By John Schmeelk
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It looks like the Cavaliers and Warriors are going to meet in the NBA Finals again. It shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was the general consensus dating back to last summer, and nothing has happened to change it. The Warriors and Cavs are both 8-0 in the playoffs thanks to a pair of sweeps in the first two rounds. But that doesn’t mean the NBA playoffs aren’t worth watching.
The Spurs beat the Rockets on Tuesday night in a back-and-forth overtime game that came down to Manu Ginobli playing like it was 1999 on both ends of the floor. Without Kawhi Leonard, the Spurs head to Houston with a 3-2 series lead. Depending on the health of Leonard’s ankle, this series could be a classic seven-game rumble.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics lead the Wizards three games to two. Unfortunately, a lot of the games have been lopsided, but that doesn’t mean the series is not competitive. It also features a fun John Wall-Isaiah Thomas matchup.
If you can get past the relative inevitability of the Cavs and Warriors, there have been some very exciting games in the playoffs this year. Are all those teams only battling for what will be, at best, a bronze medal? Yes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t fun competitive basketball to watch most nights. James Harden is a one-man playmaking nightmare (even if he ran out of gas late against the Spurs on Wednesday night). Leonard might not actually be a cyborg, but we still aren’t sure. Thomas is a fourth-quarter freak show. Wall is the fastest player in basketball.
Unfortunately, there have been more one-sided games than fans would like, but both the Spurs-Rockets and Celtics-Wizards series could have fun conclusions. And making assumptions about who’ll play the Warriors and Cavs would be foolish, too. No one expected the Thunder to take a 3-1 series lead on a 70-win Warriors team last year. Don’t give up on the playoffs just yet.
LaMarcus Aldridge Declines. A lot of Knicks fans were upset after the team missed out on Aldridge two seasons ago when team president Phil Jackson was set on him being a center, which sent the former Trail Blazer packing for San Antonio. Erasing the fact that Aldridge wouldn’t have come to the Knicks anyway, his failures in the postseason should dry some tears. He has averaged only 15.8 points per game in the playoffs on 45 percent shooting. Even when the Rockets were switching Harden onto him Tuesday night, Aldridge couldn’t score consistently in the post, settling for contested fadeaway jumpers. He has always relied too much on his jump shot, and that will only get worse as the 31-year-old power forward gets older. Defensively, he has never been a game changer, and that hasn’t changed, either.
Who’s Rebuilding? Despite losing in the first round (again), it sounds as though the Clippers are going to try again with the trio of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. It makes them a potential Carmelo Anthony trade target, but they still lack the assets (no, J.J. Reddick and Austin Rivers are not enough) to get the job done.
The Raptors, on the other hand, sounded ready to make some serious changes. Team president Masai Ujiri seemed to indicate that he wants to implement a complete culture change in Toronto. Could that be a fit for Carmelo Anthony? Would he sign off on going to the Raptors? Whom could the Knicks get back in a trade? Will owner James Dolan allow a Knicks executive to trade with Ujiri again? Will the Raptors just choose not to re-sign Kyle Lowry? They’re all good questions and worth watching.
I hate to say it, but right now I would say the chance that Anthony either stays or is bought out is even with the chance that he is traded to another team. Jackson and general manager Steve Mills have some real work ahead of them.
NBA Combine: A far cry from the NFL Combine, few of the top players will do much at the NBA Combine this week, but there’s one thing I’m anxious to see: the measurements for Kentucky shooting guard Malik Monk. We know he is undersized, but by how much? Is he 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4? Are his arms as short as people say? Those measurements will have a real impact on his draft stock. Whoever does the athletic testing can also help or hurt themselves depending on the results. All the point guards this year are desperate to separate themselves at the top of the draft.
NBA Draft Lottery Is Tuesday. Save your rabbit foots, gather your four-leaf clovers, locate some wishing wells and start pulling out eyelashes because the Knicks only have an 18.5 percent chance of moving into the top three spots in the NBA Draft Lottery. Everyone knows it isn’t going to happen. It’s the Knicks, after all.
For everything Knicks, Giants and the world of sports, follow John on Twitter at @Schmeelk