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My Dark Horse for the 2016-17 NBA Playoffs

The past 5 NBA Finals have been in only 5 cities. Cleveland, Oakland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Miami. These teams are very different than they once were. All these teams added and lost major pieces in their lineups. Now, we sit in an age where each conference has their juggernauts. The east has Cleveland, the west has Golden State. With LeBron being the best active player on the planet, The Cavaliers have made short work of an Eastern Conference that doesn’t have the firepower to suppress them. The Warriors, on the other hand, have a roster chalked full of all-stars. Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Draymond Green, to name a few. Each team has provided a great case as to why they should be favorites to make it to the finals once again in these playoffs. A matchup of the ages as, for the third time in a row, These titans of basketball will duel. There is something to be said, however, about the dark horse. A dark horse is not an underdog per say. Nor is it an overwhelming favorite. It is rather a team that no one brings to light in conversation due to their not-as-bright lights as other teams in their conferences. To seek out a good dark horse, you must figure a few good criterium into your decision-making.

  1. A dark horse has to have better odds than slim-to-none
  2. Must have a winnable path to the title
  3. Under the radar
  4. Irrelevant from the past 5 years, yet prevalent and “good” today

With all of these Criteria, there is a team in each conference that would fit perfectly into the dark horse category.

 

Like Louis Armstrong, I’m going with the Jazz

Back in the heyday of Salt Lake City basketball, there were two men who led the charge against a great Bulls Dynasty. Karl Malone and John Stockton were at the epoch of basketball in the western conference in the mid-90’s. Now, great basketball has returned to the Beehive state, and the Vivint Smart Home Arena couldn’t be happier. The Jazz have had an awakening of sorts this year. Jumping from 9th in the west to now 4th today is no easy task. To surpass teams like the Clippers, Thunder and Grizzlies is remarkable, to say the least. Their big “Crutch” is their defense. Currently ranked 3rd in the NBA in efficiency and 1st in total points scored against them (96.4), The Jazz have their defense to thank. In a Western Conference where offensive battles rage between teams like Houston, Golden State and OKC, Utah can suppress and contain these high octane teams like no other team in the west.

The probable path for the Utah Jazz is as follows: Vs. #5 Clippers Vs. #1 Warriors Vs. #2 Spurs Vs. #1 Cavaliers. Taking this one series at a time, The Utah Jazz have struggled mightily with the Clippers. Only winning one of 4 matchups. However, the answer to beating them is clear-cut and very achievable. The Jazz have only scored 95 points or less in the three losses (two games with only 73). Their win had them posting a cool 114. If Utah’s offense can be as potent as their defense, The Clippers don’t have enough help on the defensive end of the court to beat the Jazz. The

Rudy Gobert is the NBA Leader in Rebounds per game (Photo Creds: Salt Lake Tribune)

Warriors, however, seem to have it all. Superstars, Offense, Defense, Coaching. It’s seriously going to be a handful. The Warriors have so far won all of the games of this season series. Winning one in overtime, they have held the Jazz to under 100 each game. However, Kevin Durant was healthy and a huge factor in each of those games. If the Jazz catch a banged up Warriors and continue their offensive momentum from the Clippers series, We could see the former western conference champions fall. Finally, the San Antonio Spurs. Gregg Popovich is no stranger to the NBA playoffs. His coaching style as well as respect earned over the years is unmatched by anyone in the NBA today. This year was another testament to how well the Spurs are as a franchise. Bringing San Antonio a trophy every so often makes being a Spurs fan all the easier. The Utah Jazz are in a Western Conference that is jam-packed with talent and great teams, but if they can beat the Clippers and Warriors, the Spurs are just another rock in the road. The Jazz and spurs split the two games they’ve played this season, and they have two more. The style of play for these two teams is similar, protect the rim and don’t forget the fundamentals. With both teams ranking high in defensive efficiency, it will come down to if Rudy Gobert can win his matchup versus Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge.  The games between these two teams will be won and lost in the paint.

David Vs. Goliath

In the case of the Jazz versus the probable eastern conference champions, Cleveland Cavaliers, no odds are greater than these. LeBron James with his merry band of players are the biggest powerhouse in the east. And probably, in the NBA. The Cavs have had a rough stretch as of late. Losing to Washington last night and an odd tailspin in the past 5 games, losing 3 and allowing 100+ points in every game. Utah’s defense is the clear-cut crutch for their team, and if LeBron and the Cavs can’t hold a mediocre offense under 100, they won’t be able to score a ridiculous amount on the Utah defense. Not to mention LeBron has not won in Utah since 2011.

Nothing Short of a Miracle

Not since the 1994 Houston Rockets with Hakeem Olajuwon has a team lower than a third seed win the NBA Championship. And really, to be

Karl Malone and John Stockton were a volatile duo. (Photo Creds: Chris Mannix, Sports Illustrated)

honest, there is a great chance that we will have a Golden State-Cleveland championship once again. That’s just what the league has been trending towards. It’s exhilarating, however, to see a team like the Utah Jazz, who have not been a serious playoff contender since the days of the Mailman Karl Malone. Utah is the one team I would hitch my wagon to if not Cleveland or Golden State. These playoffs will be fun to watch, and if Katy Perry tells us anything, don’t underestimate that dark horse.