By Conor Oliver
I really want to tell you that a team other than the Golden State Warriors will win the title this year. I just cannot in good conscience bet against the squad they have assembled. Given the current landscape of the NBA, only a handful of teams can mount a meaningful challenge. Among them are Houston, San Antonio and Cleveland, all teams that have shown clear flaws throughout the season. The Clippers might even have a chance if they can overcome their injury problems and recapture their early season form.
First, looking at Houston, they seem too reliant on James Harden. Given a seven-game series, the Rockets will be very easy to figure out and stop. Golden State would be able to accomplish this with ease. San Antonio, on the other hand, is a much more well-rounded team. They have a propensity to outplay their opponents with cohesive team basketball, even in situations where they may be less talented. Still, the Warriors are playing remarkable team basketball as well, sharing scoring duties and playing outstanding team defense. They can beat the Spurs at their own game – playing smart team basketball.Cleveland seems like a lock to come out of the Eastern Conference. Though the Raptors are part of the conversation, barring an upset the Cavaliers will win the East, leading to a Golden State vs. Cleveland rematch in the finals. This year will be different, however, as the Warriors have a new best player in Durant and a chip on their shoulder. If the Cavaliers don’t bolster their roster before the trade deadline they will most likely lose in the Finals. Everything seems to point to a Warriors championship.
By Rob Nightingale
Despite their recent struggles, the Cleveland Cavaliers remain a near lock to win this season’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Cavs will face little resistance in the East, with the Celtics and Raptors being their only marginal threats. Lebron, vying for a 7th consecutive trip to the Finals, has been extremely vocal recently about the need for another playmaker on the roster, yet those concerns should remain minimal. Once JR Smith returns from injury, the Cavs will smoothly sail to the Finals, maybe facing one tricky playoff series along the way. In the Western Conference, the Golden State Warriors are arguably bigger locks than the Cavs to reach the Finals. In a majority of their games, the Warriors look downright invincible, adding NBA MVP Kevin Durant to a team that went 73-9 last season, the best regular season ever. The Warriors are dismantling their opponents, averaging an absurd 119 points per game and eclipsing the 130-point barrier with regularity. The Clippers, who once seemed like the biggest threat to the Warriors early in the season, have fallen apart, leaving the Spurs and Rockets as the only teams with any chance. The Warriors will face a longer and tougher series than the Cavs due to the strength of the Western Conference overall; however, expect a rematch from last year’s finals. Despite the Warriors near lock for home court advantage against the Cavs, I believe Lebron and Cleveland will once again be triumphant. Expect the difficulty of the West and Golden State’s lack of a reliable bench, which has been vital to their success the previous two seasons, to result in a Game 6 clincher for the Cavaliers at home in Quicken Loans Arena.
By Charlie Enberg
It would be easy to phone it in and pick Warriors vs. Cavs in the NBA finals. As far as predictions go, it’s a safe pick and will likely come to fruition. However, the Cavs do not look like the dominant team they were last season. In the month of January, they went 8-7 and while they sharpened their play in February, most of their games have come down to the wire or gone into overtime. The point is that the Cavs are beatable and the Celtics are the team to upend their title run. Aside from Isiah Thomas’ top-caliber play this season (29.8 PPG, 6.7 assists), the Celtics are loaded with talent in their starting lineup and coming off the bench. Boston averages over 30 bench points per game and, on Saturday night versus the Jazz, the bench put up 50 points, which is the second highest output this season. The depth the Celtics have will carry them through the playoffs and allow them to match the Cavs step-for-step if they end up facing each other in the postseason. It will be a close series, but the Celtics can edge them out.
In the west, it would be foolish not to pick the Warriors. The combination of Curry, Thompson, Draymond and Durant is too powerful for any team to contain in a seven-game series. They can beat teams in many different ways and are versatile up-and-down the court. I believe Golden State wins the NBA finals… it’s a boring pick – but let’s face it – it will probably happen.