The 2015-16 NBA season has been a treat. We've been spoiled by two of the best regular season teams ever (Spurs and Warriors), a ridiculous All-Star Weekend (Air Gordon vs. Zach Lavine, oh my!), serious competition throughout both conferences (with the Cavs, Clippers, Spurs, Thunder, and Warriors a clear cut above the rest) and some ridiculous performances and highlight shenanigans from both new and old faces (new: Karl-Anthony Towns' monstrous year, old: Kevin Garnett yamming all over Blake Griffin). Oh, and Kobe retired with an absurd 60 point finale. The season may have been fun, but now that the pre-playoffs are over it's time for half the league to take an early vacation while the big boys fight over trophies.
Playoff basketball is the best basketball, and certain matchups certify that push will literally come to shove (will Kevin Love get his revenge on Kelly Olynyk for 2015?). Most of the first round is a veritable bloodbath, with higher seeds typically dismantling lower seed opposition, but as rounds progress and more evenly matched squads line up, things get interesting.
There are some series that we not only want to see this year, but to see several times over the next few years. The landscape of these playoffs leaves you the feeling these teams can be on top for a while. That leaves time for some rivalries to build over the next few years and can build anticipation. What could those series be?
12. New York Knicks vs. Brooklyn Nets
Why did both teams from New York have to stink? This seems like a playoff series the media is just waiting to happen, but the Knicks have had speedbumps in rebuilding and the Nets' plan of trying to buy their way into a championship has blown up in their face.
Subway series are always fun and even though we may have to wait a couple of years for this to be a possibility, it will be a nice treat when it happens?
12 Chicago Bulls vs. New York Knicks
This would be all about nostalgia. The Bulls didn't have a terrible first year under coach Fred Hoiberg, just missing out from the playoffs at ninth in the East. The Knicks are still a ways away.
Remember all those epic New York/Chicago series back in the 90s? The NBA is more interesting when these big market teams are thriving and it would be great to see these teams meet in the postseason in the coming years.
10 Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City has two ball-dominant stars in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but there was once a third. After purportedly partying too much during their 2012 Finals loss against the Cavaliers, third-wheel James Harden was shipped to Houston where the ship's wheel was solely his to steer. A top-4 team in the A, the Thunder have solid crewmates like Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams alongside some boneheads like Dion Waiters and Kyle Singler.
The Rockets disappointed as an eighth seed captained by the record-holder for most turnovers in a season, James Harden, the volatile Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley, and misplaced veteran seafarer Trevor Ariza.
If Durant stays in OKC this summer, this would still be a great series to watch while all these stars are in their prime.
9 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics
The Cleveland Cavaliers are the eastern Goliath, standing a clear head, shoulders, and torso above their conference competition – embodied by the veritable Goliath, the NBA’s heel and ‘the Land’s hero: LeBron James. The Boston Celtics are the Eastern David (although they’ve had their Goliath years), surpassing expectations en route to a playoff 5th seed – embodied by veritable David, the Great Slight Hope: Isaiah Thomas.
Cleveland’s backcourt of Kyrie Irving and ex-Knickerbockers (Iman Shumpert & J.R. Smith) contends with Celtics' defensive guards (Marcus Smart). While the Cavs' frontcourt gunner, perennial disappointment Kevin Love and the rebounding renegade Tristan get to handle the Celtics' sizable, young cannoneers Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, accompanied by ultimate disruption, Jae “LeBron-with-hair” Crowder.
We just missed out on this series this year, with the Celtics bowing out to the Hawks, but this could definitely happen next year if both teams remain intact.
8 Portland Trail Blazers vs. Golden State Warriors
We've gotten the matchup this year, but it would be great to see some rematches in the coming years. Many don't realize how much Damian Lillard deserved an all-star spot. Dameo's been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break and with M.I.P. C.J. McCollum, they form a two-headed Cerebrus for Portland. Meanwhile, the Warriors might be the best team in modern basketball and will be for a while.
The Dame/Steph shoot-out is a real, observable phenomenon (Dame had 51, Steph 31 on their Feb. 19th matchup), and they might helm the two best backcourts in the league today. Entertainment value is also amplified by the presence of Golden State's notorious troublemaker Draymond Green and by Portland and Tyler Hansbrough's shared nightmare, Mr. "How is He Still in the League," the pariah Gerald Henderson.
7 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Miami Heat
LeBron’s villainy is great for basketball, and his super-villain troupe with the Heat was some of the funnest haterade ever drunk. Then, in typical bad-guy strategy, LeBron left his compatriots after their humiliating 2014 Finals loss to the Spurs for some younger, Cleveland-based henchmen. Suddenly the Heat’s Big Three was a Big 2/3 and, in even more diabolical super-villain fashion, LeBron planted blood clots in Bosh's lungs – leaving the Heat to fight for playoff contention on the backs of wily veterans (Wade, Luol Deng, Amare Stoudemire) and young upstarts (Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson, and Count Blockula: Hassan Whiteside).
The Heat probably have no chance, but for the sake of obvious storylines and Hassan Whiteside's inevitable trash-talk on the big-stage – this would be a series for the ages. If LeBron remains in Cleveland, this would be one for the next few years.
6 Toronto Raptors vs. The Top Four
The Cleveland Cavaliers form, alongside the Spurs, Thunder, and Warriors (and sometimes the Clippers), the upper echelon of global hoops. The Toronto Raptors find themselves below the Clippers in the third stage of league-wide hierarchy. All season Raptors fans have complained about getting underestimated and this debate can only be settled if we let games speak. Raps/Cavs is the most likely and Raps vs. the West would be an incredible road-to-the-finals story.
But, while we can try to imagine a world where the Kyle Lowry and Demar Derozan duo is potent enough to outduel squads helmed by monsters like LeBron, Steph Curry, Kawhi Leonard, or Kevin Durant, in reality it would just be fun to see fans accept a lower seat on the hierarchy after being swept by any of the top four.
Hopefully the Raptors can keep their team together and we can see Canada's team make several deep runs over the coming years.
5 Los Angeles Clippers vs. Houston Rockets
The Chris Paul playoff disappointments continued with last year's implosion against the Rockets. The Clips had just surpassed Popovich's Spurs and gone up 3-1 against the Rockets when they gave up a 19-point-lead in Game 6 and ended up losing the series in one of modern history’s most embarrassing collapses. That series could, alone, make this matchup a dream rematch.
The storyline of that collapse could carry this rivalry for a few years, with several battles.
4 Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
One series involving three of the top five players in the league (Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook, and Kevin Durant). Throw in some of the least friendly and biggest-mouthed frontcourts out there (the unpopular Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut meet the ball-punching menace Serge Ibaka and New Zealand’s mustachioed Steven Adams), a splash of splash-makers (second-greatest shooter of all time, Klay Thompson and ex-Warrior phenom Anthony “Ammo” Morrow), and an unfair backup point-guard battle (legendary vet Shaun Livingston meets underprepared rookie Cameron Payne) and you have a recipe for some volatile basketball.
This matchup is also accompanied by some history, which could carry it until at least the year 2020.
3 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. San Antonio Spurs
The most recent Finals sweep was in 2007 when LeBron’s Cavs were sent packing by the Spurs. Then, in 2013, Miami LeBron beat the Spurs in Game 7. Then, in 2014, San Antonio handed LeBron the biggest blowout in Finals history (average point-differential of 14, including wins by 19, 21, and 17 over the last three games), pushing him back to Cleveland. No failure has loomed as prominently in LeBron’s psyche as the 2014 Finals, and this rematch would mean just as much for Bron’s mindscape as it would for our entertainment.
We get two great point-guards (Kyrie Irving vs. Tony Parker), two great wings (LeBron vs. Kawhi Leonard), a battle of maturity down-low (Tristan Thompson & Timofey Mozgov vs. Tim Duncan & LaMarcus Aldridge), some phenomenal stretch-4s (Kevin Love vs. Boris Diaw), and the ultimate coaching battle: San Antonio’s Greg Popovich vs. Cleveland’s LeBron James.
You don't know how much more time this Spurs core has, so this would have to happen soon.
2 Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Golden State Warriors
Critics and haters everywhere haven’t gone a single day since last year’s Golden State championship over the Cavaliers without mentioning how lucky the Dubs’ trip to the chip was. They played the Pelicans without Jrue Holiday, then the Grizzlies without Mike Conley, then the Rockets without Patrick Beverley, and then finally – the Cavs without Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love. The Dubs eventually won the finals 4-2 and their doubters have remained at large. This finals rematch would give the Dubs a chance to prove themselves against a fully-equipped Cavaliers squad and gives the Cavs a chance to go all-out against their previous superiors.
Fans get to enjoy a great Draymond Green vs. Kevin Love matchup, J.R. Smith struggling to guard Klay Thompson, and established MVP and legend, LeBron, facing off against the new deal himself, Steph Curry.
The Cavs seem unopposed in the east as long as LeBron is there and the Warriors seem like they'll be around for a while. This possible finals matchup can happen several times over the next few years.
1 San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
The Western Conference Finals should be 2016’s best basketball. The Spurs coasted to a 67-15 record, while the Dubs made like Rihanna's single and worked for the historic 73-9. On-court we find rival approaches (Spurs' inside-out extravaganza vs. The Dubs' splash mountain) unified by ball movement, defense, and referee complaints. The Warriors might be organizational descendants of San Antonio: Kerr played for Popovich in 1999, and the Dubs commit to chemistry, growing through the draft, and media wit.
Not only would we love to see this matchup this year, but it could be one we see as one modern day dynasty in the Spurs winds down, and one really gets going with the Warriors.