Are These the Top Four Teams in the NBA?
*Photo via Getty Images
With both conferences represented by the one and two seeds in their conference finals, we are surely watching the top 4 teams duke it out for an NBA Finals appearance, right?
It may be clear as day to everyone now that both the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors will move on to represent their respective conferences in the NBA Finals. With both teams up 3-0 in their series against the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets, respectively, do the latter really belong to be competing at this stage?
If you were to talk to me before the playoffs I’d suggest that the Hawks were the more worthy team than the Rockets to compete for a conference title. The reason: the Hawks played quality team ball whereas the Rockets depended on James Harden to bring them home.
While the reasoning still rings true, it is my assumption that balanced, team basketball calls for a better team that is wrong. In a league driven by great talent, this simply isn’t true. The weight a great player like James Harden pulls is truly remarkable, both to victory and failure.
When the Rockets need a bucket, they call on the Bearded Fellow. Who do the Hawks call on? Al Horford? Jeff Teague? While both are extraordinary players in this league, neither can do what James Harden can: score nearly on every possession or attracted a double that will set up a basket (on any given possession).
The same stands for Stephen Curry and LeBron James. While both have extraordinary role players and (in more so the Warriors case) play extraordinary basketball, it is that irreplaceable presence these players have on the floor that makes their teams that much better. Even without the two other members of his big three (really just a duo, sorry Kevin Love), LeBron James has put himself in a position to compete, again, for the NBA Title.
The Hawks don’t have that presence. Again, Horford and Teague are high level players (We saw Jeff Teague will the Hawks into overtime just last night) they just simply don’t have the same capabilities that arguably the league’s three best players have. This is why the Hawks aren’t a top four team (I am not saying they don’t belong in this position because they played fantastic basketball all year for this opportunity).
With that being said, the Hawks deserve to be competing for the Conference Title in the Eastern Conference but may not have made it out of the first round in the Western Conference While injuries have hurt the Hawks (Kyle Korver is out for the remainder of the playoffs and a hobbling DeMarre Carrol) they are only competing for a conference title because they’re in the East and road is much easier.
A fairer playoff would be a sixteen-team layout, completely based on record (void of division victories for seeding). This playoff format would send the top four teams, regardless of conference, to the semi-finals. This, I believe, would more than likely be the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Clippers.
While I was low on the Rockets to start the playoffs, they’ve showed that they can hang with the West’s heavyweights (partially due to the reemergence of Josh Smith in the series with LAC). This is a superstar driven league and Houston has just that. Yet, when Harden is off and the rest of the team forgets to show, the best team in the league will blank you, i.e. Game 3.
With league’s two best teams up 3-0 in their respective series, I look forward to a highly competitive NBA Finals series. I think I speak for everyone when I say let’s wrap up these anticlimactic conference series.