There are so many variables that will at least affect the margin of victory and number of games (possibly the winner) of this series, Kevin Love’s injury, Andre Iguodala’s injury, Steph Curry’s injury, Kerr’s and Lue’s rotation decisions. But the most important thing is really how engaged the Warriors are. If they play 100% in each quarter of each game, this SHOULD be a sweep. But, every slow start could lead to a loss if the Cavs take advantage of those. My guess is that there will be a couple games where the Warriors play with fire and the Cavs will take at least one of those (and even if the Warriors don’t take a game off, I can see LBJ putting everything he has left into ensuring they win at least one, even if he’s dead-tired for the rest of the series).
I’m gonna take a detour. It’s pretty cool for the Celtics that they’ve been able to get this far without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. That might speak to how weak the Eastern Conference is, but still, great for them. That being said, I’m actually pretty bummed that the Bucks fired Jason Kidd now. I don’t think Kidd was an unbelievable coach or anything, but he was better than Joe Prunty, and considering that the Bucks took the Celtics to 7, I wonder if with halfway decent coaching, they might’ve been here in the Conference Finals and we’d get to see Giannis and LeBron in this series.
Alright, about the actual series: all I can say is that I don’t think the Celtics will get swept. The Cavs are doing their thing and crushing these weaker Eastern Conference teams. It helps that the Celtics, much like the Pacers, seem like a team that doesn’t get rattled easily. The Cavs will win and will win convincingly, but I don’t think it’ll be a humiliating sweep.
Cavs in 5
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
I’m probably a little too confident for the Warriors, but I really feel like this might be similar to the last two Raptors/Cavs series. The Rockets had a great regular season, Chris Paul has had some great playoff games. Harden hasn’t looked great when things get tight. On the other hand, we don’t really know how well Curry’s knee is, so he may be more limited than we know. Either way, I don’t see the Rockets winning more than one, if the Warriors do their usual thing where the take their foot off the gas in Game 3 or 4. But, considering the fact that they’ll be playing Games 3 and 4 on the road, I think they’ll be ready to play.
The Cavaliers do not look invincible to the rest of the Eastern Conference like they have the past few years. The thing is, they certainly seem invincible to the Toronto Raptors. Despite the fact that the Raptors were the best regular season team in the Eastern Conference, they seem to be more scared of the Cavs than any other Eastern Conference team. Logically, the Raptors should win this easily, but I just can’t trust them to do it.
Cavs in 6
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers
There’s almost no question that the 76ers win this series. They’re young and inexperienced, but they have too much talent and the players still standing on the Celtics really don’t have much of an experience advantage in their current state. I’ve been skeptical of Brad Stevens being THAT much better than most other coaches, but he’s clearly proven that he’s a difference maker for this Celtics team. I think the Celtics can take a game when the 76ers get too comfortable and let off the gas. But, unless the 76ers lose their two best players to injury, this won’t be much of a series.
The Raptors might lose game 1, they might lose the series. But, despite the fact that I originally predicted the Wizards could be the best team in the East (before the season started), I think the Raptors have proven they can beat ALMOST anybody, and I think they’ll at least be confident in this first round. The Wizards are good enough to win a couple, and should make it a competitive series, but the Raptors should win this one.
Raptors in 6
Boston Celtics (2) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (7)
The Celtics have a lot of injuries to deal with, and I’m not one of these people that worships at the church of Brad Stevens. But, after seeing how they won the series against the Bulls and Wizards last year (with a much different roster), I think they’ll be able to beat a team at a serious coaching disadvantage, even if that team has the best player on the floor in Giannis Antetokounmpo. This could be the year the Bucks get past the first round, but I think the Celtics will grind through it.
Celtics in 7
Philadelphia 76ers (3) vs. Miami Heat (6)
The 6ers are clearly the more talented team, but inexperience will cause them to drop a few games they should win. I anticipate at least one vintage Dwyane Wade game and an inexplicable Kelly Olynyk game. I also think Spoelstra will out-coach Brett Brown (who I also think has done a fantastic job this year). If Embiid comes back, the 6ers might pull it off, but despite the fact that the 76ers have the clearly superior roster, it will be tough to be so dependent Ben Simmons and his poor shooting (again, despite the fact that he’s unbelievable in just about every other facet of the game). Embiid is the wildcard here, but I trust the Heat to pull this off.
Heat in 7
Cleveland Cavaliers (4) vs. Indiana Pacers (5)
We’ve seen this before. The Pacers had an awesome season and won twice as many games as most expected. But LeBron James is here to annihilate the Eastern Conference again and the Pacers will be his first victim.
Cavs in 4
Houston Rockets (1) vs. Minnesota Timberwolves (8)
The Rockets were clearly the better regular season team, but if Jimmy Butler can handle the minutes Thibs will give him and KAT and Wiggins aren’t afraid of the moment, I think they’ll at least put up a fight. The Rockets shouldn’t lose this one, but it wouldn’t surprise me.
Rockets in 6
Golden State Warriors (2) vs. San Antonio Spurs (7)
They might come out stale in Game 1 or Game 3. I expect them to drop one, but ultimately, I don’t really think the Spurs even want to be there. They might want to win one for Pop, or win one for Aldridge, but that might be it.
Warriors in 5
Portland Trail Blazers (3) vs. New Orleans Pelicans (6)
The Pelicans will have the most talented player on the floor, and that counts for a lot. But Dame and CJ have won playoff games and Davis hasn’t, that might count for a lot too. Nurkic is the big wild card in this series. If he’s awesome, the Blazers should have a good chance of winning; and the same could be said fo Amini. But, the Blazers might be in trouble if they’re fully dependent on their backcourt.
Blazers in 6
Oklahoma City Thunder (4) vs. Utah Jazz (5)
The Jazz are an unbelievable story this year and it’s been awesome to watch. The Jazz have the better coach (I know, I know, but for the NBA), but the Thunder definitely have the two most talented players in Westbrook and Paul George. Rudy Gobert is awesome, Donovan Mitchell has been unbelievable, Ricky Rubio and Joe Ingles have been great too. But, I don’t know if that’s enough against Paul George, Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, and whatever Melo has left. I think the Jazz could definitely win, but the Thunder should.
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.
While the Cavs are definitely scarier this year than they were last year, and the Warriors showed some vulnerabilities in their 7-games against the Thunder, I just do not think the Cavs will be able to match-up well with this Warriors team. Last year the Cavs went big and slow to mess with the Warriors quick-paced game and take a 2-1 series lead. In the last series, the Warriors were forced to alternate between their smaller/quicker lineups and bigger/slower lineups to defeat the Thunder, making it a lot more difficult for the Cavs to find a style that will work.