Cavaliers in 6
Here we go again; it is the same two teams in a different year, as the Cleveland Cavaliers seeking a trip to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season will have to do so by going through the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight season. Both teams are completely different, as a trade between the two teams sent Kyrie Irving from Cleveland to Boston, creating a possible power shift in the East. Unfortunately, due to a season-ending knee injury, Kyrie will not be on the floor to go one on one against LeBron James.
The Boston Celtics have been the Cinderella team of the 2018 Postseason. While they posted the second-best record in the Eastern Conference at 55-27. However, the Celtics have had to battle through injuries throughout the postseason. After using 18 different starting lineups in the regular season, Coach Brad Stevens has continued to work anybody and everybody into the lineup and it has worked as the Celtics survived a seven-game series with the Bucks, and beat the 76ers in five. For Boston, players like Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum have emerged as the postseason heroes without Kyrie creating the type of team that has become resilient and resourceful.
The Cleveland Cavaliers meanwhile is about one man, LeBron James, who has carried the team to the conference finals as he seeks to play in the NBA Finals for the eighth straight season. After finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 50-32, the Cavaliers survived a serious scare against the Pacers in the first round, winning in seven games. The second round was much easier as they Raptors acted as if LeBron was Thanos and turned to dust after posting the best record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.
If the Cavaliers go on to win the NBA Championship, LeBron James could forever cement himself among the NBA’s Mount Rushmore. In the first two round, LeBron has at times been the only player with a pulse as he is nearly averaging a Triple Double with 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9.0 assists per game. LeBron has been unstoppable in the clutch, winning two games at the buzzer.
The series will come down in the end to the Celtics defense and team play against the one man LeBron James show. The Celtics have gotten strong performances from several players throughout the playoffs, but to beat the Cavaliers they will have to stop LeBron from taking over for Cleveland. If only Boston had Kyrie Irving for this series, things would be different. It is unbelievable they made it this far, but against a player like LeBron James, it is hard to imagine that being able to continue, especially when LeBron gets all the calls from the referees, which will blunt what Boston does on defense as the Cavs win in six.
Warriors in 6
Over the second half of the season, the Houston Rockets smoked the NBA, between February and March the Rockets lost just once as they posted the best record in the NBA at 65-17. The defending champion Golden State Warriors meanwhile finished the season in cruise control at 58-24 as they dealt with injuries and the pressure of winning another title. For both teams, the true test will be the Western Conference Finals, as this is the most anticipated matchup of the 2018 NBA Postseason, with most experts viewing it as a defacto NBA Championship Series, as the winner will be an overwhelming favorite in the NBA Finals.
For Houston, their Rocketman is James Harden, who was the NBA’s leading champion, with 30.4 points per game, this coming a season after he led the league in assists per game with 11.2 apg in 2017. Harden is the favorite to win the NBA MVP, due to the Rockets rise to the top of the Western Conference. In the playoffs Harden, scoring is down slightly as he has posted 28.5 ppg as the Rockets needed just five games to beat both the Timberwolves and Jazz on the way to the Conference Finals. One reason, Harden has scored less, is Chris Paul has scored more, averaging 21.8 ppg. For Paul, the postseason has been a big test, as he has to overcome the perception of being a player who shrinks under the spotlight. If the Rockets are to win the series, they will need Paul and Harden to both be at their best.
The Warriors have been here before. Seeking a third NBA Championship in four years, Golden State knows that this is the time to find an extra gear and take away teams will and energy. Two years ago, they spent too much energy winning 73 games in the regular season and ran out of gas as they blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Last season it was pure domination as they won their first 15-playoff games and lost just once on the way to regaining their crown. The Warriors have lost twice this postseason already, but in beating both the Spurs and Pelicans in five games. This was largely done without Stephan Curry who sat out the first round with an injury. As their series with the Pelicans came to an end, Curry began to look healthy again, which does not bode well for the rest of the league.
Chris Paul has never performed well against Stephen Curry, add Harden and Kevin Durant and you can see why the Warriors are confident they will again reach the NBA Finals. During the current four-year run this is the first time they do not have the home court edge, but that will not matter. Look for Curry and Durant to steal one of the first two games in Houston and control the series the rest of the way as they win in six games.