- Will the Warriors and Cavaliers face each other in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year? The Crossover paneled its NBA experts to make their predictions.
We have finally reached the NBA playoffs after a long season full of up and downs. When it comes down to it, the major storyline this season has always been about if we will see Warriors–Cavs IV. The Cavaliers have gone through major renovations since the start of the season—trading Kyrie Irving to the Celtics then shipping the majority of their roster to new teams at the trade deadline. The Cavs added better supporting players for LeBron James, but will it be enough to send him to a remarkable eighth consecutive NBA Finals?
While everyone expected the Warriors to the coast to the Finals, the road hasn't been as smooth as years past. Golden State has dealt with major injuries, including Stephen Curry's knee and ankle issues. Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant have both missed time, as well. And we can’t forget the rise of the Rockets with James Harden and Chris Paul leading one of the most dynamic offenses the NBA has ever seen. Houston has the offense, size and length to compete with Golden State—along with homecourt advantage.
So who is going to the NBA Finals? The Crossover asked its NBA writers to make their predictions.
Lee Jenkins: Warriors over Raptors in 4 games
Not really buying the storyline about the Warriors getting derailed by regular-season apathy or injury. They’ll still enter the playoffs with three future Hall of Famers, and by the time they encounter their first post-season challenge in two years, a healthy Steph Curry will join them. The Rockets should push the Warriors to six games, but that will be about as much suspense as their title defense holds. Golden State has not been as impressive this season as the last two, clearly biding time for spring, a common practice among perennial champions. The Warriors remain the most potent team in the NBA, and regardless of regular-season standings, the gap remains significant.
Chris Ballard: Warriors over Sixers in 6 games
It could have been ugly for Golden State. Then everything broke near perfectly in the playoff brackets. They will have to face only one of the three Western teams best-equipped to beat them—Houston, Utah, and the Thunder—and will theoretically do so with a healthy (or healthy-ish) Steph Curry. It won’t be an easy road to the title, especially against Houston in the Conference Finals, a seven-game classic, but the smart money is on the Warriors busting out of their funk once the stakes are raised. In particular, Draymond Green is one of those rare competitors who seems functionally incapable of not going eye of the tiger when the time comes, and he and Steph’s fire will be contagious.
Will the Sixers actually make the Finals? Maybe not. But it’s no fun to pick the Cavs again, and this feels like a breakthrough season for Philly. Simmons, like a young LeBron, won’t shy away from big moments, and neither will Embiid. Philly is equipped to take out the Cavs, especially defensively. Why not now? Somewhere, Sam Hinkie will be smiling.
Andrew Sharp: Warriors over Cavaliers in 5 games
There have been a dozen twists and turns along the way that have made this season interesting. Steph Curry injuries, months-long Cavs dysfunction, the rise of the Sixers, the dominance of the Rockets, Toronto's refusal to disappear—all of it has given me pause at one point or another over the past six months. A season that began with the Finals looking like a foregone conclusion has given us all kinds threads to follow along the way.
But now that we're here, I'm sorry. I just can't pick against the LeBron. And unless Kawhi Leonard comes back from the dead to haunt Golden State in round one, Steph Curry is coming back healthy. I can't pick against the Warriors, either. I hope I'm wrong, though. If this season has taught us anything, it's that chaos is a lot more fun.
Ben Golliver: Warriors over Cavaliers in 5 games
Picking Golden State to beat Cleveland in the Finals for the third time in four years—in tidy fashion—might seem like a confident prediction. It’s not.
The Warriors looked like they would jog to the 2018 title as soon as they finished off the Cavaliers last June, and that sensation only strengthened at numerous checkpoints: when Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala re-signed; when Kyrie Irving was traded; when Isaiah Thomas couldn’t get his game together; and when Golden State beat Cleveland convincingly in two head-to-head match-ups this season.
But Curry’s knee sprain throws a gigantic wrench into any prognosticator’s thinking. The Curry-less Warriors are far from invincible, and there’s a decent-to-strong chance that they would lose a series to the Rockets and Cavaliers without their two-time MVP. This prediction, then, hinges on the assumption that Curry will make a relatively speedy recovery and enjoy reasonably good health during the postseason.
While Curry might have missed 31 games due to ankle and knee injuries this season, it’s important to remember that his longer-term health track record is quite good. Over a five-year period from 2012–13 to 2016–17, he appeared in 96% of Golden State’s regular-season games. Yes, Curry was still feeling the effects of a knee injury when the Warriors lost the 2016 Finals to the Cavaliers, but the circumstances have changed significantly over the last two years: Golden State added a go-to scorer in Durant to supplement Curry and Cleveland lost a crucial weapon in Irving.
If Curry is close to 100 percent healthy, the talent gap between the Warriors and Cavaliers is simply too wide for LeBron James to overcome. James was clearly outgunned last year, and Cleveland still doesn’t have great defensive answers for Curry or Durant despite its flurry of trades. The Warriors might not cruise through the playoffs like they did in 2017, but they should still be treated as clear title favorites.
Rob Mahoney: Warriors over Cavaliers in 5 games
Some anticlimax seems inevitable. If all goes largely according to plan for the Rockets and Warriors, the Western Conference finals could be an all-time, instant-classic series. Picking against Houston has become an excruciating exercise. A team with an offense that punishing and a defense that stout will rarely lose in a seven-game series. Yet one of the Rockets and Warriors has to, and there’s nothing at all easy about parsing which one will. I picked Golden State by the slimmest of margins, fully prepared for James Harden and Chris Paul to make me eat crow come May.
For the Cavaliers, the path to the Finals could be more interesting than the championship series itself. The most vulnerable Cleveland team in years will be challenged in earnest from the second round on. Toronto is a better, more viable team than ever. Whichever upstart claws their way to the Eastern Conference finals (likely Philadelphia) will be battle-tested and in Cleveland’s league. A LeBron-led team still gets the ultimate benefit of the doubt, but the Cavs’ defense is worrisome enough to make them vulnerable throughout their tour of the East—and deeply flawed by comparison to the Warriors or Rockets. Expect a brief Finals, either way.