The Best in the West (and East)
It’s easy to forecast the Golden State Warriors to make it to the NBA Finals, and with good reason. First year head coach Steve Kerr has brought the young and effective Warriors to the top of the Western Conference with stellar shooting from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Aside from scoring a league-leading 109.7 points per game, the Warriors have also held their opponents to under 100 points (99.5) per game all season.
While opposing big men can expect to line up against veteran center Andrew Bogut (playing well despite his age), the Warriors defense is bolstered by Draymond Green. The third year forward can guard almost any position on the floor, and has everyone asking who is the NBA’s defensive player of the year?
Meanwhile in the east, the Atlanta Hawks posted their first 60-win season in franchise history. Head coach of the year candidate Mike Budenholzer (from the Popovich School of Basketball) is a big reason for that, as the Hawks were hot all season. Late-season injuries to Paul Millsap among others have some fans less confident about their title chances however, and that was before a season-ending injury to key reinforcement Thabo Sefolosha.
Not Bad Being No. 2
The San Antonio Spurs made a push in the second half of the season to make any Western Conference contender feel uneasy. While aging usual suspects like Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are shooting a combined 47.4 percent from the field, head coach Gregg Popovich can rest assured that Kawhi Leonard will come alive in the Playoffs.
Currently leading the NBA in individual defensive rating at 96, the reigning NBA Finals MVP boasts 2.7 steals and 16.7 points per game. While the Spurs won it all last year, they’ll need to play masterful defense against the high-scoring squads in the Western Conference to repeat.
This should come as no surprise, but expect the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals. With a shakey-at-best Eastern Conference and the Hawks losing momentum, LeBron James and his traveling road show are looking like a sure thing to make the NBA Finals. When you have the best player on the planet, you’re afforded opportunities – with the Larry O’Brien Trophy quite possible being one of them.
While some pundits are pointing to the Cavaliers defensive woes as a reason to take the field when choosing a winner, they’re still a tough team to beat.
Aside from the big three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, the Cavs have an energetic bench in J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Tristan Thompson. The Cavs are also 33-12 since trading for Russian center Timofey Mozgov, a major reason why Cavs opponents are shooting just 48 per cent at the rim. With LeBron James in the mix, and a capable Kyrie Irving running the point, Cleveland could be title city this summer.
Team to Watch
The L.A. Clippers have been impressive all season, and haven’t shown any signs of slowing down. With Blake Griffin back in the lineup, DeAndre Jordan playing disruptive defense at the rim, and Chris Paul averaging 19 points and 10.3 assists per game, it’ll be a shame if the Clippers don’t make the Western Conference Finals.
What Can We Expect?
After breaking his own record for the most 3PFGs made this year (338-plus) the likely-MVP of the 69th NBA season is Stephen Curry, and he’s lining up for a shot at Finals MVP next. Expect his Warriors to roll to the finals, beating LeBron James’ Cavaliers in six games. Seven if we’re lucky enough to watch.