(Golden State Warriors after winning 2017-18 NBA Championship)
Since 2015, The Golden State Warriors have been playing in the NBA Finals, winning it three out of the four times they have been there, including two straight Championships. Which means they are in the hunt for the NBA’s first 3-Peat since the 2000-2002 Los Angeles Lakers. And for the first time since their Finals run began, they won’t have to deal with a certain player named Lebron James. This isn’t the first team to flirt with a 3-Peat since 2002, in 2011, the Lakers were chasing their third straight title but got knocked out in the Western Conference Finals by Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks. Again, in 2014 the Miami Heat, the NBA’s first super team, we’re trying to win their third straight Finals appearance but were knocked off by the San Antonio Spurs.
What’s to say that won’t happen again this year, yet another 3-Peat bid wrecked by another team? It is worth noting that the previous two were upset by teams with their championship windows closing. Could it be the 76ers, who may lose 2 of their 4 best players to free agency, or the Rockets with an old Chris Paul who is withering away more and more by the day? Or could it be a team who has a bright future ahead of them, like the Milwaukee Bucks with a young Superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo? It is hard to say especially since there are no other teams that possess the star power that the Warriors do, but we have seen crazier things throughout the years when it comes to taking it all home.
I will be breaking down each team’s potential road to the finals and to hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy, along with how they would fare in a series against the Golden State Warriors. Going through some individual matchups and players who will have to put their team’s on their backs to try and make it happen.
Los Angeles Clippers
(Patrick Beverly guarded by Steph Curry.)
We begin with the Warriors’ first round matchup with Los Angeles. The Clippers are a giant question mark, they probably don’t even know what they’re capable of, and this team is a band of misfits that shouldn’t be playing in the playoffs but somehow got there. This is a Clippers team who traded away its two best players and lost another via free agency. If you could make a team out of only players who you think would be the top-5 for Sixth Man of the Year, this would be it. They are led by Lou Williams, Patrick Beverly and Danilo Gallinari, this is probably going to be a short series. I hate writing off the Clippers after they were written off all season, but Golden State is just too much.
Steph Curry vs Pat Beverly, Beverly might be able to get in his head. Who’s going to guard Kevin Durant? Danilo Gallinari, I don’t think so. Those two matchup nightmares are enough for me to call it 4-0 Golden State, the Warriors lineup is too much and the Clippers will not be the ones to take the Warriors out of contention.
(James Harden on the left and Chris Paul on the right)
The Rockets play the Jazz in the first round of the playoffs and already have a lead on them. Realistically, the Rockets should advance to the second round because they are the better team in the series. Which would line them up for a series against the Golden State Warriors. We saw this matchup last year in the Western Conference Finals, and it went seven games and the Rockets had themselves in position to defeat the Warriors but Chris Paul was injured and did not play the last two games.
This year, Paul has to stay healthy the whole series and play like vintage Chris Paul so the Rockets can stay on the same pace as the Dubs. James Harden must pour in his yearly average of points or more to give the Rockets a chance at winning. Clint Capela must be able to keep a grip on Demarcus Cousins, Cousins is a much bigger player than Capela but he must be able to slow him down. (Cousins out with torn quad) As for Kevin Durant, if P.J. Tucker cannot do his part and play good defense on him, the series might as well be over from the start.
I still don’t think that the Rockets are the team to beat Golden State, but they present the biggest threat to them in the Western Conference, Warriors take this series in 7 games, but Game 7 this time around is started by Chris Paul and he helps take the game to OT, but Golden State pulls away after regulation moving onto the next round. Cousins being out helps the Rockets case for beating the Warriors. Houston is the first on my list to be named a team that could beat the Warriors, one of five.
(From left to right, Rudy Gobert, Ricky Rubio, Donovan Mitchell)
In round one the Utah Jazz face the task of playing the Houston Rockets, which is very hard thing to do, as they found out last year. The Jazz have another year of experience under their belts and can hang with most teams in the NBA. Rudy Gobert is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Donovan Mitchell is coming into his own as a very efficient scorer and Ricky Rubio is doing a pretty good job this year. They are already down in the series to Houston and they need to come back immediately so they don’t have to play from behind or get swept.
From the looks of game one, Ricky Rubio is guarding James Harden and not doing the best job at it, and Mitchell is hitting less than half of his shots, he needs to bump those numbers up. Gobert is out rebounding people and scoring very efficiently at the rim. But the Rockets are too much for them. Say the Jazz moved on to play Golden State in round two, how would they fare? Well to be completely honest, the Warriors would probably eat them alive, Steph Curry would be way too much for Ricky Rubio to handle on defense, and then Donovan Mitchell would have a fair matchup with Klay Thompson, but he might let some open threes hit on the defensive end. Putting Gobert on Kevon Looney or Andrew Bogut would work in the Jazz’s favor, but Derrick Favors is not a good player to contain Draymond Green on either end of the court.
If the Jazz were to move on to the second round to play the Warriors, they would be simply overwhelmed and could not put up a big enough fight to take them down. Golden State would take this series in four or five games.
(From left to right, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray)
The Denver Nuggets take on the San Antonio Spurs in round one, where they took a loss in game one. The Nuggets are a young team without a whole lot of playoff experience, with 3 of their starting 5 never playing in a playoff game before this series. Taking on San Antonio is a challenge as long as Coach Popovich is in town, and The Spurs won’t give the Nuggets the series easily, but I can see Denver pulling it off in about six games.
If they were to advance to the next round, the Nuggets would play either the Trailblazers or the Thunder, both of those teams being very hard to beat as well. Jamal Murray would have his hands full with either Damien Lilliard or Russell Westbrook and would be overmatched. They do have an advantage with Jokic in both scenarios, because Jokic is already one of the best big men in the league. Gary Harris has turned into a fine SG and could have a good series against either OKC or Portland being guarded by C.J. McCollum or Terrance Ferguson but could hold his own in those matchups.
If the Nuggets managed to make it past the Spurs and through both scenarios listed above, they would go on to the scenario where they play Golden State in the Western Conference Finals. Not to take anything away from Jamal Murray, but he would be no match for Steph Curry, and the Nuggets have no match on their roster for KD and Draymond Green, leading them to become overwhelmed and take a hard L. I would give this potential series to Golden State in five games.
San Antonio Spurs
(LaMarcus Aldridge on the left, Demar DeRozan on the right)
The San Antonio Spurs are always relevant as long as they have Gregg Popovich at the helm. This year they are only a 7-seed and take on the Denver Nuggets, where they took game one. The Spurs have a very decent team this year with the addition of Demar DeRozan. And LaMarcus Aldridge has been playing very good basketball this season, along with Derrick White who is seeming to come into his own as a starting PG. This team does lack a true third option that the other playoff teams have. The Nuggets in round one won’t be an easy defeat, but somebody has to keep Jokic from getting a triple double every night and they must score more to win the series.
If the Spurs went on to win against the Nuggets they would play either Portland or Oklahoma City, who are experienced teams just like the Spurs. Ultimately the Spurs would have a good shot at beating the Trailblazers due to mismatches with Demar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge., but if they went on to play OKC, they would have their hands tied with Russell Westbrook and slowing down his attacking mentality. Paul George plays top shelf defense so DeRozan’s matchup wouldn’t be the easiest.
Now if there were a potential Spurs-Warriors WCF, this could go in a few different directions. The Warriors have the star power to trump the Spurs in 4 games, but we see how well the Clippers’ rag tag team has put up a fight. So why can’t Pop’s team put up that same fight, DeRozan vs Durant would be really fun to watch. But The Spurs just don’t have what it takes this year. The Warriors’ third straight finals appearance would not be interrupted by this year’s Spurs team.
(C.J. McCollum on the left, Damian Lilliard on the right)
Rip City has long had trouble in the playoffs, they have won just 2 playoff series in the Lilliard Era. But right now they have a lead on the Thunder in round one, and don’t seem to be slowing down. Damian Lilliard and C.J. McCollum combined for 54 in game one and 62 in game two, these two are on fire right now.
The Trailblazers are playing the best basketball right now, especially with Enes Kanter filling in for Jusuf Nurkic very nicely, they have a very complete team who is a force to be reckoned with in the West. This team could take on any team and take them. With arguably the best backcourt in basketball, and a very good two way big man, with good role players to fill in to become a great all around team.
If the Blazers played the Warriors right now, how they are playing, the Blazers might be able to take them to a game seven and have a good shot at coming away victorious. Wouldn’t that be something, Brother, Seth Curry draining a 3 in the closing seconds of game seven to send his more popular brother Steph home while Portland advances to the Finals. Portland is probably the most all around team to have a chance at beating Golden State.
Oklahoma City Thunder
(From left to right, Paul George, Russell Westbrook and Steven Adams)
Oklahoma City is a great attacking and defending team, they have a slashing point guard and a defensive player of the year candidate in Paul George, along with a fearless big man in the center. The Thunder are currently down 0-2 to the Portland Trailblazers who are playing incredible basketball right now. If OKC can find a way to come back from the deficit, they should be in decent position.
The Thunder have a good starting lineup, starting with Russell Westbrook, he is an all-around player who pads his stat sheets every night, he is a matchup nightmare with most point guards around the league, if they won here, they would play San Antonio or Denver, both of whom have weaker lineups. Paul George had himself a top-3 MVP caliber season and Steven Adams was, well, Steven Adams and anchored under the basket.
We have seen the Thunder reach the conference finals and even the Finals before, but without KD, they haven’t been nearly the same team. So if they got to the conference finals and face KD and the Warriors, they might be a little overwhelmed. Russ hasn’t played the best defense so far this post-season and they still don’t have enough bodies to cover the superstar lineup that is the Golden State Warriors. But the Paul George vs Kevin Durant matchup would be one for the legends, they are both phenomenal players and would be amazing to watch. Regardless, The Thunder are probably not the team to beat Golden State this year.
(Khris Middleton on the left, Giannis Antetokounmpo on the right)
The Milwaukee Bucks have had themselves a great season, they led the NBA in wins, they have a potential MVP, they brought in a great big man to compliment Giannis, and have a good backcourt of their own. The Bucks are up 2-0 on the Pistons right now and are just throttling them. All season, the Bucks have been putting all their weight on the accelerator and are not letting up in the playoffs. The Pistons look like a JV squad right now compared to Milwaukee.
The Bucks will have a testing road if they want to make the finals and win it all, basically digging a six foot hole for the Pistons right now, they would take on either the Celtics or the Pacers, either of those teams wouldn’t matchup well either. Sure the Celtics have Kyrie and Tatum, but they won’t be able to slow down Giannis and Co. Meanwhie the Pacers have been excellent on defense this season, but they still don’t have the team necessary to beat the Bucks.
Imagining a Bucks-Warriors NBA Finals, it looks fun, but it reminds me a lot of Lebron James in Cleveland taking on the Dubs in the finals for 4 years straight, on superstar, and four that aren’t quite there yet, Minus Kyrie, he was a star. The Bucks would be relying heavily on Giannis to do the dirty work and hope that Brogdon or Middleton could pick up the slack in dealing with the other Warriors players. The Bucks could win this, the Bucks are one of five teams with what it takes.
(Andre Drummond on the left, Blake Griffin on the Right)
I don’t see it, I don’t see how Detroit played so good and so bad this season. Without Blake Griffin on the court they are a completely different team, they’re not bad, but they aren’t quite a playoff team. They are down 0-2 to the Bucks and if Blake Griffin doesn’t come back they won’t have a fighting chance. Even with Blake, they might not be able to match the Bucks in this round.
The Pistons have a very particular game plan, they get the ball to their best player, Blake Griffin, they give him the ball most of the time, or he swings the ball back to Reggie Jackson and he swings it out to the wing to Wayne Ellington to shoot a three. Don’t get me wrong, when the Pistons are hot from three, they are in a prime spot to win. Andre Drummond led the league in rebounds and has had multiple 20-20 games, but above average starting center isn’t enough in this league to win a championship.
The Pistons are not the team to beat the Warriors this year, they aren’t even the team to make it out of the first round, especially playing the one seed. Sorry Pistons fans, but it’s not happening this year, try again later.
(Kyle Lowry on the left, Kawhi Leonard on the right)
The Raptors are currently up on the magic right now, but the biggest part of the game one loss was due in large part to Lowry shooting 0-7 from the field and that just cannot happen again, so he shot 8-13 in game two and scored 22 points. I was so ready to jump on the train of Lowry being one of the worst shooters in NBA playoff history, but he redeemed himself. Then looking at Kawhi Leonard, he could have the al;-around skills in the NBA if you include his laugh. Kawhi Leonard is playing lights out so far this postseason and could lead the Raptors over any opponent they face in the East no problem.
Kawhi is averaging 31 points through two games and as long as he has a little support from his team the Raptors should keep it up and take care of the Magic. Leading them to potential matchups with the Nets or the 76ers, one route being a little easier than the other. But with the 76ers the Raptors would have their hands full with the star studded lineup, but The Raptors have been one of the best teams in the league for a reason.
If they Raptors make the Finals, whoever they face, they will have work to do, Lowry will have to have his food blended before he eats it so he doesn’t choke, and Leonard will have to play how he did as a young buck in San Antonio in 2014 to take come the cake. The Raptors make my final list of five teams with what it takes to take over as NBA Champions, going through the Warriors or not.
(Terrance Ross on the left, Aaron Gordon on the right)
As it stands right now, the Magic are down in their series with the Raptors and it looks as if they had their best game of the playoffs in game one. D.J Augustin played one of the best games of his playoff career and led the Magic to a win over a team with Kyle Lowry MIA. This squad with Augustin, Gordon and Vecevic is a good team and if they were playing someone else they might have a better chance. But they have a lot to work on if they expect to have a chance of beating the Raptors.
Their potential second round matchup against the 76ers or Nets might fare a little better, but those teams are pretty good themselves, but a D.J. Augustin D-Lo matchup would be an offensive sight to see, or seeing how they would hold up against Philly if they faced them and their four star players. But the Magic aren’t a good enough team to do much damage in this year’s playoffs.
If they manage to make it to round two, they would have a lot to get over, inexperience would be the main thing, and not having enough playmakers would be a close second. The Magic do not look like a championship contender, so they are out.
(From left to right, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris, Jimmy Butler)
Man, this year’s 76ers team can do some damage as long as they can all stay on the court and not get distracted by cell phones in the middle of games. In their first round series with the Nets they are up and can pull away if they stay focused. This team was already good with Simmons, Embiid, and Butler and now add in trade deadline acquisition Tobias Harris and Boban Marjanovic and now you have a team that has unlimited potential.
In game two Joel Embiid had a double-double and Ben Simmons had a triple-double, and that fueled the Sixers to a 22 point win. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons are huge mismatches due to their size, athleticism for the positions they play. They would have a positional advantage over their second round opponents, neither the Raptors nor Magic have a lineup capable with hanging with the Sixers, but the Raptors do possess a superstar who could pick them apart.
If Philadelphia made it to the Finals they would have a good shot at winning, as I said in the beginning, this is a team with a potentially small championship window because of free agency this offseason, so if they are going to win it has to be now. They could go blow for blow with the Warriors, they have the lineup to do it, and could be one of five teams to take over as Champions of the NBA.
You have to give credit where it’s due, and the Nets deserve credit for becoming an entirely different team this year. D’Angelo Russell is the Most Improved Player if you ask me, he went from living up to his bust label to becoming an up and coming superstar in this league, yet he isn’t there yet. But outside of him, the Nets don’t have another player who is top-15 at his position so they may be overwhelmed in the playoffs.
The Nets beat the Sixers in game one, but if they don’t get a little help from the Sixers beating themselves, then they won’t make it too far. D-Lo is a better scorer than Simmons, but Simmons is a one of a kind passer and playmaker, the next best player on the Nets is probably Caris Levert, who is somewhat of an inconsistent guard. They have no match for the other positions of this 76ers team.
If they did advance somehow to play the Raptors, they would have a new level of pain coming from Toronto, who would beat them 9/10 times. So what I am saying is that the Nets have a slim to none chance of winning the Finals, let alone making it there.
(Jayson Tatum on the left, Kyrie Irving on the right)
As it stands the Celtics are up against the Pacers and on paper, outmatch them in almost every aspect, they have the better point guard, and shooting guard, power forward and until Gordon Heyward gets back to his old self they’re about even with that position. They have some kinks to work out in round one before they potentially take on the Bucks in round two.
If that matchup were to happen the Celtics are the more complete team, but the Bucks play better on the court for 48 minutes. Jayson Tatum is a very good young forward, but he would be simply overmatched by Giannis and would need the rest of the team to step up. Uncle Drew is a very clutch player when it comes to the playoffs, he could put the team on his back and make something happen.
The Celtics are one of the best teams in the East, as they usually are, but something is going to happen and shoot their chances in the foot, Kyrie will miss games, or Marcus Smart’s absence will hit them harder than they initially expected, and they do not make my list to possibly win their first NBA Title in 11 years.
(Myles Turner on the left and Bojan Bogdanovic on the right)
In round one the Indiana Pacers are down to the Celtics, and they have some making up to do if they are going to beat them. The Pacers are doing very well on defense this season, they just need to score the ball more if they are going to beat the Celtics. It really hurts having Victor Oladipo out for the year, they could really use their best player right now.
In their series against the Celtics, they have been mismatched and just not playing how they should for a team who finished the year ranked 1st in points allowed per game, they need to score more too, whether it be Bogdanovic, Sabonis or Thaddeus Young, they need to score more so they can beat someone. But allowing Marcus Morris to score 20 points in game one is unacceptable. It would be surprising to see them advance to round two, but let’s play along as if they did.
They would likely play Milwaukee, who finished first in points scored would be a real test for the Pacers. But I really don’t see the Pacers doing much damage to the Bucks let alone anyone else in the playoffs this year, maybe if they had Oladipo on the floor things would be different, but they don’t not this season.
Who has what it takes?
So what we have established here throughout the article is that there are five teams in the league this year that can contend and potentially win the NBA Title.
Those teams (in no order) are The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors, Philadelphia 76ers, Houston Rockets and the Portland Trailblazers. Each of those teams possesses either the star power, supporting cast, or coaching to get it done, if not all three. Each of these five teams can score the basketball from anywhere on the court, they can shut down elite talents while on the defensive side of the ball, and can or have lived up to or outplayed all of their expectations for the season as it stands, and will come very close to making it happen, this could be the year that the Warriors are knocked off of their throne, it is just a matter of who can do it and when.
Best of luck to the Warriors’ in their quest of a 3-peat, they are truly one of the greatest teams to be assembled and have had a good run over the last four years, they deserve recognition. But there is always someone not too far behind and the Dubs need to realize that if they are going to win again.