In the past three seasons, two teams, Cleveland and Golden State, have basically run the NBA. However, last year the Boston Celtics made a surprising run to claim the top seed in the East, and obviously you can never count out San Antonio. With the season approaching, it seems like the talks are the same. But is that fair to the rest of the league? Nope. And here’s why.
In the West, the gauntlet is more challenging than that of the East. San Antonio is always in the discussion, but two teams got even better this year that could knock these giants from the top.
The first team was a pretender last season despite its record, the Houston Rockets. Sure, they had the third-best record in the NBA with the MVP runner-up sporting their jersey, but if you thought they were a true title contender, then you don’t know much about basketball. Sorry, not sorry.
As good as James Harden was, that team was not ready for the heavyweight bout of the playoffs. They play no defense and relied solely on one player to do everything. Case and point, Harden excreted way too much energy throughout the season and first round of the playoffs that he clearly ran out of gas, causing his squad to lose to the Spurs in the second round.
This year they’ve retooled. Despite losing a few key bench players, they maintained their core and added superstar point guard Chris Paul. It will take a while for Paul and Harden to learn how to play with each other, seeing how they’re both ball dominant guards, so don’t be shocked when they get off to a rocky start. Remember, the goal of the season is not to be amazing in October and November, but to be the best team in April, May and June.
These two will be able to figure it all out come playoff time, and with an offense run by Mike D’Antoni, they’ll be able to keep pace with the Warriors. Let’s just hope they learn a little bit of defense.
The second team in the West will be the OKC Thunder. Sporting the reigning MVP, Russell Westbrook, and a new comer by the name of Paul George, the Thunder have gone all-in this year. Westbrook, the first player since Oscar Robinson to average a triple-double in a single season, and George can absolutely carry a team.
The mentality of the Thunder is physicality, so if coach Billy Donovan can continue this recipe of championship basketball, the odds of a thunderstorm increase.
Carmelo Anthony said Russell Westbrook was a big reason why he wanted to come to OKC: pic.twitter.com/HwFVRbS3mF
— Erik Horne (@ErikHorneOK) September 25, 2017
And they’ve added 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony, who’s unguardable when his shot is falling.
The East is much less daunting than the West. LeBron James has owned the East for the past seven seasons, and despite this looking like his last year of his reign, the Cavs will still make it back to the Finals. Although that doesn’t mean there isn’t a team, other than the Celtics, that could push the defending Eastern Conference Champs to the brink of elimination.
The only team with the potential to do that is the Washington Wizards. The Cavs’ biggest weakness is teams with ball dominant guards, and the Wizards have two of them.
Kyrie was never the best defending point guard in the league, and although Cleveland has swapped him for Isaiah Thomas, they actually just got worse defensively. Now Thomas will start the season as an injured player with no one knowing when he’ll return from a hip injury he suffered in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, so the Cavs are forced to start Derrick Rose. Uh oh is right. Yet the fact remains; even with a healthy Thomas in the playoffs, he stands no chance stopping John Wall.
There is no one in the league faster than Wall in the open floor, and that’s how the Wizards play: downhill. The Cavs have the advantage in most of the other categories, especially with LeBron on the floor, but the one-two combo of Wall and Bradley Beal will give the Cavs all they can handle. This just might be the first time we see the King and his men with their backs truly against the wall.