By Sonny Sachdeva, May 14 2015 —
The NBA playoffs are in full swing. After a few seasons of watching the same cast of characters repeatedly reach the championship, this year’s tournament has given fans all they could ask for in terms of fresh storylines.
We’ve seen Lebron’s homecoming, the return of Derrick Rose, Steph Curry’s arrival among the sport’s highest echelon and the Clippers’ elimination of last year’s champions.
Soon, however, two of the eight remaining teams will write a new script when they meet in the 2015 NBA Finals. As the championship picture gets clearer, the Gauntlet predicts who will get the chance to vie for the title.
It’s hard to bet against the Golden State Warriors. The club finished with a league-best 67 wins during the regular season, losing only two games at home all year. They’re led by the historic play of first-time MVP, Steph Curry. The 27-year-old point guard has established himself as the sport’s best long-range shooter, twice breaking and resetting the record for most three-pointers in one season. I don’t see their current foe, the Memphis Grizzlies, being able to shut down the Warriors’ elite offensive duo of Curry and Klay Thompson.
Then we have the Los Angeles Clippers. While they face a tough match-up in the Houston Rockets, the Clippers are riding the momentum of taking down last year’s champions, the San Antonio Spurs, in the first round. The Clippers are already out to a quick lead against the Rockets and should be able to easily put them away.
Should the two California rivals meet, the Warriors look poised to come out on top, though it won’t be easy. Golden State won three of four games against the Clippers during the regular season. But while the Warriors had L.A.’s number early on in the season, the final two meetings between the pair were close, with each game decided by no more than eight points.
Both clubs have plenty of firepower and leaders who can step up with clutch play, but I see Curry’s banner season continuing en route to a seven-game series victory over the Clippers.
You have to feel for the Washington Wizards. After star point guard John Wall stepped up his game this season, guiding the team past a strong Toronto Raptors squad in a four-game sweep, the Wizards seemed ready to go on a dangerous run.
However, Wall recently suffered five non-displaced fractures in his left hand and wrist, relegating him to the bench. Veteran forward Paul Pierce has stepped up in his absence, suggesting the club may have just enough heart to grind out a series victory over Atlanta. The Wizards’ suggestion that Wall could return further down the line only helps their chances.
But the true battle in the East lies in the match-up between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls.
It’s a series the basketball community has been waiting for. Lebron James, the sport’s undisputed best, has returned to his hometown club of Cleveland after a run in Miami that saw him win two championships. On the other side of the court is Derrick Rose, finally returning to elite form after three tough years that saw him undergo multiple knee surgeries as his career nearly slipped away. Both former MVPs are capable of taking over games and draining big shots when it counts.
Ultimately, injuries could be the deciding factor here. While James looks ready to go all the way for Cleveland, his club finds itself without key contributor Kevin Love, who is out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Add in the fact that star guard Kyrie Irving is playing through injuries to his right foot and left knee, and the Cavs’ title hopes certainly seem dimmer.
Chicago, on the other hand, is healthy and ready to take the next step. They’re missing veteran power forward Pau Gasol, but the club still boasts exceptional depth. More importantly, the Bulls have their X-factor back in Rose, who’s certainly hungry to return his team to playoff relevancy.
Assuming Cleveland’s injuries take their toll and the Bulls advance, I don’t see either Washington or Atlanta having a chance to stop them. Chicago already looked dangerous with Rose watching from the stands, and with him back in the fold, the Bulls seem destined for a painless series victory and a trip to the finals.
Final Prediction: Golden State Warriors vs. Chicago Bulls (Bulls in 6).