Sep. 26, 2016
Too early to determine 2017 NBA Champion
On Christmas Day, the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the Golden State Warriors, 109-108 by erasing a 14-point fourth quarter deficit.
As reigning NBA Champions, the Cavaliers defended their throne and again beat the team that many considered the best in the NBA and the Cavs’ Achilles heel.
Already atop the Eastern Conference again with a 23-7 record and an NBA-best 16-2 home record, the Cavaliers seem well on their way to a third consecutive NBA Finals and a back-to-back championship.
Hold up there.
It is only Dec. 28.
Cleveland has played a grand total of 30 games this season.
It is so easy to predict who will be the NBA’s next champion based on the results of Christmas Day games. It is the most popular day on the NBA’s calendar and hosts some of the most-watched games of the season due to marquee matchups.
However, a December victory over the Warriors does not make the Cavaliers the 2017 NBA Champions.
Remember a year ago? Dec. 25, 2015: Cleveland and Golden State met in Oakland for a Christmas Day matchup. It was both a Finals review and preview since the Warriors defeated the depleted Cavaliers in the 2015 Finals and Cleveland turned the tables in 2016.
On that day the Cavaliers (with both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving flanking LeBron James unlike the 2015 Finals) hung tight with the Warriors all game, but failed to get the win. Including the 2015 Finals, it was Golden State’s fourth consecutive win over the Cavaliers.
In 2016, the script was flipped. The Cavaliers won the final three games of the Finals and then the Christmas matinee.
As good as Cleveland looked on Christmas Day, it is not time to pop more bottles of champagne. Golden State is still the highest scoring team in the NBA (117.2 points per game), the best three-point defending team in the league (.325 percent) and the most lopsided victor in the NBA (12.9 points per game differential).
Additionally, the Warriors are also ahead of the Cavaliers in plenty of important areas like turnovers forced (14.6), free throw shooting (.792 percent) and rebounds per game (45.3).
There is another tool that the Warriors have that cannot be expressed statistically: anger. After setting the NBA’s best regular season record with a 73-9 mark in 2015-16, Golden State failed to win the NBA Finals and thus cannot be the greatest team of all time because of their failure to get a ring.
That failure is surely on the minds of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and co. this year. With the addition of Kevin Durant, the Warriors are expected to win it all, but that expectation combined with the anger of failure will only make the Warriors more difficult to defeat this season.
Everything mentioned above is under the assumption that the Warriors and Cavaliers meet in the NBA Finals again. It is not wrong to assume it since no other team has shown itself capable of stopping these two super teams. That said, let this be certain: if only the Warriors or Cavaliers makes it to the Finals, then the one that does will win it all regardless of the opponent. No one is at the same level as Cleveland or Golden State.
So the season is young and it is wrong to decide champions before it is even 2017. There is still five months of basketball left to still play. The Cavaliers may still win it all, but it is too early to put them above the Warriors, especially considering how Golden State has started this season.