[lightbox thumb=”https://theafricanamericanathlete.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Cleveland-Cavaliers-at-Golden-State-Warriors1.jpg”]Are the Cavs and Warriors headed for yet another Finals showdown?
By Sope Eweje, For The African-American Athlete
Only one month remains until the end of the NBA regular season. For the most part, things are as they were expected to be: Golden State with a league-best 52-11 record, the Cavaliers on top in the East.
The two teams seem to be on a collision course for a third straight meeting in the NBA finals. But with a number unforeseen of injuries, trades, and signings in mind, here are 3 things to keep an eye on for the rest of the season:
- Kevin Durant’s injury. For now, the Warriors’ big four have become the big three. Kevin Durant’s knee injury, which has kept him out “indefinitely”, has become a chink in what was before the largely impenetrable armor of the Golden State Warriors.
Although it’s unlikely Gregg Popovich will try to make an intentional move to overtake the Spurs, the Warriors are certainly feeling a lot more pressure going into the playoffs than they did last season. Let’s not get it twisted though: the Warriors are arguably still the best team in conference, with or without Kevin Durant. However, they will not win a championship without his contribution. We’ll have to wait and see when KD will return and when he does, how ready he will be to bring his team another ring.
- Fight for the 8th seed in the West: With six and a half games separating the Russell Westbrook-led Thunder in the No. 7 spot, and the No. 8 Nuggets in the Western Conference, the rest of the season will likely be figuring out the order of the top seven seeds, and who will take the final playoff seed.
Most basketball fans would like to see the Pelicans and their newly acquired big man DeMarcus Cousins take the No. 8 spot ,and see if the Warriors (more than likely) would be able to handle the Anthony Davis-Cousins duo inside with their lack of an interior presence. But with the Pelicans four and half games back from the No. 8 seed8, we’re more likely to see the Nuggets, Trailblazers (one and half games back), and Mavericks (two games back) fight it out for a chance to unseat the Warriors (again, more than likely) as Western Conference champs.
- Cavs coming back to full strength. The Cleveland Cavaliers have lost 4 of their last 6 games, including 2 losses to the Miami Heat, who are not currently a playoff team. Although the team was missing either Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, or both during two of these losses, such a skid so close to April is rare for a team looking to contend for another championship.But Cavs fans fear not: help is on the way, in the form of the returns of J.R. Smith and Kevin Love. Love, who’s been out since mid-February after his knee surgery, will likely be back in action by the beginning of April, a couple weeks before the start of the playoffs. Smith, who made headlines by confronting Dion Waiters from the sideline in a recent game in Miami.
- was cleared to practice on Wednesday and will probably be seeing real game action soon. Throw in the signing of 3-time All-Star Deron Williams, and the Cavs are shaping up to be a lot more dangerous than their recent performances indicate. If not for recent signee Andrew Bogut’s injury during his first game with the team, the Cavs could have been a lock for the Finals; as it is now, we’ll have to see if their interior defense can hold up against their Eastern Conference foes.
Overall, it’s shaping up to be an exciting conclusion to the end of the regular season. Russell Westbrook, in a rebirth of triple-double machine Oscar Robertson, needs to average 8.2 assists and 9.9 rebounds for the rest of the season to finish with a triple-double average and is certainly leading the MVP race.
There seems to be another buzzer-beating, game-winning shot or jaw-dropping dunk every night. The games will only be getting more exciting and intense from this point on. Make sure you’re tuned in.