The NBA doesn't have the best postseason in sports. That distinction belongs to college basketball or hockey. It doesn't have the most dire postseason in sports. That distinction belongs to the NFL, where every game is do or die. And it doesn't have the most historic postseason in sports. It's hard to compete with baseball in that regard.
But the NBA does have one thing in its postseason that other sports can't compete with—the best, most legendary individual matchups. Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson. Bill Russell versus Wilt Chamberlain. And this year, perhaps LeBron James versus Kevin Durant?
It's those matchups, those individuals that transcend the sport itself, that makes the NBA playoffs so much fun. Below, you'll find the championship odds for every playoff team, including my own predictions for the postseason.
And trust me, both the odds and predictions are very much informed by the superstars in the running.
|San Antonio Spurs||11-4|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||4-1|
|Los Angeles Clippers||9-1|
|Golden State Warriors||33-1|
|Portland Trail Blazers||40-1|
Just so we can all avoid the standard comments on an article like this one, such as, "Ohmigod I can't believe I read this entire article and this guy picked Team X—who I hate so obviously they suck!—and now I can't get these five minutes of my life back this guy is the worst what a waste OMG I totally could have been looking at Awkward Moment Seal instead k bye I need to take a breath now," I'll make my NBA championship prediction right off the bat.
This postseason, the Oklahoma City Thunder will beat the Miami Heat in seven games to earn their first NBA title. Phew, okay, it's out there now, and if that prediction fills you with rage, well, at least I didn't waste your time. But how did I reach that conclusion?
For starters, it doesn't seem terribly necessary to talk about the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Heat and Indiana Pacers will move on easily, and the only way they'll be challenged in the second round is if the Chicago Bulls and Brooklyn Nets survive the first round.
Brooklyn might give the Heat some trouble, as it did in the regular season, but the Heat also have a way of flipping a switch in the postseason. And if the Pacers don't flip that switch themselves, they might be bowing out early, though the entire season has been building toward a Heat versus Pacers conference finals.
Anything less would be hugely disappointing. And let's be honest—while both teams struggled down the stretch, the playoffs are a new season. Besides, the Pacers start the playoffs with about as easy a matchup as you can get, which might just turn their momentum around, according to Jimmy Spencer of Fox Sports:
The Pacers absolutely needed a slumpbuster like the Hawks in the first round. Indy has been awful this second half, losing 11 of 15 games against playoff teams. But the Hawks are only a playoff team by technicalities, and they offer the perfect appetizer for the Pacers. Even No. 1 seeds aren’t supposed to have the luxury of facing a team six games under .500 in the playoffs. The Pacers did get rolled by the Hawks in that April 6 meltdown, but consider that an aberration. There’s too much of a talent differential for Indy to lose in a best-of-7 series.
The Pacers-Heat series will be a brawl, of course, but I'm always nervous betting against the team with the best player. And when that player happens to be LeBron James, well, I'll stick with the Heat winning in six.
And then there's the West, which has eight teams that are better than the last six seeds in the Eastern Conference. The Golden State Warriors taking on the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round could be a classic even without Andrew Bogut. Up to five teams could theoretically come out of the conference, though the prohibitive favorites remain the Thunder and San Antonio Spurs.
The Spurs and Thunder will face tough matchups in the first round—I think the Memphis Grizzlies will force the Thunder to at least play six games in that series, as they've really hummed along the past three months—but each should advance. The Spurs are built for the postseason and, despite that fact and the fact that they regularly rest starters, were the best regular-season team.
Houston's matchup against Portland really favors the Rockets, as the Blazers just don't have an answer for Dwight Howard, while the Clippers will get past the Bogut-less Warriors.
Howard, for one, really likes Houston's chances in these playoffs (of course he does), as he told Sam Amick of USA Today:
I feel great. We have a great chance. These other teams are seasoned, have been together longer, so of course they're going to have a little bit more experience when it comes to that as a team. But if me and James (Harden) do our part and lead these guys, we should have a great playoff run this year. We really want to win a championship, so that's our goal and our focus.
For myself, the biggest thing is making my teammates better. That's my whole plan is to help my teammates in any possible way so they can be the best players that they can be. That's the only thing that matters.
Houston will test San Antonio in the semifinals—remember, the Rockets swept the season series, four games to none—and if Howard is dominant, he's capable of leading Houston past just about any team out there. The Rockets will take confidence in that, but a veteran team like the Spurs will hardly be concerned.
And, you know, the Spurs are better. So there's that.
You know what other team swept the Spurs in the season series this year? You guessed it, the Thunder, who will still have to get past the Clippers in the semifinals. My Lord, what an exciting series that will be. The Clippers led the league in scoring with 107.9 points per game while the Thunder were fifth with 106.2 per contest.
It will go seven, but, again, always side with the team who has the best player. I'll put my money on Durant.
And I'll put my money on him against the Spurs, too. The Thunder are so athletic, can score so quickly and have such dynamic talents in Durant and Westbrook that they're a really tough matchup for the Spurs. And while Durant always looks hungry on the court, he's been downright ravenous this season. The man is on a mission.
That sets up the second meeting in the past three years between the Thunder and Heat (and let's be honest, they probably would have met last year had Westbrook not gone down to injury). The Heat have shown their age at points this season, and you just wonder if reaching the NBA Finals the past three seasons and playing all of those games has taken a toll on them physically.
Plus, LeBron may still be the game's best player, but Durant is 1A, and Westbrook is the third-best player in the matchup. And the Thunder are much better on the boards.
It will be an epic series, concluding an epic postseason. But the Thunder will win in seven, and the LeBron versus Durant rivalry will officially take over the NBA.
I can't wait.