Through the middle of January, this NBA season had been one of the most exciting in recent memory. The Warriors were on a historic pace in terms of wins and point differential, and the Grizzlies weren’t too far behind in the chase for the top seed in the West for a portion of the season. The Mavericks were scoring points at a frenetic pace on the most efficient offense in the league, even if their defense was having trouble keeping it. James Harden was carrying a Rockets team anxiously awaiting Dwight Howard’s return. Chris Paul was doing similar things while waiting for Blake Griffin to get healthy, and Kevin Durant was returning to the Thunder and starting to get the ball rolling on that championship run.
And that is only the West.
In our less-heralded conference, the Hawks and Raptors were clicking on all cylinders, while LeBron James was getting healthy and the Cavaliers were starting to go on a great run. The Wizards were playing at a high level, and the Bulls were looking like title contenders with Rose returning to form. Even the Bucks, who had tempered expectations coming into this season, especially after losing Jabari Parker early, turned into a well-coached defensive juggernaut, with just enough scoring to keep them competitive.
Other than the last two seeds in the East, every single playoff series was expected to be fiercely competitive, as 14 of the 16 postseason teams were set to be highly efficient and highly skilled. The biggest talking point on sports radio and studio shows was the idea to eliminate conferences and division and go to true seeding of the top 16 teams, so the very impressive Pelicans and Suns could get in on the action.
If only the good times could have kept rolling. Things started to break down for a number of these teams. A few unfortunate injuries, a couple of ill-advised moves at the deadline, and one team just losing steam all contributed to a 2015 NBA Playoffs that only has one competitive first-round series.