A Brief Conference Finals Preview

If this season is to mark a watershed moment for anything it is the resurgence of the importance of wing players. Three of the four remaining teams best players are classified as forwards, the lone exception being Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum of Portland.

Despite Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s heroics in the final five-quarters of their second round matchup against the Houston Rockets, the greatest backcourt the NBA’s ever seen would be nowhere near where they are now without Kevin Durant shouldering over 42-minutes a night shooting the lights out while Curry struggled to find his groove.

For the past few years, the rise of Curry ushered in an era where the most important position in the league was in the backcourt. He concurrent rise of “Morey-Ball” and the death of the midrange turned basketball into a game we configure into a computer as opposed to the old fashioned eye test. But it’s the midrange which brought Portland to the dance and Houston’s inability to utilize a wide swath of the floor why they are no longer playing.

Milwaukee and Toronto are mostly mirror images of one another. The shakiness of the backcourt is well known for both teams. All Toronto needs to cruise to the championship round is four baskets from Kyle Lowry. You shouldn’t go into a playoff series feeling more confidence in a fossil like George Hill. But Boston is miles away a inferior defensive squad than Toronto for the simple fact Nick Nurse can execute a trapping scheme. It’ll be easy to double team anyone on Milwaukee anyone not named Giannis Antetokounmpo because of the simple luxury of having Kawhi Leonard on your team.

I want to pick Toronto because as a whole they are the better team. For all his failures on the biggest of sports, I trust Lowry more than Eric Bledsoe, and Khris Middleton is not going to play like 1996 Michael Jordan against a non-Celtics opponent. These two teams haven’t experienced any forceful fitting of square pegs into round holes. Milwaukee is basically LeBron’s wet dream surrounding Giannis around spot-up shooters and rim attackers.

I love Al Horford, but Serge Ibaka has more bounce in his legs and doesn’t have to be the lone person aware of his role. Ibaka is better equipped to takeaway a key cog in Budenholzer’s offensive strategy.

These teams are relatively evenly matched. Except Milwaukee is far and beyond ahead in point differential (+138) of Toronto. The track record for teams with a simply awesome statistic is this ends with Milwaukee on top of the basketball world.

Milwaukee over Toronto, 4 games to 1.

In the world of video games if your friend continuously picks the Golden State Warriors on NBA 2k, as you question your relationship with this cheater, you search for a team that’ll at least match them in firepower. If not Houston, then you’d pick the Portland Trailblazers. But Dame and C.J cannot hang with the unstoppable machine of Golden State alone and they are expected to do that under these circumstances.

If Kevin Durant cannot suit up for action perhaps Portland has a chance. But Houston had numerous chances to take advantage of a short handed Warriors only to let Steph get loose and wrestle the series away from their rivals again.

If Enes Kanter can’t hang against Andrew Bogut he’ll never see the floor. This is the only matchup for Kanter to sign. If he’s playable this series complexion looks completely different believe it or not.

The Warriors are vulnerable. There’s no spark plug in DeMarcus Cousins anymore. They are older, slower and have a few screws loose. But they’ll get exposed likely in the NBA Finals. Not the Blazers. Not a team they’ve routinely beaten up on for multiple years.

Warriors over Trailblazers, 4 games to 1.

Kawhi Leonard: A Long Armed T-Rex

It didn’t matter LeBron James now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri was long fed up with this core of players that time and time again proved ineffective when the chips were down. As his competitors reload on talent, the Raptors could not afford to stand idle. The trade for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard pushes all the chips in the middle of the table; if it doesn’t work out then they’ll just rebuild. All this season costs them is a contract many perceived as immovable.

For who on the Raptors is to guard Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown of the Boston Celtics, or the non-shooting threat “Point-Forward” Ben Simmons of Philadelphia? Not only does Kawhi Leonard answer that question, the acquisition of fellow Spur shooting guard Danny Green helps. Even though the last three-seasons the 6-6 versatile SG shot just 38.4% from the field, his defense has never wavered when healthy. A lanky 6-10 wingspan gives Green the ability to guard a variety of guards and small-forwards. This is a luxury Toronto’s never had prior.

There are of course many uncertainties that lay in this collection of talented athletes. Can Kyle Lowry, will turn 33 next March, prolong his decline that’s already taken place? His field goal percentage dropped from 46.4 in 2015-16 to 42.7; in the last 39 games of last season Lowry conceivably turned a corner but only raised his shooting percentage 0.1. Points per game down from 22.4 to 16.2, Toronto didn’t have to worry much about that because of dynamic scorer DeMar DeRozan carrying the workload on that end of the floor. New head coach Nick Nurse will have to come to grips that Lowry is not the same player as he was before and that 24-year-old Fred VanVleet is the starting point guard of the future. The sooner he realizes this the better.

Center Serge Ibaka is set to turn 29 in September. Already we’ve seen his decline in block-rate, but I’m more confident in him scrapping together one more quality season than I am in Lowry.

DeMar DeRozan is now a Spur. The most beloved Raptor is gone, thus closing the book on the strongest era of Raptors-basketball to date. This new era isn’t likely to last past this season, but it can be the most fruitful. Toronto’s sights are lower than Boston or Philly’s. All their modest fans want is an NBA Finals game in Canada, doesn’t matter if they are swept by the Warriors in the process. And it’s possible Kawhi gets them there.