Though many of us have prematurely concluded that the finals will once again be between Cleveland and Golden State, there are many of us who have our doubts. The Rockets could unseat the Warriors and many believe that this is Toronto's year. However you view it, our finals predictions are reserved for a small handful of teams. That's fair, but let's walk it back a bit and examine the first round, this is where upsets happen.
I'm a firm believer in momentum. In any sport, the teams who come into the playoffs on a roll often carry that streak into the games that really matter. Imagine if last year's Miami Heat had qualified for the 8th seed. That team was looking scary, and a match up between them and the Celtics would have been a daunting one for Boston. Whatever our predictions are now, they can quickly change in the week leading up to the big dance. We're at the point in the season where each team has roughly ten games remaining and it's these ten games that will be the true predictor of how the first round will look.
Two weeks ago I was riding the Raptor's train hard. They were winning big games and their bench looked unrivalled, they were just killing it every night. Today I can't say I feel the same. Sure, they've been winning most of their games, but the opponents they've faced have been some of the leagues worst, and yet somehow each game has been too close for comfort. Then you have a team like Portland who is in the midst of a mean streak of domination. If they keep rolling to the very end you have to view them as a true powerhouse and dismiss their first round matchup immediately, right? Not exactly. At the bottom of the western conference playoff picture sit the Utah Jazz, who are another team looking to upset a powerful round one foe. With how close the teams from 4-8 sit it looks like the playoff seeding may only take shape on the final night of the season. Depending on who catches fire and who cools down, our opinions are about to change, maybe drastically. Will a new team claim our attention as the hottest in the league? Can Milwaukee catch fire? Will Houston begin to slump? How will we feel about the Warriors when each game really matters? All I know is that momentum is everything and when the regular season ends we'll see who's ready for the show.