There is no doubt that what we are seeing since 2015 is the era of the GSW vs. CC feud. Ever since LeBron James became an unrestricted free agent back in 2014 after opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat and chose to return to the Cavaliers, the Cleveland team has experienced a performance spike. In the four seasons after LeBron left, the Cavaliers managed to achieve a league-worst 97–215 record. But with his return, combined with acquiring Kevin Love from the Timberwolves and already reigning star Kyrie Irving, the newly formed Big Three turned the tables for the Cavaliers.
LeBron led on the offensive until the 2015 Finals, where they lost 2-4 to Golden State, starting the feud with the Cleveland team. The Cavaliers were vindicated last year, when they returned to the court for a rematch and inflicted a 4-3 loss on the Dubs, despite the defending champions’ home court advantage. The Draymond Green-James controversy only served to fuel the rivalry further. The Warriors took their revenge this year, when the two teams faced off again – setting a record as the only two teams to meet at the Finals for a third consecutive year. The Warriors entered with another first in playoff history under their belt, as they started 12–0 – and quickly proved odds true and took home the championship.
The Golden State team have had it easier for a while now: the Fantastic Four, led by unstoppable Curry and Durant, is a guarantee for success. Green is also a force to be reckoned with (last year he became the first player ever to post a triple-double with less than 10 points) – and he has a bone to pick with James, so he is furious. After their performance last year, which saw them accomplish a .941 winning percentage – the best ever in the playoffs history – it is no wonder that the Warriors currently feature first in odds, leaving the Cavaliers lagging in second place.
Gone are the days that the San Antonio Spurs ruled the court – and the retirement of Duncan last year after 19 seasons with the legendary team only makes their win prospects that much more uncertain. Yet the Texas team has a history to live up to, they have soul, and they have a true star in Kawhi Leonard. The 26-year-old forward has been named the NBA Finals MVP in 2014 with the Spurs, he won the title for NBA Defensive Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016 and has been selected for the All-NBA First Team roster twice.
In the 2016-2017 season, Leonard recorded a personal high of 27.7 points per game, with 7.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists (another personal record) and 1.7 steals per game. Combine that rising star with veterans Parker, Ginóbili and Aldridge and it is not hard to understand how the Spurs managed to overcome Duncan’s loss and go all the way to the Western Conference Finals this year – where they were dismantled by the Warriors in four games. The end of the regular season left them with a 61–21 record, having eliminated the Memphis Grizzlies and the Houston Rockets along the way.
During the offseason, the Spurs re-signed Patty Mills and drafted promising fresh talent in Derrick White. They also reportedly passed on Derrick Rose – they said early on that they were interested in signing the 28-year-old point guard, but apparently changed their mind after seeing how that situation evolved. This means that we might be looking at also rising star Dejounte Murray getting more game time, in coordination with Mills and White at point guard. This foggy situation, along with superstar Tony Parker currently suffering from a torn quad that will probably force him to miss the fall and early winter games and into the winter, makes the Spurs an unlikely favourite for the title.
The Boston locals managed a 53–29 record to secure first seed on the Eastern Conference playoffs and ultimately lost 4–1 to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The team is currently tied with the Spurs in terms of odds, but just might be in a better position to handle the upcoming heat. The Celtics have strengthened their roster considerably, by acquiring Detroit product Aron Baynes to reinforce their front court as well as signing small forward Gordon Hayward for four years from Utah Jazz. It has been quite a year for the 27-year-old, as he was just named an NBA All-Star in 2017 and also scored a career-high 40 points in a single game against the Los Angeles Clippers last April.
The 6-foot-8-inch tall small forward is expected to take up regular duties on the Celtics’ roster, forming the Boston team’s very own Big Three alongside Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford. Formerly an Atlanta Hawks power forward, Horford signed with the Celtics last year on a $113 million contract that still has 3 years left on it. He has been selected four times as an NBA All-Star (2010, 2011, 2015 and 2016) and finished last season with an average of 14.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.2 blocks per game. A strong defender and the best passer on the roster, he is excellent in freeing up Thomas for scoring.
Isaiah Thomas has positioned himself as a valuable point guard with the Celtics ever since joining the team two years ago. Standing at only 5 feet and 9 inches tall, the Washington native has already been named an NBA All-Star twice in the past two years and an All-NBA Team player in 2017. Despite this, 2017 has not treated Thomas very well: he had to overcome a personal tragedy after learning that his younger sister had died in a car accident just one day before he led the Celtics to a 4–2 victory against the Chicago Bulls and he was retracted from the postseason after two losses to the Cavaliers due to a hip injury.
All in all, it seems that Thomas is eager to make up for lost time and establish himself as one of the Celtics’ true stars. He also seems to have what it takes: last year, he scored 53 points in Game 2 against the Washington Wizards, the second highest record in playoffs history for the Boston team. With Horford and Hayward at his side, he is set on exacting revenge and pushing the Celtics even further – which is why Celtics are probably a better bet than Spurs on the dark horse league. We will see how the season goes, potential injuries and all, but still reigning Warriors and the risen-from-the-ashes Cavaliers are the two teams that are the only safe bet for winning the title. The Warriors are the odds favourite, but the Cavaliers having signed Derrick Rose might just even the game a bit.