War­riors, Cavs vul­ner­a­ble, or headed for NBA Fi­nals Round 4?

Sun.Star Baguio - - PRIME SPORTS -

MAYBE this is the year.

Maybe the Golden State War­riors, open­ing the post­sea­son with­out Stephen Curry or any mo­men­tum, won’t be the best of the West, where there’s a Hous­ton team that can run and gun as well as they do.

Maybe the Cleve­land Cava­liers, start­ing from the mid­dle of the pack in the East, just have too big a hill to climb, even with LeBron James car­ry­ing them.

Or per­haps none of that mat­ters, and the NBA is headed to­ward Round 4 of its reign­ing ri­valry.

The post­sea­son opens Satur­day and it’s far from a guar­an­tee it ends with a record fourth straight NBA Fi­nals matchup be­tween the War­riors and Cava­liers. Nei­ther was the best team in its con­fer­ence dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son — the Cava­liers were only No. 4 in the East — and it’s not hard to en­vi­sion a Hous­ton to Toronto trip re­plac­ing what’s be­come an an­nual Oak­land, Cal­i­for­nia, to Cleve­land itin­er­ary.

Then again, the War­riors could be as dan­ger­ous as ever once Curry re­turns from a knee in­jury that could have him back for the se­cond round. James has played in the last seven NBA Fi­nals, so no­body knows how to get to the fin­ish line bet­ter, no mat­ter from where he starts.

And the other top con­tenders have to over­come their his­tory of dis­ap­point­ments. Hous­ton’s Mike D’An­toni and James Har­den have never won, and Chris Paul hasn’t even got­ten out of the se­cond round. The Rap­tors had their best reg­u­lar sea­son ever, but they were last seen in the post­sea­son get­ting stomped in four straight by James and the Cavs last year in the se­cond round.

Golden State faces No. 7 San An­to­nio on Satur­day in the post­sea­son opener, fol­lowed by the top-seeded Rap­tors and No. 8 Wash­ing­ton Wizards in the East. Sixth-seeded Mi­ami and No. 3 Philadel­phia are then fol­lowed by Port­land-New Or­leans in the other 36 matchup.

On Sun­day, it’s No. 7 Mil­wau­kee at No. 2 Bos­ton, and the Cavs host­ing the No. 5 In­di­ana Pac­ers in the East, fol­lowed by No. 5 Utah at No. 4 Ok­la­homa City. The Rock­ets wrap up open­ing week­end against No. 8 Min­nesota, end­ing the NBA’s long­est play­off drought with its first play­off ap­pear­ance since 2004. AP

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