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NBA Conference Finals Storylines To Watch

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Yeah, yeah, we know. The conference finals turned out exactly as everyone predicted – but really, what’s the problem with that? I never really understood why people get upset when this happens. Personally, I enjoy watching the best teams play for a championship. I talk about it at the NCAA Tournament level quite a bit. Upsets are fine for the first round/weekend, but after that you want the best teams advancing and hope for four top-20ish teams in the Final Four. So there’s my rant into the blog. Let’s get into storylines to watch for the Eastern and Western Conference Finals.

1. Steph Curry’s health
Steph Curry returned from a knee injury that kept him out from March 23 through Game 1 of the series against the Pelicans. The good news is he has a few extra days to rest, rehab and get treatment as the Warriors head into the series against the Rockets. Despite having three other All-Stars, if the Rockets can win the guard battle with Harden/Paul vs Curry/Klay, it’s a huge advantage for them. Curry will see a couple different looks, so one thing to watch is how much space he’s able to create off the bounce and if not is Paul able to bother him enough to make him a bit uncomfortable.

2. How much of an advantage is Kevin Durant
Take everything I said in the paragraph above and forget it, because, oh yeah, the Warriors have Kevin Durant. He’s the biggest mismatch and advantage in this series. Yeah, you have that backcourt combo and Steph really does make that offense go with his ability to move off the ball, through screens and break defenders down on the ball. However, it’s the advantage that Durant brings on the wing that will be the difference maker no matter if Steph is 100% or not. The Rockets will be able to throw three different guys on him in Mbah a Moute, Tucker and Ariza to give him different looks, but Durant is still capable of going off for 10 points in a 90 second stretch. You have to prevent those massive bursts from Durant if you’re a Rockets fan. You don’t want to double him or anything like that, but make him work for his 30 points.

3. Can Clint Capela continue his impressive play
Capela has been damn impressive this postseason – so much that reports of the Suns planning to give him a max deal this offseason are surfacing. However, he’s going to be in a unique spot this series. Capela is someone who wants to protect the rim and he had a favorable matchup against Rudy Gobert and the Jazz because Gobert isn’t stepping out as a playmaker. Well, what happens this series when the Warriors go small and Capela has to defend Draymond out on the perimeter? Is he going to be able to slide laterally well enough to take away Draymond’s ability to drive? Can he still protect the rim? Will he be able to take advantage of the mismatch on the other end and grab offense rebounds? This could end up being the most important 1v1 matchup in this series.

4. Chris Paul/James Harden narrative vs Warriors dynasty
One of these descriptions will be changed. Chris Paul and James Harden are known for being playoff ‘ failures’ of sorts. Paul had never made a conference final until this year – though his playoff numbers are actually better than his regular season numbers. Harden has to make up from last year’s disaster when he just didn’t show up. On the other side you have the Warriors fighting for a true dynasty description. They have the title in 2016 and 2017. They lost in 2015. If they can get 3 in 4 years, that’s a for sure dynasty and one that we should romanticize in 20 years similar to what we do with the Bulls, Lakers and Celtics of the past.

5. LeBron’s quest for 8 straight Finals
I don’t care what you think of LeBron, getting to 8 straight Finals is damn impressive. I know there will be idiots commenting about how he’s a crybaby, diva and the real dummies who say there’s no competition like the 80s/90s, but that’s all because people don’t like the person LeBron. He’s currently carrying this team through the first two series as his numbers are flat out absurd. He’s averaging 34.3 points, 9.4 rebounds and 9 assists per game. He’s playing arguably his best basketball and is one series away from eight straight Finals.

6. Scary Terry’s rise
Terry Rozier seemed like a reach at No. 16 when he got drafted a few years back. Now, he’s one of the best guards in the NBA playoffs. With Kyrie out and the Celtics battling injuries – especially to Marcus Smart – can Terry Rozier continue his play? More importantly, can he continue to not turn the ball over. That’s been arguably the most impressive part of his run here as had just 5 turnovers in the series against the Sixers and and 13 against the Bucks. If he can limit those turnovers and easy buckets for players not named LeBron James, the Celtics can really push the Cavs here.

7. Can the Celtics wings match LeBron?
Similar to what I said about Durant, you’re not going to stop LeBron. However, the Celtics have three wings in Marcus Morris, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum that can combine to beat him. Tatum has been impressive this entire playoff run as he’s scored 20 in each of the last 7 games. Morris is the guy that comes off the bench, provides defense and can be a microwave scorer. Brown is working his way back from injury and does that sort of combo athleticism + shooting that every team looks for in a wing. Let’s say LeBron puts up his average of 35/9/9. Can these three combine for 45-50? These three won’t stop LeBron but need to beat him.

8. Will we see something besides Golden State vs Cleveland?
This is ultimately what everyone wants to know, especially the casual fan. Everyone is just assuming we’re going to get Golden State vs Cleveland because the Warriors and LeBron. However, it’s not going to be as easy as everyone assumes. The West is deep this year and the Warriors are coming from the 2 seed this year. The Cavs have looked vulnerable during the regular season and do have to come from the 4 seed out East.