April 26, 2015

Bold Playoff Predictions: 15 fool-proof guarantees for the 2015 NBA post-season


This article was first published in my column for Ekalavyas on April 16, 2015. Click here to read the original post.



During my school-years in Mussoorie, there was a man who had set up a little fortune-telling business near the hill-station’s Jhula Ghar. Every day, he would lay out a carpet on the side of the street and sit behind it, waiting for gullible and interested tourists. On the carpet in front of him were dozens of small green envelopes, each of which held a card, and each card carried on it hand-written messages that told you your fate.

But the man himself wasn’t a fortune-teller, he was just medium. The real prophet was a talkative old parrot that waited in a cage on the carpet next to the man. All the man needed was your name, your city, and your date of birth, which he would then communicate to the parrot and then release it from its cage. The parrot would trot out on the carpet, sift through the envelopes, and then pick out the appropriate one. For its Nostradamic services, the parrot would receive a little snack from the man.

And for a small fee, you would have a card with your fortune scribbled in Hindi. Sometimes it would be positive, sometimes it would negative, and every time, it would be interesting. The whole transaction was a complete scam, but the entertainment it provided was well worth its cost.

Consider me your Mussoorie parrot today, and consider the NBA playoffs to be our subject. Through some knowledge, experience, and gut instinct, I’m here to evoke my inner fortune teller and hand you 15 little envelopes, each with a fool-proof guarantee for the 2015 NBA post-season.

1. Kyrie Irving will have one game with 35 points and 0 assists.

Welcome to the playoffs Kyrie. The Cavaliers have mostly solved their early-season on-court chemistry issues between Irving, LeBron, and the rest of the crew. But the pressure of the playoffs is going to coerce Kyrie to some of his old, chuck-first, pass-later habits again. I expect there to be a game where Irving will become a victim of the moment, over-shoot, and stagnate the offense. The Cavaliers will lose that game. And LeBron will have to publically call him out to set things back in order again. 

2. Paul Pierce will talk trash (and then back it up).

This is what Paul Pierce does. He spits Truth. Before the Wizards start their playoff series against the Raptors, Pierce said that Toronto don’t fear him because they don’t have the ‘it’ factor. I expect more trash-talk from The Truth in the playoffs. Although I can’t say if the rest of his Washington teammates will rise to the moment, Pierce himself will back up his words and enjoy some big moments against the Raptors, just like he did last year

3. Pau Gasol will complain about being benched in the fourth quarter.

Coach Thibodeau likes the duo of Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson for their defensive ability in closing out games. Just like Carlos Boozer for several years prior, Pau Gasol is the new offensively talented starter in the Bulls’ lineup. Unfortunately for Gasol, he will be ignored in a close game – a loss for the Bulls – while he sits and pouts on the bench. He will complain about it publically to the media, and then bounce back by delivering Chicago a win in the very next game.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo will dunk all over someone.

Goodbye to the nice-guy ‘Greek Freak’, welcome to the uber-talented young monster. Antetokounmpo, in his first trip to the playoffs, will announce his arrival to the rest of the world with an earth-shaking dunk that will serve as a warning to all present and future opponents, just like he did to the Knicks last week.

5. The Splash Brothers will have 20-25 point quarters.

You already know what Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are capable of. They are the finalists of this year’s Three-Point contest. One of them is an MVP candidate who recently hit 77 threes in a row at practice. The other has had quarters of 37 and 26 points in the season already. And they share the same backcourt. At more than one time in the offseason, expect Curry and Thompson to have separate moments where they will ease to 20-25 points in a single quarter. SPLASH!

6. Chris Paul will hit someone in the nether regions (and get away with it).

Chris Paul is the best pure point guard in the league and an All Time great competitor. He’s also one of the sneakiest players in the league, with the um, questionable ability to get away with minor infractions that many of his peers and opponents are punished for. I expect CP3 to get away with at least one hard shot at an opponent’s family jewels, but the moment will be so carefully orchestrated that Paul will survive any official backlash.

7. Damian Lillard will not repeat last year’s heroics.

Lillard enjoyed a major breakout in the First Round series against the Rockets last year, including hitting the biggest shot of the year that advanced Portland to the Second Round. Unfortunately, the same heroics aren’t going to be repeated against the Grizzlies – one of the league’s most tenacious defensive squads – this year. Memphis are going to target Lillard on the perimeter from the very first game and reduce him to an inefficient shell of himself.

8. Rajon Rondo will play his best basketball in years.

It’s been several years since we’ve seen the phenomenon called ‘Playoff Rondo’, but guess what, he’s making a comeback. The Rondo and Dallas marriage has been rocky to say the least, and many believe that the experiment has failed. But the past will not matter when the playoffs begin, and under the bright lights and pressure, I expect Rondo to shine again, piling up at least one triple-double and playing with new-found energy. With free agency looming, this will be the perfect opportunity for Rondo to prove his worth to future suitors.

9. Anthony Davis will flirt with a quadruple-double.

With sheer will, The Unibrow carried the underdog Pelicans into the Western Conference playoffs, only to be presented with a nightmare First Round matchup against the Warriors. But don’t expect him to back down anytime soon: Davis has enjoyed some monster scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocks games already this season, and in the playoffs, his performances will hit an even higher barometer. I’m predicting a game where he will single-handedly carry the Pelicans with about 35 points, 15 rebounds, 9 assists, and 8 blocks. But the Pelicans will still lose that game.

10. Pop will annoy Doc.

Gregg ‘Pop’ Popovich, meet Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers. The most exciting series of the First Round will pit the Clippers against the Spurs, and two of the league’s most popular head coaches against each other. The difference, of course, is that Popovich has a greater ability to be relaxed under pressure, while Rivers has a tendency to overreact and feel victimized from time to time. There will come a time when Pop will get under Doc’s skin – probably through the Hack-A-DeAndre tactic – and the psychological advantage will favour the Spurs.

11. Kyle Korver will make Twitter overuse the fire emoji.

Kyle Korver has just completed a memorable season, becoming and All Star and shooting around 49 percent from both the field and behind the three-point line. If you were a regular Twitterer in the NBA-spere, you will be aware of the online explosions and reactions Korver’s hot-shooting streaks for the Hawks. Now, as the playoffs bring more deserved attention to Atlanta, Korver’s shooting escapades will be cause bigger over-reactions on social media, and soon enough, his name will simply be replaced by the ‘fire’ emoji.

12. Every Cavaliers loss will be blamed on Kevin Love and David Blatt.      
  
Cleveland is now The Land of King LeBron James, and all are his subjects. No one dare question or disagree with His Highness, and all must remain on his corner. LeBron will choose which coach is allowed to speak to him (Tyrone Lue) and which players to be his loyal comrades (Kevin Love not invited). Despite some frictions, the Cavaliers have a great team and will go far in the playoffs. But they won’t be perfect, and every time they lose, the scapegoats will be the two men who aren’t in complete harmony with James: Blatt and Love. 

13. Kyle Lowry will learn the Canadian national anthem.

Kyle Lowry has been a legend for Raptors fans, and hence by extension, for many Canadian basketball fans this year. He signed a long-term contract extension to stay in Toronto, was voted in as a starter for the 2015 All Star Game, and helped lead the team to a franchise-best 49 wins. Recently, former Wizard Gilbert Arenas mocked on Instagram that Raptors players don’t know the Canadian national anthem. I expect Lowry to take this insult personally and dramatically bellow out ‘O Canada’ before the next home game.

14. Hack-A-Dwight will get Dwight benched.

Dwight Howard has barely played this season, and the Rockets are more comfortable without him, anyways. Of course, the big man’s talents – particularly on the defensive end – are going to be incredibly valuable for the Rockets’ post-season push. But at some point Coach Kevin McHale will decide that the rewards won’t be worth the punishment, and keep Howard bench for long stretches of close games when he starts missing too many free throws.

15. Spurs vs. Warriors will be the best series of the post-season.


We will have to wait till the Western Conference Finals for this, but when it happens, expect the basketball version of a supernova as the Spurs and the Warriors – two of the league’s most talented teams – finally face off. The Spurs are the defending champions who will be peaking at the perfect time to win a repeat title, playing beautiful basketball through ball-movement and featuring the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili, Boris Diaw, and more in starring roles. The Warriors, meanwhile, have finished the season with 67 wins and have been one of the most successful regular season teams in NBA history. They have been one of the NBA’s top two teams in both offensive and defensive efficiency. And between Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Andrew Bogut, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, and David Lee, they feature one of the most exciting and deep rotations fans have seen in ages. Only one team will win this incredible series, but together, they will play captivating basketball. The eventual NBA Finals will seem like a let-down in comparison. 

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