The Warriors are the Goliath of the NBA. Who will be the David that can beat them?
The NBA needs a splash of new championship DNA.
The Golden State Warriors have made it to the NBA Finals each of the last four years, winning three titles. Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green and their style of selfless, team-first basketball have taken the modern NBA by storm. After adding DeMarcus Cousins to their roster this summer, an already-great team just became inconceivably better.
But hope is not lost for the rest of the NBA. If the 2007 Warriors taught the world anything, it is that the best team is destined to fall eventually. So which team has what it takes to knock the Warriors off their pedestal?
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After trading for Kyrie Irving, signing Gordon Hayward in free agency, and drafting Jayson Tatum last summer, the Celtics had legitimate title aspirations. But after Hayward broke his tibia in his first game wearing Celtic green, their road to the Finals got much bumpier. When Irving went down with a knee injury in early April, all hope seemed lost. They had done well enough to secure the two-seed in the Eastern Conference, but an NBA championship seemed out of reach.
But the Celtics kept on winning. Tatum blossomed into a leader and borderline star. Al Horford was quietly dominating opposing centers. Marcus Smart terrorized whoever he guarded. Terry Rozier hit big shots in big moments.
Boston made it to the Eastern Conference Finals and took LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers to a Game 7 before their luck ran out. Now, with LeBron in the Western Conference and Irving and Hayward healthy, Boston is the favorite to win the East. They are incredibly deep and can match up well against Golden State. They do not rely on just one guy to score, and they play good team basketball. Last season, they led the league in team Defensive Rating. Their combination of elite defenders, knockdown shooters, and depth may spell trouble for the Warriors.
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So many “ifs” surround the Houston Rockets. If Chris Paul had not gone down with a strained hamstring, they might have beaten the Warriors. If the team had not shot 7-for-44 in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, they might have had a chance to take on the Cavaliers.
The Rockets finished last season with the best record in the NBA. The dynamic backcourt of Paul and MVP James Harden worked incredibly well together, and coach Mike D’Antoni’s seven-second offensive scheme allowed him to get the best out of Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, and Clint Capela.
Now, Paul will be healthy, Harden will be coming off an award-winning season, and Houston has high hopes for what’s ahead. They added Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, and Brandon Knight to strengthen their bench unit. Tucker and James Ennis will have to fill the defensive void that Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute created when they signed elsewhere in free agency. It will take some time for this new group to mesh completely, but Harden and Paul are capable of leading the Rockets to their third title in franchise history.
Oklahoma City Thunder
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After trading for Paul George and Carmelo Anthony to pair with Russell Westbrook prior to last season, there was only one goal in Oklahoma City: an NBA title. That did not happen. Anthony was never able to mesh with his new team, and following Andre Roberson’s season-ending patella injury, Anthony’s limited defensive ability was targeted by opposing teams. After falling in the first round of the playoffs to the Utah Jazz, the Thunder were nervous; George, who had previously expressed his desire to play in Los Angeles, was to be a free agent, and losing him would mean losing any remaining title hope.
But Geroge decided to stay, and GM Sam Presti was able to trade Anthony to the Atlanta Hawks for Dennis Schroder. Schroder will be a welcome addition to a solid second unit of Alex Abrines, Terrance Ferguson, Patrick Patterson, and Nerlens Noel. Westbrook, Roberson, George, and Jerami Grant can all guard multiple positions, which is key when playing a team like the Warriors. The key to the Thunder’s success this season, however, may lay on Steven Adams’s shoulders. Adams is elite both in the pick-and-roll and on the glass, and the Thunder are a better team when he is on the floor. The Thunder’s defensive prowess and star power can propel them deep into the playoffs, and maybe even past the Warriors.
Championship hopes are legitimately high for the Thunder for the first time since Kevin Durant left for Golden State.
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The Process is nearly complete.
Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons headline a young core poised to continue the city of Philadelphia’s recent success in all things sports. Last year, the 76ers went from picking first in the draft to finishing third in the Eastern Conference. But after a rocky summer where the GM left the organization, no meetings were held with top-tier free agents, and another first-round pick in Zhaire Smith suffered a season-ending injury, the climb to the top of the East has become steeper.
Philadelphia’s core of Embiid, Simmons, Dario Saric and J.J. Redick is good enough to carry them. Redick is a proven leader and sharpshooter, Embiid and Simmons are generational talents, and Saric keeps on improving. If Markelle Fultz can come back the player that he was prior to injury, he adds another weapon to their offensive arsenal. Wilson Chandler adds a versatile scorer off the bench who can pair well with Fultz and TJ McConnell.
Missing out on another star this past summer does not help Philadelphia, but this group still has nowhere to go but up. They could be a dark horse to win an NBA title this season, but their dramatic growth last year proves the sky is the limit for the 76ers.
Edited by Jeremy Losak.
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