I don’t think there’s a single outcome that would really surprise me in this Finals. Warriors could sweep, Cavs could win in 6, and anything in between seems plausible. Things would have to really go the Cavs way again for them to pull this off, but it’s certainly possible. Two key Warriors would have to sustain an injuries that limited their play, another would have to be suspended (possibly based on fouls being retroactively upgraded to flagrants between games), another would have to go through an unbelievable cold streak, forcing rotations to go seriously out of whack in a Game 7. But that all happened last year.
One thing that would surprise me would be another suspension to a key contributor on either team. The NBA doesn’t totally shy away from things that fuel conspiracy theories, but it would be an unbelievably bad look to have that potentially determine the Finals two years in a row.
Unless things align in a way that is truly awful for the Warriors, I think they win this one convincingly, but LeBron James singlehandedly saves the team from total embarrassment by winning one or two on his own.
The Cavs are on a mission and I don’t think they slow down and drop a couple like they did in Toronto last year. The Celtics are a good team, but I have a feeling they’ll get steamrolled 4 times in a row. Isaiah Thomas might just pull one out, but I’d be very surprised.
I’d love to see the Warriors sweep another round, but I just don’t see anyway the Spurs get swept. If Kawhi is still out or having trouble staying on the court, it might turn out that way. But, my guess is this team makes it another challenge Western Conference Finals for the Warriors, but don’t quite pull it off.
It’s weird that the Jazz lost two at home in the last series and still managed to win. They had to win Game 1 in LA after Rudy Gobert went down in the opening seconds and then Game 7 with Gobert in foul trouble (he played only 13 minutes). But, they lost 2 games at home, one of which Blake Griffin didn’t play at all, and the other being the game he went down in. But, while playing in their arena might not be a huge advantage to the Jazz, they’re certainly mentally tough enough to step up to a challenge and won’t be scared, even when the Warriors go on big runs. The talent gap is too wide for the Jazz to have any real shot at the series, but I won’t be surprised if they’re able to take one, which is more than I could have said for the Clippers.
Warriors in 5
San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets
There are so many X factors in this series, it’s hard to say how the Rockets as a team will shoot, how James Harden, specifically will play after not being great in the last series against the Thunder, despite beating them in 5. On the Spurs, Kawhi Leonard has been the only reliably great player so far. Tony Parker has had flashes of his previous greatness and LaMarcus Aldridge has been good at times. I think Kawhi Leonard has another great series the Spurs dominate Rockets unless Harden comes back into his early-mid season form.
The Celtics seemed to have found their groove after stumbling through the first couple games against the Bulls. It’s hard to know if they dropped those first two games because of the circumstances Isaiah Thomas was in or if the Bulls won those games because of Rondo’s play. It feels like the Wizards are the better team, but their struggles against the Hawks make them look more vulnerable and their bench is dismal. Despite their bench, I still think the Wizards are the better team and will pull this one off.
Wizards in 6
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors seemed like they might be better this year than they were last year, and the Cavs seemed like they were worse this year (especially on defense) than they were last year. But despite each game being close, the Cavs still swept the Pacers and the Raptors struggled against the Bucks. It’s certainly possible that the Raptors could beat the Cavs 4 times in a 7-game series. But, the Raptors just seem to tighten and lose games and the Cavs tend to find a way to win, even when it looks like they’ve given a lead away. My guess is the Raptors find a way to win a couple, but the Cavs will definitely take the series.
I think the Celtics will struggle out of the gate. They’ve had poor playoff showings, and the Bulls can be good with enough rest, which the first round provides. I do think they eventually pull it off because they’re definitely the better team. But, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if the Bulls pull off the upset.
Celtics in 7
Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Indian Pacers
It’s that time of year, LeBron will go supernova and make everyone feel silly for doubting they could turn it up in the playoffs. This might end up being a sweep, but I think Paul George wills his team to win at least one at home.
Cavaliers in 5
Toronto Raptors vs. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are great, and just having Giannis Antetokounmpo means they have a chance to win every game. In fact, the Bucks winning the series is totally plausible. But, I think the Raptors getting deep into the playoffs last year puts them in a better space and will give them the mental edge they’ll need to win a tough series.
Raptors in 7
Washington Wizards vs. Atlanta Hawks
It’s tough to trust either of these teams in a playoff series, but I think the Wizards have shown they’re the more consistent of these two. John Wall and Bradley Beal have been incredible this year and the Hawks have had great flashes, but I don’t think they can win four against this Wizards team.
Wizards in 5
Golden State Warriors vs. Portland Trailblazers
The Blazers kept the series somewhat competitive last year, and I think it’s possible they might’ve won one in Portland if Jusuf Nurkic was healthy, but without him, the Warriors biggest weakness isn’t much of a weakness at all against this Blazers team. The Blazers might get hot at the same time the Warriors go cold, but I wouldn’t count on it.
Warriors in 4
San Antonio Spurs vs. Memphis Grizzlies
The Spurs and Grizzlies split the regular season series 2-2 this year. The Spurs are definitely the better team, but I think the mostly-healthy Grizzlies will make it a competitive series this year.
Spurs in 6
Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder
The Rockets are the better team, but the “clutch” stats are where the Thunder have a major edge. Also, a lot of Harden’s game is getting to the line for fouls that get called less often during the playoffs. The Rockets could end up blowing out the Thunder and sweeping, but I think the Thunder take this series.
Thunder in 6
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Utah Jazz
I so badly want to pick the Jazz, but they seem to beat up on bad teams and rarely beat good teams. The Clippers can always find a way to blow it, but I think they’ll wait till the 2nd round to do that. I just hope the Jazz put up a fight.
I think these teams are generally pretty evenly matched. The Patriots, despite not having a great defense, are a great all-around team and the Falcons have the best offense in the NFL. Ultimately, I think the Patriots will win because they’ve been able to win so much without Gronk and the Falcons will have a tough time with the injuries to Julio Jones and Alex Mack. Also, the Falcons are still the Falcons and the Patriots have so much Super Bowl experience. But, I would not be totally shocked if the Falcons win, given that they are such a great team.
Logically, the Falcons should win. They’re the better team overall on offense and defense than the Packers. The problem is, they’re the Falcons. Despite the fact that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Cubs have broken curses this year, I wouldn’t put my money on the Falcons overcoming a curse AND beating Aaron Rodgers. The Falcons have the talent to win, but I just can’t bring myself to pick them.
Prediction: Packers win
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots
Sunday January 22 at 3:40pm PST
Neither the Patriots nor the Steelers looked great last year. The Patriots had trouble against the terrible Texans, but the Steelers couldn’t even score a touchdown. On the other hand, this week both teams will facing worse defenses, but much better offenses. My guess is it will be a close one, but I’m more confident in the Patriots. Ben Roethlisberger can be inconsistent and a decent portion of the Steelers’ roster might have the flu. The Steelers certainly have a chance to win, but the Patriots seem like the more likely AFC Champion.