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Are the strongest teams getting weaker?

At the onset of the playoffs, there were arguably many threatening teams. Is that still the case? With a few recent injuries, as well as some uninspired play, many contenders are quickly seeing their stock drop -- while the Warriors' championship hopes are looking better than ever.

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Hawks 2-2 Nets

In the parallel universe where the NBA had already restructured its playoff seeding, Brooklyn would be out in favor of Oklahoma City. The Nets are a sub-500 team (38-44). So why is Atlanta having a difficult time continuing their regular season dominance? Did Mike Budenholzer rest his players a bit too much, at the expense of team flow? Did the Thabo Sefolosha injury shake up the team? Is Brooklyn actually turning into a good team? They do have some decent defensive pieces, a dominant big man (Brook Lopez), and an unpredictable point guard (Deron Williams). If Atlanta can retain homecourt advantage, or figure out how to win in Brooklyn, they will face a well-rested, well-prepared, and confident Washington team. That just takes them through Round 2. The Hawks have a surprisingly difficult road ahead.

Bulls 3-2 Bucks

Milwaukee has very good chemistry. Maybe second best in the league after the Warriors. The guys seem to like being around each other and play as a cohesive unit. They hit game winners for each other more than personal glory, and emphasize defense (2nd in the league), the traditionally more team-oriented side. If the Bulls aren't careful, Milwaukee could be the first team to come back from an 0-3 deficit.

Chicago is supposed to be a powerhouse. They were already an elite team, added Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic in the offseason, and the pieces seem to fit pretty well. Maybe the Pau Gasol - Joakim Noah lineups could still use some time, and the Jimmy Butler - Derrick Rose duality is a bit confusing. Butler is now talking about the team needing to 'refocus' their defensive energy for game 6. Which begs the question, why did it ever drop? Was it not motivating enough to know that Cleveland was already through, resting and preparing for them specifically? The Bulls have looked especially bad in the final 2 minutes. Rose looks like he's trying too hard, and Tom Thibodeau regularly lets go of the reins in favor of potentially getting Rose's confidence back.


They swept a well-coached Boston team, and were not rewarded for their effort. Kevin Love may be out for the rest of the playoffs, after a suspicious play by Kelly Olynyk. J.R. Smith will miss the first 2 games at home in the next series, and as a hot-cold 6th man, that could be the difference between an opponent stealing a game or two in Cleveland. After trying to assimilate Love into the lineup for what seems like an eternity, the Cavaliers now have to focus on playing without him. Not exactly the best time for a change.


With the Mavericks in borderline meltdown mode, due to both Chandler Parsons' season cut short and the Rajon Rondo drama, Houston was perhaps made to look better. Last season, bad chemistry between Dwight Howard and James Harden (and Kevin McHale?) cost them severely. The body language on the floor in the Portland series was disgusting. How can that be over just a year later, when they've had such limited time on the floor together? Hard to believe they go bowling, grab meals together, or even joke around. That can't be a warm relationship. Josh Smith may go back a long way with Howard, but he still doesn't know the rest of the team so well. Neither does Corey Brewer. They've been on a high lately, but what happens when things aren't going their way? What happens if they're down 2-1 in a series -- will cracks start to appear? Will their offense look as dominant against defensive-minded teams? They turned the ball over 15 times in the first half last night, against a team with the 6th worst defense in the league (points allowed, 10th worst in efficiency). They're not exactly firing on all cylinders.

Clippers 2 - 3 Spurs

When you play an 8-man rotation that includes 2 players who hardly played during the season, it's time to worry. One of those players is the coach's son, who he traded for with his recently expanded role. Can you say nepotism? To be fair, Austin Rivers did have a good Game 4.

Tim Duncan might not age, but it sure looks like Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili do. Age is kind of a lame factor to bring up, since it's nothing new, but it's also inevitable that it will affect them more year to year. Having just won a championship could be a bad thing (complacent / satisfied), or a good thing (the elusive and motivating back-to-back).

If you polled these teams at the beginning this series, I doubt many players were supremely confident they were advancing. That means some players will be inwardly celebrating getting to the second round. Not a good thing.

Grizzlies 3 - 1 Trail Blazers

If only these teams had both been healthy, this could have been a fun series. Portland has had some rough injury luck this season, and Memphis is starting to hurt as well. Mike Conley had a sprained foot and a wrist issue that should be clearing up, but is also recovering from facial reconstructive surgery. It's unclear how long he will be out, and you can expect a masked return. Beno Udrih is recovering from a sprained ankle. That might not sound like a big deal, but he's been huge lately. Those are their top 2 point guards. That's going to put a strain on the team moving forward.


This series had to have surprised the majority of the NBA. It had its fare share of drama, and many of the best teams abhor drama. Washington's coach, Randy Wittman, is not exactly heralded as an analytics fan - in fact he supports long 2's and tries to reduce 3-pointers. Not generally a winning formula. The opening round sure held promise, but it's hard to give them too much credit before we see a little more.


It's a bit silly to look at the struggles of other teams, scrutinize them, and sit here on a lofty perch, pointing to a sweep of the Pelicans as a sign of continued dominance. Keep in mind the Warriors could (should?) have lost game 3, and a results-oriented mindset could be misleading. So let's put the Warriors down a bit shall we?

The term ‘appropriate fear' has been bandied about in the locker room, and it seems like for game 1, that fear level was deemed to be low. I thought I was watching a regular season game. Energy was lacking. Is the appropriate fear going to be too low when they face off against an injury depleted squad in later rounds, or a team that's been underperforming? Because that could be dangerous.

Kerr looked nervous in Game 1. You can't really blame him considering it's his first time in the playoffs as a coach. If the playoffs don't treat the Warriors kindly, the regular season dominance doesn't mean much, and he is well aware of this. He also doesn't have full control of the team, and maybe most importantly, Curry. How many times has his exasperation with a poor shot been replaced with hysterical laughter when it goes in? It's worked out thus far.

Draymond's body language can be iffy, though he usually turns it around quickly. He can be a demanding teammate, and if he isn't careful, this could rub some teammates the wrong way. You know how criticism is usually best delivered one-on-one? Well Draymond has no issues delivering it publicly. He's also a tech target.

Curry is exceptional at protecting his body. When finishing in transition, he uses the rim to avoid contact. If he is off balance in a potential ankle-tweaking scenario, he kicks his legs up to fall on his behind, even if he has a decent chance to regain a ball. This is smart, both from a team perspective (#WGBC), as well as from an individual perspective (getting a fair contract). Probably safe to assume if a championship is on the line, this strategy goes out the window, but who knows.

Enough of this, I'm starting to feel like a traitor... The negative I tried so desperately to list above is not worrisome, and was mostly from Game 1. Today the Golden State Warriors are -180 to win the championship. That means you'd have to lay down $180 to win just $100. That's absurd. Let's hope the Dubs stay healthy, and continue to dominate.

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