For the last three years, it’s been a pretty easy road for the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers to make it to the NBA Finals.
However, that could change this year.
After three straight seasons of winning at least 65 games and obtaining the №1 seed in the Western Conference, the Warriors dealt with injuries and only accumulated a 58–24 record. The Cavaliers have had their worst season since LeBron James returned with a mere 50–32 record and a №4 seed in the East.
As the NBA playoffs start Saturday, what’s standing in the way?
In the West, it’s pretty obvious: the Houston Rockets. Clutch City had their best regular season record ever at 65–17 as the top seed. James Harden more than likely will get the MVP. With the arrival of star point guard Chris Paul this year, Houston made the most three-pointers ever in a season with 1,256. (I even got to see in person how good they were at it.)
Their only competition were the Warriors, who have faced adversity this year with their top four players missing time due to injuries. Stephen Curry only played 51 of 82 games during the regular season, recently suffering a knee injury that will more than likely have him out for at least the first round of the playoffs. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have sat out several games as well.
Without Curry this season, Golden State has struggled with a record of 17–14 and 6–10 within the last month-and-a-half. They’ll be facing the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, who look like they’ll be without Kawhi Leonard again like last year when they faced this team in the Western Conference Semifinals. Can the Warriors just get past the first round? They lost to the Utah Jazz by 40 points in their last game.
In the East, the Toronto Raptors, with the 1–2 combo of Damian Lillard and DeMar DeRozan, are the №1 seed with a 59–23 record. The Boston Celtics spent the entire season without Gordon Hayward and recently lost star Kyrie Irving for the season. They finished at №2 with a 55–27 record. At №3 with a 52–30 and winners of their last 16 sits the young, intriguing Philadelphia 76ers.
This is what’s in front of the Cavs. They traded Irving to Boston before the season and got star players who didn’t work out before trading them mid-season for role players. They haven’t gotten much better, but there’s a little less drama now in a roller-coaster season with what might be LeBron’s last in Cleveland as he hits free agency in July.
Looking at the East when it comes to the Finals, Toronto is not a good playoff team. Unless they can prove me wrong, I don’t see them making it there. Boston is done without their two best players unless they want to shock the world. Philadelphia makes it interesting. Rookie of the year Ben Simmons and 22-year-old Joel Embiid along with their team are calling themselves “The Process,” but are they still in the process of becoming a contender for the title?
To me, the race comes down to each of those teams except Boston, who, if healthy, I would probably pick to make it to the Finals. I just wouldn’t bet against LeBron with a very inexperienced Sixers team and a Raptors team he has ease with in the playoffs. Until they can prove me wrong, I’m picking the Cavs to go through the East again to the Finals.
In the West, it should come down to Houston and Golden State in the Western Conference Semifinals. I’ve been picking the Warriors all the time for the past four years, but they’re not the team to beat in the West this year. The Rockets are the favorites with home-court advantage where they’re 34–7 and I’m just not sure if Curry is going to be 100 percent if he comes back. Plus, they haven’t been very consistent this year.
In the Finals, I like a much stronger Houston team beating Cleveland in LeBron’s eighth-straight Finals appearance in five games.
Below are my first round predictions:
- Houston Rockets over 8) Minnesota Timberwolves in four
2) Golden State Warriors over 7) San Antonio Spurs in five
6) New Orleans Pelicans over 3) Portland Trail Blazers in six
5) Utah Jazz over 4) Oklahoma City Thunder in six
- Toronto Raptors over 8) Washington Wizards in five
2) Boston Celtics over 7) Milwaukee Bucks in five
3) Philadelphia 76ers over 6) Miami Heat in four
4) Cleveland Cavaliers over 5) Indiana Pacers in five