There is a common complaint the NBA is too predictable this season, and these playoffs will be more of the same. This has felt like a 5-month preamble towards Cavs/Warriors Part III, and while Cleveland has hit wet roads en route many believe there’s still no team ready to dethrone them in the East. The electricity of a playoffs is rooted in the unknown, the anticipation of watching who will rise to the challenge. With that in mind, here’s the ten most exciting potential outcomes of the NBA postseason (and LeBron vs. Steph is not tops).
10) The Hawks redeem Atlanta sports.
Most of the ATL is now in the fourth stage of grief following the epic collapse in the Super Bowl by the Falcons: depression. While the Hawks may be the least sexy team in the postseason (neck-and-neck with Gordon Hayward’s vanilla latte Jazz), finding a way to rock the city out of its doldrums would be fun to watch. Atlanta has just one legit championship in its history, and the ’95 Braves are a long time ago. Can Dwight Howard deliver a title to his hometown? (Even in that scenario he’d be hard to embrace, but Atlanta deserves redemption.)
9) Blazers shock the Warriors in first round.
The odds of this happening are crushingly low no matter what prediction Damian Lillard makes. But this would overtake the ’94 Nuggets/Sonics upset as the most shocking 1-8 topple in NBA history. If Lillard and C.J. McCollum shoot the lights out and find a way to cut down the 67-win Warriors team it would be a “remember where you were” moment. It would also stamp Golden State as owning one of the biggest embarrassments in league history and back-to-back choke jobs. Could you imagine the scorn Kevin Durant would get in the offseason?
8) Warriors don’t lose a game, become first ever 4-4-4-4.
The inverse of the Dubs getting plucked in the first round is having the perfect postseason. It would suck any drama out of a march to a second title in three years, but it would cement them as one of the greatest teams ever. The closest we’ve come to a perfect postseason is Moses Malone’s ’83 Sixers (Fo’, Fi’, Fo’) and the ’01 Lakers (15-1 in the playoffs). Golden State’s quest last season to be considered the greatest squad ever fell short, but 16-0 this spring/summer would give them a solid claim for it.
7) LeBron vs. Popovich III.
Everyone is looking ahead to a LeBron vs. Steph Curry matchup, but what about LeBron’s first Western Conference foe? King James has battled the Spurs three times already in his NBA Finals career, going 1-2. His callow Cavs team was swept in ’07 when he was still a youngin’, then Ray Allen’s miraculous three saved the ’13 Finals, while San Antonio trounced an exhausted Heat team in ’14. The duel between the best player and coach in the game for a fourth time in a decade would be very cool.
6) Raptors bring Toronto a title, Drake gets airlifted to hospital.
The Raps don’t drive a lot of interest because of their lack of history and relatively under-the-radar stars. DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry and now Serge Ibaka don’t have a ton of commercials, and aren’t the famous faces that pop up in league branding. But T-Dot loves its basketball team and there hasn’t been a ton to cheer for in about 25 years. The Leafs are in an epic Cup drought, the Blue Jays haven’t been to the World Series since ’93, and the Raps have never gotten to an NBA Finals. But the sports fortune is changing in Toronto (remember the second “T” is silent, America) for all three. If the Raps bring home a title Drake will undoubtedly be even more insufferable, but hopefully pass out due to shock and exhaustion of exploiting the moment for personal fame. We don’t wish him death, just being bedridden for the summer so he can’t co-opt the parade.
5) Isaiah Thomas becomes an all-time great closer.
One of this season’s most entertaining storylines has been the emergence of the Celtics’ star as an unstoppable fourth-quarter machine. Boston would have the first two games at home in the East Finals and a potential Game 7 against LeBron at TD Garden. Imagine Thomas dropping 21 in the final quarter to outduel LeBron and push the C’s into the NBA Finals? Now imagine him doing that throughout the first and second rounds too, then dominating the fourth quarters against the Warriors. It would push him into a historic stratosphere with the league’s greatest clutch players ever, and place him among the ghosts of Celtics past.
4) Clippers finally climb the summit.
The Clip Show has a reputation as an underachieving band of stars that never lives up to its potential. But think of how far we’ve come that there are any expectations at all. Since the franchise moved to L.A. in ’84, it went twenty years without winning a playoff series. In those two decades, the Clippers had only one winning season. It was biblical misery and incompetence in Clipper Land. Should Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and DeAndre Jordan actually win a title, it would easily be the greatest moment in franchise history, going back to its Buffalo Braves inception in ’70. It would also be neat to see L.A.’s other team and less glitzy fan base finally have its (Donald Sterling) demons exorcised.
3) James Harden and Rockets explode offensively for a championship.
The development of The Beard into one of the game’s best players has been amazing to watch this season. Harden drives this Maserati of an offense to perfection most nights. Everyone loves points and Harden, and the Rockets have a chance to shake the entire league to its core. Mike D’Antoni was laughed at years ago when he tried to win with the Suns using this blur-tempo offensive philosophy. With the new rules and Harden’s growth the NBA is now wondering whether you really can win a title playing like this. Houston is an experiment the league’s GMs are watching closely. If the Rockets bring home the city’s first championship since ’95 you’ll see a total shift in how teams are constructed and what is accepted as basketball gospel (and it’s always fun to tear down old stuff).
2) Game 7, Cavs vs. Warriors.
While these two teams meeting in June seems the most likely outcome, a winner-take-all joust at a delirious Oracle Arena would be sensational theater. Last year LeBron and company had one of the most iconic nights in the sports’ history, completing the 3-1 series comeback in Oakland. “The Block” will live in lore forever. If the Cavs do it again to the Warriors, the stomping of the Golden State soul would be everlasting. Dubs looking for revenge, Cavs out to do it again. The drama for that night would be off the charts awesome.
1) Russell Westbrook averages a playoff triple-double en route to a championship.
The most exciting outcome of these playoffs is not Cavs-Warriors III. It’s the Thunder’s engine of ferocity completing perhaps the greatest individual season of all-time. Imagine Westbrook winning a championship before Durant? Imagine him doing it the first year post-Durant? Imagine Russ single-handedly pushing his team past Durant and the Dubs’ Super Team in an epic playoff series? And now imagine Westbrook averaging 30-11-10 while doing it. He is the NBA’s most entertaining player to watch nightly because his give-a-bleep meter is pinned at 100%. There seems to be no one else outwardly giving as much passion, energy and desire every minute of every game. He has played all season with a chip on his shoulder wanting to prove what he could do without KD. The spectacle of Russ willing that team to a title knocking off the Rockets, Spurs, Warriors and Cavs would be undeniable greatness. It would be the most incredible season any player has ever had. Now buckle in for the next two months and let’s hope we get at least one of these ten outcomes.
D.A. hosts 6-10 p.m. ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.