Marquist Parker Sports Editor
The NBA season is in full swing and it’s finally time to see what each team is and isn’t early on. Here are the teams that are most likely to be lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy in June:
5. The Los Angeles Lakers: The Lakers are an interesting pick for the number five spot. The team top-to-bottom isn’t elite, The Lakers have question marks all across the board, so why are they even this high? It’s simple: LeBron James is the best player to ever play the game. With the King in Los Angeles, the Lakers will have a lot of their shortcomings covered up by the greatness that LeBron provides. Also, expect a big jump in production and efficiency from the young core of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma, and Hart. The variable that most affects this team’s trajectory is how committed they will be to playing defense; James isn’t known for his defensive prowess or effort in the regular season and Rondo, Stevenson, and Beasley aren’t good defenders either. If coach Walton leans on the young core of willing and able defenders over the washed-up veterans than the Lakers will be fine.
4. The Toronto Raptors: Toronto retooled their roster in a big way this offseason, trading away Raptors’ legend DeMar DeRozan for superstar Kawhi Leonard. That bold move put them in a win-now mode, with all eyes on an NBA Finals appearance. With the addition of Leonard, one thing is certain: Toronto will be playing elite defense. Kawhi is the league’s best perimeter defender, All-Star Kyle Lowry is solid on that end, and Wright and Anunoby are young and very capable of playing great on that end. The Raptors were also a top-5 offensive team last season and losing DeRozan and adding Leonard is an improvement in terms of shooting. With the looming free agency of Kawhi, and the Raptors’ repeated failures in the playoffs, expect Toronto to go all out in their pursuit of an NBA Finals berth.
3. The Boston Celtics: Boston is probably the second most talented team in the entire league. This team was a game away from the NBA Finals without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward who missed most of the season with injuries. Now that this team is fully healthy they are ready to start their march to the Finals. Kyrie Irving is the ringleader and best player on this team and now that he’s healthy Uncle Drew will be putting up monster numbers and will likely get MVP consideration. Gordon Hayward is ready to make his comeback after his broken ankle, and All-Star veteran Al Horford will provide a calming presence on this young Celtics team. Tatum and Brown are primed for another jump in production. The Celtics’ starters are among the best in the game, but the second unit is truly what makes this team elite. Expect the Celtics to hover around 60 wins and coach Brad Stevens to be rewarded with Coach of the Year.
2. The Houston Rockets: The Rockets were a game away from defeating Goliath, they had the champion Golden State Warriors on the ropes down 3-2 with the seventh game at home, then everything went wrong. Chris Paul hurt his hamstring and the Rockets miss 27 threes in a row to close out game seven at home, sending them into another conference finals exit. This team was good enough to take the Warriors to the brink of elimination so it’s only logical that they would be the second-best team in the league. The Rockets have MVP James Harden, a newly re-signed Clint Capella, and a fully healthy Chris Paul to lead them back to the conference finals. The only question on this team is the addition of Carmelo Anthony. He had a failure of a season in Oklahoma City and he’s getting up there in age, on top of the fact that he’s always been a bad defender. If the Rockets’ system can cover up Anthony’s problems on both ends then they have another date with the Warriors in June.
1. The Golden State Warriors: This team somehow got more talented from last year. Adding star center, DeMarcus Cousins, to an already talented team. A team with 5 All-NBA players shouldn’t be legal, but it is, and the Warriors are the clear favorites to three-peat for the first time since the early 2000’s. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will provide the defense and one half of the greatest back-court shooting ever. Kevin Durant and Steph. Curry are the former MVPs that help make this team borderline unbeatable. With Durant and Thompson becoming free agents this summer the time is now to cement themselves as one of the greatest Dynasties in league history.