NBA, playoffs, preview, Cavaliers, Rockets
Do not expect a Cavaliers versus Warriors matchup in the Finals for the fourth year in a row. Getty Images

Last year's NBA playoffs offered little intrigue as there was chalk all the way through the Finals, save for one measly first round "upset" (the five-seeded Jazz beat the fourth-seeded Clippers). 

 

Things are expected to be drastically different this year, however, as nearly every first round matchup has a lower seeded team with a legit opportunity to steal a series. Golden State and Houston are the exceptions here as they should coast in their respective first round series' and - truth be told - are really the only two teams with realistic odds of winning it all. The Warriors opened at +140 to win the title, while the Rockets opened at +160. The teams with the next best odds were LeBron's Cavaliers at +750 and the Raptors at +1200, highlighting the drastic difference between the field and the league's true elite.

 

Here is a look at each conference, and where we expect things to end up in June.

 

 

 

East

 

The young Sixers are now improbably the trendy pick to represent the East in the Finals, thanks to their 16-game win streak. While any streak that extends that long in the NBA is impressive, it should be noted that of the 16 teams Philly beat in that stretch - 13 of them are now lottery teams and most of them could not wait for the season to end.

The Raptors have been rapping at the door of the NBA Finals for several years now, having lost to the  Cavs in six games in the conference finals two years ago and having been swept by the Cavs last year in the semi-finals. This absolutely feels like the season that Toronto can solve Cleveland. 

The Cavs relied heavily on Kyrie Irving in the past two Toronto series' as Irving averaged 22.3 points per game in the 2016-17 playoffs against the Raps and averaged 24.2 points per game against them the year prior. Kyrie, of course, is in Boston now. 

LeBron hasn't had to "do it alone" since the tail-end of his first tenure in Cleveland and that more often than not spelled early exits for the Cavs.

Prediction: Raptors sweep Celtics in Eastern Conference Finals

 

West

Just two games separated the Nos. 3-8 seeds in the Western Conference this year, which will make for some extremely fun first round series' (Portland - New Orleans and OKC - Utah will be barnburners). But this conference, barring injuries of course, will come down to Houston and Golden State.

The Rockets went 2-1 against the Warriors this season, and they will have home court advantage in the likely Western Conference Finals.

Stephen Curry likely won't be playing basketball for another two weeks, so he may still be rusty when (if) the Warriors meet Houston in the WCF. But if Curry is even, say, 85 percent - there is still too much talent by the Bay. 

To quote Rudy Tomjanovich: "Never underestimate the heart of a champion." Particularly one that still has two of the top three players of a generation on its roster.

Prediction: Warriors edge Rockets in 7 games

 

NBA Finals

Warriors over Raptors in 5