The NBA’s Eastern Conference has long been ridiculed for its glut of under performing teams so much so even before the season tips off, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers or any team he aligns with, are already tipped to play in the NBA Finals. For what is the world’s greatest basketball league, things shouldn’t be easy for any team even if that team features arguably the greatest player to play the game.
Matters are pretty much the same on the other side of the conference in the West as Golden State Warriors claim to the top spot wasn’t doubted for a second heading to the season. After acquiring Kevin Durant in the offseason, the feeling was further underlined as the 2014 MVP’s pairing with two time MVP winner Steph Curry was a match made out of this world.
However, the Warriors claim was always pegged back into reality due to the presence of Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. This season as the Boston Celtics have made a serious consideration as the next candidate to try to take down James quest of reaching the Finals. Boston currently leads the Conference standings with Cleveland in second place with six games left to play in the regular season.
At this point in the season, there is very little to talk except the fight for playoff spots by teams in the midpoint bracket. Unless something drastic happens, the West’s seedings are fixed for now with Utah likely to keep fourth place and Portland Trailblazers likely to hold unto the eight spot despite the loss of vital acquisition Jusuf Nurkic.
In the opposite conference, Eric Spoelstra and the Miami Heat have the backing of insiders to keep the playoff roster intact to the chagrin of Indiana Pacers and Paul George. Should George lead the Pacers into the postseason he is likely to earn an All-NBA Team call up which is exactly what he needs to fulfill one measure to able to sign a mega contract worth little over $200 million in 60 months as a Veteran Designated Player. Should Indiana miss the playoffs his spot is bound to go to Giannis Antetokounmpo, Draymond Green or DeMar DeRozan and that will prevent him from earning that boatload of cash from Indiana. Money is blood and without it, George’s head could turn to other places like Chicago or his home state franchise Los Angeles Lakers.
Back to the present, Wednesday’s matchup could be a turning point for either Boston Celtics or Cleveland as the two sides clash at TD Garden. First off, a win for Boston puts it on the right track to further deepen the woes of the Cavs going forward as the reeling defending champions need as many wins as it can get prior to the playoffs. Before playing and winning two straight games against lottery teams, Cleveland had lost five straight games and another against a serious contender could prove just one too many to recover from in time for the playoffs. In the last win against Indiana, Tristan Thompson and James got into a heated exchange that got buried by a hard fought win. Thompson and LeBron have had their moments early in the season when reality star Khloe Kardashian’s relationship with Thompson was thrashed by James who stated emphatically the blonde bombshell should stay away from the team.
Losing to the greens could tune out the Cavaliers underrated player whose hustle plays cover up most of the defending champions’ woeful defensive coverage particularly those of the ageing Akron superstar and that could be the path to finally unseating the King.
Both teams are heading to the playoffs irrespective of what happens 48 hours from now and have been heavily tipped to make the Conference finals. While Boston isn’t necessarily the team cut out to win a trip to the Finals ahead of LeBron, it sure does have a balanced team to contend with Cleveland’s unbalanced side. For the season, the Celtics are ranked ninth on the offense and 13th on defense whereas the Cavaliers are ranked high on the offense (third) but low on defense (22nd); enough to cause an upset. The numbers again buck the trend where NBA Championship teams since 2005 have ranked in the top 10 in defensive ratings.
Last year, Cleveland was ranked 10th and it was a difference maker in halting Golden State’s historic run. Of course, by ending that run, Cleveland secured its spot in the league’s history by coming from behind to beat the Warriors and repeating another historic feat will be needed to overturn the odds once again.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter