The 2017 NBA Playoffs begin Saturday — “the real season,” declares former NBA great Reggie Miller.
Miller and fellow NBA Analyst Kevin McHale on Thursday talked to the media, including the MSR, about the upcoming post-season. They will work Turner Sports’ playoff coverage on TNT — it’s the network’s 33rd consecutive year of NBA coverage.
Sunday’s TNT tripleheader features two East opening round match-ups: Washington-Atlanta and Boston-Chicago, and Houston-Oklahoma City as the West opening round nightcap, beginning at 1 pm Eastern time.
The other East match-ups include Cleveland-Indiana and Toronto-Milwaukee. Memphis-San Antonio, Utah-Los Angeles Clippers, and Golden State-Portland are the other West matches.
“We are in a new season now, the real season,” noted Miller.
“If you like to compete,” the playoffs are fun, added McHale, a former NBA star who played all 13 seasons with Boston, then later coached and worked as a front office executive. He is a 2006 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.
“I could not wait for the regular season to get over, to get into the playoffs,” continued Miller, the five-time All-Star whose 18-year career with Indiana ended in 2005. He ranks second all-time in 30-point playoff games (nine), and is a 2012 Hall of Fame inductee. “It is such a long season…[but with the playoffs], there’s no back-to-back’s, and you have time to prepare. You can lock in on your opponent.
“You watch more game film and it’s only one team you have to focus on,” he pointed out.
When asked, both analysts said they foresee a third Cleveland-Golden State finals, but neither were happy with the Cavs’ play as of late.
Cleveland’s struggles are “head scratching,” said Miller. “When you are defending champions, a lot of times you are looking to get to the playoffs. That’s what I think Cleveland was doing.”
McHale expressed concern that the Cavs down the stretch looked “disjointed” and like they were “going through the motions.” He said he sensed “a little disharmony” among the players, and suggested that they may be assuming that they can “just flip the switch” now that the playoffs are here. “You got to flip it periodically throughout the entire year.” He added, “But I wouldn’t bet against them.”
“To beat LeBron James and the Cavs four times is such a tall order. But I love the match-up of [Indiana’s] Paul George and LeBron James,” noted Miller. “It’s all about LeBron James and Cleveland coming out of the East.”
The sexiest match-up is the Rockets vs. Thunder series, featuring MVP hopefuls and former teammates OKC’s Russell Westbrook and Houston’s James Harden. “I’m sure all eyes will be on…the two guys. To have those guys go at one another in the first round… former teammates, great friends, the two leading scorers in the Association…this is a dream match-up,” proclaimed Miller. “To me [it’s about] who can outscore the other, and not necessarily in a one-on-one match-up.”
“He’s so gifted offensively,” said McHale on Harden. On Westbrook he said, “Russell is such a force. He is trying to beat his man, in an attack mode all the time.”
“James can control the flow of the game,” continued McHale, who once coached Harden at Houston. “I wished he could play a little better defense.”
“San Antonio will be a tough out for anybody in that conference,” said Miller. But like Cleveland, “The Spurs are not playing their best basketball come playoff time.”
“It’s two totally different styles” in the Utah-Los Angeles series, which Miller called “a pick-em”— the Jazz loves to slow things down while the Clippers love to run.
And Golden State, with the league’s best overall record, “are hitting [their] stride, and Steph Curry [is] shooting the heck out of the ball,” noted McHale on the Warriors. Miller added that it’s not fair to compare this year’s squad with the one that won 73 games a season ago “because you have a dynamic player in Kevin Durant.” But he nonetheless sees it as “championship or bust” for the Warriors this year.
“Kevin Durant makes them better. He’s a closer,” said McHale. “They make you pay if you make a mistake on defense” and they are very capable of posting 10-15 point runs in an instant as a result, he pointed out.
Finally, both analysts surmised two key aspects for watching this year’s NBA post-season: “There will be some ‘dirty games’— games where you are not going to score 120 points, when neither team can get into a rhythm and not making shots,” said McHale.
“You do need X-factors on teams,” concluded Miller. “You need guys that go over the line a little bit. You need players that do little things to get you going.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com