Why a Warriors’ Title Might Be Inevitable

It's been an absolutely wild second round of the playoffs. From buzzer-beaters to more hacking-a-player to comebacks that defied logic and a level of suspense in each series that nearly outstripped that of seven of the eight first-round contests combined, the playoffs now have reached an exclusive state.

From here on out, there's only one game on per night. Where teams could perhaps afford to have a bad quarter or bad game against lesser opposition they were likely to finish off anyway, they now have to be dialed in at all times. At this stage, only the elite remain.

In theory, the four teams that remain should all be able to win eight more games and take home the title. After all, Cleveland is the only team that hasn't won two thirds of its games this season, and it has been playing nearly .800 ball including playoffs after starting 19-20.

In reality, and especially after the Rockets' dominant win to complete a comeback from down three games to one against the Clippers, it would take an amazing, unexpected effort for Golden State to lose in these playoffs.

Let's start with the teams in the Eastern Conference Finals. Yes, they're the two best teams in that bad conference by some margin. However, neither has looked much like a title contender so far in the playoffs.

For Cleveland, there are certainly some extenuating circumstances. After Kelly Olynyk separated Kevin Love's shoulder in Game 4 of the Boston series, it dramatically decreased the Cavs' ability to spread the floor and get as many open looks for LeBron James and Kyrie Irving.

Accordingly, against Chicago, LeBron didn't have the type of series game averages of 26-11-9 would indicate, shooting for an effective field goal percentage of just 41 percent, and just 11 percent from three. His usage rate was an enormously high 38.4 percent.

Of course, LeBron basically had to carry all that weight with Irving resembling a walking injury report. Against Atlanta, the Cavs will need players like Iman Shumpert, Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson to get some points as they did against Chicago. But after that, Golden State does just about everything better than Cleveland except getting to the rim.

As for the Hawks, their series against against Washington felt a lot like their first-round series with Brooklyn. They won it in six games, made enough plays at the end of games to advance, but still didn't look at all like the team that was so much fun to watch on offense in the regular season. The absence of Thabo Sefolosha after he was taken out by NYPD looks to have hurt the team more than anticipated.

All season long, one theory has been that the Hawks' most important player wasn't Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap or Al Horford, but Kyle Korver, since his ultra-reliable outside shot opened up everything else for the team's stellar ball movement.

That statement appears to be getting a workout, as Korver has been especially poor from behind the arc in the postseason, and was only good for 29 percent from long-range against Washington. If Atlanta even struggled with John Wall out for half of the Wizards series, how would it possibly deal with the Splash Brothers at full strength?

Where Memphis represented a challenge to Golden State in its stylistic differences, Houston is probably not going to grind the game out into an old-school paint battle. Houston's going to want to run and shoot as many threes as the Warriors will. And that plays into the hands of the better defensive team, which is Golden State.

Don't get me wrong, the Rockets' defense was fantastic in Games 5 through 7 against the league-best Clippers' offense, but they're facing a group that's not going to play to their strengths on that end of the floor.

Against L.A., with Chris Paul still feeling the effects of the hamstring injury he picked up against San Antonio, the strength of the Clippers offense was their frontcourt, also the defensive strength of the Rockers. And while James Harden has improved immensely on defense from this time last year, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the rest of Golden State's perimeter players have to be salivating about facing a Houston team without Patrick Beverley.

I don't always put a lot of stock in the regular season records between teams about to meet in a playoff series, but Golden State and Houston's regular season contests are impossible to overlook.

In four meetings, Golden State outscored Houston by an average score of 115-95, and no game was closer than 11 points. They haven't played since January, but Beverley played in three of the four games. A sweep with that margin is improbable, but a 4-1 series score with an average margin of victory in double digits seems quite possible.

Against Memphis, Golden State got punched in the mouth in Games 2 and 3 and couldn't play the style of basketball that won it 67 games in the regular season. In Game 4, the Warriors returned with an extraordinary defensive performance en route to winning in six games. After that, it's probably all downhill from here for the Warriors.

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