Masin-Moyer: Ranking the favorites for the 2018 NBA title
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Monday, April 16, 2018
Usually in this newspaper, rankings are left for the Viewpoint section in one of Davis Gonsalves’ fine columns. But, seeing as the NBA playoffs have tipped off this past weekend, I’m ready to offer up some rankings of my own.
Yes, that’s right — in this column, after some consultation with friend and current resident of Scotland Bartosz Janczuk, I’ll be ranking the five teams I believe have the best shot to win this year’s NBA finals.
1. Houston Rockets
It’s a safe choice for most likely champions, but it’s probably the right choice to choose the Rockets, the team with the NBA’s best record this year.
James Harden has once again proven himself to be the NBA’s most prolific scorer and likely MVP — though, I would argue LeBron James is more deserving this year, but that’s another Sports Authority for another day.
Chris Paul has seen a career renaissance, free to unleash his creative potential after finally being freed from the burden of carrying middling playoff teams on his shoulders.
If the Rockets can continue to get solid performances from role players like Clint Capela, Eric Gordon and Trevor Ariza, look for them to hoist the Larry O’Brien Trophy in an off year for perennial Western Conference favorite Golden State.
2. Golden State Warriors
There’s not a lot to say about the Warriors that hasn’t already been said.
The defending champions possess one of the best cores of players in NBA history, with Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, who showed his importance in the Warriors’ first-round game against the Spurs on Saturday with a team-high 27 points on 11-for-13 shooting from the floor.
What prevents the Warriors from being the odds-on favorite to repeat this year is really Curry’s MCL injury.
If the two-time MVP can come back at his best, the Warriors might surpass the Rockets for being my favorites to win it all given their experience; but if Curry struggles in his return, or if his return is delayed, the Warriors will likely fall to Houston in the conference finals.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Yes, the Cavaliers looked pretty awful during the middle of the year.
Yes, the team went through a massive roster overhaul in the middle of the season.
Yes, a Lebron James-led team hasn’t been seeded this low in recent memory; but it would be a huge mistake to count out the Cavaliers in a wide-open Eastern Conference in which the top-seeded team — the later discussed Raptors — has a history of playoff failure, the second-seed has lost its best player to injury and the third-seed is young and fun but supremely inexperienced.
This isn’t to say the Cavaliers only have a shot of making it out of the East and winning the finals by nature of their weak surroundings. In fact, LeBron’s play has been some of the most impressive basketball of his career, finishing the season third in points per game, second in assists per game and tied for 15th in rebounds per game.
When one of the best players in history is playing that well, you have to like his team’s chances.
4. Philadelphia 76ers
As a pretty big Sixers fan, who has long trusted the process, it warms my heart to be able to put them this high on the list, and it’s something I wouldn’t have told you is possible even four or five months ago.
But the evidence is hard to argue against.
Like I’ve previously mentioned with the Cavaliers, the Eastern Conference is wide open this year, and the Sixers have caught fire at the right time to make a run, ending the season on a 16-game win streak — half of those without star center Joel Embiid, who will bring with him 22.9 points, 11 rebounds and the NBA’s best mask to every game when he makes his return in the playoffs.
A lot of the Sixers’ success rests on the shoulders of Ben Simmons, though, who has appeared to be a latter-day Magic Johnson with his triple-doubles as of late.
If Simmons can work his magic and Embiid comes back at his best, the Sixers have a realistic shot of at least making the Eastern Conference finals, with matchups against the Miami Heat in the first round and a potential second-round matchup against an injury-ravaged Celtics team both looking very winnable.
5. Toronto Raptors
Sure, there’s a lot to like about the Raptors, namely that they have one of the best guard duos in the association with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry — up there with Paul and Harden on the Rockets, Curry and Thompson on the Warriors and Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum on the Portland Trail Blazers.
But while they have the best record in the East this year, they face a few problems in advancing in the playoffs.
First, they’ll have to come up against James and the Cavaliers in the second round if they advance past the Washington Wizards.
Second, they have historically underperformed in the playoffs.
And finally, while DeRozan and Lowry are both fantastic players, they are not bonafide superstars — a necessity for any team to win an NBA title in recent memory.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.