Momentum in basketball is everything. Teams that are playing their best basketball in the crunch months of March and April are often more likely to succeed than higher-seeded counterparts who did all their winning in November and December. This creates final standings that can mislead the casual or even seasoned fan when bracket-filling time comes. Ultimately, my favorite picks for the NBA Finals are the teams that win the most games after lineups have been tweaked, film has been analyzed and chemistry has been built.
Will the real East favorites please stand up?
Holy smokes, this team is something else. Boston has been a force ever since it paired Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in its backcourt, but the stars’ tenure has been defined by falling just short of a championship. Not this year though. I’m picking Boston to make the NBA Finals over Eastern Conference giants Miami, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. Why? Because this team has had single-digit losses since January and is playing some of the scariest defense I’ve ever watched. They’ve clobbered legitimate contenders by 20, sometimes 30 points at a time along the way, too. The rest of the East is putting together slapdash rotations with newly acquired pieces while Boston has been fine-tuning a roster that has maintained its finals-ready core for years now.
Still watching 2017–18 highlights
Golden State is in trouble. Its 3-seed standing was built off early-season success, and its momentum has slowed with little time left to gain it back. While Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have played most of their careers sharing the court, it’s been two years since the three got meaningful reps together. I don’t care how telepathic their chemistry may be, every teammate needs adjustment time. Throw in the slew of new additions, including the high-volume Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole, and this team reeks of disappointment in the form of a first- or second-round exit.
Quick hitters: My favorite play-in picks
Cleveland has the NBA’s likely Rookie of the Year in Evan Mobley and two freshly minted all-stars in Jarrett Allen and Darius Garland who will wreak havoc on any team trying to escape the first round unscathed. Minnesota and New Orleans are my play-in winners over both Los Angeles and San Antonio, both playing their best basketball in the months of March and April. Minnesota is finally starting to see results from its young big three, and New Orleans’ acquisition of CJ McCollum has added much-needed leadership to a young squad ready to win.
Quick hitters: Early outs
Toronto is holding on to the fifth seed with starters who have been playing absurd minutes for as long as I can remember, and they’ll likely be too gassed to pull away in a lengthy series against proper superstars. Chicago doesn’t know how to win against upper-level competition, and the team has suffered from a big three that is rarely all healthy. Denver has my pick for MVP in Nikola Jokic, but he would need to carry his squad at a level not seen since LeBron James’ early Cleveland Cavaliers days.