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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

NBA Conference Finals Picks 2015 (May 19-June 1)

For the second season in a row, the Number 1 and Number 2 Seed in both Eastern and Western Conference has moved through to the Conference Finals.

The role reversal from last season is that the Number 2 Seed in the Eastern Conference is the favourite this time around and expected to be the lower Seed with the best chance of reaching the NBA Finals.

All four teams left in the Play Offs will feel they can win out from here, but I think these four names have to be prevalent for their individual teams to move through to the NBA Finals which will begin next month.



Stephen Curry: Golden State Warriors
This is obviously a boring pick, but the Golden State Warriors will only go as far as Stephen Curry can take them. There is no issues in terms of depth for the Warriors, but I also think there is no doubt that the Offense only really works to its full capabilities if Curry is playing.

Teams have to double team him and that allows the likes of Klay Thompson and Draymond Green find open shots on the perimeter, while Andrew Bogut can post up inside.

Houston have to look to keep Curry quiet having seen him average over 28 points per game in the four regular season meetings between these teams. The Warriors will look for Curry to get to the rim to open things up for his own three point shooting ability as well as keeping his teammates in good look situations.



Dwight Howard: Houston Rockets
The obvious choice here would have been James Harden, but I feel Dwight Howard has to win the battle with Andrew Bogut and stay out of foul trouble if the Houston Rockets are going to turn around the 0-4 loss in the regular season to the Golden State Warriors.

Howard has been a beast on the boards in the series against the LA Clippers and his ability to create second chance opportunities could be key for the Rockets.

Of course Houston will need their role players to step up, but the expectation is Harden will get his numbers and won't be able to lead the Rockets to the NBA Finals without Dwight Howard dominating this series. Howard's free throw issues are troubling, but I do think Houston need him at his best.



LeBron James: Cleveland Cavaliers
Another 'boring' choice, but there is no doubting who the King is in Cleveland and in the NBA in general.

LeBron James has seen Kevin Love ruled out for the season and Kyrie Irving is banged up and that all means that it is up to James to raise his level to see Cleveland past the Atlanta Hawks. It was a huge performance from James which helped see off the Chicago Bulls in the Semi Finals, but he is going to need to get to an even higher level to carry the Cavaliers who have seen some of their role players really step up.

At the end of the day it is going to come down to how much James can take over the series in the Eastern Conference Finals to determine if Cleveland will get back to the NBA Finals. LeBron has to play like the King if that is to happen, especially if Irving is limited through the remaining games.



Kyle Korver: Atlanta Hawks
In a team that has a number of different players that have perhaps not played up to their regular season form in the post-season and four of the starters all getting to the All-Star Game, I do think Kyle Korver could be the most important.

The image above has been very rare in recent games as Korver has been atrocious with his three pointer and that is a big problem for Atlanta, although he won't be hassled by anyone as good as Bradley Beal in this series. In that regard, Korver has to find a way to get his shot back as it will open things up for Atlanta to attack Cleveland from other areas too.

The Hawks have every chance of winning this series and getting to the NBA Finals, but I really believe they are going to need Korver to open up the Offense which hit a few lulls in the 4-2 win over Washington. If Korver can start punishing the Cleveland Cavaliers from the three point range, there is every chance Atlanta can create the upset.


Tuesday 19th May
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors Pick: After all the emotion of a Game 7 win over the LA Clippers which made the Houston Rockets just the ninth team to ever recover from a 3-1 series deficit, the team have a quick turnaround as they head to the Bay Area to take on the Golden State Warriors.

It is hard to know how the Houston Rockets can pick themselves up from such an emotional series with just a day of rest between games, especially when considering how strong the Golden State Warriors home court advantage can be. On the other hand, time off can slow a team down and the Warriors have to hope they haven't lost their groove which saw them beat the Memphis Grizzlies three times in a row.

The Warriors have the Offense to really hurt the Houston Rockets and I do think their own Defensive unit is under-rated which will give the Rockets plenty of issues that they didn't face against the LA Clippers.

I also worry about the Houston road form after two blow out losses at the Staples Center while a third was only avoided thanks to the Clippers collapse in Game 6 after they had moved 19 points ahead. Golden State beat the Rockets in all four regular season games by at least 11 points per game and I think they take advantage of any mental and physical fatigue in Game 1.

A fast start from the Warriors Offense may see them come through with a big win in Game 1 and I like them to cover the spread.


Wednesday 20th May
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Atlanta Hawks Pick: This was the Eastern Conference Finals that most expected at the start of the Play Offs, but the Cleveland Cavaliers would have hoped to be in a better position from a health stand point. Kevin Love is out and Kyrie Irving is banged up so it will be down to the role players who were so effective in the series with the Chicago Bulls.

LeBron James is also going to be a key for the Cleveland Cavaliers as they look to knock off the Atlanta Hawks who have struggled to reach the heights of the regular season consistently in the Play Offs so far. They made hard work of the Brooklyn Nets, but Atlanta did well to hold off the Washington Wizards and that has to have given them some confidence going into this series.

The Hawks have a team that is capable of winning this series, but they will want more effective production from the bench in Game 1 as they look to hold home court advantage over the next few days. They have been a strong home favourite of three points or fewer all season, while Cleveland still have to prove themselves in an underdog spot.

Cleveland covered as a small road underdog in Game 6 in Chicago, but they are 1-4 against the spread when given three points or fewer on the road and I think the Hawks can do enough to win this game and cover the small spread. Atlanta have given Cleveland problems when having the ball in hand in the regular season, but they need their shooters to be on their groove and can find that win.


Thursday 21st May
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors Pick: Game 1 might eventually have been won by the Golden State Warriors, but it was a lot closer than anticipated and the crowd being silenced and nervy at times highlighted that. After winning all four regular season games by double digits, Golden State had to hang on towards the end of Game 1 to hold off the Houston Rockets charge, while also needing to come back from a 16 point deficit in the second quarter.

The bench was key for Golden State during the second quarter with Shaun Livingston in particularly having the hot hand with sixteen first half points, but the biggest story coming out of Game 1 is the injury suffered by Dwight Howard.

His left knee sprain is likely to keep him out of Game 2 and that will only encourage the Golden State Warriors to go with a small line up that has been so effective for them creating shooting match ups all over the court. It is hard for the Rockets to defend and they will also need more production from the bench if they aren't going to return home this weekend in a 2-0 hole.

The absence of Howard gives Golden State another edge and I am not ready to jump off the feeling they are the better team and should be able to cover a big spread at the second time of asking in the Western Conference Finals.


Friday 22nd May
Cleveland Cavaliers @ Atlanta Hawks Pick: DeMarre Carroll's injury could have a huge impact on this series if he is going to miss more than Game 2 as Carroll has been huge for the Atlanta Hawks on both ends of the court.

Carroll was going to be the primary defender on LeBron James and it was clear that the latter could do all he wanted to against any other player the Atlanta Hawks sent his way which was highlighted by a huge dagger dunk in the final minute of Game 1.

The key for the Hawks is going to be to slow down the role players after seeing JR Smith get incredibly hot from outside the three point arc, although the Atlanta feeling is they defended well enough and they will live with Smith shooting the baskets he did. Atlanta also have to better with the ball in their hands as they moved away from what was working so well in the first half, while they also need Dennis Schroder to be better with the ball in creating for others rather than settling for pull up jumpers.

Atlanta have bounced back from defeats all season, going 9-2 against the spread when trying to revenge a home loss and 11-3 against the spread when losing a game as the favourite. They will play with more urgency in this one and I think Cleveland are going to need one of their streaky players to get off like Smith did if they are to go 2-0 up in the series. However, the feeling is that Cleveland have got what they wanted by taking away home court from Atlanta and I think the Hawks level the series going to the Cavaliers for two games.


Saturday 23rd May
Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets Pick: The Houston Rockets might feel disappointed they haven't earned a split of this series from the two games played at the Oracle Arena, but they have to try and pick themselves up to beat a team that has dominated them through the season.

The Golden State Warriors improved to 6-0 against Houston this season and just seem to have an edge between these teams with more depth on their roster which allows their bench players to keep the Warriors moving forward. Of course the shift to Houston will make things easier for the Rockets with the fans behind them, but they have already lost twice to the Warriors here this season too.

That effort put into the first two games without reward has to hurt mentally for the Rockets and they will have to dig incredibly deep to swing this series around. You also have to respect Golden State when they say they haven't put together their best game in this series so far either and they will be in a much better position if they can limit the turnovers that have blighted them in Game 2.

Steve Kerr was impressed with the Defensive effort produced so it will be cleaning up mistakes on the Offense that will decide if the Warriors are going to move to the brink of the NBA Finals and will take the point on offer that they can do that.


Sunday 24th May
Atlanta Hawks @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers came into the Eastern Conference Finals looking banged up, but things have changed after they won the first two games of the series on the Atlanta Hawks home court. The injury issues have also shifted with Cleveland showing they can recover even without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, but the Atlanta Hawks have been hurt by injuries in the first two games.

Both Al Horford and DeMarre Carroll are limited, but will play, while Kyle Korver has been ruled out until next season.

That hasn't stopped Kent Bazemore still state he believes the Hawks are the better team but have yet to show that and he has a chance to prove his point as he will come into the starting five in place of Korver. However the Hawks will only have a semblance of a chance if they can slow down LeBron James who has dominated the first two games whether he shoots or passes, while the Cavaliers have also hammered the Hawks from the three point arc.

Atlanta have failed to produce even when they open looks from that range which was so effective for them in the regular season and losing Korver means another weapon is lost in that department. However I am sticking with the Hawks with the big points they are being given in this one to at least make this closer than the first two games have been.

The Hawks are 14-3 against the spread when playing against a team that has beaten them twice in a row and they have to play with desperation to try and make this a series. Even coping with the injuries they have, Atlanta can make this close although I don't think they avoid going 3-0 down.


Monday 25th May
Golden State Warriors @ Houston Rockets Pick: The Houston Rockets put in a huge effort in Game 1 and 2 in the Conference Finals and it looked like they had run out of gas in Game 3 as the Golden State Warriors blew them out. That was the game that many would have expected the Rockets to come out firing in front of their own fans, but they have begun to look tired and had no answer for what Golden State wanted to do Offensively.

Now the Rockets are in a desperate spot as they try and stave off the sweep in this series as well as the regular season where they are now 0-7 against Golden State. They have to find a way to slow down Stephen Curry if they are to have the chance to go back to the Oracle Arena for a Game 5, but this looks almost impossible for Houston and the Warriors have no reason to slow down.

You have to believe that James Harden will have a much better outing than Game 3, although credit to Steve Kerr to change the defensive assignments to trouble the Point Guard. I also like the fact that the Golden State Warriors have gone 7-0 against the spread over the last three seasons in close out games in the Play Offs and they are healthy, focused, and clearly the better team here.

It won't be the blow out of Game 3, but the Golden State Warriors can win this game and cover the spread while booking their place in the NBA Finals.


Tuesday 26th May
Atlanta Hawks @ Cleveland Cavaliers Pick: The Cleveland Cavaliers would welcome the rest they can get by winning this Game 4 and complete the sweep of the Atlanta Hawks as the likes of Kyrie Irving and LeBron James try to get themselves healthy for the NBA Finals. Irving has missed the last couple of games in this series and Cleveland may decide to allow him to rest out another game, but there is no way James is sitting despite hurting himself in Game 3 and remaining banged up.

Al Horford was thrown out of Game 3 for a Flagrant 2 foul on Matthew Dellavadova, a player who is quickly drawing the attention of fans, players and media for some of the 'dirty' plays he is seemingly involved in. It was Horford's WWE elbow drop on Dellavadova that got him thrown out of the game, but the feeling is that the Australian is instigating a lot more than he should, while he was also the player involved in the injury that Kyle Korver suffered.

The Hawks have to try not to get involved in Dellavadova's antics in Game 4 as they look to avoid a sweep in this Eastern Conference Finals. Atlanta should also feel disrespected by all the talk of moving the NBA Finals forward, although they put in a huge effort in Game 3 and still fell short when Horford's availability could have made the difference.

Cleveland have won the games based on a strong Offensive rebounding which has given them a chance to knock down open three pointers and Atlanta have to be better on the boards. The Hawks did finally get something going Offensively themselves and need to do that again if they want to bring this series back home.

I am not sure they can avoid the sweep, but a banged up Cleveland team are there for Atlanta to steal a game from and I will take the points in what could be another competitive game.


Wednesday 27th May
Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors Pick: No team has ever recovered from a 0-3 deficit in the NBA Play Offs, but the Houston Rockets won't be afraid of the huge challenge ahead of them as they go back out on the road in another close out game. This has been a situation that the Rockets have thrived in under Kevin McHale as they improved to 7-2 straight up in that spot with a win in Game 4 to keep the series alive.

It might have aided their chances of making history, but no one in the Houston Rockets organisation would have wanted Steph Curry to suffer what looked like being a serious injury in Game 4. After landing awkwardly on his head, Curry missed some time but returned to the court and has admitted he is sore but will be playing in Game 5.

The Warriors might be looking ahead to getting some rest by beating Houston in Game 5, but a banged up Curry just gives Houston a reason to believe they can at least force an improbable Game 6 back in Houston. The Rockets are fortunate to have Dwight Howard available and will be a real threat if they can get hot from the three point range for another game.

Houston will play with nothing to lose which can make them more than a mere nuisance and it might be a good time to take the double digit points which the Rockets have used to cover in both games at the Oracle Arena in the Western Conference Finals.

MY PICKS: 19/05 Golden State Warriors - 10 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
20/05 Atlanta Hawks - 1 Point @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
21/05 Golden State Warriors - 10 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
22/05 Atlanta Hawks + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
23/05 Golden State Warriors + 1 Point @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
24/05 Atlanta Hawks + 9 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (1 Unit)
25/05 Golden State Warriors - 4.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
26/05 Atlanta Hawks + 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Ladbrokes (1 Unit)
27/05 Houston Rockets + 10 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)

Conference Finals Update: 2-6, - 4.18 Units

Semi Final Final11-12, - 1.82 Units
First Round Final18-14, + 2.73 Units
April Final12-11-2, + 0.32 Units
March Final14-15-3, - 2.01 Units
February Final11-16-1, - 5.70 Units
January Final18-10, + 6.67 Units
December Final3-6, - 3.31 Units
November Final14-11, + 1.70 Units
October Final2-4, - 2 Units
Season 2015103-99-5, - 3.41 Units

Final Season 201458-72-1, - 16.86 Units
Final Season 2013105-93-3, + 10.49 Units
Final Season 201279-53-1, + 27.48 Units

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