaliers turned on the after burners in the Eastern Conference over the last few months and look to have figured through a few of the chemistry issues.

Any team with LeBron James can go all the way and I think Cleveland will be very happy with the First Round series and will be big favourites to beat the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals.

Inexperience in the Play Offs for two of the 'Big Three' has to be a concern, as well as David Blatt's inexperience in the NBA Play Offs as a Head Coach, but Cleveland look the team to beat in the East.

The defending Champions have experience and depth that can take them all the way again

3. San Antonio Spurs (55-27)
The defending Champions really picked up their form in the last few weeks of the regular season and even the loss to the New Orleans Pelicans might not have long-term implications for their chances of reaching the Western Conference Finals and beyond.

The 'Big Three' continue to defy Father Time, while Kahwi Leonard is one of the top players in the NBA at both ends of the floor. Depth isn't an issue for the San Antonio Spurs, but defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans mean they have lost home court advantage in this First Round series although I still don't think that will bother this team as much as people may think.

However, the series with the LA Clippers will be anything but easy for San Antonio and they would have gone in as my Number 1 team if they had finished with the Number 2 Seed in the Western Conference. The Clippers have been quietly going about their business and while I favour San Antonio in the series, I think whoever wins can go very close to winning it all.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are integral to the Clippers chances of winning it all

4. LA Clippers (56-26)
With that said, it is no surprise that I think the LA Clippers should be the Number 4 team on my Play Off list.

What a difference a year makes too- this time last year, the Donald Sterling fiasco had been making headlines and ruined any chance the Clippers had on focusing on the Play Offs, but Doc Rivers knows his team are in a much stronger position this time around.

The window is closing in Lob City to bring a Championship to the other team in Los Angeles, while they have an incredibly difficult First Round series with the defending Champions. The Clippers do have depth issues, but a quality starting five and my concern for them will be if they can handle this series going into a sixth and seventh game.

Home court has not been the be all and end all for the Clippers either, but if they can beat the Spurs, there is every chance we get to see the Western Conference Finals between the Clippers and Warriors that would be full of drama as there is no love lost between those teams.

Surprising Number 1 Seed in the East, but Atlanta Hawks are a quality team

5. Atlanta Hawks (60-22)
The Atlanta Hawks have surprised everyone outside of their locker room by finishing with the best record in the Eastern Conference, but there is a feeling that they have played their best basketball four months too early.

Injuries are affecting a couple of the key players, namely Paul Millsap, but this a team with plenty of quality considering what they were able to send to the All-Star Game.

However, Atlanta might not be extended too much in the First Round which will give them a chance to get a bit more rest for their key players and this is a team that has performed above expectations all season. I consider Atlanta Hawks to have a better Play Off bracket than the Cleveland Cavaliers, but I still believe the two top teams will meet in the Eastern Conference Finals and favour LeBron James' team to battle through that series.

Can James Harden produce consistently in the Play Offs?

6. Houston Rockets (56-26)
The Houston Rockets took the Number 2 Seed in the Western Conference after the San Antonio Spurs faltered on the final day of the regular season, but this is a team that has flattered to deceive in the Play Offs.

James Harden has played at a MVP level for Houston in the regular season, but he has yet to put his stamp on a Play Off series, while Dwight Howard has to prove he is healthy.

On their day, Houston will be able to beat any team if they can get hot from beyond the arc, but I am not convinced about the defensive play and figure the three teams ahead of them in this list from the Western Conference are too good in a best of seven series. Even the First Round series is far from a given considering how much talent the Dallas Mavericks have at their disposal, but I think Houston make the Semi Finals and then find either San Antonio/LA Clipper too much to handle.

Lots of talent, but are the Dallas Mavericks consistent enough to win more than one series?

7. Dallas Mavericks (50-32)
The Dallas Mavericks have been locked into the Number 7 Seed in the Western Conference for some time and they have been able to get some rest for their key players down the stretch. There is NBA Championship winning experience on their roster and they have plenty of depth and talent that can see them surprise the Houston Rockets in the First Round.

Just twelve months ago, a weaker looking Dallas Mavericks roster almost beat the San Antonio Spurs in the First Round and no other team got closer to knocking off the eventual Champions.

Now they have defensive players like Tyson Chandler and offensive options through Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis with Rajon Rondo running the team. If Rondo can bring previous Play Off performances into this season, Dallas might be a dark horse, but they have to defend the three point shot better than they have if they are to beat Houston and things only get tougher from them on.

Would be a real achievement for Washington to reach the Eastern Conference Finals

8. Washington Wizards (46-36)
This is perhaps my most surprising pick considering they are only the Number 5 Seed in the Eastern Conference, but I think the Washington Wizards are getting healthy at the right time and can surprise the Toronto Raptors in the First Round.

The Raptors actually swept the season series from the Wizards, but they haven't played since early February and I feel Toronto have shown signs of fatigue since then.

It is hard to see either of these teams beating the Atlanta Hawks, but I have placed Washington here as the team I favour to win this First Round series.

Can Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan spark enough offensively to help Toronto surprise?

9. Toronto Raptors (49-33)
This is a team that I feel may have played their basketball a little prematurely yesterday, while the injury that Kyle Lowry has been trying to shake could be another potential issue for them.

The Toronto Raptors play too many sloppy games for me and I am not sure they have the consistency on the offensive side of the court to make up for some poor defensive play.

If they can knock off the Washington Wizards, perhaps the Raptors get the confidence to take into a potential series with the Atlanta Hawks, but anything more than an appearance in the Eastern Conference Semi Finals will be a surprise and I quite like the Wizards to secure a First Round upset.

Lots of talent, but something just isn't clicking consistently for the Chicago Bulls

10. Chicago Bulls (50-32)
I know there will be plenty of people surprised to see the Chicago Bulls below two teams that are Seeded lower than them in the Eastern Conference, but that has much to do with a potential Semi Final series against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Chicago Bulls have been hit by injuries again this season, but this is the healthiest they have entered the Play Offs for three years and they have the depth and size to beat anyone in the East on their day.

My problem with the Bulls is that they have shown mental weakness at times, which is a surprise considering the players in the locker room, and they haven't been as good defensively as usual. I can't put my finger on it completely, but something isn't right in Chicago and I think they will fall short in the Semi Finals after beating the Milwaukee Bucks fairly handily in the First Round.

Injuries have gutted the Memphis Grizzlies and winning the First Round series might be as far as they go.

11. Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)
They might be the Number 5 Seed in the Western Conference, but I expect home court advantage to be a key for the Memphis Grizzlies to overcome the Portland Trail Blazers in the First Round.

However, they have to hope they get healthy very quickly as both Mike Conley and Tony Allen could be missing early in this series against a team they have dominated in the regular season. If neither player can return, Memphis might be surprised in this series, but I think they are defensively too strong for the Trail Blazers and expect them to grind their way into the Semi Finals.

That is where the Golden State Warriors likely await and I can't see the Grizzlies beating them with the health issues they have been suffering. That might close the Championship window here with Marc Gasol expected to leave in Free Agency this summer too.

Injuries have destroyed any real chance of Portland having a deep run in the Play Offs

12. Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)
If it wasn't for the NBA protection of Division winners which ensures a place in the top four Seeds in any Conference, the Portland Trail Blazers would have been the Number 6 Seed in the West this season.

The injury to Wesley Matthews was always going to be an issue for Portland from a defensive standpoint, but Arron Afflalo and Nicolas Batum are also banged up and LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing through a thumb issue.

All of these injuries and the fact that Memphis swept the regular season between the two teams makes it difficult to pick the Portland Trail Blazers to win a series this year. However, Damian Lilliard can get incredibly hot and carry Portland to success and Memphis missing Mike Conley may give him more room to create magic.

Even if Portland can somehow get past Memphis, you'd figure Golden State will be far too good in the Western Conference Semi Finals.

This buzzer-beater essentially booked New Orleans place in the Play Offs

13. New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)
That shot is the difference between booking some time on the golf links and playing in the Play Offs for the first time in four seasons as a buzzer-beater gave the New Orleans Pelicans the tie-breaker over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

This is important for the learning curve of the young Pelicans roster and they are clearly trying to inspire themselves by talking about Golden State's players referring to a game between the two teams as a 'scrimmage' last week.

However, it would be incredible if the Pelicans were able to win more than two games against the Golden State Warriors and even that is asking a lot. Anthony Davis is a superstar, but the Play Off run shouldn't last beyond the First Round.

The Milwaukee Bucks will take this bonus season as they continue to re-shape the roster

14. Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)
It is an impressive turnaround for the Milwaukee Bucks after some recent struggles, but they had been having a hard time down the stretch and have backed their way into the Play Offs. There are clearly some communication issues between Jason Kidd and some of the better players on the roster and they might struggle offensively to impose themselves on the Chicago Bulls.

Some of the trades made at the deadline also suggested the Milwaukee Bucks have seen this as a bonus season as they re-shape the roster and I think they will do well to take a couple of games off the Bulls and push them a little harder than they would like.

Milwaukee averaged under 85 points per game against the Chicago Bulls in the regular season and that isn't going to get it done in the Play Offs.

In form, but horrible First Round series for the Boston Celtics

15. Boston Celtics (40-42)
All the credit in the world needs to be given to Head Coach Brad Stevens who has got the best out of this roster at the Boston Celtics. There has to be excitement in Beantown about the direction their Boston Celtics team looks to be taking, but getting more than a gentleman's sweep from this First Round series with the Cleveland Cavaliers would be a surprise.

Boston have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference over the last month as they have battled into the Play Offs and on form this might look a harsh spot for them.

However, I think there is the tiniest of chances that the Celtics are going to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in a best of seven series and it would be an stunning run for Boston to make it past the First Round in the Play Offs this season.

The character has been questioned in Brooklyn and you have to doubt their long-term chances

16. Brooklyn Nets (38-44)
After some of the comments made by Paul Pierce regarding his time with the Brooklyn Nets, you have to think there are very few outside of their locker room that believe they can beat the Atlanta Hawks.

That is even before noting the Hawks smashed Brooklyn during the regular season and the supposed lack of character in the Nets team doesn't bode well for their chances.

The veterans have all been on the trading block for the season and I think it will take something monumental for the Nets to get more than two games in this First Round series. Brooklyn are fortunate to be in the Play Offs and I think it might be a very short stay for them.

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