With Christmas right around the corner, we’re starting to get a better idea of how things are looking across the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers accomplished what many thought impossible last year by overcoming a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals to conquer the Golden State Warriors and bring Cleveland its first NBA championship. Fast forward to today and both the Eastern and Western conferences are seeing a fair degree of competition at the top, make a return to the finals for LeBron James far from a sure thing.
The Cavs have been in a tailspin recently following three straight losses after what was initially a strong start to the season. Things began with a shocking loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, which was followed by a blowout to the resurgent Los Angeles Clippers and another tough loss to the Chicago Bulls. The team knows it needs to stop the bleeding as soon as possible. James went on to say that the squad needs to “get out of the honeymoon stage” and step their game up if they hope to try and retain their title as world champions.
While the stars of the Cavaliers continue to perform admirably well, the rest of the team isn’t performing consistently and the bench is looking particularly weak. It’s been noted that the Cavs are relying heavily on Channing Frye and Iman Shumpert. And while they’re perfectly fine on their good days, the two are hardly dependable enough to count on too much. The roster has four players older than 35 and if the injury bug starts to set in the Cavs are quickly going to find themselves in big trouble.
If the 2015 Finals were a showdown between an established icon of the NBA and a younger star between James and Curry, then 2016 was the retribution of the old order showing the upstarts who was boss. Now that each team has a ring, many fans are eager for the idea of another rematch to settle things once and for all. The biggest issue will be whether someone else will come along to spoil the show.
The Clippers and the way they handled Cleveland might be one of the biggest threats to a finals rematch. They’re hot on the heels of both the Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs in a neck-and-neck race for the top three spots in the West. Los Angeles are looking like they’ve finally clicked and that’s bad news for other teams in the Western Conference. At the same time, San Antonio continues to flourish under the guidance of Gregg Popovich and will surely make their own claim to conference supremacy. Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors are only half a game behind Cleveland (as of this writing) and they’ll be looking to prove that they belong in the conversation among the league’s elite teams.
We definitely have our fingers crossed for a third NBA Finals between the Warriors and the Cavaliers, but the road to the championship isn’t going to be a cakewalk for either team. At least, not if the rest of the NBA has anything to say about it.