As the NBA playoffs begin, the general consensus is that we’re going to get Cavaliers/Warriors Part III in the Finals. Well, not so fast. There are several dark horses in the East and West that could prevent a rubber match between Cleveland and Golden State.
“The biggest dark horse of them all is the Clippers,” NBA.com’s Ian Thomsen said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “They’re the team that I think has a chance to shock the whole league.”
The Clippers (51-31) will face the Jazz (51-31) in the first round of the playoffs. If victorious, Los Angeles would play Golden State in the second round.
“I think they’re going to (beat the Jazz),” Thomsen said. “I think they’ve got a real edge to them. They’ve been the top-rated offensive team in the NBA since the All-Star break. Their best players were hurt, now they’re back – there’s going to be a real anger to them, a real edge, that I really think that they need. They’ve been at their worst when they’ve been relaxed. I think they need to have this pressure of worrying about the future and wondering if this is their last chance to be together, reminding themselves of all the times they’ve been clobbered by the Warriors or they’ve blown it in the playoffs or Blake Griffin punching out the guy on the team last year and breaking his hand, all of Chris Paul’s injuries. Chris Paul is too good of a player to not have made the NBA Finals by now – and surely to not have made it by the time he retires – and he’s running out of time.”
Paul turns 32 in May.
“I think they have everything going for them, and they have a coach that knows how to manage those intense feelings,” Thomsen said, referring to Doc Rivers. “I just think that of all the dark horses out there, they’re the team that has a chance to actually challenge the Warriors, even though I know they got beat by almost 50 this year. I think the playoffs is going to be a different story. I’m not saying they’ll beat the Warriors, (but) I think it’s going to be a really interesting series.”
But what if the Clippers lose in the first round? Might Steve Ballmer blow up the team?
“I don’t know the answer to that,” Thomsen said. “I’d be really surprised if he blew up Doc Rivers. I think when you consider where the Clippers were when Doc took over the team – it’s a hard thing to change that whole environment and to do it quickly and make people forget about it. I think they’ve come a long way in a short time, and if they’re not able to get over the top, I don’t think that’s reason to give up on all the progress that’s been made.”
Looking at the East, meanwhile, Thomsen believes Toronto (51-31) will give Cleveland a run for its money.
“I think they are the biggest threat to Cleveland in the East,” he said. “I don’t think Cleveland is going to be worried about anything else – including Washington, including the Celtics. But Toronto is a team that can push Cleveland to a seventh game – a seventh game where you aren’t going to be so sure who’s going to win it, even if it’s on Cleveland’s home court. Between the Cavaliers’ struggles and the fact that this is a Toronto team that’s peaking and they have that playoff experience, including (Serge) Ibaka with another team – I think this is the year for Toronto to make their big push. To me, they’re the second-best team in the East.”