It’s almost that time again. The NBA playoffs are starting in just over a month and every fan of the league could not be happier. The past three finals have been an epic battle between the Cavaliers and the Warriors, but this year could break that trend. There are many challengers to both teams, and there is doubt from many that there will be a fourth installment into the series.
The most serious of these threats being the Houston Rockets. The Rockets are riding a 15 game win streak into tonight, and their record of 49-13 gives them a half game lead over Golden State. Around the league, the Rockets offense is being regarded as one of the top in NBA history. Averaging 114 PPG, the team has been fueled by probable MVP James Harden. Harden is on a tear, averaging a near double-double on the season and leading the league with 31.2 PPG no one has been able to find a solution for his scoring. Pair this with Chris Paul’s passing ability and Clint Capella’s monster season to this point and you have a team that may be able to out-play the Warriors in a 7 game series.
Another, much less likely threat to Golden State are the Oklahoma City Thunder. Though the team has struggled as of late, the Big 3 of Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony cannot be ignored as serious contenders in the West. Though they suffered a 122-112 loss to Houston Tuesday night, the game was close even with struggles from nearly anyone outside the starting lineup. Unlikely as it is, this team has earned the right to be in this conversation.
In the East, the first place Raptors have looked good heading into the playoffs over the last couple of seasons, their only roadblock being King James and the Cavaliers. Though the seeding may be a little bit different this go-around, I don’t see the series taking more than 5 games for Cleveland.
The Boston Celtics are in my eyes, the biggest challenge to the Cavs in the East. With Gordon Hayward officially ruled out of the playoffs, the odds just got that much worse for the team. Kyrie Irving has been everything for this team since Hayward was injured in the season opener but will he be able to lead them past his former team? That’s the question that many are asking and unfortunately for Boston fans, the answer is likely no. Boston is down 2-1 in the season series and 0-1 against the current iteration of the Cavs, losing by 30 at home in Cleveland’s first game as a team. Couple all that with Kevin Love returning in just a few weeks and it seems nearly impossible that Cleveland doesn’t make their 4th straight finals appearance.
All things considered, I think that we will see another rematch between Cleveland and Golden State. I believe that this will be the last match up between the two teams, and that there will be a new champion in 2019. That being said, LeBron is playing at an astonishingly high level in his 15th year and has his eyes set on the trophy. The Warriors dynasty has been a remarkable run never seen in the NBA, and I think that they have one last hurrah before they become just another great team.