The NBA playoffs are here, making it one of the most exciting times of the year for basketball fans. Coming into this season, it seemed almost guaranteed that we were going to see the same NBA finals of Cleveland vs. Golden State. However, a lot of things have changed and we may be in for some surprises these playoffs, particularly in the Eastern Conference.
Cleveland is going to have a much more difficult road to finals than they did last year with teams such as Washington and Toronto being much improved. The Celtics are also better, but I do not think they will be able to challenge the Cavs like the Wizards and Raptors, just yet.
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, it is always a grind for teams to get to the finals. Golden State will have to deal with San Antonio, and a much improved Houston team that can match up well with them, offensively. Even the Los Angeles Clippers have looked very good lately and are finally starting to match their talent. Overall, things could get very interesting these playoffs.
With that being said, I thought it would be a fun idea to predict the next five conference final series along with the eventual champion, starting with this year. Be aware there will be some bold predictions, especially in the 2017 eastern conference.
15 2017 Eastern Conference Champion – Cleveland Cavaliers
If there is a year for a team to knock off LeBron James in the Eastern Conference playoffs it is this year. I know many people think the Cavs struggles are being overrated and people think they can flip a switch anytime they want, but I do not think this is the case. For instance, look at the Lakers team swept by the Mavericks in 2011. Many people were saying the same thing about the Lakers that they are saying about the Cavs now and ultimately, the Lakers fell short in the second round. The Cavs have built many bad habits, including horrendous team defense and this could back to bite them.
However, it is not smart to bet against the Cavs and LeBron in the Eastern Conference. Therefore, I am choosing them to get back to the finals. A team like the Raptors is likely the best positioned team to capitalize on the aforementioned weaknesses. The Raptors have a very good team, however, it just will not be enough to dethrone LeBron.
14 2017 Western Conference Champion – Golden State Warriors
While I think it will be a difficult road, the Golden State Warriors will be back in the finals for a third consecutive year. I am guessing that they will beat Portland, the Clippers in six games and the Spurs in seven games on their way to the finals.
The Warriors are going to be extra motivated in the playoffs after last year's debacle agaiunst Cleveland and let us face it, with the addition of Kevin Durant, the Warriors team is too talented to not make it to the finals. Maybe Draymond Green gets another silly suspension, or another key contributor goes down with injury, but other than that it is going to very tough to beat this team in a seven game series this year.
13 2017 NBA Champion – Golden State Warriors
The Warriors will just be too much for the Cavs to handle. Remember how everyone talked about the Patriots revenge tour for deflate gate? I almost see this season being a revenge tour for the Warriors in the sense that they had a chance to be the greatest team ever and they blew it.
In addition, many people also talk about how they were lucky to win a championship when Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love went down in 2015. Therefore, the Warriors are going to prove they are the real deal this season. Overall, I can see the Cavs stealing a game or two, but in the end the Warriors will be too good for them. Kevin Durant gets his long awaited ring, even though to me, it is not the same as if he won in Oklahoma.
12 2018 Eastern Conference Champion – Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers will learn in 2018 to take the regular season more seriously. This will help them develop good habits so they are not forced to try and flip a switch for crunch time. The Cavs will also make some additions to their roster, including star power in Dwayne Wade. Also, with their current roster, the Cavs have a lot of shooters, but not that many great defenders. The Cavs will look to address these issues as well in the off-season.
Overall, 2018 will be one of LeBron’s last chances to win a title, in my opinion. After all, he is not getting any younger and he has put a lot of mileage on his legs from annual deep playoff runs, or participation in international basketball over the summer. The Cavs will face some stiff competition from the likes of the Celtics, but ultimately, LeBron will get back to where he usually is, the Finals. Now if he wins there is a whole different argument.
11 2018 Western Conference Champion – Golden State Warriors
The Warriors are going to bring back much of the same team thanks to the increase in the salary cap. Steph Curry will resign and so will Kevin Durant. Therefore, the Warriors will still have their big four of Curry, Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green.
I do think the Warriors will lose Andre Iguodala. Iguodala has stepped his game up tremendously over the last couple of weeks and it may be enough to warrant big dollars from a desperate team.
However, Steve Kerr is a tremendous coach and will find a way to supplement the loss of Iggy. In the end, the result of the Western Conference will be what many basketball fans have come to expect over the last couple of seasons, the Warriors on top.
10 2018 NBA Champion – Golden State Warriors
How great would it be to get to watch the Golden State and Cleveland rivalry one more time in 2018? LeBron can state this is not a rivalry all he wants, but there are those of us that know better. The two teams clearly do not like each other, which can be seen in all of the off-court drama such as trolling Halloween parties, ultimate warrior t-shirts, talking about champagne in locker rooms, post-game chatter, etc.
Unfortunately for Cavalier fans, this series will not end the way they had hoped. LeBron's older age will catch up to him by the time the Finals roll around and others such as Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will not be enough support. Ultimately, the Warriors will repeat and have three championships in four years. Beware though, 2019 is when they will face some new competition in the West.
9 2019 Eastern Conference Champion – Boston Celtics
2019 is when I see Boston officially becoming the dominant team in the Eastern Conference. Isaiah Thomas will still be doing his thing and their will be more help for him on the way. With all of the assets the Celtics have, who knows what their starting lineup actually will be, but consider that they can add a max player in the 2017 offseason and also quite possibly the number one overall pick in this year's draft, and this team will be a threat for years to come. In addition, the Celtics have a great coach in Brad Stevens and this is a recipe for success.
Overall, every rebuilding manager needs to look at Danny Ainge and admire what he has been able to do in orchestrating this rebuild for the Celtics.
8 2019 Western Conference Champion – Minnesota Timberwolves
Remember when I said there will be a new threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference? Well that team is the young and upcoming Minnesota Timberwolves. Although their record may not show, I think the Wolves took some big steps in 2017. They blew a lot of leads in the fourth quarter and they can draw from these experiences in the future. They will know they have to play a certain way to win.
Therefore, in 2018, I think the Timberwolves will take their first major step by reaching the playoffs. They will probably lose in the first or second round, but this will be valuable experience for them. In 2019, under Tom Thibodeau’s lead, Andrew Wiggins and Karl Anthony-Towns will be very good players, leading the Wolves to the finals.
7 2019 NBA Champion – Boston Celtics
If both teams go in the direction like I think they are, Boston and Minnesota has the makings to be a fantastic series. Both teams will have players that should develop into great players such as Wiggins, Towns, and Jaylen Brown (you might have noticed I missed Zach Lavine, but that was on purpose, because I think he is going to get traded) In addition, players such as Isiah Thomas will still be very good.
Ultimately, I think the Celtics will come out on top of the series because they will be able to use their past experience to push them over the top. Remember, the Celtics have been in the playoffs the last couple of seasons and the Timberwolves have not. Experience does matter.
6 2020 Eastern Conference Champion – Boston Celtics
You see where I am getting with this. The Boston Celtics are already a good team, but in a a couple of years I am expecting them to be a very good team, especially if they continue to employ Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens. The Celtics will still have a good mixture of veterans and young players in Thomas, Brown, and future draft picks. I am also sure that Ainge will have added more notable talent to help keep the Celtics at the top of the league. What is it about Boston and having winning teams in every sport?
Overall, I do expect one difference in 2020, which is the Celtics facing stiff competition from some new teams, as you will see when we name their 2020 Finals opponent.
5 2020 Western Conference Champion – San Antonio Spurs
I think 2020 will be the last year for Gregg Popovich. He cannot coach forever, can he? Ultimately, I have too much respect for Popovich and the Spurs to not include them on this list at least once. Remember, Kawhi Leonard will only be 27 years old by the time 2019-20 rolls around. If he continues to get better every season, as we have seen throughout his career thus far, it is not hard to believe that he will be a top three player in the game, if he already is not.
One issue that I did have with this selection is that LaMarcus Aldridge may no longer be with the team. However, the Spurs are the best team in the NBA at adapting and this situation will be no different. They will have replacements that suit Leonard’s game if Aldridge is not back, and they will get to the finals once again.
4 2020 NBA Champion – San Antonio Spurs
Like I said above, I think 2020 will be Popovich’s last year and there will be a little more sense of urgency in San Antonio to send Pop out on a high note.
Would anybody really bet against Pop in a NBA finals series? I know he is not undefeated, but he is darn close. As a result of Pop and the system, the Spurs are able to roll out 12 players that can contribute on any given night. This will make a huge difference in June, when teams are tired.
Also, Leonard may be unstoppable by the time 2020 rolls around with the way he improves every year. The only factor really missing from his game is play-making. However, with his work ethic, expect Leonard to turn this around in no time.
3 2021–Eastern Conference Champion – Milwaukee Bucks
Look at how good Giannis Antetokounmpo already is. Remember, he is already this impressive at the age of 22. How good will he be three years from now when he will be 25 years old, which technically is not even the prime of a basketball player? Overall, the Greek Freak has the potential to be a top player in the NBA and if he works hard on his jumper, the Bucks will become a top team in the league.
Some may argue that the Bucks will not be able to attract free agents. However, I argue that players will want to come play with an unselfish player like Antetokounmpo. As a result, we will see the Bucks as one of the bigger threats to the Celtics in the upcoming years.
2 2021 Western Conference Champion – Minnesota Timberwolves
After reaching the finals in 2019, the Timberwolves will suffer an earlier exit in the 2020 playoffs. After this disappointment, the Twolves will be extra motivated the next year to get back to the promise land. Sometimes you must fail before you can succeed.
I also think that Wiggins will have developed into a much more all-around player by this time. He will be able to grab more rebounds and create more shots for his teammates. I realize a lot of this prediction is based on what the Wolves are supposed to become, but I see no reason why they will not live up to expectations. Towns and Wiggins will continue to improve, while Thibodeau and Wolves management put the right pieces around them.
1 2021 NBA Champion – Minnesota Timberwolves
Wiggins and Towns have gotten better every year in the league and this trend will continue into 2021. The Wolves also have a head coach that is more than adequate and when Thibodeau has his system full incorporated, the Wolves will become one of the better defensive teams in the league.
Basically, I view the Wolves as another version of the old Oklahoma City Thunder teams. The major difference is that there will be less chemistry issues with the Wolves. Wiggins and Towns will do what Westbrook and Durant could not, win a championship together.
Overall, I can see Wiggins and the Greek Freak being a great matchup, but Towns will prove to be the difference maker for the Wolves. It will also be the start of a great era of Minnesota basketball.