Teams With the Best Odds to Win An NBA Championship (2018)
Stephen Curry, the second-leading scorer on the Golden State Warriors, suffered a Grade 2 sprain of his MCL on Friday night in a victory against the Atlanta Hawks. Curry injured his knee during his first game back in the lineup after missing six games with an injured ankle. Stef’s knee will be re-evaluated in three weeks, according to Steve Kerr. His status for the playoffs is in doubt. The Warriors have suffered injuries to several players in recent weeks. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant have all missed time. The Warriors team is struggling. Let’s break down the other leading contenders for an NBA Championship and examine the odds of winning.
Toronto Raptors (55-21); First Place in the Eastern Conference
For the past three seasons, the Raptors have been the team everyone roots for. Fans love their dynamic style of play, their “do everything” backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, and the team’s number one celebrity fan, Drake, the “ChampagnePapi.” The Raptors have won more than 50 games for three consecutive seasons, but have struggled in the playoffs. Kyle Lowry has bared the brunt of criticism for the team’s failures. This season could be different. Toronto has the league’s third-best defense, per NBA.com. The Raptors shoot the three more efficiently than in past seasons and they are sharing the ball, averaging over 24 assists per game.
Finally, Dewane Casey has a team that isn’t solely reliant on DeRozan and Lowry. The Raptors have a complete roster of young players and a strong bench. The Washington Post wrote in March, “Rookie OG Anunoby has stepped into the starting lineup and given the Raptors the big, physical presence on the wings they’ve been searching for. Fred VanVleet is a reliable option at point guard, power forward Pascal Siakam and center Jakob Poeltl have developed into key contributors, while this summer’s main offseason acquisition, swingman C.J. Miles, has helped Toronto’s efforts to become a better three-point shooting team.” If any Eastern Conference team has a legitimate shot to win a title in June, it could be the only NBA franchise from Canada.
Boston Celtics (53-23) Second Place in the Eastern Conference
Talk about a roller coaster. The Celtics made big off-season news by acquiring Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and drafting Jayson Tatum. Brad Stevens’ squad has contended for the top spot in the East for most of the season. But by March, Boston is plagued by injuries to four key players. ‘Uncle Drew’ has a sore knee, Hayward suffered a gruesome ankle injury during the first 20 minutes of his Celtics debut, Marcus Smart tore a tendon in his right thumb, and Jaylen Brown suffered a concussion.
Somehow the Celtics are thriving. They’re currently riding a six-game winning streak with almost an entirely new rotation including Greg Monroe, Marcus Morris, Terry Rozier, and Shane Larkin. Their defense is leading the way but in the playoffs, you need players on the floor that can create their own shots. In order for the Celtics to dethrone the Warriors, they need a healthy and dominant Kyrie Irving. Unfortunately, on Thursday, the Celtics confirmed that Irving needs another procedure to his left knee and will miss the entirety of the playoffs.
Houston Rockets (62-15) First Place in the Western Conference
For the past three seasons, James Harden has unsuccessfully campaigned to be an NBA Champion and the best player in the game. After coming up short, Rockets ownership pushed all their chips to the center of the table and acquired All-Star PG Chris Paul. But even Paul has never made it past the second round. Team executives are confident the pieces are finally in place to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. Houston has the home court advantage throughout the playoffs, and Harden is expected to be this year’s league MVP. But the playoffs remain.
D’Antoni’s fast-paced offense and Harden’s scoring ability won’t change the duo’s playoff futility. Harden suffered the worst choke job in his career–10 points on 2-for-11 shooting with six turnovers and six fouls in a Game 5 loss to the Spurs in 2017. The Spurs were without their best player Kawhi Leonard and the Rockets still lost the closeout game of the series at home.
Before the 2017 run, the last time Mike D’Antoni won a playoff game was in 2008. D’Antoni still hasn’t proven his schemes can win in the playoffs. As SI.com detailed, “D’Antoni’s teams are too dependent on three-pointers, too willing to trade buckets, and capable of blowing away weaker opponents only to look mortal against top competition.” Until the Rockets win an NBA Championship, Houston will be a good team, but not good enough.
Portland Trailblazers (48-29) Second Place in the Western Conference
The backcourt combination of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum has led the Trail Blazers to the playoffs for five consecutive seasons. But, “Rip City” has failed to get over the postseason hump. Head coach Terry Stotz and “Dame Dollar” are trying to rewrite Portland’s fortunes. After a heart-to-heart with ownership, Dame led the team to a stretch of 14 out 15 wins in February. NBA observers agree, “Lillard is playing the best basketball of his career, and Portland has emerged as one of the league’s most enjoyable teams, riding that second-half surge all the way to third place in the Western Conference.”
The Trail Blazers play well on the road (won seven straight away from home) and have gotten vital offensive contributions from Maurice Harkless (currently injured, but expected to be back for the playoffs) and Evan Turner. Plus, Portland’s defense has improved since last season. Jusuf Nurkic protects the rim and is a solid rebounder, while Al-Farouq Aminu is one of the league’s best defenders. If and when the Trail Blazers face the Rockets, it will be the best series of the postseason.
Cleveland Cavaliers (47-30) Third Place in the Eastern Conference
We’ve written extensively about the Cavaliers and LeBron James. Quite honestly, the only reason they’re a championship contender is the state of the Eastern Conference. Between the Cavs’ injuries, roster turnover, horrendous defense, and lack of cohesion, this version of Believeland is the weakest of recent years. But when you arguably have the best basketball player on the planet on your roster, an NBA title isn’t out of question.
F&TS has repeatedly argued LeBron can’t play at superhuman levels forever. Plus, we argue LeBron’s ball-dominant style inhibits offensive flow and stifles skilled players around him. We know he is the best player in the league. But if Kyrie couldn’t play with him, how do you build a second championship team around him?