The 2019 NBA Playoff Picture: Can Golden State Win Three Straight?
Since the Minneapolis Lakers first won three NBA titles in a row in the early 1950s, only two other franchises have accomplished the hallowed three-peat. The Bulls did it twice in the 90s, the Celtics won a whopping eight straight from 1959-1966 and from 2000-2002 the Lakers of Los Angeles dominated the Association.
With the start of the NBA playoffs April 13, the Golden State Warriors look to become the fourth franchise to achieve the monumental feat. Going 57-25 in the regular season, the Warriors have the top seed in the Western Conference and face the eighth-seeded Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.
In a less-commanding season for the Dubs, the All-Star collective of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins missed a total of 95 games on the season and spent just 268.4 minutes over 21 games on the court together.
No player on the roster logged more than 35 minutes per contest. In the NBA’s regular-season finale Wednesday, Curry sat out with an ankle sprain, Cousins was benched for load management, and Green and Shaun Livingston both nursed sore knees from the sidelines. The injuries shouldn’t be too much of a concern. With plenty of time off, the Warriors roster should feel refreshed and ready to unleash a fierce assault on the rest of the league. As would be expected, they are the overwhelming favorite to win a third-straight championship and their fourth since 2015.
The next-best betting option is a team in the East, the Milwaukee Bucks, who held the best regular-season record in the league and were the only team to rank in the top five in both offense and defense. The Bucks own home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference and will maintain the advantage should they confront the Warriors in the NBA Finals. The key to the Bucks’ potential run is MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, who averaged 27.7 points, 12.5 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game during the regular season.
The other top MVP candidate, James Harden, could cause some trouble in the West with the No. 4 seed Houston Rockets. Houston will encounter the fifth-seeded Utah Jazz in the first round. The Rockets rank second in offensive and defensive efficiency since the All-Star break. Against the Warriors, they came out on top three times and lost just once in the regular season.
As for the rest of the 16-team field, watch out for the second seed Toronto and the third-seeded 76ers to put up a grueling fight in the Eastern Conference. Same with the No. 2 Nuggets and No. 3 Trailblazers in the West.
But since the playoffs expanded to a 16-team format in 1984, 51 of 66 NBA finalists won at least 56 games in the regular season. The Bucks, Raptors and Warriors, won 60, 58 and 57, respectively. No other team topped 56 victories in 2018-19.
Toronto beat the Warriors twice, once at home and once on the road. Kawhi Leonard’s squad will need to put up a better showing against the Bucks should they both reach the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors went 1-3 against Mike Budenholzer’s team.
Rounding out the Western Conference is the No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder and No. 7 San Antonio Spurs. In the Eastern Conference, Milwaukee will take on No. 8 Detroit, No. 4 Boston squares off with No. 5 Indiana, No. 3 Philadelphia battles No. 6 Brooklyn and No. 2 Toronto clashes with No. 7 New Orleans.
Since 2015 the Warriors and LeBron James’ Cavaliers have monopolized the NBA Finals, but it’s time for the scenery to finally change. LeBron jumped ship to a struggling Lakers team, and for the first time since 2005, he won’t see the postseason.
No more Cavaliers-Warriors in 2019. No more LeBron-Curry, either. But more than likely you will still see a Golden State bunch cruising to the Finals and hoisting up one more Larry O’Brien Trophy as the fourth franchise to three-peat.