NBA contenders poised to make run at ellusive title

After their dominant finish to last season, the 2014-2015 NBA Champions return with their core nucleus still together. The Gold­en State Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bo­gut in their starting five, the same players that led them to their victory last season. More­over, they still have their Finals MVP and star Sixth Man, Andre Iguodala, who Jalen Rose called their “Swiss army knife” for his versa­tility on the court. They’re the fastest team in the league, as well as a team that knows how to move the ball. According to Rose, the av­erage Warrior holds the ball for 2.39 seconds, suggesting that they read the defense well and assess their strategies carefully. Most of the teams they faced in the playoffs last season were missing a starting player due to injuries, but the Warriors were healthy as ever. Many question if they will be as lucky this year. With their excellent ball-handling, their communi­cation and their 3-point shooters, maybe they won’t need luck.

People love to hate on Lebron, but we’ve got to give him (and the Cavs) credit where credit is due. If the Cavs can first make it to the NBA finals, and second hold their own against last year’s Warriors, who were inarguably a better ball team at the time, they can do even better with all their key players healthy. They played without Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving, key play­ers that could have potentially made a great difference in the outcome of the series. Irving is still out, but Love is back, and determined to make a great impact. Furthermore, cen­ter Timofey Mozgov proved valuable during last year’s finals; the Cavs won 76 percent of the games he started. With a strong Western Conference, the Cavs only have to beat one of those top contending teams to win the title.

Critics and analysts are saying this might be the Thunder’s most important season yet. This is Kevin Durant’s last season before his pend­ing free agency. Unfortunately for them, Kevin Durant, 2013-2014 MVP, was riddled with foot, ankle and toe injuries for almost all of last season. Now, it’s been almost seven months since Durant underwent his last foot surgery. The Thunder also have Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka back together and injury-free, perhaps one of the strongest trios in the NBA today (or even, all days). Zach Lowe of Grant­land even noted that after trading Harden, the Thunder have never lost a playoff series when all three of these players are healthy for its duration. People are worried that this Durant won’t be the Kevin Durant they knew and saw pre-foot surgeries (he had three surgeries on his foot in 167 days). But if this Friday’s game against the Thunder has shown anything, it’s that Durant is back, Durant’s foot is back and the Thunder are already killing it. Against the Magic in overtime, both Durant and Westbrook dominated, scoring over 40 points a piece, a feat that hasn’t happened since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen balled it up way back when.

The Rockets’ key addition of Ty Lawson can reshape the way they play this year. The duo of Lawson, one of the NBA’s leaders in assists, and James Harden may bring a strong offense that will scare away weaker defensive teams. With Lawson around, Harden has less of the burden to be the playmaker and carry the team’s offense, so hopefully he won’t get burned out at the end of games like he did in the playoffs last year. Plus, if Dwight How­ard is healthy and plays as best as he could, they’ll have a stellar defense as well. Dwight has proved to be pivotal in the Rockets’ re­bounding; when he was injured last year, the Rockets ranked 28th in rebounds. Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverly, also starters, have proved to be ferocious defenders as well. The Rockets have reshaped themselves to their advantage, a strong, dynamic team that will shake the ever shifting balance of power in this young league.

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