Top Trumps: Who has the ultimate powers to win the NBA Conference Finals?
Think of the Final Four remaining NBA teams as Trump Cards, with each squad having several attributes to matchup against its opponent. Which team is going to have the powers to move on beyond the Conference Finals? I preview each Conference Finals series with my 'trumpable' ranks and make predictions for the NBA's Eastern and Western Conference champions
Do you remember playing with trump cards? It wasn’t always about who is stronger, it was about who is able to harness the right power (or attribute) at the right time against the right opponent.
Think of NBA teams as trump cards, too. Each team has a different attribute (offense, defence, coaching, star player, team chemistry, bench, etc.) and through a seven-game playoff series, almost each of those attributes gets called upon. An underdog may be able to pull off an upset once in a while; but to beat a better team four times, each team (or trump card) would truly need to have several better attributes than its opponents, or be able to evoke its minimal advantage multiple times.
For better or for worse, through the magic of matchups, luck, timing, or sheer talent, we have now arrived to the Final Four of the NBA season. Only four teams remain in contention of the 2014-15 NBA trophy – the Hawks, Cavaliers, Warriors, and Rockets – and only one of them can raise the banner at home. With the goal so near in a journey so long, what do the remaining squads have to do to take one step closer and win the Conference Finals?
Second Round Review
Eight teams were cut down to four over the last two weeks over the four matchups in the Second Round of the playoffs. The two best teams in each conference – the Hawks and the Warriors – were briefly scared off their sneakers when each went down 2-1 to the Wizards and the Grizzlies respectively. Atlanta survived a close series against Washington, a matchup so tight that it needed an Al Horford game-winner and an epic Paul Pierce shot which was a millisecond too late.
The Warriors and MVP Stephen Curry took care of business in style, winning three games in a row with relative ease against Memphis. Both teams moved on to the Conference Finals with 4-2 wins.
After a mesmerizing buzzer-beater by Derrick Rose, the Bulls were up 2-1 over the Cavaliers, too. But the Cavs bounced back with a buzzer-beating win of their own thanks to LeBron James. They may have been banged up, but Cleveland and LeBron responded bravely to win the next two games and take the series in six.
The most unpredictable series involved the Clippers and the Rockets. When Blake Griffin led LA to a Game 1 win in Houston without Chris Paul, it seemed that the Rockets’ death knell had been announced. After Game 4, the Clippers found themselves up 3-1, and even though they dropped Game 5, they had a chance to close out the series at home in Game 6. Up 19 near the end of the third quarter, it seemed to be the Clippers and Chris Paul’s first opportunity to make the Conference Finals. Alas, an epic meltdown followed. Houston bounced back to win Game 6 and took care of business in Game 7 to become just the ninth NBA team to win a series after being down 3-1.
Conference Finals Preview
Now, I’m going to pull out my NBA Team Trump Cards and start predicting. The Eastern and Western Conference Finals are here: who has the right attributes to beat their opponents four out of seven times? Let’s judge each team based on their ‘trumpable’ ranks, shall we? Rankings below are made of advanced stats from the post-season (out of 16) and a little bit of my own opinions. The lower the number, the better the ranking. Here we go…
Eastern Conference Finals: Atlanta Hawks (1) vs. Cleveland Cavaliers (2)
- Offense: 9
- Defence: 2
- Star Player: 10
- Team Chemistry: 3
- Coach: 4
- Depth: 5
- Post-season cojones: 11
- Offense: 1
- Defence: 5
- Star Player: 2
- Team Chemistry: 10
- Coach: 12
- Depth: 4
- Post-season cojones: 3
Despite losing Kevin Love at the end of the first round and having their other stars hobbled in the second, the Cavaliers have marched into the Conference Finals, mostly riding the back of their star player LeBron James, who also backs up as the single-most determining factor in bringing some post-season cojones to the Cavaliers. Without him, the Cavs would be inexperienced and motorless. But with him, they have one of the league’s best players and most experienced winners who has been to the NBA Finals four years in a row. This stuff matters.
The Hawks are a better defensive team, are better coached, and are in much-better sync with each other. Unfortunately, they have stumbled despite their many advantages against easier playoffs opponents, and their 3-1 regular season advantage over the Cavaliers isn’t going to matter much now. My trump card matchup has the Cavs winning 4-3, but their experience, offensive consistency, and the gift of LeBron James may not even make it that close.
Prediction: Cavaliers in 6.
Western Conference Finals: Golden State Warriors (1) vs. Houston Rockets (2)
- Offense: 2
- Defence: 4
- Star Player: 3
- Team Chemistry: 2
- Coach: 3
- Depth: 1
- Post-season cojones: 9
- Offense: 6
- Defence: 12
- Star Player: 4
- Team Chemistry: 8
- Coach: 11
- Depth: 8
- Post-season cojones: 6
Man! Look at all those single digits on the Warriors’ trump card. Golden State are top four in six of the seven total categories!!!! That’s like playing the WWE trump card game and having The Rock anywhere around 1998-2001: you’re mostly likely to come out winning given any matchup. The Warriors are elite offensively, defensively, have the league’s MVP, the deepest roster, a fantastic head coach, and they all love each other. The only problem is that there are very few players experienced with post-season success in the team. The ability to stay measured in gruelling playoff situations is a major attribute in the NBA.
The Houston Rockets, surprisingly, have that ability. Harden and Howard, their two stars, have both been to the NBA Finals. Jason Terry, Corey Brewer, and Trevor Ariza have each won a championship, and Coach McHale has won many. Houston showed great heart in their comeback win over the Clippers. But against the uber-talented, heart is all they can have. Warriors are better in every department, and unlike the Grizzlies in Round 2, they will have an opponent in the Conference Finals who will allow them to play their preferred style.
Prediction: Warriors in 5.