With some of the first round NBA playoff series wrapping up, I wanted to give you all a breakdown of who I think will be the winner of the NBA finals.
First, let’s start out in the Eastern Conference. The Philadelphia 76ers closed out the Miami Heat in 5 games to advance to the second round; this team is very dangerous and loaded with pieces that a championship contender needs. They have a playmaker in Ben Simmons, who is a big man with guard skills, a rim protector with a polished post game in Joel Embiid, the 3&D guy in Robert Covington, and perimeter shooting in both the starting and second units with JJ Reddick, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric.
I see the 76ers potentially reaching the NBA finals because they have no weaknesses on their roster; the only thing that may negatively affect them is a lack of experience.
That brings me to a very interesting series, Bucks vs Celtics. Even though the Celtics are undermanned, they hold a 3-2 series lead and can close it out in Milwaukee. I don’t think that will happen; Milwaukee will force a game 7 with a win at home but Boston will be victorious in a Game 7 on their home floor because they play with heart and passion, and play great team defense. The younger stars Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have all benefited from injuries to starters Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward but the Cinderella run will come to an end why they go up against a healthy 76ers team in round 2.
A series that has been quietly entertaining has been the Toronto Raptors vs. the Washington Wizards. I’m not sold on Toronto in the postseason; they’ve shown a tendency to not show up in big moments and perform under the spotlight. The series is currently tied 2-2 with a pivotal game 5 tonight. I have Toronto winning game 5, but I have the Wizards winning in 7 games because they have beaten this team in the Playoffs in the past. John Wall and Bradley Beal are starting to find their rhythm at the perfect time while Kyle Lowry is hoping to find his at home tonight. The Wizards would end playing the Cavaliers in round 2. I think that’s where their season ends.
Up to this point the Indiana Pacers vs. The Cleveland Cavaliers has been the most surprising. With the series tied 2-2 and 3 of 4 games going down to the wire nobody would’ve expected Indiana to be putting up this type of fight. However, they let a major opportunity slip through their hands in game 4. At home Up 3 with the ball and 2 minutes remaining they couldn’t close it out with a chance to take a 3-1 lead in the series. I have the Cavs winning game 5 at home in easy fashion and closing the series out in game 6 in Indiana. We know we can’t count out LeBron James but this Cavaliers team doesn’t look poised for it’s fourth consecutive trip to the NBA finals. Things just aren’t the same. They don’t have a consistent second or third scoring option and are way too lackadaisical on the defensive end of the floor. The greatness of LeBron James may be able to uplift this team to the Eastern Conference finals but against a young fresh-legged and hungry 76ers team, the Cavs will be overwhelmed by the interior presence of Joel Embiid and their constant lapses on defense.
Now we head out west where the New Orleans Pelicans have opened eyes around the league with their 4-0 series sweep over the Portland Trail Blazers. Jrue Holiday has emerged into one of the best two-way players in the league–he held Damian Lillard to 18.3 PPG and 37% shooting for the series–and then you have Anthony Davis who has completely destroyed the narrative “He can’t win in the playoffs.” The guy running the show, Rajon Rondo, has been amazing with his playmaking ability and attention to detail. They now go up against the Golden State Warriors who also aren’t at full strength which makes the series very balanced. The X-factor in this series will be Jrue Holiday because now the question becomes can he create the same shots and get to his favorite spots on the floor against Klay Thompson, who is also one of the league’s best two-way players. We know Anthony Davis is going to get his points but it’s all going to come down to if Jrue Holiday can be that consistent second scoring option.
The Golden State Warriors completed their gentleman sweep of the San Antonio Spurs last night 4-1. It was really hard to grade how this team played because the Spurs were depleted as well, but there are some good takeaways from the series if you’re a Warriors fan. Klay Thompson is playing at a very high level; he averaged 23 PPG against the Spurs and hopefully he can carry this over into the next round against the Pelicans because they’re going to need it. Kevin Durant can’t hold the fort down by himself, he needs Klay to step up big time until Stephen Curry comes back. With reports stating he may be back in game 1 or 2 during this series is pretty welcoming news; they don’t want to bring him back too fast and not be 100% throughout the playoffs like in 2016. I’m starting to get the 2016 postseason run feeling when Stephen Curry played but it was clear that he wasn’t ready to be back. The Warriors postseason success hangs on the shoulders of Stephen Curry and if he can return back to his MVP form before the Western Conference finals where they play another juggernaut in the Houston Rockets.
I’m a little surprised the Utah Jazz have a 3-1 lead on Oklahoma City. Thunder rookie Donovan Mitchell has been sensational and his team is clicking on all cylinders. Russell Westbrook has been frustrated by Rudy Gobert’s interior presence and it’s hard for him to finish in the lane. At times in the series he looks sporadic and tries to do too much. He also isn’t focused on the task at hand, picking up 4 fouls in the first half of game 4 was unacceptable especially after the comments he made prior to the game when asked about Ricky Rubio, “Imma shut all that shit down.” He just head hunted Rubio every time he matched up with him on defense. Carmelo Anthony is showing us all why he’s on the backside of his career and Paul George only hit the three ball at a solid rate in game 1, since then he’s been cold. A lot of their problem is they play a lot of iso ball so when shots aren’t falling it’s really tough for them to score. The Utah Jazz offense is predicated off of ball and player movement so when they score it’s in the flow of the offense which leads to uncontested shots and layups. OKC will win game 5 tonight but Utah will close the series out on Thursday night at home. I’ve counted this team out and it’s time to give them a little respect. In round 2 against Houston they may be able to push that series to 6 games if they keep playing great basketball.
A Houston Rockets team that looks to be still fixing kinks in their offense still look dominant while doing that. They currently hold a 3-1 series lead over the Minnesota Timberwolves and the one game Minnesota won they hit a franchise record 15 three’s. In game 4 the Rockets erupted in the third quarter scoring 50 points with James Harden having 24 himself. In that game they showed what they’re capable of doing when shots are falling; however, Houston is special because even when they aren’t making shots it doesn’t affect them defensively and they still find ways to win. Prime example being in game 2 when James Harden shot 2 for 18 from the floor and they still won the game by 20 points. The Rockets will close this series out tonight in front of their home crowd and I have them winning the NBA finals.
When you look at Golden State, they are vulnerable this season more than we’ve ever seen and they’re not as deep as they once were. As for the Rockets, it’s the total opposite: they’re starting to click. The special duo of Chris Paul and James Harden create problems for GSW because one of them are on the floor at all times. When both are on the floor at the same time the Rockets are nearly impossible to guard. Their offense is 4 out 1 in and constant screens. James Harden and Chris Paul make life tough on defenders because they have to make a decision, if a defender helps on penetration then either a shooter is wide open or they hit Clint Capela for an Alley-Oop and if the defender stays home they can get beat off the dribble.
The Western Conference finals with GSW will go 7 games and the home court advantage will propel the Houston Rockets over the top. In the NBA finals the Rockets will defeat the 76ers in 6 games.