Posts Tagged ‘John Schuhmann’

Numbers preview: Clippers-Spurs


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Clippers – Spurs

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — This just isn’t fair. The Los Angeles Clippers and San Antonio Spurs were the league’s second and third best teams according to point differential (whether you want go by raw plus-minus or pace-adjusted numbers). And one of them won’t be going to conference semifinals.

The Clippers had the No. 1 offense in the league, despite a 15-game absence from Blake Griffin, and won 14 of their last 15 games. The Spurs are one of only three teams that ranked in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and went 21-4 after Feb. 25.

But that 21-4 run only pushed the Spurs from seventh to sixth in the Western Conference. Their loss on the last day of the season put them in this matchup, which may be worse news for the Clippers than anybody else.

The good news is that these two teams are on the opposite side of the bracket from Golden State. So a potential Warriors-Spurs showdown or Warriors-Clippers slobberknocker is in line for the conference finals.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Clippers-Spurs, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Los Angeles Clippers (56-26)

Pace: 97.0 (11)
OffRtg: 109.8 (1)
DefRtg: 103.0 (15)
NetRtg: +6.9 (2)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. San Antonio: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Clippers notes:

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San Antonio Spurs (55-27)

Pace: 95.9 (17)
OffRtg: 106.2 (7)
DefRtg: 99.6 (3)
NetRtg: +6.6 (3)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Clippers: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Spurs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Tied 2-2 (1-1 at each location).
Pace: 98.0
LAC OffRtg: 109.8 (1st vs. SAS)
SAS OffRtg: 104.8 (12th vs. LAC)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Blazers-Grizzlies


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Grizzlies – Blazers

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers are two teams that looked like legit contenders at one point or another this season.

The Grizzlies held the second best record in the Western Conference and third best mark in the NBA for most of the year. The Blazers had a top-five defense through March 15 and were one of a few select teams that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But both teams suffered injuries late in the season that derailed their quest for the 2 or 3 seed. Portland lost Wesley Matthews for the season to a torn Achilles on March 5. Memphis was without Tony Allen (calf strain) for its last nine games and also dealt with foot and ankle injuries to Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.

Appropriately, these two teams have found each other in the 4-5 matchup. Portland is the 4 seed because it won the Northwest Division, but Memphis will have home-court advantage (Games 1, 2, 5 and 7 at the FedEx Forum) because it finished with a better record.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Grizzlies-Blazers, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Portland Trail Blazers (51-31)

Pace: 96.5 (13)
OffRtg: 105.5 (8)
DefRtg: 101.4 (10)
NetRtg: +4.2 (5)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Memphis: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Blazers notes:

Memphis Grizzlies (55-27)

Pace: 94.2 (26)
OffRtg: 103.1 (13)
DefRtg: 99.9 (4)
NetRtg: +3.1 (11)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Portland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Grizzlies notes:

The matchup

Season series: Grizzlies won 4-0.
Pace: 94.5
POR OffRtg: 98.6 (18th vs. MEM)
MEM OffRtg: 108.8 (4th vs. POR)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Hawks-Nets


VIDEO: The Association: An all-access pass for the Hawks’ playoff push

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Atlanta Hawks were the biggest surprise of the 2014-15 season, ripping off a 33-2 stretch after Thanksgiving to vault into the top spot in the Eastern Conference and never showing any real signs of weakness after that.

The Hawks are the only Eastern Conference team that ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. They went 21-12 against teams that finished the season with winning records and scorched an improved Cleveland defense in their last regular season meeting.

Yet few believe that this team is heading to The Finals. Despite their similarities to the team that won the championship last season, there are questions about how Hawks’ formula for success, both on offense and defense, will hold up in the postseason.

Those questions might not be answered in the first round against a team that is fortunate to be here. The Brooklyn Nets are the only playoff team with a negative point differential and not by a narrow margin. The Nets were outscored by 236 points this season. They were 24-18 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, but lost 17 games by more than 15 points.

They still have a talented roster, but it’s not nearly as cohesive as that of their opponent. And though Brooklyn showed improvement after the All-Star break, it still had a pretty porous defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Hawks-Nets, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Atlanta Hawks (60-22)

Pace: 96.2 (15)
OffRtg: 106.2 (6)
DefRtg: 100.7 (7)
NetRtg: +5.6 (4)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Brooklyn: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Hawks notes:

  • Assisted on 67.6 percent of their baskets, leading the league in assist rate for the third straight season.
  • 79.5% of their jump shots were uncontested, the highest rate in the league, according to SportVU.
  • Ranked last in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing just 21.4 percent of available offensive boards.
  • Allowed just 1.01 points per possession in transition, the lowest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyle Korver had the best effective field goal percentage on both contested jumpers and uncontested jumpers among players with 100 of each.

Brooklyn Nets (38-44)

Pace: 95.0 (24)
OffRtg: 101.9 (18)
DefRtg: 105.0 (24)
NetRtg: -3.1 (22)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Atlanta: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Nets notes:

The matchup

Season series: Hawks won 4-0.
Pace: 96.6
ATL OffRtg: 118.3 (1st vs. BKN)
BKN OffRtg: 99.8 (17th vs. ATL)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Cavs-Celtics


VIDEO: The Starters: Cavs-Celtics preview

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — LeBron James‘ quest to bring a championship to Cleveland begins again this weekend. James has been here before, but teammates Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love have not. Game 1 against the Boston Celtics on Sunday will be the first playoff game of their careers.

The Cavs have looked like the favorites in the Eastern Conference over the last couple of months, going 33-10 after James returned from a two-week break in mid-January. Their offense has been off the charts at times, and their defense has been improved with the additions of Timofey Mozgov and Iman Shumpert.

The Celtics had their own renaissance by getting rid of two of their three highest-paid players. They traded Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green and finished the season on a 23-12 stretch. Two of those wins came against the Cavs, but James played just 26 minutes of the April 10 meeting in Cleveland and four of the Cavs’ starters sat out the April 12 meeting in Boston.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Cavs-Celtics, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Cleveland Cavaliers (53-29)

Pace: 94.8 (25)
OffRtg: 107.7 (4)
DefRtg: 104.1 (20)
NetRtg: +3.7 (7)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Boston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Cavs notes:

  • Had the league’s best offense against its top five defenses, scoring 107.9 points per 100 possessions over 14 games against the Warriors, Bucks, Spurs, Grizzlies and Wizards.
  • Ranked 25th defensively through Jan. 11 (the end of LeBron James‘ two-week break), having allowed 106.0 points per 100 possessions. Ranked 16th defensively (102.5 points allowed per 100 possessions) after that. Overall, 20th is the lowest any James team has ranked in defensive efficiency, and no championship team has ranked that low in the 37 seasons since the league started counting turnovers.
  • Isolated on 11.4 percent of their possessions, the highest rate in the league, according to Synergy.
  • Kyrie Irving scored 1.09 points per possession on isolations, the best mark among players with at least 100 isolation possessions.
  • In his 24 games with the Knicks, 36 percent of J.R. Smith’s shots were 3-pointers. In his 46 games with the Cavs, 67 percent of Smith’s shots were threes.

Boston Celtics (40-42)

Pace: 98.4 (5)
OffRtg: 101.7 (20)
DefRtg: 102.1 (14)
NetRtg: -0.4 (18)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Cleveland: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Celtics notes:

The matchup

Season series: 2-2 (1-1 at each location)
Pace: 99.2
CLE OffRtg: 100.6 (17th vs. BOS)
BOS OffRtg: 105.1 (15th vs. CLE)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Rockets-Mavs


VIDEO: West Series Preview: Rockets – Mavericks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Southwest Division comprises more than half of the Western Conference playoff bracket. So two of them have to play each other.

The Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets both made changes to their roster in December, bringing the enigmatic Rajon Rondo and Josh Smith from the Eastern Conference. A month after they added Rondo to their mix, the Mavs were 30-13, a game ahead of the Rockets.

But things went downhill from there. The Mavs led the league in offensive efficiency at the time they traded for Rondo, but scored almost 10 fewer points per 100 possessions after the trade than they did before it. Their defense did improve some, but not enough to make up for the offensive drop-off.

The Rockets, meanwhile, survived a myriad of injuries to win the division and finish second in the West. They’re missing two starters and don’t have Dwight Howard at 100 percent, but have gotten by with a top-10 defense and an MVP candidate. That could be enough to get through an opponent that has had issues on both ends of the floor at one point or another.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Rockets-Mavs, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Houston Rockets (56-26)

Pace: 99.3 (2)
OffRtg: 104.2 (12)
DefRtg: 100.5 (6)
NetRtg: +3.7 (6)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Dallas: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Rockets notes:

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Dallas Mavericks (50-32)

Pace: 97.4 (9)
OffRtg: 107.2 (5)
DefRtg: 103.7 (18)
NetRtg: +3.5 (8)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Houston: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Mavs notes:

The matchup

Season series: Rockets won 3-1 (2-0 in Houston).
Pace: 100.7
HOU OffRtg: 100.8 (19th vs. DAL)
DAL OffRtg: 97.9 (19th vs. HOU)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Bulls-Bucks


VIDEO: East Series Preview: Bulls – Bucks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — There’s a lot of new blood at the top of the Eastern Conference. The teams that met in the conference finals each of the last two years failed to qualify for the postseason this year. And only one of the top six teams in the standings – Washington – won a playoff series last year.

The Milwaukee Bucks represent the new blood. They were in the postseason two years ago, but only one player – Ersan Ilyasova – remains from that roster. And the weakness of the Eastern Conference has allowed the Bucks to go from the worst record in the NBA to a No. 6 seed with 41 wins.

The Chicago Bulls were supposed to be one of the favorites in the East. But injuries and a drop-off on defense have resulted in a disappointing season. They have all their pieces back together for the postseason, but haven’t had the time to build much consistency on either end of the floor.

This promises to be the ugliest series of the first round. The two teams combined to score just 95 points per 100 possessions in their four regular season meetings.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Bulls-Bucks, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Chicago Bulls (50-32)

Pace: 95.4 (21)
OffRtg: 104.7 (10)
DefRtg: 101.5 (11)
NetRtg: +3.3 (9)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Milwaukee: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bulls notes:

20150416_opp_mid-range

Milwaukee Bucks (41-41)

Pace: 96.5 (12)
OffRtg: 100.5 (25)
DefRtg: 99.3 (2)
NetRtg: +1.2 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Chicago: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Bucks notes:

The matchup

Season series: Bulls won 3-1 (2-0 in Chicago).
Pace: 93.3
CHI OffRtg: 97.6 (17th vs. MIL)
MIL OffRtg: 91.8 (26th vs. CHI)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Warriors-Pelicans


VIDEO: Series Preview: The Game Time crew previews the Pelicans vs. Warriors series.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — The Golden State Warriors are one of the best regular-season teams we’ve seen in a long time. They recorded the fourth best NetRtg (point differential per 100 possessions) of the last 38 years (since turnovers starting being counted in 1977) and were just the third team in that time to rank in the top two in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

But the Warriors are one of 11 playoff teams that didn’t win a series last year. And the hottest team in the league is the one that won four series a year ago. So, for as good as the Warriors have been, they’re not exactly a consensus pick to get to The Finals.

The New Orleans Pelicans weren’t exactly a consensus pick to make the playoffs when they were 3 1/2 games out of eighth place on March 26, with a tough schedule down the stretch. But they won eight of their last 11 games to edge out the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final playoff spot in the West.

The Warriors have won just two playoff series in the last 24 years. The Pelicans have won just one series since the franchise moved to New Orleans 13 years ago.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Warriors-Pelicans, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Golden State Warriors (67-15)

Pace: 100.7 (1)
OffRtg: 109.7 (2)
DefRtg: 98.2 (1)
NetRtg: +11.4 (1)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. New Orleans: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Warriors notes:

  • Outscored their opponents by 17.4 points per 100 possessions in the second quarter and by 14.9 in the third quarter. No other team had a NetRtg better than plus-12.7 in any quarter.
  • Set 40.4 ball screens per game, the fewest in the league, according to SportVU.
  • According to Synergy, Stephen Curry had an effective field goal percentage of 55.6 percent as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the highest mark among 93 players who attempted 100 shots in those situations.
  • Went 47-0 after leading by 15 or more points. The only other teams that never lost after leading by 15-plus were non-playoff teams: Utah (22-0), Indiana (16-0) and Minnesota (6-0).
  • For the second straight season, Klay Thompson led the league in points per touch.
  • Curry and Thompson ranked first and second in 3-point attempts in the first six seconds of the shot clock, according to SportVU.

20150416_3pt_first_6

New Orleans Pelicans (45-37)

Pace: 93.7 (27)
OffRtg: 105.4 (9)
DefRtg: 104.7 (22)
NetRtg: +0.7 (14)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Golden State: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Pelicans notes:

The matchup

Season series: Warriors won 3-1 (2-0 at Golden State).
Pace: 100.3
GSW OffRtg: 110.7 (8th vs. NOP)
NOP OffRtg: 97.9 (16th vs. GSW)

Matchup notes:

Numbers preview: Raptors-Wizards


VIDEO: Series Preview: Wizards – The Game Time crew previews the Wizards vs. Raptors series.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY — From 46-15 through Dec. 29 to 49-54 thereafter, the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards combined for a collective, second-half swoon that probably doesn’t have either fan base feeling great about their season.

The Raptors ranked 23rd defensively after Dec. 29, while the Wizards ranked 23rd on offense. But the playoffs provide an opportunity to start fresh and maybe take advantage of an opponent that’s been similarly mediocre.

Neither team has been mediocre on the other end of the floor. In fact, this is one of two first round series (Clippers-Spurs is the other) that pits a top-five offense against a top-five defense.

Here are some statistical notes to get you ready for Raptors-Wizards, with links to let you dive in and explore more.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Toronto Raptors (49-33)

Pace: 95.4 (20)
OffRtg: 108.1 (3)
DefRtg: 104.8 (23)
NetRtg: +3.2 (10)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Washington: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Raptors notes:

  • The only team that ranked in the top 10 in defensive efficiency last season and the bottom 10 this season.
  • Outscored their opponents by only 0.8 points per 100 possessions in 2,299 minutes with three or more (of their regular) starters on the floor, but were a plus-7.0 per 100 possessions in 1,671 minutes with two or fewer starters on the floor.
  • 39.4 percent of the Raptors’ jump shots were contested, according to SportVU. That rate ranked second to only the Lakers (42.4 percent).
  • Jonas Valanciunas was one of two players that shot better than 50 percent on at least 200 shots on post-ups, according to Synergy play-type data. The other one is also Lithuanian.
  • Among players who came off of at least 200 ball screens, Terrence Ross was the second most likely to shoot. According to SportVU, he shot 46 percent of the time as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, a mark that trailed only Nick Young (48 percent).
  • According to SportVU, Lou Williams led the league with 102 fouls drawn on jump shots. DeMar DeRozan ranked third with 85.

Washington Wizards (46-36)

Pace: 96.0 (16)
OffRtg: 101.8 (19)
DefRtg: 100.0 (5)
NetRtg: +1.9 (12)

Overall: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups
vs. Toronto: Team stats | Player stats | Lineups

Wizards notes:

20150416_tor_was_bench

The matchup

Season series: Raptors won 3-0 (2-0 in Toronto).
Pace: 95.3
TOR OffRtg: 107.0 (6th vs. WAS)
WAS OffRtg: 99.6 (24th vs. TOR)

Matchup notes:

Blogtable: Favorite memory of 2014-15?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Starters reveal their top 10 plays from 2014-15

> Looking back: What was your favorite moment from the 2014-15 regular season?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comGreat players doing great things is, uh, great. But I most vividly recall a Cinderella afternoon in January when Miami’s Hassan Whiteside hung a rare points-rebounds-blocks triple-double on the Bulls in Chicago. An NBA D-League refugee who’d bounced through Lebanon and China before opening 2014-15 playing pickup at the YMCA in Charlotte, Whiteside, 25, became the sort of story we don’t get much anymore in a league where everything and everybody is thoroughly scouted, analyzed and plumbed for value. The 7-footer wound up starting 32 games for the Heat, averaging 11.8 points, 10.0 rebounds and 2.6 blocks. But as he went for 14-13-12 in less than 25 minutes off Miami’s bench, he seemed as incredulous as us onlookers. “I told my teammates, man, you won’t believe how things work out in life,” Whiteside said. “[I was] at the downtown Y, just chillin’. Workin’ on my game. I couldn’t even get a team to pick up the phone.”

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comMore than one moment, it was 10 magical minutes on Jan. 23. Klay Thompson breaking the NBA record with 37 points in a magnificent third quarter against the Kings. For anybody who has ever shot a ball at a hoop anywhere on the planet, it was the stuff that dreams are made of.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comI’ll go way outside the box: The retirement of Steve Nash. When the obvious happened and Nash made his exit official, the outpouring of appreciation was a special thing. Players, coaches, executives, league brass and the media offered the kind of words that drove home the level of respect he commanded. It reminded everyone, or at least should have, that this was a unique talent and person. Nash didn’t get to go out on his terms, which is disappointing because he earned that opportunity. But when he did retire, he exit was surrounded in appreciation, not sadness.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: I’ll give you my runner-up first: When Russell Westbrook, just days after getting a golf ball-sized crater in his face, put on a mask and dropped a 49-16-10 triple double. Yeah it was against the Sixers, but it counts anyway. My choice, though, is when Craig Sager returned from cancer, a moment even more poignant considering his relapse. Godspeed to him.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Seeing Marc and Pau Gasol jump center against each other in the All-Star Game was pretty cool. To have two brothers from another country at the top of this league is a pretty amazing story and the best example of how far the game of basketball has come since the Dream Team ran through Barcelona in 1992. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. If you can play ball, you can play ball.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Tough question when you have a list that could go a few pages, what with a wicked MVP race raging on all season and the unbelievable runs made by the Golden State Warriors, Atlanta Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers and, most recently, the San Antonio Spurs. But for sheer enjoyment, the day the best from the East (Hawks) and West (Warriors) hooked up at Philips Arena on a Friday a week before All-Star Weekend was my favorite day of regular season basketball in years. From both teams embracing the magnitude of the moment at shootaround early that morning to the entertaining-from-start-to-finish 124-116 win the Hawks earned that night, it was a day that began and ended with a big time feel, perhaps even a preview of what we could see in The Finals between two teams with fan bases starving for a spot on that ultimate stage.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.comKyrie Irving’s 57points in Cleveland’s 128-125 OT win at San Antonio last month was the best showing of the year. We’ll be referring back to that spectacular night if those teams reunite in June.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogCan I go with a video clip? How about this moment:

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This happened in January, just as the Hawks were beginning their historic undefeated month. If there was any question that this collection of players was a team that not only believed in each other but was also terrific on the court, this play answered it for me. (Also, shoutout to Mike Muscala with the “stoic googles” celebration.)

NBA-Blogtable-Favorite-Moment-BannerFor more debates, go to #AmexNBA or www.nba.com/homecourtadvantage.

Blogtable: Spurs or Warriors out West?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Spurs or Warriors out West? | Upset-minded East team? | Lasting moment of 2014-15?



VIDEOThe Warriors can’t wait for the 2015 playoffs to begin

> The defending champs are red-hot and can lock up the No. 2 seed in the West with a victory tonight at New Orleans. So who’s a better bet to win the West: the Spurs or the Warriors?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI vowed not to count out San Antonio a couple of years ago (or was it back in 2007?). The Spurs know what they’re facing at this time of year, they’ve been there/done this and coach Gregg Popovich has his team rested, prepared and peaking. Two months is a long time to maintain a peak but — aside from the level of competition now — the schedule becomes more geezer-friendly. Golden State has been great fun and I’d welcome watching them for four rounds, but if I have to “bet,” give me the Spurs.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comIt’s certainly hard to pick against the team that’s been the best in the league since opening night. But the one thing the Spurs have never done during that long run is win back-to-back. Now that they are healthy, in rhythm and playing at the top of their game, I’m sticking with the defending champs in what should be a very tasty Western Conference finals. 

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: The Warriors. Spurs fans shouldn’t whine the choice into “We’re being overlooked again.” San Antonio was my pick at the start of the season to win the West (and lose to Chicago in The Finals.) No one should be surprised that San Antonio is peaking for the playoffs. I just think Golden State has proven it is the best team in the conference. The Dubs win win offense, win with defense, have chemistry and a great home court.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: Right now, I like everything about the defending-champion Spurs. They’re surging at the right time, they’re healthy, their role players are dripping confidence and Kawhi Leonard is reborn. Did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah: Tim Duncan and Pop, both championship-tested and approved, are anxious to go back-to-back. The Warriors must navigate through places they’ve never been in the post-season, and I need to see them make it through San Antonio without sprouting a nervous tic.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Golden State. What the Spurs did in last year’s Finals was an incredible display, and they’re heading back toward that level with how they’ve played over the last month. But it’s impossible to ignore that the Warriors have been, by far, the best team in the league all season. They rank No. 1 on defense, No. 2 on offense, and have a point differential (plus-11.4 per 100 possessions) that’s only been topped by three teams — the ’96 Bulls, the ’97 Bulls and the ’08 Celtics – over the last 38 years. No team played the Warriors better than the Spurs in the regular season, but I like the way that Golden State matches up, especially with the ability to shorten their rotation and get Andrew Bogut on the floor more than they did in the regular season.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: The Spurs have the championship components and experience, so they are the safest best in this scenario, even with all that the Warriors have done this season. Golden State has everything you would ever want from a championship team expect the experience that usually comes with repeated forays deep into the postseason before a breakthrough. They are not a Big 3-era team in that they were created basically overnight. Teams that are grown the way the Warriors have been usually require at least a stumble in the conference finals or The Finals before they learn how to get over the mental and emotional hurdle that leads to a title. There are no other teams, as of this moment, that inspire championship visions for me.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: Everyone in the West should view the Spurs as favorites. Golden State has been superior overall this regular season, but the Spurs have been hotter down the stretch and are one missed free throw away from pursuing a third straight championship. The best hope for the Warriors is to view themselves as underdogs in a potential conference final against San Antonio – instead of protecting the No. 1 seed, they should attack as if they have nothing to lose. Because the champs have everything that the Warriors want.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blogI would love to pick the Warriors, because I feel like everyone has sort of overlooked the Warriors and Hawks because of the way they’ve been able to cost for the last month or so. For instance, now Cleveland seems to be the consensus choice to win the Eastern Conference, even though the Hawks have handled the Cavs pretty well this season. In the West, the zombie Spurs have emerged from the grave and appear to be marching forth, unabated. Normally, I’d side with the Warriors here, with the logic being that they’ve earned the respect over the last 80-odd games. But then, these are the Spurs, the team that reached basketball nirvana in The Finals last year. And just like in the movies, until the zombie is completely snuffed out, I’m not turning my back on them.