With the NBA’s regular season in the books, fans can start counting the weeks until a new (or maybe the same) champion is crowned. Yes, ‘weeks’ and not ‘days’ because the playoffs are often referred to as the ‘second season’ for a reason.
While many fans do appreciate the level of excellence that the Golden State Warriors have exhibited over the last few years, there are many more who would like to see someone win. They would rather see someone else battling it out with the winner of the Eastern Conference in the Finals.
But the Warriors are the team to beat this year just like they have been for the last four. According to oddsmakers at BetOnline.ag, they will likely be the last team standing once again:
- Golden State Warriors -275
- Denver Nuggets +5000
- Oklahoma City Thunder +2500
- Houston Rockets +275
- Utah Jazz +5000
- San Antonio Spurs +5000
- Portland Trail Blazers +3300
- Los Angeles Clippers +50000
If what we saw in Game One of each respective first-round series is an indication, then Golden State could very well be one of the two teams battling it out in the conference finals. The Clippers were not expected to give them much of a fight, and it is safe to say that they didn’t. However, they will face some fierce competition in the semi-final round.
Denver played unexpectedly well for much of the season but did struggle some towards the end. Unless they can figure out how to decipher the Spurs defense, they are going to get upset in the first round.
That would mean San Antonio would face the Warriors in the semi-final round. While the Spurs defense will make the Warriors work for it, San Antonio doesn’t have enough offense to defeat the Warriors in a seven-game series.
There is a very good chance the 6-seed could upset the 3-seed this year as well. With Paul George still dealing with a sore shoulder, he wasn’t the kind of scoring threat the Thunder need him to be against Portland. Russell Westbrook is a tremendous player, but he isn’t going to carry the Thunder to a win over the Trail Blazers on his own.
Portland, like San Antonio, would present the Warriors with a challenge; they split the season series with Golden State this year. But like the Spurs, the Trail Blazers do not have the kind of firepower it takes to beat the Warriors in a playoff series.
That leaves either the Houston Rockets or the Utah Jazz.
Utah is not going to make it past the Rockets. On the off chance they do, then yes—Golden State will win the West. However, should the Rockets make it past the Jazz, the road gets a bit rockier for the Warriors.
The Rockets did beat them in three of their four regular season games this year. In the one loss, Golden State was in control for most of the game. But Houston nearly made a valiant comeback in the final seconds of the game.
Had the Rockets not lost Chris Paul to an injury late in Game Five of the Western Conference Finals last year, Houston might have taken the Warriors down then. With Houston playing stellar defense in recent weeks and still scoring at a torrid pace, it is not hard to imagine them dethroning the Warriors this season.
There is some risk to taking Houston over Golden State, but when they win, there will also be more reward.