NBA playoff predictions 2019: Can anyone dethrone Warriors as champs?

NBA playoff predictions 2019: Can anyone dethrone Warriors as champs?

After another grueling 82-game season, the NBA playoffs finally have arrived.

With LeBron James in the West (and not in the playoffs with the Lakers), a new crop of Eastern Conference contenders are champing at the bit to be the new kings of the conference. Meanwhile, the NBA's bully continues to reign in the West. But has the gap closed on the Warriors?

The Dubs will enter the postseason as the heavy favorites to win a third consecutive title, but they'll have to outlast a talented group of Western Conference contenders in order to have the chance to defend their back-to-back championships.

All good things come to an end, so is this the year the summer parades in the Bay Area stop? Here's how I see everything unfolding.

First-round predictions

Western Conference
Warriors over Clippers in four
Nuggets over Spurs in seven
Thunder over Trail Blazers in seven
Rockets over Jazz in five

Eastern Conference
Bucks over Pistons in four
Raptors over Magic in five
76ers over Nets in seven
Celtics over Pacers in six

I expect the first round to be pretty straightforward. The Warriors will throttle the Clippers' collection of role players, giving the two-time defending champs time to rest before the second round.

James Harden and the Rockets should make it past the Jazz, who caught a tough break when Houston fell to the No. 4 seed. The other two series seem irrelevant, but I'll take the Thunder and the Nuggets. With Jusuf Nurkic out, the Blazers will struggle to defend Steven Adams. And as well-coached as the Spurs are, the upstart Nuggets should make it through with the help of their home-court advantage.

Out East, the Sixers, Raptors and Bucks assert themselves as the conference's best teams. Kyrie Irving and his leadership (?) are just enough to get the Celtics past the Pacers and keep Boston hoping the C's eventually will live up to the preseason hype.

Second-round predictions

Western Conference
Warriors over Rockets in seven
Thunder over Nuggets in seven

Eastern Conference
Bucks over Celtics in seven
Raptors over 76ers in seven

Rockets-Warriors in the second round? Oh, boy. The Rockets give the Warriors all they can handle but again go cold in Game 7 -- missing 28 consecutive 3-pointers or something like that -- and the Warriors escape to advance to the Western Conference finals.

On the other side of the West bracket, the Nuggets' inexperience finally catches up with them as Russell Westbrook and Paul George lead the Thunder to an emotional showdown with the Warriors.

The East will be a bloodbath as well. Boston has been brutal on the road all season, and it's finally going to catch up with the Celtics in Milwaukee, sending them toward an offseason full of uncertainty. Speaking of uncertain offseasons, Kawhi Leonard will end the 76ers' "Big Five" experiment much earlier than they'd hoped, forcing them to contemplate if Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris can co-exist. We left out J.J. Redick because, well, he's clearly not the issue.

Conference finals predictions

Western Conference
Warriors over Thunder in six

Eastern Conference
Raptors over Bucks in six

Giannis Antetokounmpo's impressive season comes to a halt at the giant hands of The Claw. With LeBron finally out of their way, the Raptors assume their position atop the East.

The Warriors, fresh off a grueling seven-game slugfest with Houston, are barely able to outlast the Thunder. Westbrook and George carry the Thunder to an early 2-1 series lead, but Durant and Curry find their stroke in a blowout Game 4 victory and the Thunder are never able to recover.

NBA Finals prediction

Warriors over Raptors in seven

This won't be the cakewalk the last two NBA Finals have been for the Dubs. Instead of facing Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Tristan Thompson, the Warriors will contend with the Raptors' dangerous collection of role players around Leonard and Kyle Lowry.

As evidenced this season, the Raptors have the talent and versatility to give the Warriors fits. Leonard presents a big issue for the champs, and budding star Pascal Siakam and veterans Danny Green and Marc Gasol anchor a talented starting five.

After splitting the first four games of the series, Leonard will push the Warriors to the brink of elimination by putting on an all-time great performance in Game 5. But, much like the Night King and the army of the dead in "Game of Thrones," the Warriors are damn near impossible to kill. Buoyed by a heroic second half from Klay Thompson, the Warriors say goodbye to Oracle Arena with a narrow Game 6 win, setting up a winner-take-title Game 7 north of the border.

In what could be his final game in a Raptors uniform, Leonard puts up 37 points, and Toronto leads heading into the fourth quarter. But, as previously noted, if you want to kill the Warriors, you better go for the head.

Curry pours in 16 fourth-quarter points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining, to seal the three-peat and Finals MVP honors.

D'Angelo Russell eyes super team with Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker

D'Angelo Russell eyes super team with Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker

D'Angelo Russell has only had a few months to get to know his new Warriors teammates, but he's already extremely familiar with two players he plans to team up with in the future.

Golden State's guard, acquired in a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn in July, is featured on the newest cover of Slam Magazine. Russell, however, isn't alone. He's there with two longtime friends.

Russell, Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns and Phoenix's Devin Booker go way back. They came up through the AAU system together, and entered the NBA at the same time. Towns and Russell were the Nos. 1 and 2 picks in the 2015 NBA Draft, while Booker was the No. 13 overall selection.

All three players are part of the next generation of NBA superstars. And in convening for the magazine shoot, Russell confessed a desire to form a super team with them down the line.

"We gotta do this again, when we’re all on the same team,” Russell said toward the end of the shoot. “Nah, don’t cut [the film]. Y’all got it on footage. When we’re all on the same team -- I ain’t gonna tell you which team because I don’t know -- we’re gonna do this again."

Russell signed a four-year contract with Golden State after coming over in the sign-and-trade for Kevin Durant, and is due to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2022-23 season. Both Towns and Booker have five years remaining on their contracts, and are scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency one year after Russell. All three are paid handsomely.

It remains to be seen if it even will be possible to fit all three players on the same roster in the future, especially if any of them continue to improve (and thus qualify for larger salaries). Still, Towns is the oldest of the three, and he only turns 24 this November.

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There's plenty of time for it to happen. In the meantime, however, you can expect all three of Russell, Towns and Booker to star separately on their current teams.

Andre Iguodala describes Steph Curry's amazing hand-eye coordination

Andre Iguodala describes Steph Curry's amazing hand-eye coordination

We all know how much Andre Iguodala loves Steph Curry.

The former Warriors forward repeatedly has said the two-time NBA MVP is the second-best point guard of all-time, behind only Magic Johnson.

After Game 2 of last season's NBA Finals against the Raptors, Iguodala said he's all for anything that protects Curry's legacy.

On Thursday morning, Iguodala once again was singing Curry's praises.

"Steph's got something else. Anybody seen 'The Accountant?' Steph's like that. He's good at everything," the 35-year-old said on Hot 97 radio. "Hand-eye coordination. He probably could shoot somebody from 1,000 feet away.

"I've seen him throw darts. I've seen him bowl like 250. Ping-pong. Golf, he could play pro in real life. He can throw a fastball 80 miles per hour, right down the middle.

"He's got this hand-eye thing that's freakish."

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Wait. Steph can't hit 95 miles per hour on the radar gun? Lame.

Also, looks like I need to go watch the movie The Accountant.

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