There is no doubt that the Warriors and the Cavaliers have been the dominant forces in the NBA the past couple of years. Having played against each other in each of the previous 3 NBA Finals, one must surely wonder if they can do it a fourth time in a row.
Neither team had serious opposition on their way to the NBA Finals in any of the previous 3 seasons, but things have changed in the NBA this season. At least 3 new super-teams have been formed after the off-season transfers, and here is a list of the teams that are most likely to break the Warriors-Cavaliers pair in the NBA Finals :
5. Detroit Pistons
The Pistons have been stellar this season, currently running a 14-7 record in the Eastern Conference, and are sitting at the 4th spot. They didn’t make a lot of moves in the off-season, but they send Marcus Morris to Boston in exchange for Avery Bradley, which could be considered as an improvement. They might lack a huge name on their roster, well, maybe Andre Drummond, but the team has found some solid chemistry so far in the season.
Drummond is a beast so far, having drastically improved his FT shooting to 63%, while he is posting career-high in rebounds (15.2), assists (3.9) and steals (1.5). He looks really mature, but so has Tobias Harris, who is having a career season with 18.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and hitting almost 3 triples per night (2.8). Add Avery Bradley and Reggie Jackson to the mix, and we have a team that can easily make a push for the Eastern Conference Finals. However, with the Cavaliers and the Celtics both vying for a spot in the Finals, their work is really hard. However, they have been really strong so far in the season, having already defeated the Celtics once, but they were not so good in the loss to the Cavs.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks are going to be a scary team really soon, not only because of Giannis Antetokounmpo but also because they have created a really strong roster, capable of reaching at least the Conference Finals. They are playing in a much easier Eastern Conference than last season, and they currently have an 11-9 record. They traded Greg Monroe to the Suns in exchange for Eric Bledsoe, which really gave them the true PG they really needed. Antetokounmpo has been a BEAST this season and is already being considered as the MVP this season. It is no exaggeration, as the Greek Freak is posting a massive 29.2 ppg, 10.1 rpg, 4.5 apg, 1.7 spg and 1.8 bpg.
Moreover, the Bucks have a ton of talented players like reigning Rookie of the Year, Malcolm Brogdon, sharp-shooter Khris Middleton, and don’t forget about the injured Jabari Parker. John Henson and Thon Maker are not really strong, at least not yet, and there are talks about a possible trade with the Clippers, that would bring DeAndre Jordan. The Bucks would have to give up John Henson, Khris Middleton and/or Malcolm Brogdon in order to make that happen. While it might be a risky trade for the Bucks, adding a dominant force in the paint might really give them the extra edge they need in order to reach the Conference Finals.
3. San Antonio Spurs
The San Antonio Spurs will be eager to return to the NBA Finals for the first time since the 2013-14 season when they captured their 5th title against the Miami Heat. They have added LaMarcus Aldridge since then, and have seen Kawhi Leonard grow into a beast of a player. However, he has yet to play a single match this season, and he will also be out for about a month.
The Spurs also signed F Rudy Gay in the off-season, in what was an already solid, but old, roster with Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili in probably their final seasons in the NBA. However, despite those old-timers, the Spurs have also infused their roster with a couple of really promising youngsters like Kyle Anderson, who has really stepped in during Kawhi’s absence, and Dejounte Murray. Moreover, Patty Mills is also a really strong guard off the bench, while Bertans and Lauvergne have been hand-picked by Gregg Popovich himself. The Spurs are already sitting at the 3rd spot of the Western Conference (15-7), while playing without Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker so far. Parker returned to action recently, while Kawhi is due back in a matter of weeks. The Spurs have a really strong team, and probably the best coach in the NBA, so they will surely be one of the contenders to go to the Western Conference Finals.
2. Houston Rockets
The Rockets were amazing last season, as they have really built a strong team, focused on perimeter shooting. The team is based around The Beard, but James Harden has been paired up with star guard Chris Paul in the off-season. The Rockets did have to send a ton of players to the Clippers for that trade, but they also got Mbah a Moute along with Chris Paul. With Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon in the squad, it is more than clear that the Rockets have a strong squad, ready to start dropping 3-pointers at any given time.
They don’t have a very open rotation though, as besides the promising C Clint Capela, there is very few help from the bench. They do have veteran Nene Hilario to boost the team, especially during the playoffs, and they also signed P.J. Tucker, who besides his small stature, is a very good defender and a surprisingly good rebounder. The Rockets are currently leading the Western Conference (17-4), and are 2nd in the NBA. They have the stars, they have the players to back them up, and they are probably the Warriors’ biggest threat in the West this season.
1. Boston Celtics
The Celtics have made a massive re-vamp in their roster in the off-season, and some people were really skeptical of that decision. They traded the first pick of the 2017 NBA draft to the 76ers in exchange of their 3rd, which turned out to be a really successful move. The 76ers picked Merkelle Fultz who has only played 3 matches due to injury, but the Celtics picked Jason Tatum who has been stellar so far.
Moreover, the Celtics signed Gordon Hayward but lost him to a gruesome injury after just 5 minutes in the first match of the season. However, their biggest move so far was the trade with the Cavaliers, where they sent Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and two draft picks to land Kyrie Irving. Jaylen Brown has really stepped up in the absence of Gordon Hayward, and with Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris (traded from the Pistons for Avery Bradley), the team is filled with talent. They do have the veteran leadership of Al Horford, to go along with the immense talent of pretty much everyone else on the roster. They have created a really strong team, which will surely be the main contender in the Eastern Conference in the years to come.
This season they are leading the NBA with a 19-4 record, and the Cavaliers should not be feeling very safe right now. Expect the Celtics to lead the tabloids in the future, as they will eventually end the Cavaliers’ reign in the East.