Well folks, its almost time for the pinnacle of the basketball season: the NBA Finals. But, before we get there, the Conference Finals must be decided to see who will be in championship round. The four teams on this list were all perceived favorites before the season but each squad has at least one interesting back story surrounding them leading into their prospective series. That being said, here are the cases for each team to advance along with my predictions for each third round matchup.
Houston Rockets vs. Golden State Warriors
Houston: This year’s Rockets season is one of firsts. Their coach Mike D’Antoni is going to his first Conference Finals in over ten years. Their star James Harden looks to be in line for his first MVP after being a runner-up for many years. Most importantly though, their star guard Chris Paul ascended over the mountain and will be in the Conference Finals for the first time in his 12+ year career. All three of these guys have accomplished a lot this year, but it will be all for not if they don’t make the NBA Finals. But this team is a true contender and could very well make it to the next round. The combination of Paul and Harden is one of the best in the league and both players fit their system tremendously. They are two of the best isolation scorers in the world and will be key in slowing the game down against a Warriors team that will look to run and spread them out. The true X-factor for Houston to advance, however, will be Clint Capela. Capela has played exceptionally well in this postseason with 14.4 PPG, 12.2 RPG and 2.8 BPG. He is the playoff leader in offensive rating and second in defensive rating and has outplayed some great centers in this postseason (KAT and Rudy Gobert). If Capela can continue this excellent play, he will not only be a massive matchup problem for Golden State but he will be a third guy the Rockets can rely on. All things considered, the Rockets were built for this moment and this matchup. They look ready for this moment and have a very good shot at defeating the reining NBA Champions.
Golden State: The Warriors are back in the Western Conference Finals for the fourth consecutive year and look just as good as any team they have brought to this point. Their weakly named Hampton 5 lineup is a very dominant one and have as many studs in it as an All-Star team. They will look to unleash this lineup in the Conference Finals and beyond. It will come in handy and Houston usually go with a smaller lineup with PJ Tucker and Trevor Ariza in the frontcourt. The Rockets may have the home court advantage but the Warriors have the top team tier to put them over the top in this series.
Prediction: Houston in 7
Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
Boston: The Celtics may be without their best two players in this series, but they will have their best asset with them in Brad Stevens. While Dwane Casey was not able to crack the Cavs code, Stevens is more than capable of doing so. He is without a doubt one of the best coaches in the NBA and will have what it takes to scheme around LeBron. Boston also has a roster that will fare well against Cleveland. The Celtics are full of wing players that can be thrown at James in hopes of corralling him. Guys like Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye and such will need to stay on the floor to keep James in check. Even if they can not be as productive on the offensive end, their wing defense will be extremely vital in this series if the Celtics are to win. Plus, they have some solid scorers to rely on in Scary Terry Rozier, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. Even though Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward will not make an appearance for the remainder of their season, Boston is in better shape than some realize and have just as good of a shot to represent the Eastern Conference as the Cavaliers.
Cleveland: After looking rather pedestrian in the first round, LeBron and the Cavs brought extinction to the Raptors. They looked like the contending team they have been over the past three years and look primed for another run at the Finals. James’ lack of help around him has been an obvious story line since the Irving trade but he seems to have found some solid contributors. Guys like Kevin Love (who finished his last three games with over 20 points and six rebounds) and Kyle Korver (who has averaged 2.7 three point field goals per game this postseason) will be very important to Cleveland as they are not only playing well, but have the know-how necessary to put the Cavaliers over the top. Those two along with Tristan Thompson and J.R. Smith are the only remaining guys from the past few years of Cavs success and their experience will certainly come in handy. These role players along with the newer acquisitions like George Hill and Jeff Green will help supplement what James does and doesn’t do in this series. Look for James and company to overcome Boston and make their fourth consecutive NBA Finals.
Prediction: Cleveland in 6
Shoutout to SeatGeek for sponsoring this site, use code SGSYSAK and get $20 off your first order: https://sg.app.link/teamseatgeek