Welcome to part two of our NBA Eastern Conference playoffs debate. In the previous discussion we took a look at the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers, and New York Knicks. In this edition we will analyse several “under the radar” teams that are quietly looking to upset one of the top seeds in the 2014 NBA Eastern Conference playoffs. As always, we will hold nothing back from our debates. Without further adieu, lets get it on!
1. Are the Toronto Raptors for real or are they simply just a regular season success bound for a 1st round playoffs early exit?
Arnold Glass: The Raptors are for real…in the East. They have a young core that has developed a tough mentality from getting drug through the mud for a couple of seasons and getting no respect from the media, the referees, or the league in general. They’ve found out how to play as a team on both ends of the floor and it doesn’t hurt that DeMar DeRozan has finally figured out how to play at a high level when his shots aren’t falling. He is starting to contribute in other ways. Now when the high-quality team makes a run during a game, the Toronto can shut them down and return the favor. Remember, they are in the top four of the playoff standings, not the bottom four. If the playoff started today they would play the Brooklyn Nets; I think they would go all out and take them to six or seven games and take their chances.
Jr. Williams: Toronto is a great regular season team but I think the buck stops there. The last time the Raptors made the playoffs, Chris Bosh was a member of the team. The Raptors have a very skilled roster but they have zero experience in the playoffs. You know as well as anyone, the postseason brings an entirely different level of play that the Raptors are exactly built for right now. Because of the favorable schedule remaining, I think the Bulls will snatch the No. 3 seed in the east which would result in a Toronto match-up against the Brooklyn Nets. Can the Raptors defeat the Nets in a playoffs series? I don’t think so. The Raptors have bits and pieces of great talent in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, unfortunately their bench isn’t as deep as Brooklyn’s, plus I wouldn’t bet against Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson, and Deron Williams. Only a crazy person would disregard their extensive postseason experience. The Raptors are on the rise, just not this season.
2. How good are the Brooklyn Nets right now and could this team make some serious noise in the playoffs?
Jr. Williams: The Nets are very much for real, they have the best record in the Eastern Conference since January 2014, and I don’t think there’s one team in the east looking forward to facing them in the playoffs. The Nets are a very good team right now and they have the talent to upset any team in the Eastern Conference. Deron Williams is the key, he has to play at a high level, otherwise the Nets have no chance of advancing beyond the first round. This team has the ability to move up at least one position in the current standings and I like their chances of eliminating any team in the playoffs right now. Kevin Garnett is yet to return due to back issues, but I believe the Nets really need his defensive presence on the court along with his leadership and motivation.
Arnold Glass: They can make some noise in the playoffs, but that’s not really hard in the pathetic Eastern Conference. The Nets had problems at the start of the season and they had injuries to key players, but since January this team has gone on a 24-11 run with significant wins over the Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs and the Miami Heat. The veteran core is jelling together and the team is gaining momentum at the right time. They are the fifth seed right now with a 38-33 record, but they can go on a strong run and take the third spot at best.
3. How effective has Al Jefferson been for the Charlotte Bobcats?
Arnold Glass: You can’t say “seventh-seed Charlotte Bobcats” without Al Jefferson. The 6-10, 285 pound center lacks quickness, but Jefferson has used his mass and long arms to defend the blocks down low and make the Bobcats a defensive-minded team. Charlotte’s defensive rating is sixth this season at 102.0 points per 100 possessions. Last season they were the worst team in the league at 108.9 points per 100 possessions. With Jefferson down low, opponents shoot only 54.7 percent from less than five feet, which is third best total in the NBA. Last season they were the second worse team in defending those shots without him. The presence of Jefferson has made C/PF Bismack Biyombo improve his defensive skills tremendously. Al Jefferson is worth that 3-year/$40.5 million contract to the Bobcats.
Jr. Williams: Finally you and I can agree on something. Al Jefferson is playing like one of the top centers in the NBA right now and the Bobcats wouldn’t be a playoff team without him in the lineup. You have to give Michael Jordan and the Bobcats organization some credit, they finally pieced together a solid roster after years of being frowned upon. Kemba Walker and Al Jefferson are a dangerous combination, as a duo these two players haven’t received enough credit from the media, both are playing at an All-Star level. The Utah Jazz have got to be scratching themselves on the head as to how in the hell did we manage not to resign Jefferson to a contract extension. His presence could be the underlying factor in a successful regular season for the Jazz as opposed to their current and horrible winning percentage.
4. The Washington Wizards are holding down the No. 6 position in the Eastern Conference. Do you see them moving up, down, or maintaining their position in the standings?
Arnold Glass: Some of the same comments I made about the Brooklyn Nets I can say about the Wizards. Washington will make the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season. They are currently 37-35 and sitting as a sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and have been playing well since the All-Star break. The Wizards have a chance to move up to the fourth or fifth seeds, but that will be a hard hill to climb. I’m still trying to get a grasp of the Wizards, Bobcats and Raptors making the playoffs.
Jr. Williams: The Washington Wizards are a really good team but I don’t think they’re as talented without NeNe in the lineup. He clogs the middle, can score inside/outside, and is one hell of a defender. John Wall has been a great leader for this team but he lacks playoff experience which is another negative for the Wizards. Similar to the Toronto Raptors, the Wizards are on the rise as an organization, however, I don’t foresee this team advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs. John Wall, I hope you have your fishing gear ready, its going to be a long summer.
5. The Atlanta Hawks are 5-5 in their last 10 games, can they hold down the No.8 seed or will the New York Knicks come away with the 8th and final spot?
Jr. Williams: The Hawks have lost five games in a row while the New York Knicks are slowly creeping up behind them in an attempt to steal the final eight spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The Knicks are literally one win and two losses behind the Hawks in the east standings, meaning every game is pivotal for both teams. How will this scenario play out? As I look into my crystal ball the future shows me that the Hawks will ultimately drop eight of their last 10 games, subsequently relinquishing their position to the Knicks. The Hawks will not make the postseason, the loss of Al Horford has really set this team back.
Arnold Glass: The Knicks are shooting themselves in the foot at a time where they have no room for error if they want to make a run for that eighth spot in the playoffs. The Hawks gave up a double-digit lead and loss to the Toronto Raptors last Sunday. What did the Knicks do to squander a chance to move two games behind Atlanta? They gave up their 17-point lead to an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers team only to lose 106-100 at the Garden. Knicks players have to play their A-game from here on out to make the playoffs and to keep their jobs because the new team president is watching and planning what he is going to do with the team in the next two seasons.