It was only one game, but the series opener of the Western Conference Finals was a reminder of just how uphill a climb it takes to beat the Golden State Warriors.
It’s obviously too early to say with any conviction this series is already over, but it sure feels like the outcome is inevitable.
We spent the regular season and first two rounds of the playoffs being impressed with a 65-win Houston Rockets squad which boasted the MVP frontrunner, one of the best point guards in history, a historically-good offence and home-court advantage.
And yet, the collective worth of all those advantages appeared to turn to dust with a Thanos-like snap of the fingers by the Warriors in Game 1.
Consider everything which went in the Rockets’ favour: James Harden was arguably the best player on the floor and turned in a terrific 41-point showing, Stephen Curry was kept relatively quiet with 18 points and one 3-pointer, and again, Houston were on their home floor.
None of it seemed to matter as the Warriors won by 13. Not by a few possessions. By 13.
This is just the 6th game the Rockets have lost this season in which James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela all played (were 50-5 entering Game 1)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 15, 2018
It was a close game throughout the first half when the teams were trading punches, but after the intermission, Golden State went to another level the Rockets probably aren’t capable of. That’s less an indictment of Houston and more telling of how much of a juggernaut the Warriors are.
The Rockets’ margin of error is just too minuscule. Even though they have two of the best creators in basketball and thrived with Harden and Chris Paul attacking in isolations all season, that method of attack can only get them so far against the long and versatile defenders of Golden State.
Attacking primarily through isolation may be enough if Houston can turn this series from a shootout to a grind-it-out affair. But that would involve slowing down the Warriors’ offence, which the Rockets did little of in Game 1.
Part of that was Kevin Durant being Kevin Durant and hitting shots Houston have no choice but to live with, but the Rockets also too often got caught matching-up in transition and left Klay Thompson wide open for easy triples.
Add in 13 turnovers leading to 17 Golden State points and 11 misses in the restricted area, and the combination left Houston with too much to overcome.
Against any other team, the Rockets’ Game 1 performance would have been enough. The Warriors aren’t just any team though.
There’s nothing like ping pong balls determining the course of history and altering the future of billion-dollar businesses.
But that’s what makes the NBA Draft Lottery so much fun, because anything can happen when the top-half of the draft order is determined on Tuesday night (UAE: 03:30 +1).
Before getting down to scenarios, here’s how the lottery works.
The 14 teams that failed to make the playoffs are assigned odds to obtain one of the top three picks. The team with the worst record has the highest chance of landing a higher pick, and so on.
After the top three selections are determined, the remainder of the lottery order is in inverse order of win-loss record for the leftover teams.
The picks are assigned by each team having a certain number of four-number combinations. Those combinations are randomly drawn from 14 individual numbered ping pong balls, picked out of a standard lottery machine in a private room before the broadcast of the results.
The teams with the highest odds are the Phoenix Suns, who have a 25 per cent chance of winning the lottery and a 64.2 per cent chance at the top-three; the Memphis Grizzlies, who have a 19.9 per cent chance of winning and a 55.8 per cent chance at the top-three; and the Dallas Mavericks, who have a 13.8 per cent chance of winning a 42.6 per cent chance at the top-three.
As far as the prospects available in this year’s draft class, there are several promising players who could be franchise cornerstones, including Real Madrid playmaker Luka Doncic, Arizona centre Deandre Ayton, Michigan State big man Jaren Jackson Jr, Duke forward Marvin Bagley, Texas centre Mo Bamba and Oklahoma guard Trae Young.
As mentioned, the stakes are sky high and no one has any control of how this is going to go.
So, let’s take a look at some of the crazy possibilities that could play out.
Cavaliers get the number one pick
On a night they’re playing the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers actually have a 2.8 per cent chance of landing the top selection, thanks to the pick being conveyed from the Brooklyn Nets.
Tomorrow is shaping up to be one of the most important days in Cleveland Cavaliers franchise history, right up with May 22, 2003 and June 19, 2016. A lot going on between Game 2 of the ECF in Boston and the NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) May 14, 2018
Boston, who struck gold on their trade with Brooklyn years ago, passed this year’s Nets unprotected first-rounder on to Cleveland in the Kyrie Irving–Isaiah Thomas swap this past summer, so it will now pay dividends for the Cavs.
Though the Nets weren’t as bad this season as Cleveland would have liked, the pick is likely to be no worse than eight. If it does jump up though, that gives the Cavaliers better ammunition to potentially swing a trade for a star to pair with LeBron James – if he stays – or rebuild with one of the best prospects in the draft if the face of their franchise leaves again.
Celtics leap into top three
Boston’s fortune and embarrassment of riches has been off the charts lately, but there’s a chance the rich can get even richer on Tuesday night.
Thanks to the trade they made with the Philadelphia 76ers ahead of last year’s draft, in which they swapped the number one overall pick for the third selection and a 2018 first-rounder, the Celtics may get another top-three pick to add to their collection of prized assets.
That selection is from the Los Angeles Lakers and because of the protections on it, will only convey to Boston if it lands between two and five, while it would stay with the 76ers if it’s number one or six to 14.
If the Celtics don’t get it this year, the pick will become the Sacramento Kings’ top-one protected selection next year.
The Lakers finished with the 10th-worst record this season, so the Celtics have just a 2.9 per cent chance of the pick being second or third, while Philadelphia have 1.1 per cent odds of it landing first.
With how stacked Boston already are and how quickly their young guys are developing, them receiving a top-three pick would be straight up unfair.
Sixers add another number one pick
The Process may be over, but this is likely the 76ers’ last chance at adding another number one overall pick for quite some time, considering their ascension.
As stated, their odds are just 1.1 per cent, so it probably won’t happen. But if it did, imagine a world where Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are playing alongside Doncic. And that’s not even mentioning how ridiculous that core would be if Markelle Fultz becomes anything close to what he was originally projected as.
And if LeBron isn’t on the way this summer for Philadelphia, they would have an incredible asset to throw at the San Antonio Spurs for Kawhi Leonard.
It feels crazy to already say the 76ers are just a piece away from contending, but between them and Boston, this is the new reality for the Eastern Conference.
Pistons hanging in the balance
The Detroit Pistons are the only team who can lose their own pick in this year’s lottery.
When they traded for Blake Griffin mid-season, Detroit sent a top-four protected first-rounded to the Los Angeles Clippers, who are likely to get the pick after the Pistons finished with the 12th-worst record.
However, there’s a 2.5 per cent chance the Pistons leapfrog into the top three and keep their selection, which would be the ultimate bail-out for a team that may have been too aggressive in settling for mediocrity.
LeBron James is widely considered a basketball genius, possessing an incredible IQ, knowledge and memory of the game.
Watch the video below to see James give a detailed account of the Celtics’ run at the start of the fourth quarter that created distance with the Cavaliers.