By Christopher de Lardge
Published: February 15th, 2017
LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love will be waiting to punch their ticket to their third straight NBA Finals if everything falls into line this season. But they will certainly face challenges along the way.
The Boston Celtics could be the Eastern Conference team that can derail the Cleveland Cavaliers from going to the Finals. With an MVP candidate in 5’9” point guard Isaiah Thomas, who puts up 29.8 points per game, which is good for second in the league, playing alongside offseason acquisition and big man Al Horford and guard Avery Bradley and his newly found jump shot, the Celtics can prove to be a formidable foe against Cleveland.
The only issue with Boston is that they need a playmaker in the frontcourt to counter Love, James, and Irving. If Celtics General Manager (GM) Danny Ainge’s determination to succeed has remained the same as recent years, this team could make a move before the trade deadline to acquire some talent that will push them through the playoffs. Alternatively, in possession of the Brooklyn Nets’ first round pick this year, the Celtics have a bright future ahead of them and may decide to stay conservative by planning for the future. .
The Toronto Raptors may also rise to the challenge against the team that eliminated them in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. With the second best backcourt in the NBA with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors have a chance to go out and win every night with these players on the floor.
With a star-studded backcourt, defensive wizard DeMarre Carrol and skilled big man Jonas Valanciunas can provide a ton of flexibility for head coach Dwane Casey in the plays the Raptors run. They so desperately needed a power forward, however, that can stretch the floor to give DeRozan and Lowry more room to drive. That is exactly what they received when they traded for Serge Ibaka Tuesday afternoon.
Ibaka is the perfect big man for the Raptors, as he can hit rebound well, play tough defense and block shots, defend various positions, and stretch the floor with his three-point shooting ability.
Now let’s move onto the sleeping giant, the Washington Wizards. The Wizards are a team that carries a history of failed expectations. John Wall and Bradley Beal can’t get along. Otto Porter has not shown he is worthy of being the top-10 draft pick that he is, and Scott Brooks is not a top-10 coach, as he failed in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
With the consistent play of Marcin Gortat, the Wizards have all the pieces to put together a legitimate run in the playoffs. If they can find a way to click offensively and stay consistent through games, they can go on a run without necessarily making any major changes to their roster.
No matter which one of these teams ends up taking on Cleveland, it’ll be a hefty task against a team that has gone through the season as if it is already going to the Finals.