Back in October last year when the season started we expected the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors to get back to the Finals for the third year in a row, and they are on track to do that.
The Cavs have put some twists, turns and hurdles in their path with a limp finish to the regular season. Instead of topping the seedings in the Eastern Conference they finished second to the Boston Celtics, but in truth, Cleveland could finish anywhere among the eight seeds and still be considered favourites in the Conference simply because they have Lebron James.
And sure, their 2-0 lead in the opening playoff series against the Indiana Pacers has seen wins by one point and then six points, but the Cavaliers were never under any real stress in both those games – at stages they led by as many as 18 points – and any nitpicking of the performances seems silly. They will, James promised, get better.
“I’d rather have an 18-point lead than not have a lead at all,” James said. “We make plays down the stretch to win a ball game in the post-season, that’s all you can ask for. But we’re right there on turning the switch on what we really can become.
“We have a chance to do something we’ve all wanted to do all season and that’s put together a four-quarter game. I think we’re right there on the cusp of doing that.”
The Cavaliers are heading towards a sweep of the Pacers, while in the other match-ups, series’ look like going to six and possibly seven games. So Cleveland will be resting, while the rest in the East get beaten up and stressed out in lengthy series’. The Celtics may have delighted in claiming the top seed, but find themselves in a 0-2 hole against an inspired Chicago Bulls, whose veterans, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo, have brought all their experience to the table in the first two games, while superstar Jimmy Butler has played like one and a youngster in Paul Zipser flourished in Game 2, knocking down 16 points.
The Celtics’ cause has not been helped by the emotional toll being carried by their superstar guard Isaiah Thomas, whose younger sister died in a car crash on the eve of Game 1 of the series. Thomas was extraordinary in that first Game, scoring 33 points, but there is an enormous burden in attempting to light up his team while also dealing with the loss of a family member.
Toronto, as is their wont, will probably go to seven games against Milwaukee’s youngsters while Washington should have too much for the Atlanta Hawks, who will do well to win one game in that series.
The Western Conference is a slow cooker; Golden State, San Antonio and Houston will all win their opening series’ which will then set up the mouth-watering second round clash between the Spurs and Rockets. The Warriors, meanwhile, should cruise through to the Conference Finals – they have too much depth for the Portland Trailblazers and then their likely second round opponents – either Utah or the LA Clippers.
But in the bottom half of the Western Conference bracket a series for the ages is on the horizon.
The Spurs have overwhelmed the Memphis Grizzlies in the opening two games of their series, with Kawhi Leonard putting up 32 and 37 points respectively.
“He’s a special guy,” coach Gregg Popovich said.
“I think he’s the best two-way player in the league. I don’t think there’s anybody else that does what he does at both ends of the court, night after night.”