With Toronto’s win over Miami on Sunday, the NBA Conference Finals are set. In the JV series, the Cavs have home court advantage over the Raptors. Meanwhile, in the West, the Warriors will battle Oklahoma City.
Let’s look at all four teams and see if we can find any value.
Golden State (2/3)
The Warriors had the best regular season in NBA history and the first unanimous MVP in league annals; and they did so with their head coach, Steve Kerr, missing the first half of the season. In the playoffs, the Warriors are 8-2 despite playing six games without that aforementioned MVP, Steph Curry. (They lost one game apiece against both Houston and Portland.)
Thanks to leading the league in shooting percentage and three-point percentage, Golden State averaged an NBA-best 114.9 points per game. Thanks (in part) to a solid three-point defense (second in the league) and defensive field-goal percentage (third), they posted a +10.8 average margin of victory, fourth-best in league history.
Not since Michael Jordan’s ’96-97 Bulls has a team been so dominant at both ends of the court. If they win the NBA Finals, Golden State has a legitimate claim to greatest team of all time.
Last year, the Cavs lost to Golden State in six games in the NBA Finals. But that team was decimated by injuries: Kevin Love missed the entire series and Kyrie Irving went down in game one and did not return. This year’s squad is healthy (so far) and a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs, sweeping the Pistons and Hawks.
The Cavs won the East handily, but were still inconsistent in the regular season. That hasn’t been the case in the postseason thanks to a collective hot-hand from beyond the arc. The team is hitting a shade under 17 three-pointers a game, six more than their regular season average. And they’re connecting at a 46.2-percent clip, versus 36.2 in the regular season. Irving’s play has been phenomenal, in particular. The point guard is averaging 24.4 points a game in the playoffs, even better than LeBron James (23.5 points), while hitting 54-percent of his threes.
Nobody has looked better than the Cavs in the last several weeks, but their level of opposition is worth questioning. So is their ability to connect at the same rate from three.
Oklahoma City (29/4)
Not only did the Thunder shock San Antonio in the West semis, they did so after getting routed in Game 1; the Spurs had lost just one home game all season before OKC beat them twice in three tries.
Averaging 110.2 points per game, the Thunder ranked second in the NBA in scoring during the regular season. The scoring is obviously top heavy: Kevin Durant averages just over 28 points a game, while Russell Westbrook scores 23.5 (and adds ten-plus assists) – and when one or both are off, OKC struggles mightily. However, their much-maligned defense is actually a little more efficient than most realize. OKC finished fifth in field-goal defense, and eighth guarding three pointers.
During the regular season, the Thunder lost two of three to Golden State, but they were tied or led during the fourth quarter of all three.
Give the Raptors credit: they’ve dealt with a lot of naysayers, but won back-to-back Game 7s to advance to the Eastern Finals for the first time in franchise history (knocking off Indiana in round one and Miami in round two).
The Raptors ranked in the middle of the NBA in scoring during the regular season, but held opponents to 98.2 points, third in the league. They are perfectly average from a shooting perspective, but top-five in the NBA from outside the arc, hitting 37-percent of their triples.
On defense, Toronto is solid guarding the two, but among the worst in the league defending threes, and that’s a huge worry given the other teams that are still standing.
That said, they beat Cleveland twice in three tries during the regular season. And while they don’t have the starpower of the Cavs, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry make-up one of the best backcourts in all of basketball and are finally finding their footing in the playoffs.
Keep any eye on the health of center Jonas Valanciunas. If the big-man comes back earlier than expected, the Raptors could really put up a fight.
The Warriors are the best team, but at less than even money they are hard to play. Oklahoma City has the hardest draw, potentially having to beat Golden State and Cleveland. Toronto appears outclassed, especially if Valanciunas is done. That leaves the Cavs as the best value, but ask yourself how likely they are to knock off the Warriors before wagering big dough.
(Photo credit: Keith Allison (LeBron James) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons. Photo has been cropped.)