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When it comes to the NBA Finals, the two teams that have squared off with the Larry O’Brien Trophy up for grabs the last three seasons — the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors — are regarded by many as the favorites to play for the gold for a fourth consecutive time come June.
However, when it comes to whether the Cavaliers, who won the title in 2016, and the Warriors, who prevailed in 2015 and 2017, is less likely to reach the Finals, NBA insider Marc Stein’s choice may come as a surprise to many.
Writing in his weekly newsletter, Stein, now of the New York Times, says:
Cleveland — after enduring what seemed like four or five exhausting seasons within this roller-coaster campaign — is suddenly a safer bet than Golden State to get back to a fourth successive NBA Finals.
We repeat: The current landscape makes it more likely you’ll see the soup-throwing J.R. Smith in this spring’s Finals than Stephen Curry.
Absolutely no one saw that coming. But it’s true.
Stein explained his rationale regarding the Cavaliers.
Finishing fourth in the East, as so-so as that sounds, shouldn’t be too damaging for the Cavaliers, because they appear to have restored their mental edge over East-leading Toronto given the outcome of the teams’ last two regular-season meetings. Finishing third in the East shouldn’t be a problem for Cleveland, either, because second-seeded (and injury-ravaged) Boston won’t have either Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward in the playoffs.
Who in the Leastern Conference, then, is capable of preventing LeBron James from reaching the championship round for the eighth successive time?
Stein then laid out his reasoning why he believes Golden State is more vulnerable.
Now consider the Warriors’ plight. Curry (knee sprain) is expected to miss the whole first round. The reigning champions also won’t have home-court advantage even if they reach the Western Conference finals showdown with Houston we’ve been building toward all season. With tough outs like Utah and Oklahoma City also floating in the West bracket, Golden State suddenly can’t be certain of anything.
These same Warriors, remember, began the season as the most overwhelming title favorite since Michael Jordan’s second three-peat in Chicago.
Cavs against … anyone but the Warriors in the Finals? That just sounds strange.