THE playoffs are the most exciting time of the year in the NBA, mainly because we can’t say with any kind of certainty how things will play out. Players suffer unexpected injuries, suspensions for on-court actions can be handed down at the worst possible time, and even historically great teams can blow unprecedented series leads.
But there are some events along the way that we can predict with a great deal of confidence.
Here are nine predictions we can already make about what will go down when the playoffs begin on April 15 — one of which involves LeBron James chasing down one of Michael Jordan’s records.
STEPH CURRY CLIMBS RECORD BOOKS
STEPHEN Curry will move into second place for the most three-pointers made in playoff history.
The NBA game has evolved to the point where the three-point shot is more prominent than ever, and Stephen Curry exemplifies that perhaps better than anyone. Curry will be performing in the playoffs for just the fifth time in his career, but by the time the Warriors’ 2017 season is finished, he will likely have moved into second place for the most three-pointers made in playoff history.
Curry is currently 10th on the all-time list but trails Reggie Miller for second by 78 made shots. Curry should get there — he hit 80 threes in the playoffs last year, and 98 in the previous postseason. Ray Allen is 65 ahead of Miller with 385, so it’ll take another year for him to become the all-time leader.
NO TEAM IN THE EAST WILL TOUCH CAVS
NO team in the East will push the Cavaliers to seven games.
Sorry, Isaiah Thomas.
The Cavaliers are not only a lock to make it out of the East, but there isn’t one team in the conference capable of forcing them into a seven-game series.
Since LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2015, the Cavs have had six playoff series against Eastern Conference teams. Four of them resulted in sweeps, while only one team each season — the Bulls in 2015 and the Raptors last year — were able to force a six-game series.
CAVS WILL HAVE TO DO IT ON THE ROAD
THE Cavaliers won’t have home-court advantage in the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers may make it out of the East unscathed, but things will immediately become more difficult on the path to a second straight title.
There are three teams in the West that will finish the regular season with better records than the Cavs, and one of them is guaranteed to reach the Finals. The Warriors, Spurs and Rockets are the elite teams in the conference, and they would all have home-court advantage over Cleveland in any Finals match-up.
The good news for the Cavaliers, of course, is that they won a Game 7 on the road to clinch the title last season.
RUSSELL WESTBROOK DELIVERS DURING WINNING TIME
RUSSELL Westbrook’s triple-double average will actually matter in the playoffs.
Westbrook has a real shot to average a triple-double for the season, which is something that hasn’t been done in the NBA in more than 50 years.
It probably won’t be enough to earn him MVP honours because the Thunder aren’t likely to finish the season any higher than sixth in the West.
But if he could manage to post those kind of numbers for an entire playoff series, history says that OKC’s postseason opponent could be in for a surprise.
In the history of the NBA playoffs, only five players (Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Fat Lever and Jason Kidd) have averaged a triple-double in a series, and it’s only been accomplished 10 different times. Those players’ teams have a combined record of 9-1 when it’s happened — a statistic that could somehow give Westbrook even more confidence.
BUCKS WILL SCARE EAST’S TOP DOGS
MILWAUKEE will challenge one of the East’s top seeds.
The Bucks have won 13 of their last 18 games and have looked much better than their .500 record during this late-season surge. The return of Khris Middleton to the lineup on Feb. 8 has been a huge addition, and the seedings in the bottom half of the East are fluid, with just 4.5 games separating the six teams currently in sixth through 10th place.
Milwaukee sits in seventh at the moment and could creep up as high as fifth before the regular season is finished. As long as the Bucks avoid a first-round date in Cleveland, they’ll have a real shot at doing some damage against anyone else in the East.
DRAYMOND GREEN WILL ACT A DAMN FOOL
DRAYMOND Green will kick someone somewhere.
Green has had a problem with kicking people since at least last season, and even though he was suspended in the Finals as a result, the antics carried over to this season, where he was caught doing it in consecutive December contests.
He was at it again back in February, and given the physicality of the postseason over a seven-game series that can bring out the animosity in anyone, we’re almost certain to see Green let his emotions get the better of him at least once.
CLIPPERS ARE JUST MAKING UP THE NUMBERS
THE Clippers won’t make it out the second round.
It feels like we’re coming to the end of this current iteration of the Clippers. Since Chris Paul joined Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles in advance of the 2011-12 season, the Clippers have made the playoffs five times but have never advanced further than the second round.
That’s not likely to change this season. Thanks to some unfortunate injuries and an irrational amount of confidence that things will be just fine once the playoffs begin, L.A. is currently just fifth in the West. Even if it gets past a very strong Utah Jazz team in the first round, that sets up a date with the top-seeded Warriors (or Spurs, should San Antonio find a way to close the 2.5-game gap).
Beating either of those teams in a seven-game series would appear to be an impossible task for this Clippers squad, and it would set up a summer full of questions and difficult decisions, with both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin becoming unrestricted free agents.
LEBRON SMASHES JORDAN POST-SEASON RECORD
LEBRON James will pass Michael Jordan to become the all-time leading scorer in playoff history.
James will enter the 2017 postseason in fourth place on the all-time list for total points scored in the playoffs, but he’ll almost certainly finish it by overtaking Michael Jordan for the No. 1 spot.
James has scored 5,572 postseason points in his career and trails Kobe Bryant by 68, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by 190 and Jordan by 415.
Assuming the Cavaliers’ run through the playoffs goes as deep as we all expect it will, LeBron will have blown by MJ when all is said and done. He scored 552 points on the way to a title last year and scored 601 points during Cleveland’s run to the Finals in 2015.
HOUSE OF CARDS WILL FALL
IN A competition as even as the NBA, one injury is enough to change everything.
No one likes injuries, but they’re an unfortunate reality of professional sports. And it seems as though at least one team’s postseason fate is changed every year when a star player goes down.
Last season, the Clippers lost both Blake Griffin and Chris Paul in their first-round series against the Blazers. Stephen Curry missed time with knee and ankle injuries and may not have been 100 per cent the rest of the way. Then there were the Cavaliers in 2015, losing both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving at different points in the postseason before falling to Golden State in the NBA Finals.
Kevin Durant has missed the last few weeks for the Warriors, and while he’s expected back soon, we don’t know what version of him we’ll be seeing. That’s one injury we know about that could potentially impact things significantly; history tells us there will probably be others.
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