Prognosticators will posit thousands of NBA Power Rankings in 2016-17, but the season will ultimately come down to two teams. It’s no great secret that the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors are headed for a third straight June showdown, but Wednesday night was the icing on the cake.
While no one will confuse the New York Knicks as title contenders, LeBron James and his teammates spent the better part of 48 minutes toying with their opponents. The Warriors, meanwhile, dispatched what was once thought to be an intriguing Los Angeles Clippers team, seemingly blowing them out from the jump.
The arduous season’s boredom and minutia should not detract from either one of these heavyweights. The Cavs have lost five games. The Warriors have lost three. When the playoffs start, these meaningless losses will get washed away along with their opponents. The Warriors will put forth the better regular season. They have better star power and more to prove. They will likely spend much of the season trying to reinforce the notion that all their stars can sacrifice personal statistics for the betterment of the team.
The Cavs, on the other hand, have nothing to prove. They return much of the same cast that won them the title last year. Tyronn Lue simply needs to assure a clean bill of health heading into the playoffs.
In other words, both teams have a bull’s-eye on their back. The Warriors will work harder–if only by a little–to meet that challenge head on. The Cavs will sometimes, and sometimes they won’t. Lue admitted as much after the game.
"When it comes easy we tend to get caught up in the just back-and-forth instead of getting stops and taking on that tough grind-it-out game," the Cavs head coach said. "When you've got guys like Kyrie (Irving), Bron and Kevin (Love) who can score so easy, sometimes that just (becomes), 'Oh, you scored, but we know we can score the basketball.' So now we've got to get back to playing Cavaliers basketball on the defensive end."
On Wednesday night, the Cavs illustrated their thoughts on the regular season by playing the water-bottle challenge in the waning minutes of the game–on the court. Their contest against the Knicks–a 126-94 win– quickly got out of hand.
For these two teams, fans won’t know who the serious contenders are until the postseason. In the East, the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics could make a series interesting for a game or two. Milwaukee has the requisite pieces, but they’re probably a year away in growth and maturity. Only the San Antonio Spurs will stand in the way of the Warriors out West, and even they have their own limitations come playoff time.
The NBA season promises to be a fun ride, even if we already know the final destination.