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Bringing the 2014-15 NBA season to a close

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Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

My lovely bride Linda was out and about while I was home watching Game Six of the Finals.  Yes, I was watching it live, with my Davidson Basketball hat firmly on my head.  When the game was over, I sent her a text -

"Warriors won.  Basketball season is over". 

Linda's response:

"So sad for you. Glad for me!!"

She was right. The team I wanted to win (since the Spurs were long since out) won their final game and thus the championship (only the champion wins their last game).  Nonetheless, the end of the season is always a bit sad - maybe bittersweet is a better word.  Like with a book or movie that you really enjoy, there is some sadness that comes when it ends. Even though you can read that book or watch that movie again, there is nothing like that freshness of reading or watching the first time

For Warriors' fans who have waited 40 years to get back the Finals, Tuesday night marked the end of an amazing ride.  A flawless regular season led by a great new coach, a home crowd that reveled in the long-awaited success (all made better because the team and coaches seem like good guys), the MVP award for Steph Curry, the stumbling but ultimately successful run through the playoffs, capped off by that moment in Game Six with about 30 seconds left where the players looked at each other and knew they had done it. The few Warriors fans in the arena in Cleveland, the thousands in the sold out arena in Oakland,  and the millions watching on television all had that moment.  

Of course, from the look of Steve Kerr after the game, it looks like their might have been some wet moments in the Warrior locker room before he came out to talk to the media.

The Warriors, their coaches, and Warrior fans woke up Wednesday morning with the great feeling of knowing it had not been a dream.  They may have been also wishing, like with a great book or movie, that they could continue living that special season just a little bit longer.  Even Draymond Green mentioned after the last game that he recognized that this particular team will never be together in exactly this way again.  Or as Kris Kristofferson wrote, and Janis Joplin sang, in "Me and Bobby McGee":

I'd trade all of my tomorrows for one single yesterday.

Of course, Cleveland fans, now going on 50+ years without a crown in any sport, would trade all of those yesterdays for one single happy tomorrow.

According to Las Vegas, this should happen next year - hope springs eternal, especially for sports fans.  The Cavs are favored to win it all next year. 

Remarkably, while the Warriors are second, it is a distant second.  The Warriors are a distant second even though they were clearly the best team in the league, are young, and have all their top players either under contract or as restricted free agents (which means the Warriors can match any offer).  According to these odds, the Cavs are over twice as likely than the Warriors to win the title next year. 

2015-2016 NBA Futures

Cavaliers 9-4

Warriors 5-1

Thunder 5-1

Clippers 10-1

Spurs 12-1

Bulls 12-1

Hawks 20-1

Pelicans 20-1

Rockets 20-1

Wizards 30-1

Once again, the Cavs' line is skewed, rightfully so, by the weakness of the Eastern Conference.  After watching the East teams implode one after the other during these playoffs, who would want to predict anyone other than the Cavs making it to the Finals again out of the East, especially with the guys the Cavs will have coming back from injury? 

And, the West will again have a plethora of contenders: Ws, Spurs -- especially if Tim Duncan comes back (please, please), Clips, Rockets, Thunder. Many of these teams will also have players returning who were injured in the regular season or playoffs, or both.  (Kevin Durant, for instance, just to pick a name at random.)  As the Clippers and Spurs proved in their first round series that seems so long ago, being one of the teams with the talent to go all the way does not even guarantee you a seat in the Western Conference Finals, let along the NBA Finals.

However, being favored now - before the draft and free agency -- may not mean that much.  Last year at this time, the Miami Heat were favored to win it all this year despite just being crushed by the Spurs, who also had virtually everyone coming back -- as recounted in my final piece last year.

Which makes next season's betting line interesting.  The Heat, who were outscored by 70 in this five-game series, with everyone relatively healthy and available, are favored to win it all next year.   Ahead of the Spurs.  Are the Heat expected to be better next year, or are the Spurs expected to be worse? With that in mind, here are the early betting lines for next season.

2014-2015 NBA FUTURES

(Courtesy LVH SuperBook)

Team

Odds

Heat

5-2

Thunder

9-2

Spurs

9-2

Clippers

10-1

Pacers

12-1

Bulls

12-1

Warriors

20-1

Rockets

20-1

Trail Blazers

30-1

Wizards

30-1

And there may be some logic in that analysis.  As with this year, the Heat will have a much easier road to the Finals next year too.  The Spurs, OKC and Clippers will need to overcome each other, along with other teams who would be top 2 or 3 in the East:  the Blazers, Warriors and Rockets.  Who do the Heat need to worry about in the East?  As long as Lebron stays, they will be odds-on favorites."

The odds listed after the Spurs victory last year, picking the Heat as the favorite for this season, were posted before Lebron reversed the Decision, as I noted - "as long as Lebron stays.."  Of course, in so doing he became the first person ever to voluntarily move from Miami to Cleveland.   I noted in a piece earlier this year that I believed his motivation was at least partially motivated by his desire to create a younger and more talented Big Three than the group he was leaving behind in Miami:

So he decided to walk away from his Miami Heat team, his Miami Heat teammates, and a Miami Heat fan base that had showered him with adoration when the rest of the country was treating him like a villain.  His escape from Miami happened to take him "home", which was convenient and made for a good story.  But it appeared to many, including this writer, that the driving force behind this second "decision" was his ability to re-create what was fading in South Beach - a new and younger Big Three, with Kyrie Irving already there, and Kevin Love on the way.

Ironically, both Love and Irving went down with injuries and not available to play in the Finals.  Would Lebron have made the same move had he known that his Big Three for the Finals would be Timofey Mosgov and JR Smith?

The other similarity in the Spurs' win last year and the Warriors' win this year was the victory of team basketball.  Both teams were truly that - teams with balanced attacks which relied on ball and player movement.  All the players were charged with making correct decisions when the ball came to them, as they knew it would -- in stark contrast to the Cavs attack where one person initiated almost every play and scoring opportunity. The Warriors, like the Spurs the year before, counted on numerous players to make proper decisions and facilitate their teammates' scoring.  Cavs' GM David Griffin summed it up very well:

The one thing that we did see in Golden State, and it was something that was very difficult for us to deal with, is they have an incredibly versatile team of multiple facilitating playmakers. That's something we're going to continue to work upon. The more playmaking facilitators you have that know how to play the game, the better off you are, and I think you saw the value of that in the team that ultimately did win.

That is a great summary of why the Warriors offense was so good.  And why they were able to prevail even when things were not going great, like during the Finals.  As just one example - in the last game, not one of the starters shot 50% from the floor - yet they won.

Of course, one of the other reasons they could do so was their defense.  While people rightfully talk about the great (at times) Warrior offense, they also led the NBA in defensive efficiency.  That is a testament to  good coaching and players incorporating the most important thing about playing defense:  Caring.  The ability and desire to play both ends of the court then led to the Finals MVP selection for one of the many Warriors who did just that - Andre Iguodala.

Now begins the long wasteland of days, weeks and months with no NBA games at all, and even worse, no playoff games  I will spend the dog days of summer thinking back on my favorite NBA memories. 

As is now a tradition, I will end this season with a list of those memories, some from the present, some from the past.  This list grew out of a question from masters division hoops multi-time champion Steve Carlston about my favorite players. In my lawyerly way, I instead answered the question I wanted to answer - about favorite memories. Like these:

  • Coop in a defensive stance,
  • Stephen Curry looking for any opening to shoot a 3,
  • Magic in the middle dishing this way - no, that way,
  • Patty Mills water-bugging to find himself an open spot to catch and release a sweet J,
  • Robert Horry spotting up in the last minute of a playoff game,
  • Kawhi Leonard D'ing up on LeBron, or Durant, or Westbrook, or Curry or whoever else Pop sends him after,
  • Kyle Korver running around 4 screens to get free,
  • Kobe leading an improbable comeback,
  • Manu Euro-stepping to the rim and then kicking it cross court to the open man,
  • DFish bellying up on a guy bigger faster quicker and more talented,
  • Boris Diaw as a Swiss Army Knife (or a French one),
  • Nash dancing around a ball screen,
  • Draymond Green emoting,
  • Anthony Davis developing,
  • Jerry West dribbling hard right and pulling up for a jumper,
  • Lebron chasing down a seemingly uncontested breakaway lay-up,
  • Walton rebounding and outletting,
  • Wilt finger-rolling,
  • Parker tear-dropping,
  • Rick Barry underhanding,
  • Warriors D switching everything,
  • Dirk step-backing,
  • Earl the Pearl spin-dribbling,
  • Pistol Pete (or Ricky Rubio) behind-the-back passing,
  • Kevin Durant nothing-but-netting,
  • Chick Hearn hyper-ventilating,
  • Dr. J dunking,
  • Popovich angry time-outing,
  • Worthy baseline spinning,
  • Westbrook attacking,
  • Sage Steele half-timing,
  • Duncan blocking a shot, controlling it and coming back for one more run at a title,
  • Stockton pocket passing,
  • and in honor of the 2014-2015 Warriors being this year's Spurs - the Warriors playing, winning and celebrating as a Team.

Yes, these are a few of my favorite things. So was being asked to contribute to Pounding the Rock.

Thanks for following along.