The NBA championship field is wide open for the remaining contenders with LeBron James and Stephen Curry at home. So which teams present the best possible matchup to watch? The Crossover makes their selections.
Howard Beck: Nuggets vs. Bucks
Give me Nuggets vs. Bucks. I’m dead serious. I know, I know, basketball fans—and the NBA and its broadcast partners—probably all want Nets-Clippers, with all that eye-popping star power, and all those eyeballs from the nation’s two biggest media markets. And it would surely be a riveting series. But I want to see the smaller markets break through.
I want to believe—and surely, those teams their fans want to believe – that you can build a contender in today’s NBA without signing superstars in free agency. Milwaukee, Utah and Denver can’t land a KD-Kyrie pairing, or pull off the Kawhi-Paul George coup (to say nothing of LeBron and Anthony Davis). That option isn’t available outside of New York, L.A. and maybe a few other spots.
But the Bucks, Jazz and Nuggets have built deep, talented teams through shrewd drafting, development, trades and (less-flashy) signings. It would be good for the league, and about two dozen bases, to see the non-glamor teams break through.
Michael Pina: Clippers vs. Nets
Clippers vs. Nets is the most compelling matchup because it might actually put the Nets on their heels. The Clippers not only have enough individual defenders to switch on the perimeter and hold their own in isolation against Brooklyn's three-headed monster (assuming James Harden is healthy by then), but they can also deploy those units without sacrificing anything on the other end. Their offense is built to go toe-to-toe against a switch-everything scheme. The Clippers don’t have a third offensive star, but they do have enough outside shooting to drive-and-kick Brooklyn's defense into rubble. Kevin Durant vs. Paul George vs. Kyrie Irving vs. Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden vs … Reggie Jackson? Sign me up.
Ben Pickman: Nets vs. Suns
Preseason predictions aside, it’s tough not to pick the Nets to represent the East when answering this question. Their unbelievable talent is on display every time they step on the floor, even as the team continues to deal with health concerns. Plus, there’s a reason why seemingly every angle surrounding the franchise has been dissected throughout the season; the intrigue surrounding them is endless. In many ways Phoenix could present their toughest opponent in the Finals. The Suns have had the NBA’s best record since Jan. 28, and their depth, especially at the guard and wing positions, could pose some problems for Brooklyn, much like it did for the Lakers. Plus, after making Phoenix made its first NBA postseason appearance since 2009–10, the city’s home crowd seems starved for success, as evidence by the nonstop energy that radiates through on television.
Elizabeth Swinton: Nets vs. Jazz
It may not be the flashiest matchup remaining, but Nets vs. Jazz may be one of the most competitive. Utah is the only remaining Western Conference team that defeated Brooklyn in the regular season, and now that the Nets are at near full health and showing their dominance in the playoffs, the two teams can be well-matched in the Finals. Donovan Mitchell has been on a tear, as has Kevin Durant amid James Harden's absence. Each team's defense will be put to the test against the top offenses, giving a good chance for a lengthy and entertaining series between the two if they meet in the Finals.
Michael Shapiro: Nets vs. Suns
Perhaps a Nets-Suns Finals wouldn’t be a seven-game classic, but as Brooklyn continues to cruise, there isn’t necessarily a titanic matchup looming in early July. With that in mind, I’ll side with Phoenix as the team I most want to see battle the Nets’ Big Three. Chris Paul deserves his time in the Finals spotlight, and Devin Booker’s profile around the country could see a serious boost if he’s able to hang with the most fearsome offense in league history. If Deandre Ayton can dominate the paint, perhaps this series will go more than five games.
I’m beginning to think a Nets championship is effectively a fait accompli, especially so if Harden can take his time and rest through the Eastern Conference semifinals. If we’re going to crown Brooklyn regardless, giving Paul his due would be a worthy consolation.
Robin Lundberg: Nets vs. Suns
With LeBron and Curry eliminated, the star power from the Nets would add some necessary marquee names to the Finals and provide plenty of fans with a rooting interest, assuming most would be hoping they lose. Meanwhile, the Suns would be an athletic and fun counterpart to match up with them and bring the added story line of CP3 going for his first NBA championship against a juggernaut superteam. Of all the remaining possible combinations, from both a basketball and narrative standpoint, I believe Nets-Suns would shine the brightest on the league’s biggest stage.