That series, when it happens, figures to be a thrilling tiebreaker after Golden State won two years ago and Cleveland got its seven-game revenge last year after coming back from a 3-1 series deficit.
But here’s an honest question: will that one series be enough to make up for the fact that the rest of the NBA season, which starts in late October, really doesn’t matter?
Is it really good that casual fans — let alone some of the best players in the world — can look at a situation several months in advance and basically know which two teams are going to make it to the finals?
These thoughts crept further to the forefront after reading recent comments made by Raptors guard Kyle Lowry to Yahoo’s The Vertical. Toronto was predictably dispatched in four games by the Cavaliers, with the injured Lowry sitting out Game 4.
“They’ve got LeBron James. Nobody’s closing the gap on him,” Lowry said. “I mean, that’s it right there: They’ve got LeBron James and nobody’s closing the gap on him.”
Lowry is one of the best players in the league. The Raptors have made the playoffs four seasons in a row. But he’s a realist: a good team in the NBA has no chance to win a championship. Only great teams have a chance.
It’s debatable how many teams qualify as great right now, but you could argue that it’s two (and don’t argue that the Raptors and Cavaliers had the same number of regular-season victories this year and are therefore equals).
Lowry opted out of his contract Monday (as expected) and faces a choice: keep pounding his head against the wall with Toronto (for tons of money) or try to join a Superteam (for tons of money, albeit a little less). We know what Kevin Durant chose.
No other top U.S. men’s sports league operates this way. Virtually every NHL team that makes the playoffs could win a Stanley Cup. Same goes for MLB teams and the World Series. Low seeds have won plenty of Super Bowls. Each of those seasons probably starts with some number — Ten? Twelve? Fourteen? — of teams that can call themselves realistic championship contenders.
The NBA this year had two — and maybe one, if we’re being honest.
Golden State, which added Durant to an historically good team, had better than even-money Las Vegas odds to win the championship when the year started. And entering Monday’s game, FiveThirtyEight.com gave the Warriors an 81 percent chance of winning the NBA title even though they hadn’t even yet clinched their second-round series.
Sure, yes, that’s why games aren’t played on paper. Anything can happen. That usually holds true in sports, unless we’re talking about the NBA — where, for better or worse, we pretty much know exactly what’s going to happen.
Maybe it’s worth it when a great team really does win, but it has to be impossibly frustrating for everyone else.