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Early NBA Playoff Preview: Warriors-Cavs Again?

They’ve played almost 70 regular-season games, and it still looks like the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are going to meet in the NBA Finals again. The Warriors are –225 at press time to win the Western Conference, while the Cavaliers are –300 to win the East. But injuries have caused both teams to lose ground in the standings. If they don’t get healthy soon, they might end up as No. 2 seeds, or worse.

Eastern Conference

The Cavs should still have a relatively easy time getting to the Finals. The Toronto Raptors (+1200 to win the East) were outperforming them statistically to begin the season, but Kyle Lowry’s wrist injury may not be fully healed by the time the playoffs start. That’s given the Boston Celtics (+600) and Washington Wizards a chance to make a run at the No. 1 seed. Boston figures to be the better-equipped team of the two going forward.

It’s a dog’s breakfast in the East aside from those four teams. The Atlanta Hawks (+3300) look like they’ll make it in, but they’re not the same team since Al Horford went to Boston – and Kyle Korver to Cleveland. Maybe the Miami Heat (+5000) can pull off an upset after gelling around their new “Big Three” of Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Dion Waiters. It could happen.

Western Conference

Golden State’s position in the West is much more tenuous. While the Cavaliers miss Kevin Love, he’ll be back in the lineup shortly. Like Lowry, Kevin Durant isn’t expected back for the Warriors until the playoffs, and there’s no telling how his knee will hold up once he returns. The Dubs also have to fend off much stiffer competition than Cleveland. The San Antonio Spurs (+300 to win the West) and Houston Rockets (+750) are both better than the Cavs on paper, and the Los Angeles Clippers (+2000) can make the same claim when both Chris Paul and Blake Griffin are healthy, as they are now.

Even the next tier of Western contenders would give Cleveland trouble. The Utah Jazz (+2500) have quietly built a strong team out on the salt flats, and the Oklahoma City Thunder (+4000) still have Russell Westbrook, who’s arguably the top player in the league now that Durant is in Oakland. Plus, the Thunder have wisely installed newly-acquired Taj Gibson at starting power forward ahead of rookie Domantas Sabonis. Don’t sleep on OKC this spring.



*Odds as of March 17, 2017