The Clippers have gone through the darkest of times in the NBA, but could this be the year where everything changes? The front office made a huge investment in superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and when you add their talent to a team that consists of perfect role players in Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley and Montrezl Harrell, you have a solid contender on your hands. Coming out the West will not be easy as the Lakers, Warriors, Nuggets, Rockets, Blazers, Jazz and more stand in the Clippers way. So who will emerge from the Eastern Conference? The Bucks? Sixers? Raptors again? Our writers make their NBA Finals predictions.
Chris Mannix: Clippers over Bucks
For his next trick, Kawhi Leonard will win a championship with … Phoenix! While this is a rubber stamp on Leonard’s ability to lead a team to a title, the Clippers have the makings of a complete team: A pair of stars in Leonard and Paul George (both in the right roles), a potentially disruptive depth, decent depth and a championship coach. The need a little more beef up front, but something tells me the Clips will be an attractive destination come buyout season. It isn’t easy for a new group to win a championship in its first season together but guts of the Clippers team that made the playoffs last season returns and Leonard has shown he can walk onto a good team and make it great. Says here he will again.
Rob Mahoney: Clippers over Bucks
Of all the great variables out West, give me the team with two unquestionably elite wing players (injury risk included) and reliable role players of almost every kind. You don’t make it to the Finals without a certain malleability, and if anything, the Clippers have too many good players to fit on the floor in any one situation. Milwaukee is a more straightforward team, though imposing in its own right. It takes so much attention to slow down Giannis Antetokounmpo and so much coordination to score consistently against the Bucks that few teams could manage it over a seven-game series. The Clippers seem up to the task in theory, provided they can survive the Western Conference gauntlet preceding it.
Jeremy Woo: Clippers over Sixers
At this point, the Sixers feel due to come out of the East, with the arrival of Al Horford helping counteract the way teams will gameplan for Ben Simmons, and Joel Embiid inching closer to greatness. They’ve already gotten close, they’ve made some personnel tweaks I think will pay off, and I’d expect the perimeter depth to eventually be addressed via trade or buyout. The fact the Bucks are weaker on paper this time around makes this a relatively easy choice.
I don’t expect the Clippers to win the West outright as they carefully manage minutes and workloads, but if healthy, they’re the team best-built to handle the postseason. Obviously, having Kawhi helps. Paul George, also a big plus. But the collective moxie L.A. has built and the type of competitors on the roster—most of whom have never tasted the Finals—helps bridge the gap in my mind, even with some adjustment time probably in order for this group. Bottom line, I’m done picking against Kawhi, and I expect the Clips to rise to the occasion.
Rohan Nadkarni: Nuggets over Bucks
In the spirit of how wide open this NBA season is, I’m picking the Nuggets to win the Finals for a second year in a row, this time in a seven-game thriller against the Bucks. It would just be too easy to pick the Clippers or Lakers. And I think Denver has a good case. The Nuggets are deep at every position, they have arguably a top-five talent in Nikola Jokic, and they now have some experience after last summer’s playoff run. If Jamal Murray makes another mini-leap, the Nugs are going to be really dangerous. (And Denver’s depth also gives them the ability to go star hunting in trades if a gamechanger becomes available.) Is this pick a little pie in the sky? Sure. I readily admit that. But if we’re celebrating this upcoming season because of its unpredictability, if we’re more excited than we’ve been in years because we don’t know who is at the top, then why not lean all the way in and try to speak a truly under-the-radar team into championship existence?
Also, don’t sleep on the Bucks! Philly made more headlines this summer, but I probably still trust Milwaukee’s end-of-game offense more than the Sixers’ right now. Philly loaded up on stopping Giannis this year, but I think the Greek Freak is going to have some counters ready to go for the postseason, and he has the ability to outduel Joel Embiid in a playoff series. (That’s not an Embiid shot, I think him and Giannis are neck and neck.)
Ultimately, don’t get caught up in Finals predictions. Do I think the Nuggets can actually win? Yes! But what’s more important is that the NBA is back, and for the first time in who knows how long, several teams have a legitimate reason to believe they can be champs. That journey is going to be a lot more rewarding for us to watch unfold than knowing who comes out on top at the end. (But it’s gonna be the Nuggets.)