After two Game 7 thrillers on Sunday night, the conference finals will kick off on Tuesday, May 14 with a Western Conference matchup between the Golden State Warriors and the Portland Trail Blazers at Oracle Arena. The Eastern Conference Finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors at Fiserv Forum will begin on Wednesday.
The Western Conference Finals will not be anything new to the Warriors as it will be the team’s fifth straight appearance. However, the Warriors are heading into the series without one of its star players, Kevin Durant. The 2014 NBA MVP and two-time Finals MVP went down with a strained right calf injury in Game 5 of the conference semifinals against Houston. The good news for Golden State and its fans is that Durant will be re-evaluated this week. Fans must wonder if Durant will be 100 percent when he returns. With the absence of Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson must continue to step up and remain productive.
As for the Trail Blazers, this will be the team’s first conference finals appearance since 2000. The Blazers are coming off a Game 7 victory on the road against the Denver Nuggets. Damian Lillard had his struggles during Game 7, but it was C.J. McCollum who led the team to the victory with 37 points. However, one shouldn’t expect Lillard to remain in his slump. After all, he currently averages 29.8 points and nearly six assists in the playoffs alone. He has also been shooting 44.9 percent from the floor. The Blazers and Warriors have backcourts that like to score, so this should be a matchup to watch.
In the East, the Raptors are coming off a Game 7 win at home against the 76ers. 2014 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard hit a game-winning buzzer-beater on Sunday night to advance to the conference finals. Leonard’s number has been called all throughout the postseason. He is quietly averaging 31 points and 8.5 rebounds. However, he will need more help from his point guard, Kyle Lowry, who is averaging just 12.4 points and shooting 38 percent from 3-point range. On the other hand, Leonard has been getting help from arguably one of the most improved players in the league, Pascal Siakam. Siakam averages 20 points and 7.3 rebounds in the postseason. The Raptors need to have all hands on deck to face off against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Leonard going head-to-head with the Greek Freak will be the key matchup for this series. Antetokounmpo has also been a dominant force in the regular season and the playoffs. He is averaging 27.4 points and 11.3 rebounds. He is widely regarded as the MVP favorite as well. The Bucks will be well-rested coming into the Eastern Conference Finals, seeing as though the team hasn’t played since last Wednesday when it knocked off the Boston Celtics in five games.
Both conference finals matchups should be hard fought and full of great competition, but the Warriors and Bucks seem to be the two best teams in the league and will rightfully face off in the NBA Finals. Golden State will take care of business and eliminate the Trail Blazers in Game 5, while the Bucks will send the Raptors home after six games.