In case you haven't heard, the Warriors blew a 3–1 lead in last year's NBA Finals. LeBron James and Co. shocked the world with a seven-game comeback, triggering a cataclysmic change in the NBA landscape that led to Kevin Durant signing with Golden State this summer.
All caught up? Good. Because after another entertaining regular season, the NBA playoffs are back and the league's powers are out for blood.
Can Golden State avenge last year's championship collapse? Can LeBron James reach his seventh straight Finals and miraculously propel the Cavs to back-to-back titles? Or will a spoiler emerge from either side—hello, Celtics, Raptors, Rockets and Spurs—and deprive NBA fans of the trilogy they've been banking on for months?
With the postseason set to begin, we asked The Crossover's NBA writers for their 2017 Finals predictions. While the consensus champion may not surprise you, their Finals counterparts could catch you off guard.
Ben Golliver: Warriors over Cavaliers
It's just too difficult to envision an organization winning 140 combined games over two regular seasons and going home without a championship to show for it. The Warriors should be viewed as overwhelming title favorites given that they just posted the best point differential since the 1996 Bulls despite spending most of the season in fourth gear and weathering an extended stretch without Kevin Durant. They should cruise through the first two rounds, given their regular season dominance over the Blazers and Clippers, before emerging triumphant in a long-awaited showdown with a disciplined and experienced Spurs team that isn't quite talented or versatile enough to pull off the upset. In the East, Cleveland's potent offense should help it easily put down the Pacers and withstand a strong challenge from the Raptors before dispatching a shallow Wizards team in the East finals.
However, the Cavaliers' shaky defense and inconsistency will be too much to overcome in their third straight Finals match-up with the Warriors. Thanks to a balanced and overwhelmingly talented cast, Kevin Durant will finally conquer LeBron James to claim the first title of his career and deliver on the hype that surrounded him following his polarizing free-agency decision.
Lee Jenkins: Warriors over Raptors
I’ve flip-flopped so many times on that Cavaliers-Raptors second-round series that I have now picked the Cavs in some places and the Raps in others, which probably violates some code of handicapping if not journalism. As hard as it is to bet against LeBron in the Eastern Conference playoffs—I’ve done it before; never works—it’s almost as hard to ignore how poorly Cleveland has played for the past two months. Were they sandbagging or searching? Toronto will provide the answer. The Raptors were brilliant in Kyle Lowry’s absence and now he is back, with DeMar Derozan having the best season of his career and Serge Ibaka protecting the paint. It’s the Raps’ turn, but then again, I said the same thing about the Hawks a year ago. Whoever emerges from this series will edge the Celtics in the conference finals and lose mercifully to the Warriors, who at this point can probably only be challenged by injury. For the Cavaliers, a Finals loss would be a brutal failure. For the Raptors, it would be a stunning accomplishment, one reason the specter of the Warriors could work in their favor.
Chris Ballard: Warriors over Celtics
This feels like the year Boston breaks through. Yes, Cleveland still has the game’s best player, and sure, the Cavs have been coasting for months to preserve energy, but this is more about the Celtics’ ascendancy. Brad Stevens is the kind of coach who, like Pop, finds the superpower within each role player and maximizes it. In the West, the Warriors should breeze through in entertaining fashion, weathering 40-point games from Lillard, a moment or two of Diaw throwback wizardry, and perhaps (say-it-ain’t-so) the last stand of Manu. The Finals will lack the starpower and narrative of Cavs-W’s III, but should be an assistant coach’s dream. Matchups, coaching counters, swarming defense, creative ATOs. The Celtics are the rare team that can sic a series of wing defenders on the Warriors’ scorers, and will unleash Kelly Olynyk against the second team on offense. Still, in the end, barring injuries or another Draymond meltdown, Golden State should claim its second title in three years.
Andrew Sharp: Warriors over Raptors
The Warriors are not losing this title, and it's probably healthiest to accept this up front. As for the Cavs... I'm not sure who will beat the Cavs, and I don't trust any of these East teams enough to actually pick them officially. SI made me choose someone, so let's say the Raptors. But someone will do it.
This will be the first Finals in forever without LeBron, and it will be incredibly strange, and his loss will be more dramatic and interesting than the Warriors win. That's my prediction.
Jeremy Woo: Warriors over Cavs
It’s exceedingly difficult to pick against Golden State. The Warriors have managed to reinvent themselves and get better in midst of one of the most dominant three-year runs in league history. Barring injury and/or wayward Draymond leg kicks, the Warriors should make it through the West and meet LeBron James and the Cavs for a third consecutive year. Golden State will be too focused to slip up against a Cavs team that’s taken a small step backward. The recipe may or may not include a 3–1 lead.
DeAntae Prince: Warriors over Cavs
The allure of a third Warriors-Cavs matchup was too hard to pass up. While the road is much tougher for Cleveland this time around, I still couldn't find sound logic pointing to anything other than Golden State hoisting the title and getting sweet revenge against LeBron James and Co. Selfishly, I want to see this rivalry take the next step, and nothing seems to fit the bill better than a Cavaliers collapse on the biggest stage.
These obviously aren't carbon copies of the teams we saw in 2016. The Warriors aren't a 73-win squad bulldozing the NBA, but they're close. And while the Cavaliers are roundly underperforming, you can never count out LeBron. That said, no Finals matchup holds as much excitement as this one, and we get to tack the Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James rivalry onto a Finals meeting that didn't need any added intrigue. It doesn't get any better than this.
Jake Fischer: Warriors over Raptors
My predictions are banking on the fibers within Kyle Lowry's wrist. If the All-Star can find his elite rhythm, the Eastern Conference boasts no team with greater depth and stylistic malleability than Toronto. The Raptors can stuff the paint with Serge Ibaka or Jonas Valanciunas, or downsize by sliding Ibaka to the five-spot. A full-strength Lowry—who compiled the best three-point shooting season of his career—will be critical to combat Kyrie Irving and the Cavs' artillery of sharpshooters. But regardless, the Raptors should feast on Cleveland's suspect defense. The Celtics will pose a similar versatile threat, but the Raptors' roster is perfectly constructed to cage Isaiah Thomas. The Hawks' exhibited the perfect game plan to slay the Celtics a postseason ago, targeting Thomas in pick-and-roll action while trapping him out of those sets on the opposite end. Boston will likely hide Thomas on DeMarre Carroll, but he's a perfect pick-and-pop candidate that could free Lowry and DeMar DeRozan to torch the diminutive point guard possession after possession. But Drake will be left in awe of the Warriors' pristine offense. Don't get too caught up in Kevin Durant's re-assimilation into Golden State's scheme. The Warriors will charge back to their third-consecutive Finals and reclaim the title that, a season ago, really was rightfully theirs.