With the NBA playoffs coming up in mid-April, it seems appropriate now to give my postseason outlook and weigh in on my Finals picks.
In the West, Golden State (46-11) leads divisionally as well as taking the overall No. 1 spot in the power rankings. Point guard Stephen Curry has had an absolutely breakout year, solidifying himself as one of the NBA’s most dangerous scorers.
Curry has been making a MVP argument — some may say he’s a shoe-in, but I’m not sold — with each game it seems, most recently leading his team back from a 26-point deficit by dropping 37 points of his own to win 106-101 in Boston on Sunday.
The Warriors lead the league in points (110.2) and assists (27.1) per game, though their defense has shown holes that can be exploited if you have, say, one of the greatest players of all time on your team.
Golden State fell to the Cavaliers 110-99 last week in a preview of what I think will be our NBA Finals matchup thanks to a 42-point performance from LeBron James. Curry only had 18, and if he doesn’t consistently have 25 plus his team is nowhere near the best in the league.
Cleveland (37-24) in the East is at the moment ranked 4th and is 11 games out of first place, a spot held by Atlanta (47-12).
But I still think the Cavs have the best shot of any team to make it out of the East once it comes playoff time.
The Hawk’s defense is supposed to be their key strong suit, but they’ve slacked off as of late and are currently 23rd in the league in defensive rebounding.
The Hawks distribute the ball well, but they lack a force down low that can control the boards. Paul Millsap is averaging 17 at the power forward spot, but I cannot envision him manning up on LeBron to any avail.
In fact, I think the outcome in such a matchup would be comically lopsided.
This is why the Cavs will be the team to beat in the East after the 82-game regular season wraps up.
But even King James can show chinks in his armor at times.
Cleveland lost in Houston — the third team in the West and my second favorite behind Golden State — 105-103 in overtime Sunday night after LeBron missed a pair of free throws that would have given his team the lead with 3.7 seconds left.
James was 3-for-11 at the line, and he missed seven of his final eight free throws. This was his worst percentage at the line with more than 10 attempts in his career, and performances like this are the quickest way for the Cavs to work themselves out of a title shot.
But overall I have no problem placing my faith in LeBron because bad nights are few and far between for Cleveland’s star.
He’s currently third in points per game with 26.2, trailing Harden (27) and Westbrook (26.5).
As history has shown, James combined athleticism and power down low creates such a mismatch for opponents that I don’t see anyone finding an answer once crunch time rolls around.
So I’m taking Golden State to hold on to their 4 1/2 game lead and claim the No. 1 seed in the West, fending off the Grizzlies and the Rockets, No. 2 and 3 respectively.
Curry is on a mission this year, and he’ll get his team to the Finals, where in all likelihood the Cavs and LeBron will be waiting.
Such a series might have the potential to go seven games, but I can’t picture Curry sustaining that many MVP-level performances against a healthy Cleveland team, and I see the latter taking the crown on the shoulders of LeBron.
When in doubt, always pick the best player on the floor.