It seems as if every NFL season, there's always that one team who looks like they're going to win it all. Regardless of whether they actually go the distance of not, this is the time where people start to hop on the bandwagon for one team in particular. But with new elements such as the 17 game schedule this season feels different. This year, there's not one dominant team nor will any team remain dominant and here's why.
To start off, we must mention the 17 game schedule as a key component. With one extra game added, there's no breathing room for a team atop of their conference like the Arizona Cardinals, or a division leader like the Baltimore Ravens. For other teams that might have emerged in the hunt, this is an opportunity for them to not only sneak into the playoff picture, but gain significant ground. Take the Indianapolis Colts for example. Their new signal-caller Carson Wentz missed most of training camp with an injury and the Colts sputtered to a 1-4 start. But now they've won five of their last six games and currently hold the top wild card spot in the AFC. In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles, San Fransisco 49ers, and Minnesota Vikings are gaining momentum at the right time. To say that we'll probably see two out of these three teams in the playoffs isn't a crazy prediction.
One key factor that will determine the playoff picture like any other year is injuries. Some teams such as the Ravens, Cardinals, and Packers have still managed to win despite injuries to key players. Other teams such as the Saints have been hit hard. They lost quarterback Jameis Winston for the season to a torn ACL. At the time of the diagnosis, they were 5-2 and had defeated the Buccaneers, but now they're on the outside looking in after losing four straight games. Another notable team worth mentioning is the Titans. With running back Derrick Henry bullying opponents, they slowly climbed to the top of the AFC. Even in their first game without him after a foot injury that will keep him out 6-10 weeks, they blew out the Rams. But now they face lots of questions after losing at home to the one-win Texans. Whether some teams are able to sustain their success going into the final weeks of the regular season will be interesting to see. It's worth wondering about the affect COVID could have on this year's playoff picture. If the Packers have to go down to Arizona for the championship game because they were behind by one game and lose, will Aaron Rodgers regret his decision to not get vaccinated? Had he got vaccinated, would he have been able to play against the Chiefs, a game the Packers lost without him? Maybe that one win would have given them the top seed.
Each week, there's one team that just had a statement victory and is on top of the world, only to get beat the next week. Just look at the AFC. The Chiefs looked like they're primed for another deep run defeating the Browns in a rematch of their divisional meeting to open the season. Then the Ravens seemed to snatch that momentum in a comeback victory that started a five game winning streak that temporarily put them atop the AFC. The Tennessee Titans currently hold the no. 1 seed but they fell back to earth after losing to the one-win Texans. In the NFC, the Cardinals have held on to the no. 1 seed thanks to their 7-0 start. It's the wild card spots which have made the playoff picture for that conference interesting. The Rams and Saints appeared to be locks for the top two spots but both teams have struggled as of late, opening the door to other teams like the 49ers and Eagles.
Whether this satisfies you as a fan or not, there's no dominant team this season. I was originally against the implementation of a 17 game schedule, but it has helped make this playoff race more interesting. Every week some team changes the outlook of the playoff picture and there's every reason to believe that this will continue until the season's over.
On Tuesday night, the NBA will begin its 75th season with the Milwaukee Bucks opening their title defense against the Brooklyn Nets in a rematch of last season's thrilling playoff series. It's fitting that this will be the first matchup in a season expected to have many teams contend for a championship. Over in the East, all eyes will be on the Bucks and Nets while the door is wide open for any team to contend in the West.
Regular Season Awards:
MVP - Luka Dončić
Defensive Player of the Year - Giannis Antetokounmpo
Rookie of the Year - Cade Cunningham
Sixth Man of the Year - Derrick Rose
Most Improved Player - Micheal Porter Jr.
Coach of the Year - Michael Malone
Eastern Conference Western Conference
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#8 Bulls 0 #8 Grizzlies 1
#1 Bucks 4 #1 Suns 4
#4 Hawks 1 #4 Jazz 3
#4 Hawks 4 #4 Jazz 4
#5 Heat 3 #5 Clippers 1
#1 Bucks 2 #2 Nets 4 #1 Suns 1
#2 Nets 4 #3 Nuggets 1 #3 Nuggets 4
#3 Knicks 4 #3 Nuggets 4
#6 Celtics 1 #6 Warriors 1
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 2
#3 Knicks 2 #3 Nuggets 4
#2 Nets 4 #2 Lakers 4
#7 Sixers 1 #7 Mavericks 2
Every football season, there's one team that defies expectations and makes the playoffs after missing it in prior years. The 2017 Eagles and 2019 49ers are perfect examples of teams that bounced back after previously watching the playoffs at home. With certain teams poised to breakthrough, here are the ones that will likely get over the hump.
1. Los Angeles Chargers
Last season was a big transition for the franchise. They moved on from longtime starter Philip Rivers and drafted Justin Herbert who started sooner than expected, after an injury to Tyrod Taylor. Herbert made the most of his opportunity setting records such as most touchdowns passes for a rookie quarterback. However, they finished 7-9 which prompted the team to hire Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley. During the offseason, they upgraded Herbert's offensive line by signing all-pro center Corey Linsley in free agency. The Chargers are hoping he will have the same chemistry with Herbert as he had with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. They also drafted Rashawn Slater who played both left and right tackle in college. On defense, Staley will be overseeing a unit that's getting their two best players, Nick Bosa and Derwin James back from injury last season. They also drafted Asante Samuel Jr. who has already been turning heads in training camp and could provide an upgrade to the cornerback position.
2. Miami Dolphins
Despite missing last year's playoffs, the Dolphins had a much better season than expected, going 10-6. While they blew their chance to clinch losing 56-28 in the finale, there's hope for the future. Led by cornerback Xavien Howard, Miami finished first takeaways and sixth in points allowed. Their coach Brian Floras has clearly established a foundation as they built of last season's finish where they went 5-3 after starting 0-8. Many of their best defensive players such as Howard, Byron Jones, Jerome Baker, and Emmanuel Ogbah will be returning this season. As for the offense, they surrounded second-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa by signing Will Fuller IV, and used their draft capital to trade down for Jaylen Waddle. Tagovailoa and Waddle already have great chemistry dating back Alabama, which will be essential for his development. For the Dolphins to make the playoffs, their hopes will likely depend on whether Tagovaila becomes more comfortable with his command of the offense,
3. Arizona Cardinals
With the acquisition of all-pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals sprinted out to a 6-3 start and appeared on their way toward a playoff birth. They then proceeded to lose five of their last seven games and missed the playoffs entirely. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury enters this year on the hot seat having failed so far to develop anyone besides Kyler Murray. To give him the tools to win, management has addressed some of the roster's flaws in free agency. They gave Murray an established no. 2 receiver in former pro bowler A.J. Green, along with one of the league's top centers, Rodney Hudson. But their most prized acquisition was on the defensive side where they signed former two time Defensive Player of the Year winner J.J. Watt. At 32 years old, Watt might not be the player he used to be, but he can still impact a game in many ways. However, this team is at the bottom of the list because their secondary, one of their weakest units, wasn't addressed this offseason and there's no reason to believe it will improve.
Football is a very unpredictable sport because there's that one team which surprises everyone and might even proceed to make a deep playoff run. While there are other teams who weren't mentioned, I believe the Chargers, Dolphins, and Cardinals are the three with the best chances of turning their fortunes around next season. They have the assets to make it happen and take that next step beyond the regular season into January.
In just three days, the NFL will begin it’s 102 season. One of the biggest storylines going into this season is the schedule change which will have 17 games instead of 16. This could have a huge impact on where teams finish in the standings and opens the door for new teams to reach the postseason. With that being said here are my playoff predictions going into this season.
#2 Bills over #7 Steelers
#3 Browns over #6 Chargers
#4 Titans over #5 Ravens
#1 Chiefs over #4 Titans
#3 Browns over #2 Bills
#3 Browns over #1 Chiefs
#2 Packers over #7 49ers
#3 Rams over #6 Seahawks
#4 Football Team over #5 Saints
#1 Buccaneers over #4 Football Team
#2 Packers over #3 Rams
#2 Packers over #1 Buccaneers
#2 Packers over #3 Browns
If there's one takeaway from this year's NBA playoffs, it would be the increased use of the midrange shot. Despised in the world of analytics as an outdated shot, it's important value was evident this postseason. Players such as Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant, and Khris Middleton took and made these shots.
When the Golden State Warriors were at their peak, they showed how valuable the three point shot can be, prompting everyone from guards to centers to add that shot to their arsenal. As a result midrange shots became a shot that players were advised not to shoot. During Mike D'Antoni's tenure in Houston, any player on the Rockets that didn't shoot a layup or three pointer on a possession would be called out during film sessions. The only player that still took these shots was Carmelo Anthony and while he still made those shots, teams despised it so much that he went a year unsigned. However, the Portland Trail Blazers picked him up in November, 2019 and he is once again proving how valuable it is to have a midrange shot.
In this year's playoffs, Anthony wasn't the only player knocking down midrange jumpers. The teams that won the most in the playoffs had guys that could knock down crucial midrange shots. The Brooklyn Nets had Kevin Durant who despite being the only healthy player out of their big three, literally knocked down midrange shots at will. Durant gave the Celtics nightmares in the first round and nearly eliminated the Bucks single handedly. Overall, he shot an incredible 59% on all midrange shots during the playoffs.
Devin Booker and Chris Paul feasted on midrange shots throughout the postseason while guiding the Suns to their first Finals appearance since 1993. Paul always had the ability to knock down midrange shots, connecting on 52% off those jumpers. But it was Booker who's midrange game took a jump. In his three best games of the playoffs (game 6 WCQF, game 1 WCF, and game 4 Finals), Booker shot an efficent 24/44 off midrange jump shots.
Although he missed the end of the semifinals and all of the conference finals due to an injury, Kawhi Leonard still had a terrific postseason. He helped the Clippers rally from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 against the Mavericks before putting them in a position to beat Utah. In the eleven games before the injury, Leonard was efficent from the midrange shooting 62%.
The Milwaukee Bucks won the championship mainly because of Giannis Antetokounmpo's heroics, but Khris Middleton also played an important role in their run. He established himself as one of the more clutch players of the playoffs hitting big shots on many occasions: his game winner against the Heat, a turnaround putting Milwaukee ahead for good in game 7 against Brooklyn, shots down the stretch to cap a 40 point Finals performance, and a fallaway to dash any hopes of a Suns comeback in game six.
In the regular season, teams never play defense as intense compared to the postseason where a midrange shot can be a useful weapon against tight defense. People who watched the NBA playoffs were reintroduced to the midrange shot. While the heavy use of analytics diminished its value, this shot was reborn during the playoffs. Expect an increased usage of these types of shots next season.
It has been over a week into the NBA transaction period and the offseason has already been wild. Many teams have already been active in the market whether it's through trades or free agent signings. And while there are still high profile moves that might take place, here are my four teams that improved this offseason.
After an offseason that backfired in their quest to repeat as champions, the Lakers decided to go in a different direction: trade Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell, and a first round pick to the Washington Wizards for Russell Westbrook. Westbrook has been one of the top point guards in the league for a long time thanks to his athleticism and playmaking ability. He's the all time leader in career triple doubles. His decision making is another story. He has the tendency to force shots or passes in the closing moments. These flaws can be avoided if Westbrook would be willing to defer to a guy like LeBron James or even Anthony Davis in crucial moments down the stretch. If he does this, he could finally win his first championship In addition, they signed another future hall of famer in Carmelo Anthony. While Anthony might not be the dominating scorer he once was, he's still a reliable asset who remains dependable in clutch situations. The only question about this team will be their age. They have a record five players 35 or older on an NBA roster, which could catch up later in the season. Nonetheless, any team led by LeBron has a chance to win it all and this is one of the more talented rosters he's been a part of.
The Heat went into the 2020-2021 with high hopes after a surprising run to the Finals in the previous year. However, they had a down year and were swept in the first round by the eventual champion Bucks. Going into this offseason, they wasted no time taking advantage of the available cap room they had. They signed P.J. Tucker who's a rugged defender and solid three point shooter for only $17 million, but their big move was signing all star point guard Kyle Lowry from the Raptors via a sign and trade. While he lost a step last season Lowry is still a stellar floor general who can create his own shots and set up his teammates. On the defensive end, Lowry's a scrappy defender who puts his body on the line and should form a tough defensive backcourt with Jimmy Butler. Speaking of Butler, Miami awarded him with a $184 million contract extension along with a five year $90 million extension to Duncan Robinson. While both were key contributors in their run to the Finals, Butler will be 32 years old going into next season and Robinson, while an excellent 3-point shooter, isn't a great defender or passer so it will be interesting to see how both deals work out.
Following a season in which the Knicks made their first playoff appearance in eight years, many wondered if they would be able to re-sign some of the upcoming free agents who got them in that position. When free agency began, they wasted no timing re-signing Nerlens Noel, Alec Burks, and Derrick Rose. Bringing back Rose in particular was a smart move since there were other teams who recognized his value and wanted to sign him. While they did lose Reggie Bullock, their short term replacement is Evan Fournier who can score in off the dribble and from three. He's not as good a defender as Bullock is but that could be improved under Tom Thibodeau. They also acquired Kemba Walker after he reached a buyout with the Thunder. Although Walker was clearly not 100% last season, he's usually one of the more crafty point guards in the league and is a good fit for the Knicks since he stabilizes their point guard rotation going into this season. Finally, they extended their best player Julius Randle for four years and $117 million. Although Randle had a subpar postseason, he helped get them there and he's worth every penny. In fact, Randle actually took less money to allow the team to improve other areas of the roster.
The Bulls entered the offseason with money to spend on improving their roster and wasted no time in doing so. They added two skilled perimeter players in DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball via sign and trade. While they already have a talented scorer in shooting guard Zach LaVine, Ball and DeRozan both bring useful skillsets to the table. Ball is a strong defender who's averaged over one steal each year of his career. On offense, he brings playmaking to the Bulls. His scoring has slowly progressed, but his passing will most likely be the difference. Since entering the league, Ball has had 40 games with 10 or more assists; thirteen more games than anyone on the Bulls roster combined throughout that span. DeRozan might not be the player he was with the Raptors, but he's still a solid player. He converted 49.5% of his shots and averaged a career high seven assists. How he'll fit next to LaVine is going to be interesting given that they play the same position and still need time to develop chemistry.
These are the moves that I believe will pay the most dividends this upcoming season. As mentioned earlier, the offseason isn't over yet and there might be major moves in the making as we speak. However, these teams that I mentioned have had the best off-seasons and fans should feel good about their situation.
The New York Yankees have been maddeningly inconsistent throughout the 2021 season. With high expectations, they have underachieved. Whenever it looks like they might have figured it out, they once again go back to their losing ways. Even if they somehow sneak into the playoffs, they probably won't go far, and there will certainly be changes once the season ends.
Their problems start at the plate where they can't capitalize with runners in scoring position. The Yankees are practically at the bottom of the league when it comes to that category. Home runs - their strength at the plate - have come less frequently than in other years. They also lack contact hitters; too many players look to hit home runs and end up striking out. DJ LeMahieu, their best contact hitter in recent years, resigned for six years and $90 million, but he hasn't matched his play from the previous two seasons. Guys who were seen as key players in previous years such as Gleyber Torres have struggled. Their power hitter Giancarlo Stanton hasn't been the big time player the Yankees envisioned when they inherited his big contract. Only Aaron Judge has been the most successful hitter this year. He is leading the team in home runs, batting average, and RBIs while staying healthy so far.
As for their pitching, it seems like every time this unit takes one step forward, they then proceed to take two steps back. Gerrit Cole for the most part, has shown why he was worth the big contract the Yankees gave him, but he doesn't get much run support. The same can be said for Jordan Montgomery who pitched five starts without any run support from his teammates before last Thursday. Corey Kluber had appeared to be finding his groove after pitching a no-hitter in mid-May, before injuring his shoulder. By the time he gets back, the Yankees will likely be all, but eliminated from making the postseason. Domingo German and Jamesson Taillon have had their moments, but aren't long term answers. Their bullpen, which was viewed as their biggest pitching strength prior to the season, has blown a bunch of games where they appeared to have a comfortable lead. Three of those blown leads have come when they were leading by four or more runs entering the eighth inning.
These problems however extend beyond the diamond. It has been apparent that Aaron Boone hasn't been able to light a spark in this team, and he's made poor decisions in some of their losses. In their last loss to Boston for example, he pulled Domingo German in the eighth inning after giving up his first hit even though he probably could've pitched to one or two more batters. I've always thought that Boone has been unfairly criticized over the years, but if this team keeps underperforming, there's little he could say to convince management to retain him for another year. That's not to say they're not at fault either. Brian Cashman believed that he had a roster that could contend so he ignored areas that turned out to be flaws, whether it was the lack of left handed hitting, athleticism on defense, or a consistent rotation. Their player development has also been subpar if you realize they've developed no one who looks like a foundational player in the last five years outside of Judge. Cashman has done many good things for the franchise, but with this year likely being their 12th year without even sniffing a World Series, he should go.
Overall, this is looking like a lost season for the Yankees. As mentioned earlier, the only positive from this season has been a healthy Judge. While it's still possible for them to turn it around and sneak into the wild card, it seems more unlikely as they keep losing. On the bright side, the Yankees are usually able to find ways to turn it around after a rough season. That doesn't mean that they should make any moves at the trade deadline. If they find out that the players they want such as Trevor Story or Starling Marte are likely staying put, they should wait for free agency because they're not one player away from turning it around. What they should do at the deadline, is try to trade starters for prospects with high potential. Hopefully, this team makes the necessary moves to climb back in contention.
,The Atlanta Hawks were up by three points in the final minutes of game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Ben Simmons caught a pass on the block and had the chance for a wide open dunk, only to pass it to Matisse Thybulle who got fouled. Thybulle, a 44% shooter from the foul line, went one of two and the 76ers would later lose the game and the series. As soon as the series ended, extensive criticism was aimed at Simmons who will be a big question mark for the team's future.
Ben Simmons is a very unique basketball player. At 6′ 11, he can bring the ball up court and run in offense, something that only Giannis Antetokounmpo can also do at that height. Simmons is also a great ball handler and is able to set up teammates in transition. On the defensive end, Simmons' long wingspan has made him a menace. He can defend different positions on the court and it shows in his accolades of back-to-back First Team All Defense selections. The one weakness in his game is his shooting, particularly from three, which is an important skill to have in today's game.
While Simmons can hide these problems in the regular season, they make him vulnerable in the playoffs. Come postseason time, teams will look to attack a player's weakness, and this was never more evident than in this year's playoffs. In the first round, the 76ers dispatched the Washington Wizards in five games, but in Washington's game 4 victory, they were able to expose Simmons' free throw problems by hacking him down the stretch. Although Philadelphia won the series, Simmons had lost his aggressiveness. Against the tougher Atlanta Hawks in the semifinals, Simmons would only score a combined 19 points in the final three games. His passed up dunk in game 7 perfectly represents his reluctance to attack the basket in fear of shooting free throws.
Although coach Doc Rivers noted that the team has a plan to improve Simmons' shooting, it might be too little too late. A 76ers fan and close friend of mine in Philadelphia recently gave me his perspective on the situation: he believes that time is up. As good a regular season player as Simmons is, he is very easy to out-coach during the playoffs. When asked about trade possibilities, he believes it's worth trading Simmons because for one, they could acquire a talented perimeter player such as CJ McCollum or Damien Lillard. In addition, they can get rid of Simmons' big contract to add other pieces around Joel Embiid. Simmons may be a highly talented player, but his shooting struggles are too much to overcome in order to win a championship.
If game 7 turns out to be Simmons' last game as a 76er it would symbolize a complicated tenure for Simmons. While his unique play style put the 76ers in a position to succeed, it also resulted in many playoff disappointments. Don't be surprised if that game turned out to be his final one.
At 26 years old, he's had all the accomplishments an NBA player can dream of. Giannis Antetokounmpo has gone from selling CDs as a kid on the streets in his hometown Athens, Greece, to winning a championship. He's a representation of the American Dream that goes beyond the sport of basketball. On Tuesday night, he and his team overcame previous playoff disappointments by defeating the Phoenix Suns in four straight games after losing the first two.
Leading up to the Finals against the Phoenix Suns, people didn't even know if Giannis would play. He suffered what appeared to be a painful knee injury in game four of the Conference Finals against the Hawks and it looked like he would miss the beginning of the series. However, Giannis suited up for game one and played pretty well during the first two games, but the Bucks faced an 0-2 deficit. When the series shifted to Milwaukee they tied up the series sealed after Giannis delivered one of the best blocks in finals history to preserve the Bucks lead at the end of game four. The Bucks then proceeded to steal home court advantage in game five by fighting off a late Suns rally, and in game six, it was clear Giannis wasn't going to let this series head back to Phoenix right from the jump. On offense, he scored at will every time, whether it was layups, dunks, his new-found turnaround and even free throws. On defense he intimidated every shooter on the Suns, and would end up blocking five shots. His final stat line: 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks.
Loyalty played a big part in Giannis' journey toward a championship. Many people wondered why Giannis wanted to continue playing in a city that didn't have the celebrity lifestyle compared to New York City or Los Angeles. Yet he believed he owed a championship to the Bucks as well as the city of Milwaukee for taking a chance on him when he was just 18 years old. After every loss, he would take criticism and improve his game. Early in the finals when he was asked if the fans are are affecting his free throw shooting, Giannis acknowledged that was the case and vowed to improve his focus on making the free throw. This became a strength toward the end of the series, as Giannis went 17-19 in game six. Most players would've tried to avoid such a question concerning a flaw in their game. Finally, he fully established himself as a closer during this playoffs. With home court advantage on their side against Phoenix, Giannis delivered one of the greatest closeout performances of all time. His 50 points are tied for the most ever in a closeout game.
If there's anything that can be taken away from Giannis' playoff run, it's that you don't have to play in a marquee city to win a championship. You can play in a small market in the midwest and still be successful. Giannis proved that you don't have to chase super teams in order to win a championship. Guys like Kevin Durant and James Harden chose to create super teams in hopes of winning a championship and while the results have been mixed, Giannis won the hard way. He had a pretty good roster of Kris Middleton, Jrue Holiday, and Brook Lopez, but not the roster compared to the Nets. You can say injuries prevented other teams from advancing but that is part of the game. The attention Phoenix paid to Giannis helped him to get the best out of his teammates in the Finals. Whether it was Middleton's 40 point outing in game four, Holiday's clutch steal in game five, or even Bobby Portis' 16 points in the closer, you could see the Giannis effect during those last four games.
If Giannis wasn't already one of the greatest stories in all of sports, he certainly is now, To win a championship after years of falling short with the same team is super impressive given the fact that most players would've left had they been in Giannis' situation. Even if he never wins another ring, this year's championship will always be remembered for what Giannis accomplished.
It seems hard to imagine that there are only four NBA teams left standing. The energy in Madison Square Garden, along with the first round performances of Luka Doncic, Damian Lillard, and Jayson Tatum seem like a year ago. But there are now four teams remaining in the playoffs with the best chance of breaking their championship drought.
Despite spending plenty of money this offseason, the Hawks found themselves six games under .500 entering all-star break. They decided to cut ties with coach Lloyd Pierce and promoted Nate McMillan to head coach. After that, the Hawks finished the season 27-11 clinching the fifth seed. They defeated the Knicks in five games thanks to the heroics (and foul hunting) of Trae Young. But perhaps more impressive was their second round series against the 76ers where they won game seven on the road. Young's last second winner in game 1 against the Knicks, has set the tone for a postseason in which he's averaged 29 points and 10 assists. McMillian also deserves a ton of credit for turning around Atlanta's season. With their confidence sky high, there's a real possibility they might sneak into the Finals.
Once again, the Bucks had another impressive regular season finishing as the third seed, but appeared to have a difficult journey as they opened the playoffs against a familiar Miami Heat team that defeated them in five games last year. The Bucks convincingly swept the Heat after nearly blowing game one. In the semifinals against the Brooklyn Nets, the Bucks overcame deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to win in seven hard fought games despite Kevin Durant's brilliance. Giannis Antetokounmpo's stepped up in a big way, scoring 40 points in the deciding game through smart decision making. Moving forward, he should stay in the post because Milwaukee's offense is more efficent that way. They should also run more plays for guys such as Jrue Holiday and Kris Middleton, to get more involved in the offense. If the Bucks want to get over the hump, this is their recipe.
In November, the Suns boosted their playoff chances by acquiring future hall of famer Chris Paul. With an already promising core of Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton, and Miles Bridges, this proved to be the missing piece they needed as Phoenix won 51 games during the regular season. Their first playoff opponent in 11 years were the defending champion Lakers who were favored by some (including myself) to win. They came back from a 2-1 deficit, winning the next three games with Booker capping the series with a 47 point masterpiece. They then followed this with a sweep of the Denver Nuggets to advance to the conference finals. Currently, they are up 1-0 thanks to Booker's 40 point triple double. Booker has balled out in his first postseason appearance, even though Paul hasn't been healthy throughout this postseason. With a healthy Paul, I think Phoenix has the best chance of winning their first championship.
Los Angeles Clippers:
It's crazy that the Clippers are finally in the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history after years of blown leads. It seemed like it would be another failure as they fell behind 2-0 to the Mavericks in the first round. Led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they overcome that deficit as well as a 3-2 lead to defeat them in seven thrilling games. Against the top seeded Jazz, they once again tied the series at two games apiece after falling 2-0. George changed the course of the series, with signature performance despite no Leonard to send the series back to L.A. up 3-2. The Clippers capitalized on this opportunity to win the series. Right now, they are down 1-0 to the Suns and must grab home court advantage by winning game two. Leonard's health is still a question mark and it's possible he'll rest of the playoffs with an ACL injury.
My Updated Predictions:
In the Eastern Conference Finals, I'm picking the Bucks to defeat the Hawks. Atlanta is coming into the series with supreme confidence, but if the Bucks play Giannis in the post, and run plays through Middleton and Holiday, they should win the series. Holiday can also be counted upon to shut down Young. Holiday is one of the better perimeter defenders and he'll be everything the Bucks invested in him if he shows up. However, Atlanta's offense is more efficent and with their improvement on the defensive end, Giannis could be headed home again.
As for the Western Conference, the Suns will probably win the series if they win today. The Suns have played exceptionally well together from a coaching to a playing standpoint and it has shown in their play. The Clippers can't be counted out after what they've done, but they must win game two to prevent Paul from returning with the Suns up 2-0. If the Clippers lose, it's difficult to envision a comeback, which is why this upcoming game has major implications on the outcome of this series. That being said, I think Phoenix wins this game as well as the series.
If the Bucks and Suns face off in the Finals, it's going to come down to who's the better coach. Both teams have talented rosters and defend the basket well. However, Mike Budenholzer hasn't seemed to unlock the Bucks offense while Monty Williams has the Suns offense playing extremely well. Therefore, Phoenix wins their first NBA championship.