Is Warriors vs. Cavaliers round 3 a sure thing?

We’ve mentioned before how this season seems like a formality before we get to Warriors vs. Cavs Round 3 and at times it has certainly felt like that. The Warriors have been playing 70-win level basketball all season and look like one of the best teams of all time, again. The Cavaliers absolutely dominate their conference and even after recent struggles still have a comfortable 2.5 game lead over the Celtics for the top seed in the East.

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While there have been concerns about the amount of minutes that Lebron James is playing and people wondering if he’ll still be able to “turn it up” in the playoffs, this is still clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference and the challengers just aren’t clear. The Western Conference is always a bit tougher, but even there it doesn’t feel like there is a true challenger.

Today, we thought we’d take a look at who actually has a chance besides the Warriors and Cavaliers. To do this we took at a look at FiveThirtyEight’s CARM-ELO ratings to see who has a chance. These rankings use historical comps to project teams going forward and puts a number on their playoff chances and championship chances. Let’s take a look.

ELO CARMELO Team Record Projected Record Proj. Differential Make Playoffs Win Conference Win Championship
1782 1816 Warriors 43-8 68-14 +13.9 >99% 96% 60%
1682 1675 Spurs 39-12 60-22 +7.7 >99% 4% 10%
1634 1624 Cavaliers 35-15 55-27 +5.2 >99% 70% 7%
1607 1613 Rockets 38-17 55-27 +5.5 >99% <1% 3%
1610 1611 Jazz 33-19 51-31 +4.1 >99% <1% 4%
1595 1601 Grizzlies 32-22 50-32 +2.0 >99% <1% 2%
1593 1591 Celtics 33-18 52-30 +3.2 >99% 23% 4%
1590 1577 Wizards 30-21 47-35 +2.1 >99% 2% 3%
1556 1567 Raptors 32-21 49-33 +4.0 >99% 5% 2%
1554 1559 Clippers 31-21 47-35 +2.3 >99% <1% 1%

All this talk about the Cavaliers and Warriors and the team with the second best odds to win the championship is the San Antonio Spurs. Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Spurs are a machine. Last season they had an even higher rating as they went 67-15, but then lost in the second round to the Oklahoma City Thunder. That team of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka doesn’t exist in that form anymore so this feels like the season that we finally get the Spurs vs. Warriors in the playoffs. That will be a hell of a series if it happens and the only true test they’ve had in this run besides, of course, that Thunder team that doesn’t exist anymore.

There are questions about Manu Ginobli and Tony Parker as they have aged, questions about Patty Mills size in the playoffs and everything else, but Kawhi Leonard is a real superstar and LaMarcus Aldridge could cause match-up problems. If you don’t want another Warriors/Cavs Finals, the Spurs might be your only real hope.

Coming in next at 3% to win it all is the Utah Jazz. This doesn’t really surprise me as we have been harping on them for months now. Rudy Gobert is frightening to play against and Gordon Hayward is a true superstar. This is a fun team, but it’s hard to imagine them going from never having made the playoffs to winning the NBA championship in just one season. That’s just really unlikely.

Also, at 4% you have the Boston Celtics. I don’t know what it is about this team, but they are dangerous. Their best player, Isaiah Thomas, is a monster in the fourth quarter and the team has better numbers with him off the court. The addition of Al Horford has been nice and Jae Crowder is a player, but this team will struggle to score in the playoffs and I just don’t see how they have what it takes to knock off the Cavs barring an injury.

We talked about the Wizards last week and they are also at 4%. They had a hell of a game against the Cavs on Monday night. Bradley Beal had an awesome game, John Wall went right at Kyrie Irving and Otto Porter had a great game. Still, even with all those guys clicking, a 17-game home winning streak and Lebron fouling out they still lost in overtime thanks to Kyrie. The Cavs are just better. I like the Wizards chances better than Boston’s, but not by much.

Houston is also interesting as they seem like a team that could upset the Warriors in a seven-game series. The Warriors are hard to stop from scoring, but they can be outscored and if there is one team in the West that can do that it’s Houston. James Harden should be the MVP and the additions of Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson have been genius. That said, they are at 3% for a reason. I could envision them beating the Warriors, but the Warriors AND the Spurs? That seems less likely.

The Grizzlies and Raptors are both at 2% and that seems hard to buy into. Maybe the Grizzlies out-grind the Spurs like they’ve done before, but then what? The Rockets and Warriors put up 120 on them. The Raptors have shown they can’t hang with the Cavaliers and I’ve seen nothing this season to change that.

The only other team that gets a chance is the Los Angeles Clippers at just 1%. If they get Chris Paul back healthy and Blake Griffin stays healthy, everyone stays healthy really, they can make some noise in the playoffs. They’ve beaten the Spurs in a seven-game series. They can play Golden State tough. They are better than the Grizzlies and can out-veteran the Jazz. The only thing is they’ll probably have to do all that as the road team in every single series. A 1% chance of all that happens seems about right. Unless… they trade for Carmelo Anthony. If that happens, it’s not happening under any circumstances.

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