We’re more than halfway through the 2016-2017 NBA season, and teams are starting to show their endurance, in the Warriors case, or lack of endurance, in the Cavs case, and we’re being shown who is willing to contend for the NBA title come June. There’s been many surprises this year in terms of teams who could potentially make it far in the Playoffs; teams like the Celtics and the Jazz instantly come to mind. But which teams could bring the chip home, and what’s it going to take for the smaller teams to go places at the end of the season?
Golden State Warriors
I was unwilling to believe the Warriors were almost guaranteed to win the title this year, or at least make it to the Finals. But I think it’s about time I put my pride aside and admit that they are perhaps the greatest team of all time, certainly in terms of talent and superstar ability, and it’s very likely that they’ll sweep the entire playoffs, not just one series. The NBA’s super team are 42-7 this year, which is slightly worse than their record-breaking season last year, but that’s understandable considering teams are building their rosters around beating Golden State this season. The Warriors are creating a habit out of beating other teams solely on offense in order to combat their lack of defence in the paint after the trade away of Andrew Bogut. Looking at Warriors star PG Steph Curry’s recent stretch of games; he’s been putting up big numbers, with the most recent being a 39 point performance last night against the Hornets. What’s scarier though, is that he’s putting up these huge games in 3 quarters of play, allowing the Warriors’ bench players to play in the 4th as they blow out every team in the league. There’s no doubt in any fan’s mind, even fans of other teams such as myself, that the Warriors are title contenders, and as long as they can continue to outscore teams in dominant offensive play, they could bring the title back to Cali come June.
The reigning champions of the NBA were guaranteed to make the finals again this year, and were highly bet on to keep the title in Cleveland as the playoffs came to a close. But the Cavs have gotten off to a rough start in 2017, losing 8-15 in January. Continued complaints from LeBron on how the Cavs “need a fucking playmaker” have caused some distress from fans of ‘The Land,’ and the frequent losses in poor performances have definitely lowered the morale of the roster, which certainly isn’t helping their record. The current title holders are 33-15 in the regular season, which arguably isn’t a bad record; but for a team hoping to hold onto the title in a battle with the superstar squad in Golden State, they’re going to have to improve this month if they hope to put up a fight against the Warriors come June. It’s very likely that the Cavs will make it to the Finals again this year, but they need to start making smarter decisions in game-clinching moments if they wish to keep the chip in The Land. The reigning champs, led by NBA superstar LeBron James, definitely have the talent at their disposal to keep hold of the title, but can they overcome the pressure of possibly going back-to-back? And can they find a way to take down the Golden State Warriors.
San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard, sorry, the Spurs, have surprised a lot of NBA fans this year by putting up a solid performance in the regular season, despite the retirement of franchise player Tim Duncan. Led by the best defender in the league in Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio have put up a 37-11 performance this season, giving them the 2nd seed in the West, and 2nd best position in the NBA’s power ranking. It’s been a long time since the Spurs have had a bad season, and this season is no exception, with star player Kawhi putting up huge numbers recently; scoring over 35 in 5 of their last 10 games. While they don’t have the presence in the paint, at least in terms of size, the Spurs make up for it with sheer athleticism and superb ball movement which allows them to put up big numbers in their games, while also playing some of the best defence in the league. Like all other teams though, they could struggle to win against the Warriors come June, but they are certainly contenders for the title, and are almost guaranteed to make it the conference finals.
It’s been a long time coming for a Rockets fan like myself, but we can finally say that Houston are a threat to win the title, and if not, they are definitely in the conversation. Led by leading MVP candidate James Harden, Houston are boasting an impressive 36-16 record, giving them the 3rd seed spot in a tough Western conference. While it was a questionable decision in putting Harden at the point guard role, there’s no doubt that it was the right call by the Rockets, as he’s putting up huge numbers in not only points (28.5), but assists also (11.5). They’re 1-1 against Golden State, which is an impressive stat in itself, but are holding strong in the West, despite only having one star. While they’re not the first team that would come to mind when thinking about title contenders, even if you are a Rockets fan, there’s no doubt in my mind that Houston could bring the title home, as long as The Beard continues to have an MVP season like he has so far. Houston could paint the title red yet.
The Raptors have possession of one of the deadliest duos in recent history in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and are holding onto a strong record in the East with a 30-20 stretch of strong performances. Toronto have a strong presence in the paint with prolific shot blocker and elite defender Jonas Valanciunas, as well as athletic finishers in DeMar DeRozan and Norman Powell. They have the ability to wear teams down with their strong defence and ability to go on crazy runs in tight games. Kyle Lowry has become a deadeye shooter in recent years, despite his underrated stature in the NBA, and has a strong connection with offensive superstar DeRozan, who can drive inside and kick out to Lowry if faced with too much defensive pressure. Not many people would say the Raptors have the ability to bring the title home, but I warn NBA teams to stay aware of Toronto, because they can put up big performances if you sleep on them. Watch out for these guys, they could be champions yet, even making it to the conference finals would be a big achievement for this roster. But they have the talent to win the title, let’s just hope the Raptors don’t choke, because they are an exciting team to watch, no doubt.
The Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder are arguably in the conversation for title contenders, but I would believe that it’s highly unlikely due to their lack of depth on the bench, and lack of scorers other than their respective stars in Isaiah Thomas and triple-double monster Russel Westbrook. They could create some surprises come June, but the odds are certainly not in the favours of these team carriers. A possible sleeper team could be the Washington Wizards, led by John Wall and Bradley Beal, who are putting up a great stretch of games of recent. Watch out for Washington, they could surprise people this season.
Well there’s my thoughts on the 2016-2017 season title contenders. Let me know who you think could bring the chip home below, and follow my blog for more NBA posts. Check out my Twitter to keep up to date with blog posts and my general shite talking. Enjoy your day!