2015 NBA Finals Contenders

We can’t tell if this is promoting the NBA Finals or if it’s just an ad for Spalding. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

We can’t tell if this is promoting the NBA Finals or if it’s just an ad for Spalding. (Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports)

Now that the Conference Semifinals are over, the 2015 NBA Finals are just around the corner. The Conference Finals are scheduled to last until close to the end of May, and right up to June 1st if necessary. This is bound to be a big event for basketball fans across the nation, and sports bettors (both beginners and professionals) are certain to lay down some pretty big wagers on their favored teams. If you’re using our services, then you already know how we’d play it. But if you aren’t using our services, or if you plan on watching the Conference Finals for the sole purposes of entertainment, then you might be interested in a more general view of the four teams currently making their bid to play in the championship this year.

Below, we’ll take a look at each of the Conference Finals teams and discuss how they might fare if they’re able to make it through the next 4-7 games and push through to the 2015 NBA Finals. We’ve got a wide array of talent to choose from, so one thing’s for certain…no matter who makes it through, the Conference Finals and the championship series are bound to promise some fast-paced, high-scoring entertainment for basketball fans over the next few weeks.

Eastern Conference – Cleveland Cavaliers (2nd)

Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James. Cleveland isn’t shy about telling the world who their star players are. (Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day)

Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving, and LeBron James. Cleveland isn’t shy about telling the world who their star players are. (Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day)

If you haven’t been watching the Cavs in action recently, let us catch you up to speed: they’re facing some issues right now. One of their biggest issues is that they won’t likely be bringing Kevin Love into the 2015 NBA Finals (assuming they beat the Hawks, which is an issue in and of itself). Not only is he dealing with a shoulder injury, but there’s also been recent buzz that he may be leaving the team. And while they’re adjusting decently to a lineup that doesn’t include one of their star players, rumors of his potential upcoming free agency couldn’t possibly be the best thing for their morale.

That said, LeBron James has been doing his part to offset the loss. King James is one of the best assets that the team has right now, and his participation was fundamental in their win over the Chicago Bulls. It was an uphill battle, but he ultimately brought the team to the Conference Finals, and any chance they have of making it to the 2015 NBA Finals will rest largely on his shoulders. This is especially true since Kyrie Irving, one of the other major forces on the team right now, may currently be out for an undetermined period of time due to a knee injury.

But forget for a second about Cleveland’s star players. One of the things that makes Atlanta stand out is their solid unity as a team, which has kept them in first place in the conference throughout the regular season. But in terms of sheer rankings, Cleveland is on top. They have a slightly higher defensive rating than Atlanta (98.8 compared to 98.2) and a much higher offensive rating (108.2 compared to 102). Whether you attribute this to the team as a whole or to their star players is irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that they’ve maintained significant offensive capabilities, even with Kevin Love off the court.

Cleveland doesn’t have the best defense, but they aren’t terrible in this regard, either. They’ve got some decent men such as Iman Shumpert, who should be able to put up a fight against Atlanta’s offense and, if the Cavs are lucky, get the ball to LeBron so they can run it back down the court. Whether or not such a strategy will work as well against the Rockets or the Warriors if the Cavaliers manage to get to the 2015 NBA Finals is another question entirely, but Cleveland certainly doesn’t look hopeless by any means. And center Timofey Mozgov might give them an additional defensive boost inside of the paint, something that will really benefit the Cavaliers if they end up beating the Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Which might easily happen. The Cleveland Cavaliers might be the lower-ranked team, but they’ve got offensive and defensive ratings that put the Hawks to shame, not to mention a star player who’s taken the team pretty far before. We’ll discuss the Hawks a bit further down, but we’re here to tell you that there’s a solid chance of the Cavs advancing to the 2015 NBA Finals in a few weeks. Only time will tell for sure.

Western Conference – Houston Rockets (2nd)

The Houston Rockets are the second-ranked team in the Western Conference Finals, not to mention the last team to become one of the final four 2015 NBA Finals contenders. This is after a long, seven-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers, which they managed to clinch with a pretty solid lead in the seventh game. But can they do the same against the Golden State Warriors over the course of the coming weeks?

Much like the Cleveland Cavaliers above, the Rockets have faced some issues that some would have expected to change the outcome of their postseason a little bit. Their series against the Clippers didn’t start out too strongly, and they’ve had issues with some of their major players such as Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard. But both of those players are back on the court, and they both lent a hand in the final win against the Clippers that brought Houston one step closer to the 2015 NBA Finals.

But while Howard and Jones may be integral members of the team, Houston has not been resting on the laurels of these players alone. Coach Kevin McHale has stated that the Rockets have been playing as a team, not a group of guys providing backup for their star players. James Harden, another star player, has been integral as well, but the team has also seen stellar offensive and defensive performances by players such as Corey Brewer and Jason Terry, respectively. Josh Smith has carried his weight in terms of both offense and defense. While Brewer, Terry and Smith are not necessarily powerhouses compared to Harden, Jones, or Howard, their contributions are still undeniable.

Of course, the team is not without its detractors. There are some who feel that the Clippers might have posed an opposition for the Warriors that the Rockets will not be able to offer, and that their push to win the series might have actually robbed basketball fans of a more exciting match-up in the Western Conference Finals. Going by sheer statistics, there might be some truth to this. But the Rockets have shown throughout both the regular season and the postseason that they are capable of achieving great things through the sheer force of their determination. They’re also helped out by a team which includes guard Pablo Prigioni, who is excellent at setting up other players to score, and Trevor Ariza, who isn’t the top scorer on the team yet still manages to sink a decent number of three-pointers.

The Houston Rockets are a well-oiled machine, with a number of star players to boot. There are some who don’t believe they stand a chance against Golden State, but it looks as if willpower and motivation are going to be major factors in the outcome of the Western Conference Finals. Either way, if Houston does manage to make it to the 2015 NBA Finals, there’s a good chance that they’ll be able to hold their own against either the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Atlanta Hawks.

Eastern Conference – Atlanta Hawks (1st)

They aren’t the most star-studded team in the NBA, but each of these guys is a skilled player with a chance of reaching the 2015 NBA Finals. (Daily Hoops)

They aren’t the most star-studded team in the NBA, but each of these guys is a skilled player with a chance of reaching the 2015 NBA Finals. (Daily Hoops)

The Atlanta Hawks have been playing great all season, but believe it or not, there was a brief period when it didn’t look like they’d make it this far. If you were watching their series against the Washington Wizards, then you already know what we’re talking about. But even more surprising was their struggle against the Brooklyn Nets, a team that most casual sports fans would have expected them to beat in less than six games. There’s no doubt that they’ve been faltering a bit more in the postseason than they generally have been all year, so it’s difficult to predict what may happen during the Conference Finals, let alone the 2015 NBA Finals, should they make it that far.

One issue that may prove troubling for Atlanta if they wish to make the 2015 NBA Finals is that they do not have the type of major players offered by Cleveland. They’re certainly capable of presenting a unified front, but one might have said the same about the Bulls before they were ultimately put in their place by Cleveland’s LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Unless LeBron James is seriously thrown off his game for some reason, the Atlanta Hawks might have an uphill battle ahead of them.

There is, however, one major factor that might help them out. The first two games of the Eastern Conference Finals, as well as the fifth and seventh if necessary, will be played at Atlanta’s Philips Arena. That’s not to say that the top seed in a conference has never been uprooted while playing at home before, but the Hawks still have something of a statistical advantage that may help them out. Of course, this is still a tough call. The Hawks have a better record at home than the Cavaliers do, but Cleveland is significantly better on the road than Atlanta. The Hawks also have a lower point average in their home games, both wins and losses.

Atlanta’s defensive rating is lower than Cleveland’s, but they do have a few key defensive players who might help them to reach the 2015 NBA Finals if they can step up their game and keep the Cavs from scoring on them too much. These players include Al Horford, who led the team in blocks against the Wizards, and Paul Millsap, who led the Hawks in steals during the same series. Even shooting guard Kyle Korver has been demonstrating surprising promise as a defensive player, tying Millsap’s steals in the second round and coming pretty close to Horford in terms of blocks.

The Atlanta Hawks have an amazingly strong defense, but if they want to make it to the 2015 NBA Finals and push through to become this year’s champions, then they are going to have to step up their offense quite a bit. They really need to focus on three-pointers, especially. If the Hawks do manage to beat Cleveland in the Eastern Conference Finals, then they are really going to need to step up their offense against either the Houston Rockets or the Golden State Warriors, each of which has been playing solid offense throughout most of the season.

Western Conference – Golden State Warriors (1st)

Stephen Curry, chewing his mouth guard. If you watch any of his games, you’ll see this approximately thirty billion times. (ESPN)

Stephen Curry, chewing his mouth guard. If you watch any of his games, you’ll see this approximately thirty billion times. (ESPN)

The Golden State Warriors are not only the top-ranked team in the Western Conference Finals, but they have been the top-ranked team in the entire association throughout the duration of both the regular season and the postseason. Needless to say, there are a number of fans, sports bettors, and media analysts who believe that they will crush Houston in the Western Conference Finals and move on to the 2015 NBA Finals without breaking a sweat.

But it goes even further than that. As we’ve told you before, Vegas oddsmakers tend to know a thing or two about handicapping games. And the consensus in Vegas is that of all four teams currently vying for a spot in the 2015 NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors are the most likely to not only advance but also take home the championship. They are followed by Cleveland, and then by Atlanta. Houston is last on the list, which serves to underscore just how much of an advantage Vegas believes the team to have over their competitors.

We stated earlier that the Rockets might be able to pull off a win through the sheer force of determination and willpower, and this is still the case (as it is always the case when it comes to sports betting). But, bear in mind that the Warriors have snuffed out the Rockets in each of their four games this season. And they have usually done so by at least a dozen points. While the Warriors may have had some stumbles during their series against the Memphis Grizzlies, history does not dictate that they will have any such problems against Houston.

It isn’t too hard to figure out which weapons the Warriors have in their arsenal that are going to make it hard for Houston to fight them in the Western Conference Finals. If we could only name one player who has contributed to their likely participation in the 2015 NBA Finals, we would absolutely have to pick Stephen Curry. His three-pointers have been absolutely epic, and there’s no doubt that he’s the team’s MVP right now. In fact, we’d kind of like to see the Warriors face the Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals, just for the sake of watching Curry and LeBron give it their all while exemplifying the best aspects of their respective offensive styles.

The Golden State Warriors have a lot to offer besides Stephen Curry. They’ve also got Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green, both of which have been fairly instrumental in promising a high level of strategy as well as solid basketball skills overall. The odds of the Warriors closing out the postseason as this year’s victors are so likely that Vegas is currently setting their odds at about -1100. This might change depending upon their performance in the Western Conference Finals, but we’re expecting a lot of solid play from them no matter what the end results of the game.