There are more exciting teams to watch in this year’s playoffs than just the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
With the playoffs starting this Saturday, most of the sports world is predicting the two teams to meet once more, especially since this is the third straight year the Warriors have won 65 games or more, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson play in the bay, LeBron James is playing at a high level for the Cavaliers and the Northeast Ohio team is fully equipped with three of the top 25 players in the game—LeBron, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
But the playoffs are loaded with 14 other teams that are must see TV.
Let’s keep in in the East. The Boston Celtics are a fun team to watch, especially with the grit, skill-level and tenacity Isaiah Thomas exhibits on a nightly basis. Standing at essentially 5’11, Thomas has produced one of the more prolific seasons in a decorated Boston Celtic history, averaging, 29.2 points, 5.9 assists and 2.7 rebounds. No, he is not the old Isiah Thomas from the Detroit Pistons that dominated 1980s, but he is an astonishing cross between former Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson and Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.
Traveling down the Eastern seaboard to the nation’s capital, the Wizards are demonstrating they are a remarkable team to watch. Former Kentucky Wildcat and current point guard of the Wizards John Wall is an all-around point guard who fundamentally displays why he is one of the top point guards in the game. His frame of 6’4, which imposes superiority over smaller point guards around the league, ball handling ability, excellent feel for running an offense, athleticism and defensive prowess are among the tools he has in his arsenal.
Wall’s averages of 23.1 points, 10.7 assists and 2.1 steals are gaudy, but he is assisted by his sidekick in Bradley Beal, who is a poor man’s version of Ray Allen.
Taking a trip north of the border, the Toronto Raptors have remerged as one of the top teams in the East after a slow start earlier in the year. Led by Villanova-product Kyle Lowry, this team can make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
Lowry provides relentless drive to get to the hoop, excellent three-point shot making ability and a great feel for leading his offense into getting good shots. His 22.7 points, 6.9 assists and 4.8 assists a game will carry the team to at least to a second round appearance. And, with the skilled and athletic DeMar DeRozan, this team could make it back to the Eastern Conference Finals, especially since they proved last year they could take the Cavaliers to a game six of the conference finals.
The Atlanta Hawks are an intriguing team to watch for the simple fact they lost Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers and Kyle Korver to the Cavaliers, but they are still a scrappy team that can give teams fits.
Led by Dwight Howard and Pau Millsap, this team likes to bang inside. Their perimeter players of Dennis Schroder, Kent Bazemore and Tim Hardaway Jr., though, operate outside the paint.
One thing comes to mind when thinking about the Milwaukee Bucks: the Greek Freak. Giannis Antetokounmpo is truly a next generation superstar. Right now, he is a star still trying to find out how to use his athletic gifts; he can handle, pass to set up his teammates for good shots, rebound amongst the trees in the middle and can play outstanding defense because of his 6’11 frame.
Jimmy Butler is the engine that makes the Chicago Bulls nowadays. With a tough defensive mindset, Butler can also score in bunches with his 25 points a game. Butler will have to be the player to watch as Dwyane Wade has just returned from his elbow injury. It will take Wade—a three-time champion with the Miami Heat—a few games to get back on track.
It will be interesting to see how Rajon Rondo performs, however. Once considered one of the best point guards in the NBA when playing for the Celtics just a few years ago, Rondo now tries to find himself alongside Butler, but he is still a very good passer, defender, rebounder and floor general.
Paul George is a superstar player in the NBA as he tries to lead his Indiana Pacers to a deep playoff run. George is a prolific all-around player with his ability to score at will, handling superiority, passing, lock-down defense and leading capabilities. Before his gruesome injury in 2014 at the summer Olympics in which he broke his leg, George was consistently challenging the Miami Heat—backwhen LeBron James was on the team—in the Eastern Conference Finals.
His team, though, is just not as talented as they lost key players David West and Roy Hibbert, who were two low-post anchors used to challenge virtually any team three to four years ago. Lance Stephenson just came back, so maybe this will help the Pacers win a few more games in the playoffs.
Heading out to the Western Conference, where many would presume the competition is a lot stiffer, there are many intriguing teams—much like the East—that have real shots at making a deep run in the playoffs.
The San Antonio Spurs are the second best team in the Western Conference, and it has a lot to do with their deep team, as well as Pop’s tactical coaching strategy, one that employs the offensive system to continually move the ball, make hard cuts and play great defense, which, of course, is basketball 101.
Spurs small forward Kawhi Leonard is an MVP candidate. His 25.7 points per game is the highest scoring average of his career, a feat that has many folks who follow the NBA in awe. Leonard—after his 2014 NBA Finals MVP year—has really developed himself into not only a great defensive player, but a great offensive player, one that can handle the ball with the best of them, can shoot well from mid-range and can pass the ball in precision.
Let’s not forget the Spurs acquired LaMarcus Aldridge last year. Aldridge is a sensational post-up player, and, of course, can score at will. With Tim Duncan retired, the Spurs will lean on Leonard and savvy veterans Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili, two players that helped Duncan win four titles in 11 years.
For years Mike D’Antoni was the laughing stock of the NBA because his philosophy is run-and-gun, shoot a lot threes, but play no defense. After being in the NBA’s basement as the coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and an assistant coach with the Philadelphia 76ers the past two years, D’Antoni has reemerged as a mastermind, a perception not bestowed upon him since his day with the Phoenix Suns when former Phoenix Sun’s point guard Steve Nash was winning MVPs.
D’Antoni switched this year’s MVP candidate James Harden from shooting guard to point guard, and it has worked as the Rockets currently are the third best team in the West. With his stubbly and thick beard, Harden combines his extraordinary dribbling ability with his innate gift to shoot threes and draw contact from defenders.
The Rockets will be a tough out for any team, and Harden’s 29.2 points, 11.2 assists and 8.1 rebounds averages are worth the price of admission.
For the first time since the 2011-2012 season, the Utah Jazz will be in the playoffs. But this time they will be led by former Butler prodigy and current Jazz star Gordon Hayward, a dynamic small forward who can handle the basketball, shoot the three and has a knack for finding the driving lanes.
One aspect that is worth watching about Hayward—besides his 22.5 points per contest—is his instinctive ability to probe the perimeter off of screens, and know when to make the right play for his team. He has underrated athleticism as well.
Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are always a doozy to watch, especially when Paul is able to hook up with Griffin off of pick and rolls. Last year, both Paul and Griffin were injured in the first round against the Portland Trail Blazers, as Paul suffered a broken hand and Griffin with a quad injury.
It’ll be interesting to see how these players respond after such unfortunate circumstances last year.
Ever since Kevin Durant left last summer to join the Warriors, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook has taken the NBA by storm. Yes, he is averaging a triple double with his 31.7 points, 10.4 assists and 10.7 assists. Westbrook on Sunday just set the all-time triple doubles record with 42, passing Oscar Robertson.
Westbrook plays at a hundred miles an hour and he makes a lot of plays for himself and his teammates. With Westbrook going 100 percent of the time on offense, it will be a tragedy for anyone to miss Oklahoma City’s run.
In a stunning turn of events, the Memphis Grizzlies actually pulled off a win against the Warriors on Feb. 10, and that is in large part due to the play of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. The trio has been together for half a decade, but they are still going strong.
Randolph’s low-post game is fantastic, while Gasol’s post-up and mid-range ability and Conley’s ability to handle the ball and switch gears to get to the rim are fun to watch. If this team gets past the first round, the Warriors should be perturbed.
Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum of the Portland Trail Blazers are among the best guard combos in the NBA, which means they are must-see television despite them flirting with a losing winning percentage.
Lillard is this generation’s Isiah Thomas, but not the one who currently plays, rather the one who won two championships with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 and 1990. McCollum has off-the-ball skills like former Celtic and Heat great Ray Allen. He is also a very good shooter on and off the dribble.
These two players will give fits to any player in the playoffs.
As we count down to the NBA playoffs, remember, these 14 other teams are must-see television despite the likelihood the Cavs and the Warriors will meet again for the third straight season.