PLAYOFF NIKO MIROTIC! (David Banks/USA Today Sports)
PLAYOFF NIKO MIROTIC! (David Banks/USA Today Sports)

The 2015 NBA Playoffs are right around the corner! There are some incredible matchups in the field this year, including a Texas-sized showdown between the Houston Rockets & Dallas Mavericks, an amazing rendevous between the Los Angeles Clippers and defending champion San Antonio Spurs, and Anthony Davis’s first playoff series as the New Orleans Pelicans try to upset the top-seeded Golden State Warriors.

Tomorrow, we’ll tackle what is in store for Round 1 but for now, here’s a look at a few UnderDOGS who can make or break their squad’s fate. Right around this time, everyone is exploring what “Playoff Chris Paul” or “Playoff Stephen Curry” is going to do…well, what about “Playoff JR Smith” or “Playoff Nikola Mirotic.” The UnderDOG narrative could be huge in the postseason.

Plus, we’ve paired up these with X-Factors with their dog “counterparts,” so this should be fun!


The EAST…

Mike Scott (ATL): Irish Wolfhound (noted for personal quirks & individualism)

Personal quirks? Individualism? Sounds a lot like Mike Scott to us! Mr. Emoji Man himself, along with Dennis Schröder, is a huge part of Atlanta’s bench unit. The most consistent of the Hawks’ stretch fours, Scott can play facing up, in P&R sets and has greatly improved his game attacking off the bounce.

When Atlanta advances into the deeper rounds, Scott will be counted upon for instant offense.


J.R. Smith (CLE): Doberman Pinscher (aggressive, energetic)

Saying Smith is aggressive is an understatement. Though his level of enthusiasm is a bit misguided at times, he is the true UnderDOG for Cleveland to make a deep playoff run. Getting past the Boston Celtics should not be too much of a problem. A potential showdown with the Chicago Bulls in Round 2…that’s a different story. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love command enough attention as is, so he will have plenty of chances to make his mark.

If Smith is firing on all cylinders, it’s definitely possible for Cleveland to advance. In their last meeting, he cashed in 8 three pointers on 17 attempts (yes, all from deep).


Nikola Mirotic (CHI): Bernese Mountain Dog (self-assured)

To be a successful rookie in the NBA, especially coming from a different culture, you need supreme confidence. Luckily for Bulls fans, that is not a problem for Niko Mirotic. While he needs to stop hesitating on open attempts, he is the type of game-altering shot maker Chicago has lacked in previous years.

When someone like Derrick Rose penetrates hard to the cup, defenses naturally react by converging in the paint. The Bulls, Rose included, are excellent at misdirection and swing passes to the free man once the lane collapses, leaving Mirotic with daylight from outside. A steady dose of isolations and quick pick & pops are in the cards for Chicago’s rookie sensation. If he establishes himself early on, the Bulls will be tough to stop.


Lou Williams (TOR): Norwegian Elkhound (bred for hunting large game)

At 6’1, “Sweet Lou” does not have the ideal size for a two-guard. But don’t tell him that! The Sixth Man of the Year frontrunner averaged a career-high 15.5 points/game and is absolutely fearless competing against larger opponents (ahem, everyone). The Raptors finally have a healthy roster with Kyle Lowry, Amir Johnson and DeMar DeRozan back in the fold.

In Round 1, Washington’s bench has no one (Ramon Sessions, Rasual Butler?) to stay in front of Williams on the perimeter, so he should put up big scoring numbers. Shot selection is key, however. If Lou goes full “hero” mode, the Raptors are in trouble.


Paul Pierce (WAS): Bull Terrier (strong prey instincts, independent)

Yeah…Paul Pierce does not filter himself these days. Nearing the end of his career, “The Truth” is still out to show he can have a strong impact on a contending team. While not as dangerous anymore, he continues to methodically stalk his prey like no other. Pierce WANTED to face Toronto after burning them with the Brooklyn Nets last year.

John Wall & Bradley Beal are the driving forces but we predict Pierce will convert enough clutch buckets to showboat and justify “why they brought him there.”


OJ Mayo (MIL): Siberian Husky (tendency to roam)

Gone is the OJ Mayo who was a devastating scorer teams needed to gameplan against. Now, he mainly sits out on the perimeter and launches threes at a high rate. Mayo knocks down jumpers at a decent percentage (36%) but Milwaukee is a team searching for more people to, you know, put the ball in the basket (averaged just 97.8 ppg).

To push Chicago to Game 6 or 7, Mayo needs to stop settling for bad shots. If he isn’t a space cadet, Milwaukee’s chances for the upset are a little higher.


Marcus Smart (BOS): Whippet (tends to overreact when touched)

Smart is a defensive pest who will do his best to shut down JR Smith and/or Kyrie Irving in the Quarterfinals. The Celtics do not figure to last long against the mighty Cavs but this experience is invaluable for Smart, Avery Bradley and the rest of Boston’s young guns.

What hope they do have stems from Smart’s potential lockdown defense and long range game. As the only rookie starter in the second season, Smart gives Boston a tough presence (with a “never back down attitude”) who is poised to break out. Just don’t flop in front of a national audience, cool?


Jarrett Jack (BKN): Labrador Retriever (very even-tempered)

Jack is a classic veteran leader…never too high or too low. Deron Williams is back on track after struggling for the past 3 seasons. But just as easily, he could falter. Given that Atlanta boasts one of the league’s stingiest defenses, Jack will play a huge role in the series.

Do not be surprised to see him getting burn late in the fourth quarter if Brooklyn is ever close enough to steal a win.


The WEST…

Harrison Barnes (GSW): English Pointer (low-non existent aggression)

Barnes has been criticized in the past for playing too passively on both ends. As a starter in 2014-15, he reclaimed his confidence when Steve Kerr decided to place him ahead of former All-Star Andre Iguodala in the lineup. But sometimes, he still he struggles to provide a consistent effort each night.

He doesn’t need to score more necessarily, he has to be ready to make plays once the defense collapses on Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.


Corey Brewer (HOU): Jack Russell Terrier (very high energy)

Since coming over from Minnesota, Corey Brewer’s activity has lifted Houston to another level. We all know about James Harden’s MVP campaign but Brewer is the unsung hero who helped push the Rockets to the 2-seed. His motor is relentless and helps him thrive in one of the more unique roles in the NBA: a two-way player off the bench.

Throughout the playoffs, Brewer and Trevor Ariza will be tasked with stopping the best perimeter threat on the other side. It should not be a huge problem for Brewer, who is learning how to turn his defensive playmaking skills into transition opportunities. Dallas does not have the athletes to stay with him on the break…look for huge numbers out of the do-it-all swingman.


JJ Redick (LAC): King Shepherd (self-confident)

JJ is one of the top shooters on the planet. When locked in, the former Dukie can help turn a 3-4 point lead into a double digit advantage in the blink of an eye. Gregg Popovich will urge San Antonio to stay home on shooters and try to help and quickly recover when defending both Chris Paul & Blake Griffin.

This means Redick could be free off curls, spot ups and, even transition. If he’s on, the Clippers usually are. Skeptics generally note Los Angeles’s lack of depth on the wing as a reason why they will never get over the hump. But lately, Redick’s play (10 25+ games since March 1st; over 200 threes on the season) has silenced critics a bit.

Jamal Crawford is still working is way back from a calf injury, Austin Rivers is still trying to find his role with the team and Matt Barnes is totally hit or miss…the Clips cannot afford Redick to miss a beat versus the champs.


Robin Lopez (POR): Himalayan sheepdog (alert, territorial)

RoLo is a very underrated rim protector. He covers a lot of ground as a semi-mobile 7-footer with great energy. And boy, does Portland need it in Round 1! Even ignoring the fact that Wesley Matthews, Dorell Wright and, possibly, Arron Afflalo are all out for the playoffs, it’s gonna be a grind it out slugfest with Memphis.

Lopez v. Gasol cannot be a severe mismatch for the Grizz. If so, this might get ugly for the Blazers before they can even get going. But don’t bet on Lopez folding without a fight. He is, without a doubt, Portland’s best interior defender and will create numerous second chances.


Kosta Koufos (MEM): East-European Sheperd (active, willing to work)

On a team full of UnderDOGS, Koufos is the “dirty work” guy who spells both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph down low. His modest numbers (avg. 6 points & 6 boards) do not really tell the story of his importance. Without Koufos in the lineup, Memphis’s second into struggles to contain “paint points” and lacks a presence to corral boards.

The Koufos-Chris Kaman (POR) matchup could be a big factor down the stretch of the opening round.


Aron Baynes (SAS): Great Dane (massive, plays well with others)

Baynes has thrived with increased minutes in San Antonio. Spuran Spuran’s talented keytarist is forceful down low and fits in perfectly with his passing, help defense, and rebounding off the bench. He has a great rapport with fellow Aussie Patty Mills, another UnderDOG ready to shine for Coach Pop.

It seems like someone new always steps up for the Spurs around this time. With Tiago Splitter banged up, Baynes will be able to affect games with his soft touch, slick passing and huge frame. His ability to limit DeAndre Jordan’s impact will be critical all series.


Devin Harris (DAL): Saluki (extremely quick)

Harris doesn’t possess the burners like in previous years but he is a game-changer, when healthy, for Dallas. With the season-ending injury to Patrick Beverley, the Rockets lack much depth at the point guard position.

Harris can provide nice relief as a playmaker and scorer throughout the entire playoff run.


Omer Asik (NOP): Giant Schnauzer (guard dog, imposing)

Asik is nowhere near as fierce as a Giant Schnauzer but he protects the paint like it’s his own. Alongside one of the league’s top shot blockers, Asik has to step up his play so Davis does not have to expend too much energy chasing down loose rebounds or scrambling to defend the middle.

Staying on the court (poor free throw shooter, high foul rate) is Asik’s Achilles Heel but if he does, he has the chance to match Andrew Bogut’s production.

#DOFGAME #DOG

-Jabari J.

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