Blogtable: Other favorites to make 2017 NBA Finals?
Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day.
Many see a Warriors-Cavs rematch in The Finals this season, but give me at least two other teams that have a legitimate shot to win it all.
Steve Aschburner: Apparently someone leaked the very hackable Blogtable questions to Golden State, which tried to head off attempts to characterize the Clippers’ hopes for this season as a “legitimate shot.” The Warriors dismantled L.A. Tuesday night in their preseason clash, as if trying to win all four regular-season meetings (psychologically, at least) right there at Oracle in October. Nonetheless, I’m going with the Clippers and the Spurs. L.A. has the necessary blend of talent and experience, on the court and the sideline, if health and momentum break the Clippers’ way for a best-of-seven series. As for San Antonio, it’s the years – wait, decades – of institutional respect that organization has amassed that earns them this nod. That and process of elimination, since I can’t envision any of the other 26 teams snagging the Larry O’Brien trophy come June.
Fran Blinebury: Well, since you’re asking for the wild and unlikely, let’s go wildest and unlikeliest and say the Clippers will shake off all bad Clipper karma and raise the flag. One of these years, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin have got to catch a break. Don’t they? Over in the East, I can see Toronto and Boston both giving the Cavs a run to come out of the East.
Scott Howard-Cooper: Since you say I have to pick two teams, I’m going Clippers and Spurs. It’s difficult to pick two from the West because the Warriors could lose Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry to injury and still reach The Finals while the Cavaliers obviously take a massive step back if LeBron James is out. The East has a larger opening for someone other than the favorite to get through. Bottom line, though, I see San Antonio and the Clips as the next-best teams beyond Cleveland/Golden State. Certainly the Spurs will miss Tim Duncan, but Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, coach Gregg Popovich and others aren’t going to collapse. That’s still a quality roster. And, yeah, it’s never smart to count on the Clippers, but there is still a lot to like.
Shaun Powell: Clippers and Spurs. This could be the Last Stand in LA with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin facing free agency (though I doubt it) and so there’s a sense of urgency to get something done now; they’ll never have a better chance. The Spurs could win if everything falls in their favor (health, a bounce-back season from Tony Parker, etc.). They lack a true superstar but bring experience, defense and coach Gregg Popovich’s acumen — all of which could fuel a stunner.
John Schuhmann: Though their anchor is gone, the Spurs have to be at the top of the list until they come down from this 19-year run they’ve been on. They won 67 games last season and were, statistically, a better team than the 73-win Warriors. The Clippers have a lot of talent and the ability to be a top-five team on both ends of the floor. Given how they went out in the last three postseasons – choking against Oklahoma City in 2014, choking against Houston in 2015, and losing both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin to injuries in April – they certainly must feel like they have some unfinished business. Also, I’m really curious to see how the Celtics, a top-five defensive team that played the right way offensively (with pace and ball movement) will do with a big talent upgrade in Al Horford. If there’s some complacency in Cleveland, Boston could be in a position to take advantage.
Sekou Smith: The San Antonio Spurs belong in that group of two. As much as I’d like to see the Los Angeles Clippers finally find their way into that mix, I just don’t see them being on that level this season. The Spurs have the pieces, the coach and the collective chip on their shoulder to serve as the foil to the Warriors’ plans for a third straight trip to The Finals. I’m not saying they will pull it off. But if any team in the West can do it … There is no serious challenger to Cleveland on the other side of the conference divide, at least not one that I’ve seen in the flesh yet. Al Horford and the Atlanta Hawks couldn’t get a game off of the Cavaliers the past two postseasons. The Celtics with Horford could make things interesting, but only for a while. Boston would round out my group of two, based on what we know now.
Ian Thomsen: The Clippers are my darkhorse. Chris Paul is going to reach the NBA Finals sometime in his career – he’s too good not to – and L.A. has a better chance of knocking off Golden State this year while Durant and the Warriors are learning to play together. And then of course the Spurs will be there, with Pau Gasol standing in for Tim Duncan. Those are the only teams with the leadership, depth and experience to be champion.
Lang Whitaker: I can’t think of one in the East that I’d bank on, to be honest. I mean, the Raptors are probably leading the charge to compete, but I don’t think they’ll be able to get past the Cavaliers as currently constructed. In the West, I think health matters more than ever, and perhaps this is the year that the LA Clippers stay healthy and some things finally break their way. The clock is ticking on their big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan. You want to be Golden State? It’s going to take more than skill—someone is going to need to get lucky.
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