Monday, May 14, 2018

2018 NBA Conference Finals

NBA Conference Finals
ESPN Illustration

The 2018 NBA Conference Finals are almost a repeat of last year’s conference finals.  In the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers will be taking on the Boston Celtics again in an effort to reach the NBA Finals.  Cleveland faced a much tougher road this year on their path to the conference finals.  As a #4 seed they faced the #5 seed Indiana Pacers in the first round.  It took seven games and a valiant effort on the part of LeBron James to secure the victory to move to the second round.  Shockingly, the Cleveland Cavaliers were able to sweep the second round series against the #1 seed Toronto Raptors.  That victory gave them a little more time to rest and get ready for a rematch against the Boston Celtics.  The Cavaliers are seeking an opportunity to play in their fourth consecutive NBA Finals. 

Despite acquiring all-star point guard Kyrie Irving from the Cleveland Cavaliers this season, the Celtics have been unable to take advantage of his talent and scoring ability due to injury during the playoffs. They faced a first-round challenge identical to the Cavaliers needing seven games to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks.  The second round was also similar to the Cavaliers as the Boston Celtics only lost one game against the Philadelphia 76ers (4-1).  The similar path to the Eastern Conference Finals and the familiarity from playing one another last year set the stage for a great, competitive matchup to reach the NBA Finals.

In the Western Conference, the #1 seed Houston Rockets have played like the top seed throughout the playoffs.  They only dropped one game to both their first round (Minnesota Timberwolves) and second round (Utah Jazz) opponents.  Houston lost in the second round last year to the San Antonio Spurs (4-2) so they were hungry to make their way into the Western Conference Finals.  Also, as the #1 seed, they have home-court advantage against the #2 seed Golden State Warriors, a position the Warriors haven't found themselves in over the last three seasons when they led the Western Conference in wins.

For the Golden State Warriors, it’s Groundhog Day, been there, done that.  They will face a tough challenge against the high scoring duo of James Harden (28.5) and Chris Paul (21.8) who average a combined 50 points per game.  The bright side for Golden State is the return of 2-time NBA MVP Steph Curry who missed the first round due to a knee injury.  He came off the bench during Game 2 of the second round and managed to finish the game with 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists.  Like Houston, the Golden State Warriors only lost one game in the first (San Antonio Spurs) and second round (New Orleans Pelicans).  As in the Eastern Conference, the similar path to the Western Conference Finals should find these teams playing their best with Golden State trying to reach the NBA Finals for a fourth straight year and Houston trying to get there for the first time in over 20 years.

The elephant in the room is a potential fourth consecutive NBA Finals featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.  The Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets will do everything they can to prevent that from happening.  No matter who emerges, we will have some exciting basketball games to watch this week.  Enjoy the games.

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