Was a third straight Cavs-Warriors finals so much to ask for? Don’t we need – don’t we deserve – a rubber match to settle this once and for all? A final 7-game series to determine the dominant team of the era? A chance for LeBron to finally convince the world that he really is Jordan’s superior? But no, the fates are cruel. And so instead of two juggernauts on a collision course, we have a pair of fading giants limping into the postseason, with both teams taking on water fast, putting them in danger of dropping out of the #1 seed in their conference. Will either of these teams even make it to the Finals?
The Cavaliers retooled after the trade deadline by bringing in Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut, giving themselves a rock solid bench for another title run. But Bogut’s Cavs career lasted all of 58 seconds before he went down with a broken leg. Kevin Love has been out since Valentine’s Day with a broken heart, er, no… sorry – after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his knee. And Kyle Korver has missed the last 2 games with an inflamed tendon. While the Cavs have lost 5 of their last 7 games, the Wizards have been inching up the standings, and are now tied with the Celtics just 2 games back.
Love should be back in time to get ready for the playoffs, and the East is weak enough that even with all their troubles, and the loss of Bogut, the Cavs should be able to find their way through to the conference finals without too much trouble. But once they’re there, they may have to contend with the Wizards, who’ve won 22 of their last 27 by an average of 7.1 ppg, and who added Bojan Bogdanovic to make their bench much, much better, giving them a total of six guys who score in double figures.
The Warriors, meanwhile, have been without Kevin Durant, who’s battling a sprained MCL and a bone bruise in his left knee, and seem totally lost without him, also dropping 5 of 7. The Warriors had to retool their roster to get Durant, and in the process made themselves a better team, but the combination of that adjustment and now the loss of Durant has meant a giant step back. Exacerbating things is Steph Curry’s suddenly ho-hum 3-point shooting. Curry came into the season as a career 44.4% shooter from downtown, but he’d been just a bit off, hitting just 41.5% as of February 25. Then something happened, injury, the yips, witchcraft… who knows, but during an 11-point win over the Sixers, Curry went 0-for-11 from beyond the arc, the most misses without a bucket from that distance in his career. In his 6 games since then, he’s hit just 18 of 65 (27.7% of his 3’s) with the Warriors going 2-4. And fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson has been even worse, sinking just 27.3% of his 3’s over those 6 games.
What’s wrong with Curry? Has anyone considered the dude’s just tired? He’s played a ton of minutes going back to 2014-15, including 1,440 in the playoffs, and he’s hoisted 2,595 shots from beyond the arc between the playoffs and regular season, more than 500 more anyone else.
And while the Warriors have been flagging, the Spurs have won 9 of 10, to move within a half-game of Golden State. Yes, the Spurs have injury issues of their own, with Kawhi Leonard in the league’s concussion protocol, and LaMarcus Aldridge contending with a recurrence of his arrhythmia, but both of those are eminently treatable, short-term problems. It’s easy to imagine a world where Golden State goes 10-6 the rest of the way, and the Spurs go 12-5 to take the West. As it stands now, that would leave the Warriors to battle the upstart Grizzlies in the first round while Durant tries to get back into game shape, then a potential series against the Rockets before going on the road to face San Antonio. And the Spurs, by dint of winning the West, would get the lowly Nuggets and then the Jazz, who are legit, but not nearly as terrifying as the James (Harden) Gang.
As long as LeBron James is breathing, the Cavs should get past the Wizards, and the Warriors could fight their way through Memphis/Houston/San Antonio, but it’s hard to imagine both of those things happening.
Atlanta Hawks (37-29) vs San Antonio Spurs (51-14)
8pm ET on TNT
Los Angeles Lakers (20-46) vs Denver Nuggets (31-35)
10:30pm ET on TNT
Portland Trail Blazers (29-36) vs San Antonio Spurs (51-14)
8pm ET on ESPN
Milwaukee Bucks (32-33) vs Los Angeles Clippers (40-26)
10:30pm ET on ESPN
Cleveland Cavaliers (43-22) vs Los Angeles Clippers (40-26)
8:30pm ET on ABC