This has been a quintessential NBA season full of various MVP candidates, player drama, blockbuster trades and heated rivalries. But there is one question I want to focus on today: Who are the real contenders for the NBA Finals championship?
A couple months ago, I would have told you there’s only a few. The standings in each conference seemed pretty stagnant, and there wasn’t much competition for those teams at the top. However, the trade deadline shook things up big time.
Among several moves, Brooklyn’s superstar duo of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant were shipped off; Kyrie to Dallas, Durant to Phoenix. Those moves have the potential to shape the rest of the season and playoffs.
The Wild West
For a while, I thought the only western conference teams with a real shot at the Finals were the Denver Nuggets and Memphis Grizzlies. Phoenix seemed broken, the Clippers were never healthy, Dallas was off-and-on, and New Orleans sent their chances down the drain with a huge losing streak. The race in the west really didn’t seem that interesting.
That is, until the aforementioned trades happened. Kyrie Irving is a massive addition for Dallas, who pairs their MVP-calibur scorer Luka Doncic with the superstar ball-handler. The team was treading water before, and although they’re currently winless when Kyrie and Luka play together, I expect that will change after the All-Star break.
Phoenix adding Kevin Durant, though, is a move that may completely change the outcome of the west. The Suns already had the prolific tandem of Devin Booker, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton.
Throwing one of the greatest scorers in NBA history into that mix is sure to make them favorites to come out of the west, if not to win it all. They’ve already been improving without Durant, who won’t make his return until after the All-Star break.
Adding these teams to the race currently led by Denver and Memphis is sure to make the western conference playoffs quite the wild ride. But who are the true contenders to make the Finals? It’s hard for me to eliminate Denver from that conversation, a team who hasn’t really done anything to scratch themselves out of that conversation.
I also think the Suns are finally in that conversation with the addition of Durant. Memphis is good, but I don’t think they’ll have the discipline nor the talent to keep up with Denver or Phoenix.
Beasts in the East
The eastern conference is a completely different story. In my opinion, there are only two true contenders to make the Finals: Boston and Milwaukee. Those two teams have been in the one and two-seeds, respectively, for most of the season.
Boston now just barely has the edge over the Bucks standings-wise, so the race for the pivotal one seed is sure to be interesting. It’s a safe bet to pick either one of these teams to make the Finals.
I’m not nearly as confident in Philadelphia. They’re very good, only 3 games behind the Celtics for the one-seed. But it seems that every time they play top competition, they struggle. They just recently lost to a Celtics team missing their two best big men. Overall, I just won’t take Philly very seriously until they prove me otherwise.