The final week of this regular season feels a lot like the movie Speed 2: Cruise Control. We all saw the original and thought it was decent. But now the same concept is being stuffed down our throats, and the producers are pretending it’s just as exciting the second time around.
There are a few noticeable differences: Keanu Reeves (2015-16 Cavs) has been replaced by a much lesser Jason Patric (2016-17 Cavs), and the villain has become a little stronger with Willem Dafoe (the 73-win Warriors plus Kevin Durant) assuming the role. Sure, Cleveland’s speed has nearly dropped below 50 a few times, but we all know that this movie ends with a face-to-face between hero and villain.
But hey, maybe a secondary villain (San Antonio) shows up with a more powerful bomb, creating a fun plot twist. Maybe Sandra Bullock (Boston) proves to be the real hero and puts the final bullet in the bad guy. Or maybe we get an ending no one saw coming when there’s a last-minute change of director to M. Night Shyamalan (Utah??).
Before I get myself too bogged down in this Speed metaphor, let’s just get to the odds that Hollywood has a trick up its sleeve … I mean the odds on the 2017 NBA playoffs, including NBA Title odds, odds to win each conference, and odds on a couple dark-horse secondary characters who could keep our eyes glued to the screen.
2017 NBA Championship Odds
Golden State Warriors: 4/5
Cleveland Cavaliers: 6/1
San Antonio Spurs: 7/1
Boston Celtics: 19/1
Houston Rockets: 24/1
Toronto Raptors: 33/1
Washington Wizards: 49/1
Utah Jazz: 66/1
Los Angeles Clippers: 75/1
Oklahoma City Thunder: 199/1
Memphis Grizzlies: 350/1
Atlanta Hawks: 400/1
Milwaukee Bucks: 400/1
After going through their Kevin Durant-less struggles, the Warriors have found their groove again, winning 11 straight. The Splash Brothers are back at it, and Draymond Green hasn’t kicked anyone in the testicles in ages. The strong are about to get stronger, as Durant is scheduled to return to the lineup this weekend. Unfortunately for you Warrior-haters, the whole “chemistry” argument doesn’t hold much weight. The superstars have already figured out how to play together, and having Durant’s length on the court gives the team a big boost on the glass. Don’t expect Golden State to be pushed until the Western Conference Finals.
Cleveland is a team in search of any sort of rhythm. LeBron and co. went 7-10 in March, largely a result of allowing 109.3 PPG (22nd) in those 17 games. The good news for LeBron-lovers is that they reside in the Eastern Conference, where there is no San Antonio waiting in the shadows to pounce on a misstep.
With all due respect to the Boston Celtics, they don’t incite the same fear in Cleveland as Gregg Popovich’s Spurs would. This isn’t to say Isaiah Thomas can’t take down the King, just that the Cavaliers are capable of shifting into a gear that not many can handle.
If anyone other than the Warriors, Spurs, or Cavaliers hoists the Larry O’Brien Trophy, it would be a major surprise.
Odds to win the Eastern Conference
Cleveland Cavaliers: 7/8
Boston Celtics: 4/1
Toronto Raptors: 7/1
Washington Wizards: 8/1
Milwaukee Bucks: 49/1
Regardless of whether Cleveland has home-court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, they will be the odds-on favorite to emerge from the East. No other team in the conference can match the Cavs’ star-power. Boston and Toronto may be deeper, but role players don’t get the calls in the playoffs.
Eastern Conference Dark-horse: Toronto Raptors
The Celtics may be the popular pick to dethrone James, but I’m pointing to the team a little further north. The Raptors fell to Cleveland in six in last year’s ECF, but the series wasn’t as close as that suggests on its face. Dwane Casey’s squad couldn’t slow the Cavs’ offense and lacked a tertiary scoring option beyond Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. (Jonas Valanciunas was hurt.) That won’t be the case if the two meet again this year.
Since acquiring Serge Ibaka and PJ Tucker, the Raptors have ranked third in points allowed per game (99.3). Ibaka has also been a major contributor on the offensive end, averaging 14.9 PPG in 20 games with the team. The Cavs only have one Tristan Thompson, so pairing Ibaka and Valanciunas means one of the bigs will have his way in the post.
I expect Toronto’s much-improved defense to continue being the key to the team’s success. When Lowry returns from injury, the offense will have its floor-general back. As long as that doesn’t throw off the unit’s cohesion, this is a team that will make some noise in the playoffs.
Odds to win the Western Conference
Golden State Warriors: 3/7
San Antonio Spurs: 9/2
Houston Rockets: 12/1
Utah Jazz: 49/1
Los Angeles Clippers: 66/1
Oklahoma City Thunder: 99/1
I know I joked about the season never being in doubt earlier, but these odds looked a lot different a week ago. San Antonio pounded Golden State in the season-opener (129-100) and put their oversized Texas boot to the Warriors’ ass again on March 11th (107-85). The former was written off as the first real game the new-look Warriors had played together, and the latter was also overlooked because Steve Kerr sat Curry, Thompson, and Green.
On March 29th, the Spurs had one more chance to prove they really had the blueprint on how to stop the Warriors. San Antonio came out inspired, building a 22-point lead in the first quarter. Gregg Popovich had his foot directly on the throat of Golden State and we were just waiting for the referee to call the match. However, Curry would heat up and the Warriors used a 37-point second quarter to rally to a 110-98 victory, putting the legitimacy of what the Spurs had previously done further in doubt.
Though the Rockets have been a lot of fun to watch, and Mike D’Antoni and James Harden should take home some hardware, the hopes of the anti-Warrior crowd still lies with San Antonio. Houston isn’t capable of getting the timely stops, and Harden can’t take on Curry, Durant, and Thompson in a shootout.
Western Conference Dark-horse: Utah Jazz
No, I do not believe the Jazz are going to take down the Warriors. But I do see them making the Warriors sweat in the second round.
Quin Snyder has his team doing a lot of the little things well. The Jazz may not possess a lot of scoring behind Gordon Hayward, but they’re finding other ways to win. No team allows fewer points per game (96.5), and they rank third in defensive rebounding-percentage.
I like the Jazz to get through the Clippers in the first round, which will be the only real surprise in the Western Conference playoffs, if that even counts as a surprise.
(Photo Credit: Keith Allison from Hanover, MD, USA (Stephen Curry) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons)