The creation of super teams has hit the NBA by force and has not let up. The two most prominent examples have dominated for a couple years. The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State warriors have played in the finals for two straight years, and many assume that a third straight is inevitable, but the race to the finals is a lot closer than most think. With the addition of Kevin Durant this offseason, the finals seems imminent for the Warriors. Cries of overrated came after their season-opening loss, but over halfway through the season, it is quite clear that Golden State has the NBA's best team and will likely be in the finals. Their side will deliver. The league leader in offensive efficiency and probably defensive as well by season's end has been cruising through opponents. It seems as if they won't have an issue in returning the finals. And their return will be with vengeance after Cleveland came back from a one to three game deficit to stun the warriors and send them home without a championship after their dream season where they won 73 games. The Cavaliers may be the defending champions, but their road to the finals looks as hard as it has ever been before and it seems less likely than ever that Lebron will reach his seventh straight finals.
Many dub the eastern conference as the weaker one and while that may be true, the intra-conference competitiveness is at an all time high, with so many young teams pushing for playoff experience. Some of these younger teams have just begun to hit their stride and it could not have come at a better time. The Cavaliers and the Raptors, the team many considered had the best chance to dethrone the cavaliers, have been in a funk ever since the start of the new year. In fact, Lebron James had his first calendar month with a losing record since February of 2006 this January. Things had gotten so bad that James voiced his frustrations out to the media, citing the team's need for a ball handler. On top of this, they just lost Kevin Love for most of the remaining regular season as he needs arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. Of course, they do have Lebron James on this team and he is the greatest player in the NBA right now, but combine this with the ascension of other teams, and he is right to panic.
The struggles of the Toronto Raptors seemed to just add to this fuel of another finals for Lebron, but the Raptors went ahead and acquired talented power forward Serge Ibaka at the deadline. Along with this, the Washington Wizards have been soaring, winning 18 of their last 21 games. John Wall and Bradley Beal have never played better basketball, and key role players like Marcin Gortat and Otto Porter have embraced their role and played it to their full capacity. Earlier this season they had the Cavaliers on the ropes and would've won their game had Lebron not hit a miraculous fading into the bench three point shot to send the game to overtime. They now sit at third in the eastern conference, right behind the surging Boston Celtics who have, riding the back if second-leading scorer in the NBA: Isaiah Thomas, pulled to only two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. Their key offseason addition of Al Horford is playing the best basketball he has in a long time and Isaiah Thomas has taken over games in the fourth quarter like no one else has this season. If these teams continue to win games, it won't be long before the Cavaliers are dethroned as the number one seed in the East, and after that it's only a matter of four more wins for a team to kick the defending champions right out of the playoffs. In recent years four losses in seven games is something that the Cavs almost never do, but it's seeming more and more possible these days.