And so there were four left in the NBA Playoffs. With the conference semifinals wrapping up Sunday with the Clippers, last week’s No. 1 team, blowing a 3-1 series lead and losing their third game in a row, we’re left with four teams to rank and decide (guess) which one has the best chance of winning it all.
- Golden State Warriors
The Warriors got a little scare from the Grizzlies after they went down 2-1 in the series. They then proceeded to win three in a row by margins of 17, 20 and 13 to finish the series in six. They swept the Rockets in the regular season, and the Warriors will be looking to keep that trend going. As for how they match up against the Cavs, they split their regular-season series with Cleveland. Although their win came in a game without LeBron James on the court, I still think I like the Warriors in a hypothetical series against Cleveland. Their team seems more complete, and Stephen Curry playing against a less than 100 percent Kyrie Irving isn’t a good thing for Cleveland fans.
- Cleveland Cavaliers
Death, taxes and LeBron in the Finals. These are the inevitabilities of life these days. Until another contender emerges in the East, it seems like LeBron and Co. are going to be representing the Eastern Conference for years to come. The Bulls put up a good fight and were close to grabbing Games 4 and 5, but Game 6 showed they weren’t ready to challenge Cleveland’s superiority in the East. The Cavs are banged up with Kyrie battling foot and knee injuries, and K-Love is out for the season, but this team still has LeBron James, and that counts for a lot right now.
- Houston Rockets
- Atlanta Hawks
These teams are the odd men out. I don’t think either will play in the Finals, but of the two, I still feel the Rockets are the more talented team with a better chance of taking down their potential Finals opponent in the Cavs. The Hawks would likely be playing the Warriors in a series that might break several three-point records, and could lead to Charles Barkley insisting that neither team can win the series because jump-shots are the devil. If the Hawks and Rockets played each other, I don’t know who on Atlanta would cover James Harden. Thabo Sefolosha would have been the choice before his injury, but now the task will be on either DeMarre Carroll, who might be too big, or Kyle Korver, who’s 34 and has never been known as a defensive stopper, even though he’s a bit underrated in that area.
Neither of these teams is looking ahead, however, because they have a tough enough road in front of them and have to focus on the series at hand. By beating the Clippers three times in a row, the Rockets showed they deserve to be in the conversation for Finals teams. By beating the Wizards while John Wall had a broken hand, the Hawks have only proved that they’re better than the mediocrity of the East. Until they prove themselves against the Cavs in the series to come, I’m leaving them on the bottom of this list.