Before the season began, NBA fans and bettors alike would have put all their money on the Golden State Warriors to meet the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals in June. And why not? That’s been the Finals match-up for three straight seasons. Is there a reason to suspect this year will be any different? After all, the Alabama Crimson Tide and Clemson Tigers met in yet another College Football Playoff and the New England Patriots are going to yet another Super Bowl.
The Warriors are holding up their end of the deal half way through the regular season. While they may not be threatening to win a record number of games this season like in season’s past, they are still the class of the Western Conference. Taking a bet on them may seem pretty safe, and many people are already placing their bets on another Warriors title. Steady on, they are not a lock yet (if you really want to take a bet or two you can satisfy your need for instant gratification by playing a few games that won’t cost you a cent). There are still numerous possible outcomes and if mid-season form is anything to go by, anything can happen.
Steph Curry has had some injury issues, missing several games with a variety of bumps and bruises. But when he is healthy, he is still lethal. In 32 games, he is averaging 27 points per game, which is right about where he normally is. The Warriors are 37-10 which leads the Western Conference by 3.5 games over the Houston Rockets. Houston has had injury issues of their own with Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela playing together in only 17 games so far. In those games, Houston is 17-0.
A potential Western Finals between a healthy Rockets and healthy Warriors team? That could be a fun series. Now can anyone else slip in and keep that from happening? The San Antonio Spurs are always a threat in the West. But, like the other top teams in the conference, they can’t seem to get their best players to stay healthy. Kawhi Leonard has played in only nine games in the first half of the season and is currently on the shelf. Will he be back? Nobody seems to know if or when. Luckily, Lamarcus Aldridge has picked up his game this year to keep the Spurs near the top of the West. They are currently tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves at 30-18 for the third spot.
If the playoffs started now, and of course they don’t and there is still a lot of basketball to play until they do, the four first round visiting teams would the the Los Angeles Clippers, the eighth seed who would face the Warriors, the New Orleans Pelicans, who would face the Rockets, the Portland Trail Blazers, who are the sixth seed and the Oklahoma City Thunder who would face the T-Wolves and Spurs.
The Denver Nuggets sit in the ninth spot, a half game behind the Clippers. They could make a playoff push, but it doesn’t seem likely any other teams will join the fray.
The Clippers have also been a team plagued by injuries, as Blake Griffin, Deandre Jordan, Austin Rivers, have all missed multiple games. Jordan and Rivers were both out this week when the Clippers beat both the Rockets and Nuggets. They seem to be surging right now and if they can keep Griffin, Jordan and Rivers on the court, they could move up in the standings before the playoffs start. But Griffin seems to always be injured, especially at the worst times, such as the playoffs the last two years.
The Eastern Conference however, is much more of a mess right now. That is because the Cleveland Cavaliers are in their second major slump of the first half. One slump can be written off as a hiccup. But two of them in half a season has everyone beginning to panic. You can hear the worry in the voices of Lebron James when he bristles at reporter’s questions in post game interviews. There have even been reports that Head Coach Ty Lue may be in trouble.
The Cavs don’t necessarily need home court advantage to win a playoff series. They didn’t have it when they beat the Warriors in the NBA Finals two season ago and they also didn’t have it last year against the Boston Celtics when they swept them in the Eastern Conference Finals. But this team right now barely even resembles those Cavs teams.
Cleveland cannot seem to play defense at all. They just recently gave up 148 points to the Thunder. In fact, Cleveland is going so poorly, they’ve had two close calls with the Orlando Magic, escaping with a one-point win at home this past week. The Magic can’t beat anyone.
Then we have a Celtics team that has Kyrie Irving, the former Cavs point guard, on their side. The Cavs have former Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas, but his season recently just began, so he hasn’t had time yet to mesh with his new teammates. This could mean that better days are ahead for Cleveland, if Thomas and his new mates can get on the same page. But what if they can’t?
Plus, not only do the Celtics look more formidable, how about the Miami Heat? Miami is red hot and about to knock the Cavs back to the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Miami has won eight of their last ten games, including coming back from a five point deficit with 30 seconds to play to beat the Charlotte Hornets on the road this past weekend.
Right now, Boston is the one seed and the Toronto Raptors are the two at 31-14. The Cavs are 27-18 in third and the Heat are 27-19.
The rest of the playoff teams if they started today are the Milwaukee Bucks at number eight, the Philadelphia 76ers in the seventh spot, the Indiana Pacers at sixth and the Washington Wizards at number five.
Those first round road teams are capable of pulling off some upsets. They have some really good young stars on those teams such as Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons of the Sixers, John Wall and Brad Beal of the Wizards, and the “Greek Freak”, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
But these playoff races could still get crazy down the stretch because unlike in the West, we have some teams lurking who could make a run.
The ninth seed belongs to the Detroit Pistons who are only a game out of the eighth spot right now. The New York Knicks and Charlotte Hornets are right behind them, only three games out. The Hornets have been to the playoffs as recently as last year and the Knicks have some good young talent in Kristaps Porzingis and Tin Hardaway, Jr.
So, how do we see the playoffs unfolding?
In the West, we like the Warriors to face Pelicans in the first round in the 1-8 match-up. Warriors win this one in five games with New Orleans stealing one at home.
In the 2-7, we like the Rockets over the Clippers in six very hotly contested games. We might even see a couple of technicals in this series.
The Spurs get upset by the Trail Blazers in six games in the 3-6 match-up.
In the 4-5, the Thunder beats the T-Wolves in seven.
The Warriors and Thunder will be another interesting series with Kevin Durant going against his old club again. The Dubs take them in five.
The Rockets will beat the Blazers in five also, setting up the Rockets Warriors Conference Finals. We like Golden State in seven.
The East will be Boston over the Philadelphia 76ers in five games, with Philly stealing one at home.
Toronto will take down the Bucks in six games in the 2-7 series.
Miami will beat the Wizards in a great seven game series with the home teams winning every game.
The Cavs will beat the Indiana Pacers in four in the 4-5 series.
Cleveland will then take the Celtics to seven games, but Boston will get over the hump and beat them at home.
The Heat will upset the Raptors, setting up a Miami-Boston East Finals. We like the Celtics in five.
This sets up the Warriors and the Celtics in the NBA Finals. The Celtics will put up a fight, but the Dubs are just too much of offense and win their third title in the last four seasons.
These playoffs are going to be entertaining, with some pretty good rivalries getting ramped up. But in the end, Golden State just has too much offense for the field.