Who has a better chance of making the conference finals: Hawks or Clippers?
Steve Aschburner: Clippers. Atlanta has an edge in terms of conference competition, in my view. But the Hawks don't have the go-to guy I think they'd need to get through tough times in a seven-game series. They're more of an ensemble compared to the individual talent on the Clips' roster, and that sort of individual talent especially Blake Griffin on search-and-destroy up front, Jamal Crawford so dangerous off the bench and most of all quarterback Chris Paul at his Manning/Brady/Brees/Rodgers best means someone will be trouble almost every night. Then again, the Clippers? In the West finals? Whoa.
Fran Blinebury: I'm going with the Clippers, who are deeper this year. Jamal Crawford has been a turbo-charger off the bench and Eric Bledsoe has raised his game as well. The team has made more of a commitment to defense, moving up from 18th a season ago to seventh in the league. The Clips have also proven themselves able to go toe-to-toe with the big dogs, having already beaten Miami, Atlanta, Memphis and San Antonio (twice).
Jeff Caplan: The Hawks Psyche. Nah, it's the Clippers, and really, what's so surprising about this group? We know how good CP3 is. We know Blake Griffin is going to keep getting better - and he is. DeAndre Jordan is getting better. Jamal Crawford has been stupendous. They've got a healthy Eric Bledsoe. Should I continue? They are deep and talented. If they keep their focus throughout games they can beat anybody. They nearly won at OKC, a near-impossible mission, rallying late to take the Thunder to OT. Hey, Hawks, I love ya, but I've seen this before and 12-6 isn't all that impressive. And take a quick look at point-differential. The Clips are plus-7.8, third-best in the West and the league. The Hawks? An unimpressive plus-2.9.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Easy call. The Clippers, because I don't think they are that much of a surprise. They were in the top four of the West from the beginning, with the Thunder, Spurs and some other team from Los Angeles. The Clippers are deep, experienced, pretty good on defense, have multiple scoring options, composure, and star at two positions.
John Schuhmann: Clippers. I'm impressed with what the Hawks have done defensively, but the Clippers have been getting it done on both ends of the floor. They rank in the top seven in both offensive and defensive efficiency, which is where you need to be if you want to contend for a title. The West is stronger than the East, but the Clips are 3-1 so far against the other West contenders (OKC, San Antonio and Memphis). I don't totally believe in their ability to get stops or execute in the halfcourt on crucial postseason possessions, but I certainly believe in the Clips more than the Hawks at this point.
Sekou Smith: That's simple. The Clippers. They have more tools to work with in a playoff setting than the gutsy but limited Hawks. If you had asked me which of these two teams struck me as the bigger surprise, I'd say unequivocally it is the Hawks. I did not expect this team to be as good as they have been with so many new faces added to the mix and without a true anchor player being one of those additions. The Hawks have scored some quality wins, at Oklahoma City and at Memphis, but regular seasons wins in November and December and threshold wins in April, May and beyond require human resources the Hawks do not possess.