With the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers once again odds on to reach a third straight NBA Finals, and with both teams having made promising starts to the season, it may already appear high likely that we once again see Steph Curry and Lebron James battling it out for the trophy come 2017. Even the NBA general managers are backing the duo to once again reach the finals, with 97 percent of votes cast in a recent poll pointing to the Warriors and Cavaliers. It would have been 100 percent if managers were allowed to vote for their own teams, however the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs each received one vote as a result. So, what does it take to reach the finals, and how can some of the season’s outsiders potentially crash the party for either Golden State or Cleveland.
It has been found that western conference teams need an average of 60 regular season wins in order to make the finals, while those in the eastern conference need to find just 56. The Warriors finished with a record 73 wins in the regular season last time around, with the Cavaliers winning just 57, however Tyronn Lue and his team still managed to claim an historic title from the clutches of Golden State, despite trailing the series 3-1. Despite this, such data demonstrates that teams hoping to reach the play-offs must remain consistent throughout the entire season, both at home and on the road.
With Curry and James both starring for their respective teams throughout last season, with the latter, and four time NBA MVP in particular stepping up in game 7 of the finals, it is clear that all-star players must be at their very best when it matters. With an average of two all-star players per team over the past decade competing in the finals, the trade of Kevin Durant to the Warriors at the start of the season only increases the likelihood of their participation.
If we are to have a surprise finalist this season, the likes of Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Paul George are, along with their team mates, going to have to play out of their skin, with east-based finals players needing an average of around 24.4 points-per-campaign, which surprisingly is the exact same amount as in the Western Conference.
The likes of the Clippers and the Hawks, although making fantastic starts to the new NBA campaign, are unlikely to be able to maintain such momentum over the course of a long season, meaning that they must try to ensure that they are heading into the play-offs in some kind of form. Both of these teams were unable to reach the latter stages of the 2015-16 play-offs, failing to put up much of a battle against the Portland Trail Blazers and eventual winners Cleveland.