Twelve days after the conclusion of March Madness, the NBA playoffs are set to take the world by storm. The greatest players in the world are ready to make a run for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. 16 teams are in contention, eight from each conference, but in many fans’ eyes, there are only 5 legitimate contenders.
The Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and the reigning NBA champions, Golden State Warriors, are all favorites to win the championship. All of these teams were successful in the regular season, but only time will tell which teams, and their stars, will be able to shine at the most important time of the season.
The Boston Celtics were guided by Kyrie Irving, who demanded a trade away from Cleveland this past summer. His 24.4 points and five assists per night propelled the Celtics to the second seed in the Eastern conference, and the 4th best record in the NBA. Unfortunately, after a second surgery on his knee, Irving’s return was delayed until next season, robbing Boston of its top player.
“At first I thought the Celtics would reach the finals, but without Kyrie, who knows if they will even make it out of the first round” Hills’ student Kyle Dipasupil said.
The injury means the Celtics will be led by young, emerging stars in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum, a rookie out of Duke University, is enjoying a successful opening campaign in the league, averaging 14 points a game. Brown, a second year player out of Cal-Berkeley, is experiencing a breakout season, averaging about 15 points and five rebounds a game. Although injuries may have ruined their chances this year, this team seems bound to reach the finals at least once in years to come.
The Toronto Raptors, the top seed in the Eastern Conference, are lead by Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry. Averaging roughly 26 and 16 points per game, respectively, they spearhead a highly powered offense that averaged about 111 points a game during the season, sitting at 3rd most in the league. The Raptors had a spike in wins this past season, winning eight more games than last season. But, throughout this team’s tenure, they have had a tendency to wilt under the pressure of the NBA playoffs. Still, some people maintain hope in them.
“I think their backcourt will be lethal in the postseason. That and their home court advantage will carry them to at least the Eastern Conference finals” Sophomore, Eric Traub said.
The Raptors will have to prove they belong and deserve the top overall seed and will look to hoist up the Larry O’Brien trophy by the end of the playoffs.
The Houston Rockets possess the top seed in the Western Conference. The Rockets have the best offense in the league, led by MVP candidate James Harden, who averaged a league high 30.4 points and 8.8 assists per game. His running partner, Chris Paul, averaged 18.6 points and 7.9 assists per game in his first year in Houston. Analysts questioned how two ball dominant guards could play together, but this duo quickly put these worries to rest, displaying their chemistry on and off the court. The Rockets have a strong second unit, led by Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon. The Rockets have a very strong case to win the NBA championship and must be seen as favorites.
LeBron James has willed Cleveland to the fourth seed in the East. In his 15th season, James is showing no signs of slowing down, averaging 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds and 9.1 assists a game. In what could be James’ last season in Cleveland, he will be looking to bring a 2nd championship to his hometown.
“He is the best player to ever play, it’s that simple. No way they don’t win this year” student, James Suponitsky said.
The Cavaliers will need to stay healthy, and James will need to continue to play at the highest level if they want to have a chance at returning to the final round.
The reigning NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors, are powered by Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Durant, the finals MVP last year, is having another stellar season, averaging 26.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. Klay Thompson has unsurprisingly been among the league’s best shooters, making 44% of his shots from three point range. Their leader, Stephen Curry, has been battling injuries all year, only playing in 51 games this season. He has been ruled out for the first round of the playoffs with a sprained MCL.
“They’re obviously a great team, but without Curry, they have no chance. He’s the key to everything” Sophomore, Spencer Berson said.
This could spell trouble for Golden state, as this season they are 17-14 without Curry, but are 40-10 with him on the floor. They ended the season on a sour note, losing 10 of the past 17 games they have played. The Warriors will look to get past the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and win their third championship in four years.
The past three years have seen the Cavaliers and Warriors meet in the finals; this year, that pattern may end. These teams have shown holes that haven’t been present in previous seasons, and it will contribute to what should be an entertaining few months for the NBA.