What an exciting Conference Finals! It had everything: the two leading MVP candidates going toe-to-toe, comebacks that came up just a little short and an overtime elimination Game 3.
With the 2015 Conference Finals now in the books…wait, that can’t be right. My notes here clearly say the Conference Finals are over, but sure enough there have only been three games in each of these series. Well, let’s assume the conference finals are still going on and look at who has the best chance of moving on and winning the final round of the playoffs.
- Golden State Warriors
- Cleveland Cavaliers
Hot take alert: This is your finals matchup. It’s shocking, I know, but I’m calling this one early. No team in the NBA has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series, and while there are two chances for it to happen this round, I think both of these teams can win at least one out of four games against their respective opponents.
The Cavaliers are severely banged up, and need to close out their series with the Hawks ASAP so they can get some much-needed rest before the finals. LeBron’s performance last night was an impressive display of will, but he needs to be closer to 100 percent if he wants to take down the Warriors in the Finals.
Kyrie Irving will also need some time to heal, and if the Cavs drop one or two games to the Hawks, Cleveland might panic and try to rush him back on the court. The whole team could use some time to rest before the finals, the Warriors will be the best team they’ve faced throughout the entire playoffs.
The Warriors are really good, everyone. Their worst guard who sees playing time is Shaun Livingston or Leandro Barbosa, who could probably both start for every other team in the playoffs right now. However, they could never dream of cracking a starting lineup with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson on the roster. The Warriors have both depth and top end talent at the guard position, and they’re no slouches at forward either. Draymond Green has been incredible all season, filling in whatever hole he needs to, and plugging up any leaks that spring up. I expect him to cover James in the finals, and I expect he’ll be the toughest defender LeBron’s faced all postseason.
Ultimately, I have to pick the Warriors in this series that hasn’t “officially” been set in stone. Their team is strong in the one place Cleveland is weak–the guard position. Even if Kyrie can come back healthy, he’s never been a strong defensive player, and you need a strong defensive player at the point to contain Steph Curry. James has covered point guards in the past. The example that comes to mind is James stifling Derrick Rose after his MVP season in 2011. That was four years ago, and James is now 30 years old. I still think he’s the best player in the league, but I don’t think he’s still quick enough to cover a point guard as elusive as Curry. With James’ current injuries as well, I like his chances even less. I don’t think the Cavs will have the horses to win the Finals this year; LeBron has to sit sometime, and those minutes are not going to be fun for Cleveland fans.
- Houston Rockets
- Atlanta Hawks
Atlanta, you tried your hardest. You almost took a game from the Cavs to go to 2-1 and put the fear of God back in Cleveland. Instead, you lost in overtime to go down 3-0 and all but assure you’ll be going home empty handed. As for the Rockets, well, your Game 3 didn’t go so well. I’ll leave it at that.
Of the two teams, Houston has at least shown that they have the ability to come back from a big playoff deficit, and they were close to beating the Warriors in Games 1 and 2, but I don’t see it happening.
As for the Hawks, they’ve been as plagued by injuries as any other team in the playoffs. Kyle Korver appears to be out for the season, and DeMarre Carroll is also struggling with a knee injury. Even if they manage to do the unthinkable and win four in a row against Cleveland, I don’t think they’ll have enough gas in the tank to beat a fully rested and healthy Golden State. If the Rockets pull off the miracle on hardwood, they’d be facing an injury plagued Cleveland, who just seems more beatable right now.