Warriors? Cavs? Spurs again? No clear NBA Finals favorite

Published 12:00 pm Saturday, April 18, 2015

Sweet-shooting Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors have the best record, an unmatched home-court advantage, and the understanding that means nothing now.

“We had a great home record and did some historic things, but that doesn’t get you any extra points in the playoffs,” Curry said.

The Warriors (67-15) were the NBA’s best this season. LeBron James has been on top before, though never in Cleveland. And don’t forget the Spurs, even though you have to look far down the West standings to find them.

When the NBA postseason opens this weekend, there will be plenty of championship contenders but perhaps no clear favorite.

“I got no idea who’s going to win the championship. This is the most convoluted I’ve ever seen the NBA as far as, I’ve got no idea,” Hall of Famer and TNT analyst Charles Barkley said.

With James gone from Miami, so are the days of penciling in one half of the NBA Finals matchup. The Heat reached the last four finals, winning two of them, before James returned to Cleveland last July.

The Cavaliers don’t even have the best record in the Eastern Conference, finishing in second place behind Atlanta. But they have rolled through the second half of the season so easily that it’s hard not to consider this No. 2 as the one.

“We have an opportunity to do something special and that kicks off this weekend,” James said.

The Cavaliers start Sunday against Boston, a familiar foe for James and the one that ended his last postseason in a Cavaliers uniform.

The playoffs begin Saturday with four games: Washington visits Toronto in the opener before the Warriors, 39-2 at home during the regular season, host Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans. After that come two short trips: Milwaukee travels to Chicago and Dallas heads to Houston.

On Sunday, Atlanta hosts Brooklyn, Portland visits Memphis, and the Los Angeles Clippers welcome San Antonio for the opener of what appears to be the marquee first-round series.

The Spurs’ beautiful basketball overwhelmed James and the Heat in last year’s finals and carried them to 21 wins in their final 25 games this season — and couldn’t put a dent in their deficit in the West standings. They ended up with the No. 6 seed after losing in New Orleans on the final night of the regular season, with a 55-27 record that was a game worse than the Clippers, who surged to a 56-26 finish with seven straight victories.

“We’d love to have been in the 2 or 3 seeds — whatever it may be — and started at home,” the Spurs’ Tim Duncan said. “But we have been on just about every route possible throughout the years. This will be another journey, and hopefully it will be a fun one.”

That’s what the Warriors want. And with an MVP favorite in Curry, another All-Star in the backcourt in Klay Thompson and a deep bench, they have everything needed to make it happen.

“It’s time to go and we are ready,” Curry said.

Some other things to watch in the playoffs:

ROSE’S RETURN: Derrick Rose’s injury problems began in the opener of the 2012 postseason when he tore his ACL. He returned from his latest surgery to help the Bulls finish with four straight victories to earn the No. 3 seed in the East.

HOW HEALTHY?: The winner of the Trail Blazers-Grizzlies series would be in line to meet the Warriors, and either would be a threat if healthy. But Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Tony Allen of Memphis limped to the finish, Arron Afflalo joined Wesley Matthews on the sideline in Portland, and it’s hard to tell which team is in good enough shape to survive this series.

TEXAS TWO-STEP: The reward for James Harden and the Rockets after earning the No. 2 seed? A matchup against a Dallas team that won 50 games. The Rockets outscored the Mavericks just 402-398 in their four meetings, and Dallas had double-digit leads in three of them.

KIDD’S KIDS: Jason Kidd won a first-round series as a No. 6 seed last year in Brooklyn. He’s back in that spot after his first season coaching in Milwaukee with a young team that will try to overcome its playoff inexperience.

WHO WINS?: James is trying to finally win one in Cleveland. The Spurs are trying to finally win back to back. And the Warriors and Hawks were better than both teams over the course of the season, so even the experts are having a hard time with that question. “This year, I’ve got to be honest with you,” Barkley said, “there’s probably seven teams that could actually win the championship and I’d be like, ‘I’m not surprised they won it.'”