The NBA was shocked when the Los Angeles Clippers were able to force the Golden State Warriors to six games in the first round of the playoffs. After all, the Clippers weren’t even expected to be in playoffs, especially after trading their top players in the span of a year. Yet they were still able to take two games from the top seed, both of them being in Oakland (the Warriors’ home court).
Despite their first-round scare versus the Clippers, is it wise to bet against the Warriors winning the playoffs? After all, they are the defending back-to-back NBA champions, winning three out of the last four titles. Even losing starting center DeMarcus Cousins for the playoffs—though recent reports suggest he might be back soon—will not be what ruins the Warriors’ title chances.
They still have Kevin Durant, who is arguably one of the best players in the NBA history, along with Stephen Curry, one of the best shooters in basketball history. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green are still all-star caliber players playing along with the Warriors’ deep bench. So instead of worrying who’s going to win the NBA championship, the real question is does anyone really stand a chance to beat the Warriors?
The Western conference does not seem to have any potential suitors left to do so. While the Portland Trail Blazers did beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, only Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum contributed on a consistent basis. It also doesn’t help the fact that starting center Jusuf Nurkic was lost before the playoffs started with a leg injury.
And then there is the Denver Nuggets who, for most of the season, were the best team in the Western Conference. But regular season success can only account for so much. The roster lacks significant playoff experience, which was evident against the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. Against the back-to-back champions? The Nuggets wouldn’t stand a chance.
The Rockets, the Warriors’ opponent in the second round, seemingly have the best chance to beat them. They have history with them, going through a heated seven game series last season and keeping up with the Warriors so far in a 2-2 series. This year, however, is different. They rely heavily on MVP candidate James Harden who has averaged 36.1 points per game during the regular season. But in the games Harden has played this postseason, he has only shot 50% from the three point line once and has not kept up with his points per game average. Against the Warriors, where he needs to overperform to carry the team to victory, that type of performance won’t cut it.
The East is where the main challengers for the Warriors’ crown lie. The Raptors, Bucks, 76ers, and Celtics all have a plethora of talent on their rosters along with experience. But only one has what it takes to beat the reigning champions.
Starting in Philadelphia, the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler, Boban Marjanovic, and Tobias Harris, betting it all on winning the title this season. But even with their big five of Butler, Harris, Boban, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons, the team still shows signs of inconsistency. Entering into each game, fans don’t know what team to expect out on the court: a group that plays as a team or one that struggles to co-exist. We must remember that the Sixers only traded for their new players recently and have not had enough time to develop as a team.
Then there’s the Boston Celtics and the Toronto Raptors who many believe are the favorites to make it out of the East. They have the talent to match up against the Warriors along with featuring great head coaches who can foil the Warriors’ plans. However, they both will have difficulties reaching the NBA Finals in the first place. The Raptors second best player, Kyle Lowry, has performed poorly in the playoffs averaging 12 points per game as a starter. And despite how talented they are, the Celtics have struggled to function as a team which was evident all season. Despite sweeping their first round match up, the Victor Oladipo-less Indiana Pacers, the Boston team had to claw their way to a victory in each game.
This leaves the Milwaukee Bucks who not only boast MVP-hopeful Giannis Antetokounmpo but also the best overall record in the NBA, earning them home court advantage throughout the playoffs. While playing at home, the Bucks were the second best team, losing only 8 games. They seem to be the most talented team from the East and it’ll be difficult for the Warriors to defend against Antetokounmpo.
But despite also having All-Star Khris Middleton along with other quality players, will they have enough to compete with the Warriors? A potential matchup with the defending champions will have to wait until the end of the month as both teams still have other competition to get through first.
Note: All statistics, predictions, and analyses are based off of gameplay up to 7 May 2019, 8:00 P.M. EST.