Malik Tz | Mon 01/05/2017 - 15:21 EDT

NBA Power Rankings: Final Eight Chances Of Making The Finals

NBA Power Rankings: Final Eight Chances Of Making The Finals
The NBA Conference Semi-Finals begin on Sunday, April 30th, with a 1 PM EST tip-off between the Boston Celtics and the Washington Wizards. After sweeping through the first round, the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors confirmed their status as conference powerhouses. These favorites take on their first real playoff challenge against the Toronto Raptors and Utah Jazz, two dark horses looking to notch an historic upset.

2017 Odds For Each Team To Make The NBA Finals

NBA Odds To Make The Finals

#8 Utah Jazz (+4000)

The Jazz survived the most volatile series in the first round of the NBA playoffs, earning a seven-game series win against the Clippers. This was made possible through a gutsy game one win without Rudy Gobert, who returned from a knee injury to help clinch the series at the Staples Center. Many around the association have a new respect for the perennially underrated Jazz, especially the contributions of Gordon Hayward, who has grown into an elite offensive force.

This year, he teamed up with George Hill to form a strong backcourt which meshes well with Rudy Gobert and other talented youngsters. No ones believe that the Jazz will progress past the Warriors, but this franchise will benefit from the experience gained from their first round win against L.A.

#7 Toronto Raptors (+800)

Toronto showed resilience and the ability to adapt, altering their starting lineup during the first round to adjust to the length and speed of the young Bucks. The North relied on their defense to give themselves enough time for their wildly inconsistent offence to wake up from random cold streaks. This franchise has never been more ready to take on LeBron.

But the way the Raptors almost lost game six against Milwaukee – after leading by 25 points – reveals that they’re still not ready to play at an elite level for 48 minutes.

The Raptors are not going to make it to the NBA finals because they’re meeting a rested, healthy and motivated LeBron James. He’s made it to the finals for six straight years, and he’s not going to miss his chance for a seventh finals appearance and a potential fourth ring.

#6 Washington Wizards (+1200)

After dominating the Atlanta Hawks backcourt, the Washington Wizards guard duo of John Wall and Bradley Beal showed why they’re probably the most underrated guard pairing in the association. They combined for 73 of Washington’s 115 points during their series clinching blowout in Atlanta, shooting a combined 27-42 from the field.

Unfortunately, the Wizards bigs and bench don’t contribute enough to support their elite guards. The situation became worse when Morris twisted his ankle to begin the second round, thinning the Wizards rotation considerably. Washington is unlikely to triumph over the Celtics in the second round, and have a near-zero chance of beating the Cavaliers.

#5 Houston Rockets (+800)

James Harden and the Rockets won the battle of the MVPs, overwhelming Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder in only five games. Russ and James performed as expected, with the Rockets depth and superior coaching making all the difference.

Houston GM Sam Presti doubled down on offense over the past year, including a genius deadline deal that brought Lou Williams from the Lakers. So far, it’s paid off. Only the Warriors can keep up with the offensive production of the Houston Rockets, who face San Antonio in the second round.

The Spurs are still favoured to win, but their defense has shown hints of vulnerability against the Grizzlies. It’s up to Harden to prove that he can overcome the shadow of Kawhi Leonard, especially after Kawhi’s amazing chasedown block and three-point dagger during their last regular season meeting. If they survive the Spurs, the Rockets will prove their ability to play at an elite level, giving them a chance to parlay their regular season victory over the Warriors into a run and gun upset of the top seed in the eastern conference.

#4 Boston Celtics (+450)

There’s a good chance the Celtics wouldn’t have beaten the Bulls without Rajon Rondo’s thumb injury, which gave Boston time to regain their regular season form. The Celtics doubled down on teamwork, whipping the undermanned Bulls in four straight.

Al Horford, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder have stepped up to support their superstar guard, Isaiah Thomas. Kelly Olynyk has also surprised with his contributions, creating matchup problems off the bench as a big man who shoots the three well.

The Raptors might match up against Cleveland better on paper, but the Celtics have grown into a more cohesive squad in response to the circumstances surrounding the team. They’re likely to beat the Wizards, and the Raptors will probably push the Cavaliers to six, adding a few bumps and bruises to Cleveland’s lineup. As such, the Celtics have the best chance to knock off the Cavaliers and emerge as the eastern conference champions.

#3 San Antonio Spurs (+450)

The Memphis Grizzlies did an admirable job earning a pair of hard fought wins against the San Antonio Spurs but the result was never in doubt. Kawhi Leonard solidified his status as one of the best players in the league by leading the Spurs on both ends of the court.

Despite the full-count dominance of Kawhi – a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate – the Spurs appear to be much less dominant than the legendary teams of yore. LaMarcus Aldridge hasn’t been scoring as well as usual, while Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili continue to age, showing only brief flashes of their youthful selves.

The Spurs can’t get away with the defensive lapses they displayed against the Grizzlies and expect to win another series – both the Rockets and the Warriors will run San Antonio off the court. Coach Gregg Popovich will make sure his team defends the perimeter well against Houston, making them second-round favorites. However, they’re underdogs against the Warriors, which is why we list the Spurs as third most likely to make the NBA Finals.

It’s tough to see this version of the Spurs overcoming the Warriors, who are already one of the most dominant teams in history. The entire squad would need to play their best ball to challenge Golden State, along with a bit of good fortune.

#2 Cleveland Cavaliers (-275)

The Indiana Pacers had a couple of decent chances to steal a game or two from Cleveland during their first-round matchup. In each scenario, LeBron James elevated the Cavaliers past the challenge, single-handedly swatting the Pacers aside.

The sheer dominance of the King is witnessed through his stat line after the four-game sweep: 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds, 9 assists, three steals and two blocks per game. This cemented a streak of 21 consecutive wins in the first round, and continued the incredible trend of LeBron never losing a first-round playoff series in his career. He was close to losing this streak during game three, but lead a 25-point halftime comeback to destroy any semblance of hope for Indiana.

At this point, betting against LeBron in the east still represents a foolish wager. The Raptors appear to have the personnel necessary to mount the strongest eastern challenge the Cavaliers have faced since LeBron returned to Cleveland, but the King has proven he doesn’t need Kyrie Irving or Kevin Love to beat anyone other than the Warriors. The Cavs aren’t favorites to repeat as champs, but an NBA Finals without LeBron would be a huge shock to the basketball world in 2017.

#1 Golden State Warriors (-350)

Somehow, the Golden State Warriors appeared to gain strength during the first round as Kevin Durant and coach Steve Kerr went down. Instead of allowing the Trail Blazers to steal a match, the Warriors won by an average of 18 points per game, including an incredible game three comeback win in which Golden State squashed a double digit lead in the span of a couple of minutes.

The Warriors offense usually gathers most of the attention, drawing focus away from the fact that their defense remains the bedrock of their success. They finished second to the Spurs in terms of regular season defensive rating, without slowing down their league-leading offense. As a result, the Warriors earned a 11.41 net rating, nearly five points above the closest competitor. 

With all due respect to Cleveland and San Antonio, Golden State is the overwhelming favorite to win another NBA championship in 2017. This team’s so good that there’s an outside shot at the Warriors sweeping through the playoffs with a 16-0 record, an accomplishment which would likely cement them as one of the top three teams of all time.

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