NBA down to its Final Four

Lebron James vs Bulls

We’ve witnessed some great series and some surprising performances, and now we’re down to four teams battling for the NBA championship. The Houston Rockets will visit the Golden State Warriors tonight to kick of the Western Conference Finals, and tomorrow night the Cleveland Cavaliers will visit the Atlanta Hawks for the start of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Cleveland Cavaliers

From the moment Lebron James announced he would be leaving Miami and returning home to Cleveland, we all knew this team had a chance to compete for a title. Still, few could have predicted the ups and down and all of the drama that this team would go through over a long season and then the first two rounds of the playoffs. All year long, Kevin Love had some issues as he adjusted to being the third option in Cleveland’s Big Three. Still, he was a critical piece of the puzzle, and losing him for the season as the result of a bush-league foul in Boston was a cruel blow to this franchise.

With Love out, the Cavs have had to change things up. While they miss Love’s scoring, their defense has improved with Tristan Thompson moving into the starting lineup. And while Lebron’s shooting has been off and Kyrie Irving has been hurt, Lebron has been in beast mode in terms of taking over games, posting up, and driving to the rim. If Kyrie can shake off the injuries and Lebron can find his shot, this team will be very difficult to beat.

Atlanta Hawks

While the Cavs were getting most of the headlines all year, the Hawks were just playing great basketball. They don’t have a huge star, but they have a group of excellent players who have come together as a team.

Still, many are doubting the Hawks after they had trouble beating the Nets and then the undermanned Wizards. But with home court advantage and Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford leading the way, this team may find a way to shock everyone and send Lebron home early.

Golden State Warriors

Phil Jackson took some shots at the Warriors when they were down 2-1 against Memphis, as he implied that a team that relies too much on three-pointers couldn’t win a championship. Of course he ended up looking like a fool as the Warriors proceeded to wipe the floor with the Grizzlies. They had trouble at first with the inside game, but the Grizzlies just didn’t have the outside shooting to complement the big men in the middle. Also, when the Slash Brothers get going they’re very hard to beat.

It’s a treat to watch Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson do their thing, and now we’ll see just how far they can take the Warriors. Houston should be a tougher opponent than the one-dimensional Grizzlies.

Houston Rockets

While some were questioning the Warriors, the Rockets were left for dead against the LA Clippers after falling behind 3-1 in the series. But they never gave up, even after head coach Kevin McHale reluctantly tried the hack-a-Jordan strategy that got his team out of rhythm earlier in the series. They hung tough and then somehow managed to overcome a 19-point deficit in the final 15 minutes in game 6 in Los Angeles, and then they closed out the series at home today. Give McHale credit – he left James Harden on the bench while he watched his bench complete the improbably comeback in the fourth quarter of game 6. Harden handled it well, and then led the team to a game 7 victory at home.

This team is deep and loaded with talent, but many still think they won’t be able to get past Golden State. We’ll see if Harden and Dwight Howard can elevate their games and get to the Finals. Many see Harden as a selfish player, though I saw him dishing the ball well early in game 7. And most see Howard as a flake who can’t muster the intensity needed to win a title, but he was very active in this last series. Both have a lot to prove, and now they have a great opportunity against the Warriors.


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