The Golden State Warriors are the No.1 seed in the Western Conference for a third straight year, having finished the regular season with the NBA’s best record in each season. It would be a major upset for them to lose in one of the first few rounds of the playoffs, and they are the odds-on favorites to win the 2017 NBA Finals.
When the Warriors are playing their best, they appear to be unstoppable. They won 67 games despite losing their best player for over a month, and Golden State still managed to go on a 13-game winning streak as Kevin Durant recovered from a knee injury. Durant and Stephen Curry give the Warriors two bonafide top-10 players (arguably top-five) on their roster, and Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are also All-Stars.
With so much talent on one team and the odds so heavily in their favor, it begs the question—can anyone beat the Warriors in the 2017 playoffs?
Barring an injury, Golden State will be extremely difficult to knock off. Only a handful of teams even have a realistic chance to defeat the Warriors four times in seven games.
The Cavaliers have to be the No.1 choice to upset the Warriors, simply because they’ve done it before. On the heels of the best regular season in NBA history, Golden State was beaten by Cleveland in the NBA Finals. Even though the Warriors added Durant, it’d be hard to say that they are much better than they were a season ago, considering the records they set in 2067.
The Cavs would be heavy underdogs against the Warriors, and rightfully so. Cleveland’s defense has been below-average since the All-Star break, and they haven’t looked like a championship team for some time. But the Cavs are likely headed to the NBA Finals because the Eastern Conference has proved to be so weak, and they have the best weapon in all of basketball.
Cleveland is the only team that can confidently say they have the best player in a series against Golden State. LeBron James has been the No.1 player on the planet for the last decade, and there are no signs that he’s slowed down since putting together an NBA Finals for the ages in 2016. Even in his 14th season, James has begun the playoffs with an average of 28.5 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists on 57.5 percent shooting in two games, and he can upset the Warriors with help from Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.
San Antonio Spurs
The Warriors are clearly the NBA’s best team, but the Spurs have also proven to be a level above the rest of the West. San Antonio has won more than 60 games for a second straight season, and in some ways, they are more dangerous than San Antonio's 67-win team from 2016.
No team can defeat Golden State without a world class performance from one player, and Kawhi Leonard might have what it takes to do just that. He’s gotten even better after finishing second to only Curry in last year’s MVP race, proving to be much more than just the NBA’s best perimeter defender and a good offensive player. He had 26 games with at least 30 points in the regular season, and he began the playoffs by totaling 69 points on just 28 shots in two games.
San Antonio has the NBA’s best defense, and they are the only team that allowed fewer points per possession than Golden State. The Warriors struggled in last year’s postseason when Curry had trouble shooting, and the same could happen in a matchup against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. With the league’s top defense and coach, San Antonio certainly has a chance to win the 2017 title.
Sixteen teams made it to the 2017 NBA Playoffs, but the hunt for the championship is really a three-team race. The Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers are the only legitimate title contenders, and it’s hard to fathom any of the 13 other teams posing a real threat to win the championship.
A case can be made for the Houston Rockets to make a run in the West. They won even more games than the Cavs, and James Harden might have had the best regular season of any player. But Houston’s path to a title is seemingly impossible to overcome, given that they would likely have to defeat Golden State, San Antonio and Cleveland. The Rockets are ranked in the bottom half of the league in defense, and Harden doesn’t have enough support in order for Houston to overcome their deficiencies against Golden State.
The Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers had the same regular-season record as the Cavs, but they are facing each other in the first round, and the winner won’t make it beyond five games against the Warriors in Round No.2. In the East, the No.1 seed Boston Celtics might not even make it to the conference semifinals. No one else in the conference is going to stop LeBron James’ streak of consecutive finals appearances.