Last Tuesday, the annual poll of general managers by NBA.com was released as the overwhelming majority of general managers predicted a third straight year of the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors in the finals. 29 of the 30 teams voted for a rematch as general managers were not allowed to vote for their own clubs.
While everyone is so quick to say ‘Let’s skip the NBA season and return to the finals with these two clubs,’ I would not be quick to say that, as there are three teams in each conference that could derail the Cavs or Warriors from making it back.
In the East, the third most likely team to stop LeBron from reaching a seventh straight final is led by someone dear to all of Storrs. Kemba Walker and the newly renovated Charlotte Hornets will be a legit team this season, as they added Roy Hibbert and are welcoming back Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. In 2015, the Hornets ranked ninth in both offensive and defensive efficiency, and they are a potent team, with a young core of Walker, Marvin Williams, Nicholas Batum and Frank Kaminsky.
Look for the Hornets to vastly improve from their previous 48 game win total and nab a top four seed in the East. The Hornets will be able to give the Cavaliers a good battle in the second round of the Eastern Conference and might be able to pull off an upset.
In the West, the third most likely team to stop Steph Curry and Kevin Durant from returning to the finals is the Houston Rockets. Yes, I am aware that James Harden does not play defense, but this season after hiring Mike D’Antoni and picking up Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, they have shown that defense will not be necessary. While the Cavs tried to slow the game down and keep the scoring in the 80’s and 90’s, the Rockets will be setting a record for three point attempts and will seek to score 110 or more points a game.
James Harden will be top-three in MVP voting, as they will be fun to watch and will be able to force the Warriors to score. The Rockets, barring a bottom five defense, will be able to be competitive in the West and should earn a top four seed in the playoffs.
Staying in the West, the second best team who has a shot to dethrone the Warriors is the Los Angeles Lakers. All jokes aside, it is the Clippers who are led by Blake Griffin and Chris Paul. Last season, the Clippers won 53 games with Griffin missing 60 percent of the season. For the upcoming season, L.A. will have DeAndre Jordan in his prime and will welcome Cole Aldrich and Marreese Speights for depth.
The Clippers this season will once again be run by a superior head coach, Doc Rivers, and should play well on both sides of the ball. With J.J. Redick, Paul, Jordan and Griffin, the Clippers certainly have the skill and the star power to match up with the Warriors.
The second-best team in the East is the Toronto Raptors, led by all-star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. After a two seed last season and DeMarre Carroll hopefully staying healthy, the Raptors will have the athleticism and offensive firepower to stay neck and neck with the Cavs.
Matt Kren is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering women’s basketball. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.