The NBA playoffs are finally here! We’re aware of the teams favored to win it all, but anything is possible, and, to quote Zaza Pachulia, "nothing easy!" Three Ringer writers pick the heavy championship underdogs they’re talking themselves into.
Jonathan Tjarks: There hasn’t been much excitement about the Atlanta Hawks since they flamed out in last year’s Eastern Conference finals, as if winning two playoff series and then losing to LeBron James with your two best perimeter defenders (Thabo Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll) out is something to be ashamed of. They still have two of the best two-way big men in the NBA (Al Horford, Paul Millsap), two high-level penetrators (Jeff Teague, Dennis Schröder), one of the league’s best shooters (Kyle Korver), and a rapidly ascending young wing (Kent Bazemore) to fill Carroll’s shoes. The bloom is off the rose in Atlanta, but the Hawks are still going to be a tough out.
Jason Concepcion: Somewhere in the infinite multiverse is a reality in which the Charlotte Hornets end up beating the odds (currently at 125/1) and the doubters (every sentient being on the planet) to win the 2015–16 NBA championship. Let’s call this gossamer wonderland "Earth 2." How close is Earth 2 to our existence? Surprisingly close! Consider that since 2000, only three eventual champions finished outside of the top 10 in offensive and defensive rating: the 2001 Lakers (18th in defensive rating), the 2004 Pistons (19th in offensive rating), and the Lakers again in 2010 (11th in offensive rating). Among the 2015–16 Earth 1 playoff teams in the top-10 in both offense and defense: The Warriors (duh), the Spurs (of course), the Clippers (OK), the Cavs (sure), and the Hornets (yes!). EARTH 2, HERE WE COME.
Danny Chau: You don’t feel any magic this time around. That’s OK; you didn’t feel it then, either. There is no championship buzz surrounding these Mavs, but the winds have changed in Dallas, just as they did five years ago. The oracle made its proclamation at the beginning of the month by naming J.J. Barea and LeBron James players of the week. Once again, their fates have entwined. For nearly a month, Barea has glowed like the Tesseract, and we all know he has infinity stones. It’s time to believe. Believe in Dirk. Believe in Rick Carlisle’s necromancy. Believe in the meaningfulness of arbitrary five-year intervals.
This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on April 16, 2016.