Andrew Wilson |  Mon 14/05/2018 - 14:52 EDT

NBA Conference Finals 2018 Preview and Predictions

NBA Conference Finals 2018 Preview and Predictions
The NBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals are set to begin on May 13, 2018. The Eastern Finals features a rematch from last year as the Boston Celtics square off against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Western Conference Finals features the two teams everyone expected, as the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors matchup in what is sure to be a fiery series.

NBA Eastern and Western Conference Finals Preview

Despite all the injuries, trades and just general opinions of teams over the NBA regular season, the Conference Finals mainly played out the way most expected before the season began. The Celtics will try and end LeBron’s run to the NBA Finals, while the Houston Rockets will have its hands full against a fully healthy Golden State squad.

Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

While this series will not feature Kyrie Irving, the Celtics are still an exceptional defensive team that will make life hard on LeBron James. Boston’s depth and superior coaching give them a great chance at ending the King’s run. However, even after a poor performance in Game One, never count out the King to rally the troops and turn the series around quickly.

Regular Season and Playoff History

For the third time since LeBron James returned to Cleveland, the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers play each other in the postseason. The Cavaliers won the last two series, sweeping the Celtics in the First Round in 2015 and winning 4-1 in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron lost twice to the Celtics before he left for Miami in 2010.

The Cavaliers won the regular season series two games to one. While the first game in the series was close (a Cavaliers three-point win), the next two were blowouts. The Celtics won the second meeting by 14-points, while the Cavaliers came to Boston right after the trade deadline and blew the doors of Boston, winning by 22 points.

Experience

The Celtics young roster is gaining experience with every series they play. However, the Celtics active leader in playoff games played (Al Horford with 104) has less than half the total games played then LeBron James (228 games). Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith and Kendrick Perkins (although who knows if he will see any time on the court) all have more playoffs game than Horford. Even for the younger players on the Cavaliers, LeBron’s experience has helped them adapt to playoff pressures.

Edge: Cleveland Cavaliers

Offence

The Celtics offence has played surprisingly well without Kyrie Irving. Despite not having their top-scorer for the last part of the regular season and playoffs, the Celtics have still found ways to score. The Celtics are averaging 104.1 points per game this postseason, or 0.1 more than they did during the regular season. The Celtics have four players this postseason averaging between 16.9 and 18.8 points per game, including rookie Jayson Tatum.

While the Celtics have found more consistent and balanced scoring through the first two rounds of the postseason, no player on their roster comes close to the offensive prowess of LeBron James. James leads all players in this postseason averaging 34.9 points per game. LeBron also involves his teammates very well averaging (a playoff-high) 9.0 assists per game.

The Cavaliers offence looked much better in their Second Round sweep of the Toronto Raptors. Kevin Love, J.R. Smith and Jeff Green all found their shots, helping the Cavaliers average 118.5 in the four games. Even if they regress a bit against Boston, LeBron James is a significant enough factor on offence that he gives the Cavaliers the advantage in the series.  

Edge: Cleveland Cavaliers 

Defence

If the Boston Celtics win the series, it will be due to the stellar play of their defence. The Celtics’ defence ranked first in the NBA this season with a defensive rating of 101.5. The Celtics’ roster is full of players capable of guarding multiple positions, easily making switches and forces their opponents to take bad shots. 

The Cavaliers defence finished the NBA regular season 29th in defensive rating. Even after their trade deadline roster shakeup, their defence struggled to stop most opponents. They played better in their series win over the Toronto Raptors. However, they will not have the same success against the Celtics more balanced offensive attack. 

Edge: Boston Celtics

Other Factors

There are two other main factors to consider in this series. The first is the coaching disparity between the two teams. The Celtics have arguably the best coach in the league. What Brad Stevens has done over the regular season and during the playoffs is nothing short of remarkable. His ability to maximize lineups and the potential of his young players has kept the Celtics competitive despite losing Heywood and Irving. He is leagues better than Cavs head coach Tyron Lue. 

LeBron is the other factor. LeBron can put a team on his back and carry them in the series win. He did it against Indiana in Round One. Unlike the Pacers and Raptors, the Celtics are better at stopping everyone else on the Cavaliers. LeBron will need to take it up another level to win this series, which will be an easy feat considering his excellent numbers through the first two rounds.

Edge: Boston Celtics

Series Prediction

After seeing the Celtics convincingly win Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals, it is hard to pick against them. However, one down game from LeBron James is inevitable in the postseason. Until he finally loses a series against an Eastern Conference team (no matter how bad his team looked in one game), betting against LeBron is not the way to go.

Pick: Cleveland Cavaliers to Win Series (-142) at Sports Interaction

Houston Rockets vs. Golden State

The series everyone was excited for all year is finally here as the 65-win Houston Rockets face the Golden State Warriors. Despite the Rockets winning seven more games than the Warriors, the Warriors are fully healthy entering this series and are the reigning NBA Champions.

Regular Season and Playoff History

This series is the third playoff meeting between these two NBA franchises. The first two meetings came in 2015 and 2016. The Warriors won both series 4-1. Their 2015 meeting came in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets kept the first two games close, losing by five points total. However, they lost Game Three by 25 points to all but guarantee the series for the Warriors.

Since the 2014-15 (the first year the Warriors won the NBA Championship), the Warriors have owned the Rockets. Despite losing the regular season series this year 2-1, the Warriors are 11-3 against Houston over the last four years (or 19-5 including the playoffs).  

Experience

Three straight trips to the NBA Finals will give a team plenty of playoff experience. Just about every player on Golden State (outside of a few rookies and free agents) who will play meaningful minutes this series has played at least 66 games in the playoffs.

Houston has a few players with experience, but nowhere near as much as Golden State. Chris Paul is finally playing in a Conference Finals after 86 games, while James Harden enters the series with 98 games and one Finals appearance in his career. Joe Johnson leads all players on the Rockets with 116 games. However, he averages just 7.3 minutes of play time in four games this postseason.

Edge: Golden State Warriors

Offence

Golden State and Houston ranked one and two in the NBA this season in points per game. At first glance, the two offences look similar. However, they differ more than one would expect. Houston easily paced the NBA this season with 42.3 three-point attempts per game. The total, an NBA-record, was 13.4 more than Golden State attempted.

The difference is efficiency. Golden State shot a league-best 50.3% from the field and 39.1% from three. Houston only shot 46.0% from the field and 36.2% from three, good enough for 15th and 14th this year. Both team’s offences are shooting somewhat worse in the playoffs. However, with a higher level of competition that is expected.  

With Steph Curry back in the lineup helping space the floor, Golden State owns possibly the best offence in NBA history. Even if James Harden and Chris Paul can combine for 70 points a night, the Warriors offence with Durant, Thompson and Curry on the floor is better. 

Edge: Golden State Warriors

Defence

Houston’s defence does not get the credit it is due this season. The group ranked sixth in defensive rating this season with a rating of 103.8. Much of their strong play is due to the Rockets acquiring Chris Paul. The Rockets ranked 18th in defensive rating last season and 26th in points allowed.

Even with the addition of Chris Paul and excellent defensive play from Trevor Ariza, Golden State’s defence is better than Houston. Although the Warriors took a small step backwards defensively in the regular season, their defence has been the best in the NBA through the first two rounds. The Warriors are the only team in these playoffs with a defensive rating of less than 100. They are holding opponents to only 32.0% from three and 43.0% from the field, both tops in the playoffs.

Edge: Golden State Warriors

Other Factors

For Houston to win this series, they need some support from their home crowd. Houston has a fickle home crowd. Known for showing up late and not being nearly as raucous as some other places, the Rockets fans need to pump up the volume to help their team win at home (as winning in Golden State is nearly impossible in the playoffs).

The health of the Warriors is a bit of a concern. While everyone is healthy entering the series, any sort of injury to Steph Curry will swing the series in Houston’s favour. Betting on injuries is never the smartest move. However, it is still important to remain aware of the possibilities.

Edge: Tie

Series Prediction

As great as Houston has played all season, it will take a lot for them to beat the Warriors. Houston’s style of play does not match up great against Golden State. Houston should put up a good effort against the Warriors, but will most likely bow out in six games.

Pick: Golden State Warriors to Win 4-2 (+291) at Sports Interaction

Category : Sports

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