In an NBA season that alluded to an all too predictable path of a 4th consecutive Finals matchup for the Cavaliers and Warriors, we have hit some interesting bumps in the road as the regular season winds down. Many thought at this point of the NBA calendar we would see LeBron and Steph sitting casually atop the thrones of their respective conferences: and while that may very well still be the case come June, Cleveland currently resides at just 4th in the East while a lackadaisical Warriors team now trails Houston for the top seed.
One of these teams has nothing to worry about, but it’s not who you thought.
LeBron James wins the Eastern Conference. Oh, and water is wet! The East comes as less of a threat for any drastic change as King James has proven time and time again (7 years in a row to be precise) that he does rule supreme when it’s all said and done. However, BPI best odds to win the title give the Cavs less than 1% chance to win it all.
This. Is. Blasphemous (Stephen A. Smith voice)!!! Far too many people are unnecessarily hitting the panic button for this team. Though LeBron no longer has a Robin to his Batman and the Cavs have had some regular season struggles, the 33 year old super human is playing at an elite level, even by his standards: 4th in the league in scoring per game, 2nd in assists per game, and now racked up 14 triple doubles- the most ever for LeBron in a season. LeBron is the only player ever to record 30K points, 8K assists, and 8K rebounds: the chosen one continues to rewrite the record books even in year 15. He has enough ancillary pieces in Hood, Clarkson, Hill, Korver, and Nance etc… that Cleveland should have no worries when it matters.
Don't forget a soon-to-be-healthy All-Star, Kevin Love. In short, the lack of playoff success displayed by DeRozan, Lowry and their Raptors, compiled with the offensive inconsistency and youth of Boston prove no true match to defeat the King 4 times in any 7 game series. The Eastern Conference will certainly pose a greater contest for LeBron than in years past, but King James is destined to lead The Land back to the promise land of June basketball yet again.
The West, on the other hand, has truly become a mystery. Since the Bill Russell era, only 3 teams have made the Finals in 4 consecutive seasons: Magic’s Lakers, Larry’s Celtics, and this current stretch for LeBron James. This begs the question of difficulty to achieve such a feat and the mental and physical fatigue that this challenge presents to players. Steph Curry and his Golden State Warriors look to join this prestigious list, but the task has shown to be daunting. Is there simply a “playoff switch” for the defending champions to turn on after the regular season and begin playing more inspired basketball? Sure. But will that be enough to overtake the grueling piled up minutes that this core has accumulated over the past 4 seasons? James Harden begs to differ.
Houston leads the league in offensive efficiency, ranks 2nd in defense, and also tops the NBA in 3 pointers made. The Rockets are 35-2 when James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela all start and Houston beat the Warriors in their season series head-to-head matchup too. Put these stats against a tired and unhealthy Warriors team and add the hunger of MVP front-runner alongside his Hall of Fame counter part in the backcourt and things just got interesting. Maybe BPI was at least right in picking Houston over Golden State.
Home court is a big deal and should give this Rockets team even more confidence going forward. I haven’t even mentioned the potential of a healthy Kawhi Leonard and a Spurs team who were up 20 points in Game 1 of the conference finals at Oracle just a season ago before the infamous Zaza Pa-Cheapshot took out the San Antonio superstar. If the Spurs do make the playoffs in full health, an early matchup with the defending champs could make for a long series. And how about the Blazers who also won their season series against Golden State? Damian Lillard is playing the best basketball of his career and is ready to at least become a challenging obstacle, making the Warriors' journey that much more problematic along the way.
While March Madness is just about underway in the NCAA, the NBA’s peak insanity is only yet to come. Between LeBron’s more difficult voyage in the East as Cleveland’s lone superstar and the legitimate threat of both Houston and fatigue/complacency that looms upon the Warriors, expect a very eventful April, May, and June. Let the madness continue!