The long grueling NBA regular season is dwindling down to its final days. The regular season ends on April 10 and postseason play starts soon afterwards on April 13.
With less than a month left of the regular season, we have a pretty good idea on who are the main contenders for the Larry O’Brien trophy. This will be the first NBA Finals since 2014 that won’t feature a matchup between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers, as Lebron James left the Cavaliers to join the Lakers last summer and the Cavs subsequently missed the playoffs.
However, any conversation about NBA title contenders must still start and end with the Golden State Warriors, as it has for the last half-decade. It’s no surprise that the Warriors currently sit atop the tough Western Conference.
Golden State has won three of the last four NBA Championships, and have gotten even better this summer when they added All-star center Demarcus Cousins. This means that the Warriors starting five of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Cousins consists of five different players in their prime who may have a legitimate argument at making the Hall of Fame when they retire.
On top of their talent, the roster has a ton of postseason experience, has a great head coach in Steve Kerr. On top of that, they will likely have home court advantage throughout the western conference playoffs. Yes, the Warriors are struggling more than they have in recent years, but the general consensus around the league is that the Warriors are just coasting until the playoffs roll around. The team has dealt with a slew of injuries, and is focusing on getting all of their roster healthy so that they can make a push for their third title in a row and fourth in five years.
The surprising Milwaukee Bucks currently have the best record in the NBA, and will likely clinch home court advantage throughout the entirety of the NBA Playoffs. The team is led by MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, a player many believe has become the best in the league. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27 points per game with 12.6 rebounds per game, all while shooting 58% from the floor.
Antetokounmpo also has a great supporting cast in secondary All-star Khris Middleton, as well as other key pieces such as Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, and Nikola Mirotic. The Bucks have star-power and are relatively deep, but their main weakness is their inexperience when it comes to postseason play. Having home court advantage throughout the playoffs will be a nice remedy to this problem, but their inexperience could come back to haunt them.
Antetokounmpo and others on the team have never even won a postseason series, let alone an NBA title. Regular season success is one thing, but the Bucks have yet to prove that they can replicate that success in the postseason.
The Houston Rockets are another contender, led by James Harden, and are making an extremely strong push to the postseason. Harden is having an absolutely historic season, averaging 36 points per game and 7.5 assists per game. Harden and Antetokounmpo will likely duel to the regular season’s finish to determine who is the league’s MVP.
However, the Rockets talent doesn’t stop at Harden. Harden is also joined by future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and star center Clint Capela.
Houston have one of the best offenses in the league, and certainly have the talent to win a title. Their coach, offensive genius and reigning Coach of the Year, Mike Dantoni, can gameplan for just about any team and can ensure that his stars get the shots they need. In fact, the Rockets took the Warriors to seven games in last year’s playoffs, and were extremely close to ending the Warriors’ dynasty.
However, the Rockets aren’t a particularly strong defensive team, something opponents in the postseason will likely exploit. In addition, James Harden and the rest of the Rockets are reliant on getting to the free-throw line, and the referees are known to be a little more conservative with their whistles in the postseason. Still, James Harden is a threat to drop 60 points on any given night and has plenty of talent around him, making the Rockets a legitimate contender for the title.
One of the main contenders in the Eastern Conference is the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors are led by two-way star Kawhi Leonard, a player who is adept at both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Leonard is joined by fellow All-star Kyle Lowry, forming a talented duo that few in the league can match.
The Raptors also have a deep supporting cast, as Leonard and Lowry are joined by Most-Improved Player candidate Pascal Siakam. Other key contributors to the team include veteran Serge Ibaka and the recently acquired Marc Gasol.
This roster also has a lot of postseason experience, meaning that they won’t shy away from the big stage. Toronto has struggled to make it through the East in the past few years, as they are always eliminated by James during his time with Miami and Cleveland. However with James out of the Eastern Conference it may just be Toronto’s year to go all the way.
Making it out of the Eastern Conference will be rough for the Raptors with the presence of strong teams like the Bucks and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The 76ers are owners of some of the best young talent in the NBA in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The rest of the starting five includes star Jimmy Butler and solid contributors in JJ Reddick and the recently acquired Tobias Harris. Philadelphia’s starting five is one of the best in the league, making them a serious contender for the title.
However, the roster is still young and relatively inexperienced when it comes to postseason success. In addition, their bench is suspect meaning their starters will have to play a lot of minutes, something that could take a toll over the course of a seven game series. Despite this, don’t be surprised if Philly’s young core pushes the team to a deep postseason run.
Winning four best of seven series in order to secure the NBA title is never an easy task, but this year it seems especially difficult. The NBA has been criticized for a lack of parity in years past, but this year there seems to be an abundance of contenders for the title. After four years of Cavaliers-Warriors finals it will be nice to see a new Finals matchup, and it will be intriguing to see which team stands atop the league in the end.
Golden State Warriors
Golden State Warriors