For however long their regular seasons may last, the months and months of competitive play in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association provide endless entertainment. There is just something extra special about the playoffs though.
The 2015-16 regular-season standings in the Eastern Conference show more parity than in recent years and the West is still stacked with the likes of the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Los Angeles Clippers. Despite these influential factors — not to mention the NBA’s tagline “where Amazing Happens” — we firmly believe that the 2016 NBA Finals is destined to be a rematch between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
Let us begin with the No. 1 seed in the East, the Cavaliers. True, a franchise-best 56-win campaign from the second-seeded Toronto Raptors has created some unprecedented excitement north of the border. Yes, the Miami Heat are extremely talented even without the services of Chris Bosh. Even in the bottom half of the playoff seedings we have an intriguing bunch in the Charlotte Hornets and the Paul George-led Indiana Pacers, hoping for not only an upset victory in the first round, but a chance at facing the Cavs in the later rounds of the postseason.
Here is how we envision the bracket turning out in the East though. Despite a serious scare in game one against the Detroit Pistons, we do not see any way that LeBron James and company fall in the first round. James has never lost a first-round playoff series, and we do not see that streak being broken anytime soon.
After splitting the first two games in Toronto, we like Indiana to take one of two on their home court in games three and four, win on the road again in game five, and finish off the upset in game six back at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse. With our prediction of a Miami over Charlotte and Atlanta Hawks over Boston Celtics combination in the other two series, that would mean that the Cavs would face the Pacers in an Eastern Conference semi-finals series.
With home court advantage and a serious edge at point guard (Kyrie Irving vs. George Hill), we see Cleveland knocking off Indiana in six games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals again. There, we expect them to square off against the Heat (who we have dispatching the Hawks in seven games) for the right to play in the Finals. From there, expect the big three of James, Irving, and Kevin Love to have their first truly marquee playoff series win together and advance for another shot at a ring.
Out West, with a seemingly superior balance in the top portion of the elite eight, the Warriors figure to have a significantly tougher road back to the championship. Stephen Curry’s injury will naturally garner loads of headlines, but we see Golden State finishing off the Houston Rockets in round one in four or five games regardless of whether or not they have the soon-to-be back-to-back MVP at their disposal.
The Spurs are rolling right along, on their way to an easy first-round win against the banged-up Memphis Grizzlies, while the fourth-seeded Clippers figure to have a close series against the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Thunder are surprisingly headed to Dallas for games three and four, tied at a game apiece. We would be shocked if OKC did not bounce back in game three on Thursday night against Dallas and foresee them advancing to the next round.
With Blake Griffin back and healthy, we also predict that they will move on to the Western Conference semifinals, where they would be tasked with taking down the Dubs. Assuming Curry is back and ready to play by the second round, we like Golden State to take down Lob City in five or six games, setting them up for a date in the Western Conference Finals. On the other side, expect a heck of a battle between San Antonio and Oklahoma City for the chance to play Golden State, but we like the Spurs to prevail.
In what many already expect to be the most thrilling series of the entire playoffs, we have the Warriors and Spurs dueling for a spot in the NBA Finals. You can throw out the regular season records and the historical outputs from both teams, as the playoffs are obviously a different animal. In games one through four, we feel that both teams are well-rounded enough to steal a game on the road, setting them up for a best-of-three final three contests. After Curry and his crew take back the series lead at home in game five, we see the Spurs staving off elimination in game six.
It is only fitting that the two best teams in basketball need seven games to see who advances to the finals and in the end, we cannot see this amazing Warriors team not coming through when it counts, especially in front of their home fans. Give us Golden State in a game seven classic to move on and face Cleveland for the crown yet again.
A rematch for the NBA title, on paper, may seem a bit boring. With this year’s history-making Warriors and the hungrier-than-ever Cavaliers in the gauntlet though, it will be anything but.
Follow Victor on Twitter @vbarbosa1127.