I’m calling it right now. It seems like just yesterday I was saying Lebron’s time as King may be ending. The Cavs were in disarray. The Warriors and Rockets were clearly going to play a de facto NBA Finals in the Western Conference Finals. The Celtics are a year early. The Raptors are, well, the Raptors. The Celtics are going to the Finals, and they’re getting stomped out by Golden State. It is known.
In the past two months, the Celtics have suffered more injuries than Robert Griffin III (no easy task), the Raptors are still the Raptors, the 76ers have found their groove, and Lebron James has been absolutely hammer dunking on any and everyone in his way. Meanwhile, in the West, James Harden has finished his MVP season, and the Warriors (while still the Warriors) have never looked less scary than they do now.
Let’s start this off by scraping all the teams that really don’t have a shot at the Finals out of the picture. That means goodbye to the Broken Celtics, the Pacers, Spurs, Heat, Bucks, Jazz, Wizards, and Pelicans. Sorry, you all had fantastic years. Thanks for playing.
How The West Will be Won
I’ll make this easy. I have no doubt in my mind the Western Conference Finals will be played between Houston and Golden State. None. Will Houston be favored in the series? Anything’s possible. Will they win the series? Harden hasn’t ever gotten there as a starter, let alone as a superstar (he was a Sixth Man on the Oklahoma City Finals run). Chris Paul has never even sniffed the Western Conference Finals in his career. Does CP3 deserve better? Of course he does, and he has better now that he’s side-by-side with the greatest isolation player of all time. (That’s not a stretch. Harden averages 1.24 points per isolation possession. That’s higher than any other team has averaged in the last four seasons). Isolation style has been extremely conducive to Mike D’Antoni’s high-dose pick-and-roll offense all season, but it has a fatal flaw. When the playoffs come around, and Harden is left iso in mid-May against Steph Curry, with Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green left to switch off high on-ball screens, things won’t be as easy. When the playoff refs come out, and Harden doesn’t get to shoot free throws because someone farted within three feet of him, things will get very hard. When Chris Paul is playing later in a season than ever in his career, it will catch up to him. And Golden State, after a year of looking mentally exhausted, physically burnt, injured, and disparaged, will punch the Rockets in the mouth, and advance to a fourth straight Finals.
The March of Lebron
Look, the Eastern Conference is horrible. Let’s not mince words here. The Nuggets wouldn’t have a play-in game in the East, they’d be the sixth seed. I already eliminated half the field from even being in the conversation, and the only teams that deserve to be in the same breath as the Finals are Philly, Toronto, and (duh) Cleveland. Let’s start with the Great White North. You always choke. Always. It never fails. Dwane Casey is a great coach, and then the calendar flips to April. Also, Drake is a fan, that’s the perennial kiss of death. Philly is a great story. The process paid off, they’ve arrived. Don’t get me wrong, they could be a budding dynasty. Simmons is unreal, Embiid is a monster on the court and on Twitter, Fultz has shown flashes, but it’s too soon. Embiid is hurt, Simmons is a rookie (whether Donovan Mitchell likes it or not), and they get to go through the easy path to the ECF, where Lebron will do what Lebron does in mid-May and make them feel like children. A moment to appreciate what 33 year old Lebron James has done this season. 82 games. 3,000 minutes. 2,241 points. 700 rebounds. 740 assists. 18 triple-doubles. He’s played with two entirely different teams this season. And in the last month he’s made a hobby out of taking players brave enough to guard him in the paint, putting them in a coffin, and erasing them from NBA history. Seriously. Look what he did to Ersan Ilyasova. I’ll take Lebron to the Finals.
We all knew this would happen. We all tried to pretend. Maybe someone else will get there this year! We should know better. It’s Golden State vs Cleveland IV. Have either of these teams ever looked so non-threatening? No, but still, who’s better? Now it’s time to stress my inability to learn from my mistakes. Last year I saw Lebron with the look in his eyes, and I (stupidly) picked the Cavs to beat the Warriors in seven. I’m making the same pick this year (stupidly). Look, the Warriors finally look beatable. They haven’t played well lately, they haven’t played together lately, and they’ve asked Kevin Durant to do too much. (And they’re 0-5 in Durant’s highest scoring games this season). Meanwhile, while the Cavs don’t have the wins to trumpet, they have Lebron playing better than I’ve ever seen him play in his career. There’s no question that Lebron is ring chasing at this point in his career. No doubt he will leave Cleveland this summer and find a place (Philly?) to cement his legacy as the GOAT. But before he does that, he will give Cleveland one more. I’m calling it right now. Not because Cleveland is the best team, not because the rest of the teams are that bad, or that prone to absolutely choking (Harden) or, worse, prone to not trying (Harden). I’m picking Cleveland because Lebron is the best player on the planet. Maybe the best player ever. And he’s out to prove it.