We are seeing one of the more exciting NBA playoffs in recent memory. Unlike past playoffs wherein dominant teams go all the way to the NBA Finals, this one is wide open and any of the teams playing in the semifinals have a legitimate shot. For instance, in the weak Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat went to the Finals four straight years before LeBron James returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Out in the West, defending champions San Antonio Spurs have been booted out while another perennial contender Oklahoma City Thunder didn’t even make it.
The match-ups have been so close that several of the games have been decided by game-winning baskets in the dying seconds. To underscore the competitiveness, all of the series are at least going to a Game 6 and some all the way to a Game 7.
What makes it more compelling is the fact that several teams are attempting to make history. The Los Angeles Clippers, for example, once called the worst franchise in professional sports are attempting to make the Conference Finals for the first time in history. The Atlanta Hawks too have never been to a Conference Finals. The Cavaliers, meanwhile, who just clinched a trip to the Conference Finals yesterday, have never won an NBA trophy. The Golden State Warriors are also making a bid to win their first championship in nearly 40 years.
The LeBron James-led Cavaliers are just waiting for the winner between the Washington Wizards and the Atlanta Hawks series but they are in quite a fix. The Cavs already lost star center Kevin Love to injuries and recently, point guard Kyrie Irving went down with a knee injury. They have one more week to rest and recuperate before the Eastern Conference Finals start. Both the Wizards and the Hawks are dangerous opponents but the Cavs would likely want an easier match-up with the Wizards.
In the West, the Golden State Warriors are heavily favored to advance since they now hold a slight but decisive 3-2 edge over the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies have managed to slow down the run-and-gun Warriors but they simply don’t have enough to keep pace with the Warriors.
On the opposite end, the Houston Rockets and the Los Angeles Clippers are playing a decisive Game 7 for the right to advance. Down by 19 in the 4th quarter, the Rockets managed to pull off one of the more stunning comebacks in playoff history and stave off elimination. The Rockets have the momentum and home court advantage going into Game 7. If I recall, the Rockets have not been to the NBA Finals since the Hakeem Olajuwon era in the mid 90’s.
The stage is set for a new NBA champion to ascend the throne and for once in a long time, there are no clear favorites.