We’re down to the final four teams, two of which were expected, one is a slight surprise, and the other is making their first Conference Final in their franchise’s history. Yup, we get to watch Drake scream from the sideline for at least one more series. Congratulations to the Raptors, I had zero faith in DeRozan and the Raps to come through in the clutch, especially against “Father Prime”, Dwayne Wade, but they managed to annihilate them at home in the deciding game 7. The slight surprise are the Oklahoma City Thunder out in the West. They are a surprise because they knocked off the San Antonio Spurs, a team who won 67 games and only lost once at home in the regular season. Media and fans alike were already looking forward to the “Almost Finals”, AKA Spurs vs. Warriors, completely writing off the Thunder. However, it has to be seen as only a slight surprise because the Thunder have two top-five talents in Durant and Westbrook.
Eastern Conference Finals: CAVALIERS vs. RAPTORS
Key matchup: LeBron James vs. DeMarre Carroll
- It has to be this matchup. This is why the Raps brought Carroll to the 6 in the offseason. The Lowry/Irving matchup is interesting as well, but if Carroll can’t limit LeBron this series will be over quickly. The question is, who will guard LeBron when Carroll takes a breather? Terrence Ross is too small, Norman Powell is too young and fell out of the rotation against the Heat, and James Johnson looks like he’s put on a few pounds.
Things to consider when watching:
- Can J.R. Smith play good enough defense on DeRozan, while continuing to shoot the lights out from 3?
- Who wins the battle of the boards, Bismack Biyombo or Tristan Thompson? Also, can Valanciunas get healthy in time to play in this series?
- Can the Raps guard the 3-point line? The Cavs have four players shooting 50% or better from 3 this postseason; Channing Fyre (57.1%), Kyrie Irving (53.8%), Richard Jefferson (53.3%), J.R. Smith (50.8%)
- Which bench point guard can make a bigger impact, Matthew Dellavedova or Cory Joseph?
- Can Patrick Patterson find his outside shooting stroke? He can be an x-factor in this series, especially with how small both teams will end up playing.
Prediction: Cavs in 5
- The Cavs have swept both series so far, and I wanted to pick them to sweep this one too. But while rest can be good, it can also be detrimental. Teams can lose their mojo, and with Lowry and co. coming off a great win, I see them potentially stealing the first game. However, after that, I don’t see the Raps having enough to put up a fight. The Cavs will wake up, take both on the road, and then close it out at home.
Western Conference Finals: WARRIORS vs. THUNDER
Key Matchup: Stephen Curry vs. Russell Westbrook
- Steph will probably be matched up on Roberson on defense so he can conserve his energy. However, on the other end, Russ will be attempting to shut Steph down. Physically he has the tools, Chris Paul is well known as a great Steph defender, and Russell is much larger than CP3 is. If Russ can use most of his seemingly unending energy on the defensive end, not gamble on steals, and play through the offense, the Thunder have a real shot to reach their second Finals in the Durant-era.
Things to consider when watching:
- The Aussie vs. The Kiwi: Bogut may not be ready for Game 1, but we will see him in this series battling the New Zealand big man Steven Adams, and it’s going to be entertaining as hell.
- Can Andre Roberson shoot slightly better than everyone thinks he can, enough to the point where his check can’t camp out in the lane?
- Which team goes to their best lineup first? Do the Warriors go to the small-ball death lineup early, or do the Thunder try to get every single rebound possible with their twin tower lineup of Kanter and Adams?
- After a solid series, does Waiters island have a chance to become repopulated, or will it become an abandoned wasteland?
- Which Serge Ibaka shows up? The defensive, 3-point shooting stretch power forward, or the guy who appears lost on the court, and doesn’t get minutes in the clutch?
Prediction: Warriors in 7
- It’s nearly impossible to pick against these Warriors. I do believe it will be an exciting and nail-biting series, and with both arena’s being absolutely mad-houses I think the home team can win each game. The Thunder held fourth quarter leads in all three meeting with the Warriors this season, however though they ended up losing all three games. One of these losses came from a near half-court shot from Curry at the buzzer to steal the win, which was one of the greatest shots I have ever seen. Every time I try to tell myself, “..well, the Thunder COULD steal a game at Oracle…”, I think of that shot. So yeah, let’s make the crazy decision to pick the best regular season team in history to make their second straight Final.
*All stats courtesy of stats.nba.com