It would be downright negligent for an NBA staff not to offer championship predictions before the start of a new season, but when you have two favorites as heavy as the Warriors and Cavaliers, the entire exercise seems pretty trivial.
Spoiler alert: Every rationale basketball fan outside the city limits of Boston and Houston is pretty confident that Golden State and Cleveland will meet for a fourth consecutive year in the Finals. You could argue that both teams only got better this summer and neither team has a superstar outside of his prime. The 2017-18 season features two once-in-a-generation teams. Sure, there's a handful of challengers that made intriguing moves to take a run at the crown, but barring a catastrophic injury or plot twist, we're getting Warriors-Cavs IV. Book it.
The lack of suspense doesn't necessarily mean the season won't be any less fascinating, but it does take the unknown out of the equation a bit. For the sake of tradition, The Crossover asked its NBA writers to predict their 2018 Finals matchup and explain how we'd get there. You may notice a pattern.
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LEE JENKINS: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 6
I am disgusted with myself for the monotony of this pick, but there’s no other way to go in today’s NBA. The politicking, maneuvering and sub-tweeting are fascinating, but the actual competition is not. The Rockets, Timberwolves, Celtics and Thunder all made compelling moves this offseason, to what end? Barring injury—or some farfetched sneaker-fueled mutiny—nobody is catching the Warriors. The Cavaliers probably have the best chance, assuming Isaiah Thomas returns at full strength, because they should be deeper, tougher and a bit more equipped to defend the wing. They’re different, though not necessarily better. The gap between the Warriors and everybody else, created the day Kevin Durant signed, is not narrowing anytime soon.
BEN GOLLIVER: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 5
Anything short of a title for the Warriors would be a calamity given a businesslike summer that saw Stephen Curry re-sign, Kevin Durant return on a discount, and numerous helpful veterans arrive to fill out an already solid bench. There's a good chance that Golden State's toughest challenge of the 2018 postseason comes in the West finals, when it could face either San Antonio, presumably armed with a healthy Kawhi Leonard this time, or an improved Houston squad sporting a potential No. 1 ranked offense and a sturdier, more interchangeable defense.
On paper, a fully-healthy version of the 2018 Cavaliers matches up better with the Warriors than last year's version, thanks largely to the addition of Jae Crowder. But the sheer quantity of new faces around LeBron James coupled with new roles for the likes of J.R. Smith, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson makes it hard to believe that the new-look Cavaliers can narrow the gap with the Warriors, who are back and deeper than ever. A sweep isn't out of the question, especially if Cleveland opts against making a splashy midseason trade and strikes out on impact players during buyout season. And unless the Cavaliers substantially improve their backcourt defensive personnel, look for Curry to claim the first Finals MVP award of his career.
CHRIS BALLARD: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 6
It’d be great to drop a surprising prediction in here. Chris Paul convinces James Harden, possibly through hypnosis, to become the second coming of Alvin Robertson on D; Rockets knock off the Warriors. Giannis grows two more inches—in season, nonetheless—and develops a KD-level jumper; Bucks prevail in the East.
Alas, no such upsets await. Instead, the Warriors will coast through the regular season with the usual complement of manufactured storylines, minor-ish injuries, and the like, all the while further honing their ridiculously efficient offense and defense. In the East, the Wizards and Celtics will make things interesting, and the Sixers will be a blast, but in the end it’ll be LeBron, making one last run at a ring in Cleveland. Kevin Love, coming off his best season since the Minnesota days, will have his moments, as will an inspired Isaiah Thomas and a resurrected Dwyane Wade. But the Warriors are a team for the ages, one no longer playing for one season, but for history. Steph Curry will finally claim his Finals MVP, Joe Lacob will talk nonstop about the team’s upcoming move to San Francisco, and the only drama will come afterward, when the Warriors have to decide whether or not to visit the White House. After some discussion, they will decline President Pence’s invitation.
ANDREW SHARP: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 4
With all due respect to title predictions, the more interesting question is: 'Who might win if the Warriors are beset by calamity?' Imagine Steph Curry gets kidnapped and Kevin Durant breaks both his legs. Then what? Could the Thunder beat the Cavs and keep Paul George? Does LeBron win another title, stay in Cleveland, and go down as the greatest of all time?
Imagine how phenomenal the Western Conference playoffs would become if all these imperfect Golden State challengers were suddenly on equal footing, going to war for a real title shot. It's fun to dream about, and that dream can sustain us for at least another few months. But once April and May arrive, no, I will be not picking against the team that nearly went 16-0 in the playoffs last season, brings everyone back, and will be even more comfortable a year later.
ROB MAHONEY: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 5
The path to any other Finals pairing would mean picking against LeBron James, which is foolish, or picking against the Warriors, which is impossible. So instead, we’ll settle for history: an unprecedented fourth-straight meeting between two great teams. The familiarity between them is enough to supercharge any game they play, all while Cleveland has turned over enough of its roster to refresh the matchup. Sadly, that won’t be enough. It took all the field had just to take a single game off the Warriors in the 2017 playoffs. Golden State will only be better this time around: deeper, bolder, and more fully marinated in its own talents. This time last year, teams clung to the desperate hope that Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant might not jell as expected. The new pipe dream is, by necessity, more sinister: That an injury—the only equalizing force left—might bring the Warriors down to a vulnerable level.
JEREMY WOO: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 6
Four, five, six or seven seems to be the primary question revolving around preseason Finals picks, and there is not enough bravado in my soul to roll with any team that is not the Warriors. How many words can I expend explaining the inevitability of sure death, the constant dread of the passing of time, and the knowledge that any team with a healthy Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson as its principles is going to win the Finals? (Or the fact that they might only need three of those to do it). Look upon them and despair, LeBron James. We’re all wasting our time. Golden State is coming, and there is no heavy-handed analogy or hackneyed adjective left to foist upon our fate. What day is the draft lottery?
MATT DOLLINGER: WARRIORS OVER CAVS IN 5
Yeah, what they said.
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