Roundtable: 2016-17 NBA Title Predictions
The past two seasons have ended with the Warriors and the Cavaliers clashing in the NBA Finals. Will this year make it a third? Or will a rising team (hello, Celtics) or lurking contender (hello, Clippers) crash the party?
With the 2016–17 NBA season tipping off this week, The Crossover paneled its NBA experts to get their NBA Finals and conference finals predictions. As expected, the Warriors and Cavaliers are heavy favorites to meet in a Finals trilogy, but there's also some new blood in the mix.
For more bold predictions, check out our NBA awards picks. You can also find previews for all 30 teams, flop and surprise squads, 71 reasons to watch this season and more preview coverage at The Crossover.
2016-17 NBA Finals Predictions
Lee Jenkins: Clippers over CavsEast: Cavs over Celtics | West: Clippers over WarriorsBefore my editors haul me off to an asylum, this pick assumes that something goes wrong in Golden State, and not just a lack of rim protection or an iffy bench. Recent history suggests that superteams take a year to win the championship, and even though the Warriors employ four megastars instead of the usual three, that also means there’s a higher chance one of them gets hurt along the way. But as much as this pick is a bet against Golden State, it’s also a bet on continuity, on a core that is entering its sixth year together and has won an inordinate number of games with a virtually unstoppable offense but has rarely been healthy at the right time. Doc Rivers kept the Clippers intact, for one last surge, before Chris Paul and Blake Griffin hit unrestricted free agency. With San Antonio slipping, and Oklahoma City falling, L.A. is going to be the No. 2 seed in the West. If any misfortune visits the Warriors—the way it did the Heat in ’11 and the Cavs in ’15—the Clips will be well positioned to pounce on the bounce they never get. That’s it. Off to the asylum.
Ben Golliver: Warriors over CavsEast: Cavs over Celtics | West: Warriors over SpursThe 2016 Finals (The Groin, The Comeback, The Block, The Shot) were the most entertaining and dramatic since the 2013 Finals (The Yellow Tape), which makes me worry that the 2017 Finals will suffer from the same letdown factor as the 2014 Finals (when the vengeful Spurs ran the Heat off the court). I think the Warriors and Cavaliers are headed for the first best-of-three match in NBA Finals history, and I realize I’m in a long line of people who expect Kevin Durant to swing the outcome. While LeBron James has consistently dominated Durant in head-to-head matchups, Golden State’s offensive system and ball movement should help the 2014 MVP reach the highest level of his career. That, coupled with more dynamic play from a healthy Stephen Curry, should help Golden State break Cleveland’s defense in ways that it couldn’t last June. On the flip side, it’s also hard to imagine the Cavaliers’ insane run of good fortune continuing against an opponent that returns with more talent and, presumably, even better focus.
Barring significant injuries or a power-shifting trade, I don’t see any team in either conference dethroning the incumbents. That being said, I view the Celtics, with newcomer Al Horford in the middle, as the team best positioned to end James’s string of six straight Finals trips. Boston has the total package—improving offense, elite defense, and reliable coaching, plus extra trade assets to load up the deadline—to make things potentially interesting.
Out West, Golden State’s acquisition of Durant looks like a death blow to intra-conference intrigue: the move eliminated Oklahoma City from contender status, exacerbated the Clippers’ matchup problems with the Warriors at the three, and gave Steve Kerr the perfect positional counter for the Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard. Golden State won the West by six games over a strong San Antonio squad last year; I could see that margin balloon to 10+ games this season, and I think a healthy Warriors team skates through the conference’s playoff bracket, much like it did in 2015.
Andrew Sharp: Warriors over CelticsEast: Celtics over Cavs | West: Warriors over Clippers
It feels overly cute to pick against LeBron in the East—I'd prefer Cavs-Warriors Part Three, for the record—but I really believe the Celtics will make the Finals. They'll be excellent on both ends of the floor, they have decent depth, and they have more looks to throw at LeBron than any team he's faced in the East the past few years. Granted, if LeBron and Kyrie are at full strength, it probably won't matter. But I'm not sure I trust both of them to be 100% by the end of May. If Kyrie struggles to hold up, or LeBron slows down, Boston is perfectly positioned steal it.
As for the Warriors ... Recent history has taught us to be cautious with superteams. Remember when everyone was expecting the Love/LeBron Cavs to have the best offense of all time? That 2012 Lakers cover? The Heat Index tracking their progress next to the '96 Bulls? It's important to remember those scars.
I just don't think any of those precedents apply to what's coming in the Bay Area. Here's to betting it works better, and earlier, than anyone imagines. If anything, most basketball fans have been underplaying what's about to happen. This is Year 1 Ubuntu, not Year 1 Cavs. They'll need to keep Draymond healthy, but assuming he does, Steve Kerr will be meticulous about staggering lineups to maximize scoring and rest, and there's only so much the league can do. The Warriors shouldn't have a problem running through the West, and whoever they face in the Finals—Cavs, Celtics, Knicks Superteam—is going home in five games, tops.
Rob Mahoney: Warriors Over CavsEast: Cavs over Celtics | West: Warriors over CavaliersWho am I to mess with inevitability? The Warriors and the Cavs are ordained to meet again for a third straight Finals. For that we should be thrilled. Both of their championship encounters thus far has had its own unique complexion. This year’s bout should be the most radical yet, as the addition of Durant stretches and stresses Cleveland in every dimension possible. It seems as though it will be too much to bear. The fact that it’s LeBron James, however, who has a chance to claim otherwise makes the entire process worth entertaining.
Jeremy Woo: Warriors over CavsEast: Cavs over Celtics | West: Warriors over Clippers
I’d like to make a sexy pick, but barring catastrophic injury, it’s tough to envision any other scenario. The Warriors are going to cruise again, they’re going to be more prepared physically and mentally in May and June, and they have more offensive talent than probably any team ever. The Cavs are theoretically a bit more vulnerable, but who in the East is really beating them in seven games? Last year was a reminder why it’s unwise to pick against LeBron.
I’m as excited as anyone for a rematch, but the odds of Golden State defying all comparison and rolling to another title are better than Cleveland’s chances to grind out four more improbable wins. Boring as it seems, this is probably not the year to think outside the box.