Your 2018 NBA champions are the Golden State Warriors.
It won’t be as easy as they made it look last year, but the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy is staying in the Bay. It took them 48 minutes in Game 1 to take away what the 65-win Houston Rockets fought 82 games for — home-court advantage.
Even with the Rockets pouncing on the lackadaisical Warriors in Game 2, it feels like all Golden State needs to do is turn the switch back on. Or, just wait for Stephen Curry to hit some shots.
Whoever comes out of the East will win at most one game to
the winner of the West Golden State. And that will only be because of some legendary talent on the East teams — the Cavaliers’ LeBron James and the Celtics’ Brad Stevens.
But these unsurprising NBA playoffs still overshadow the more unpredictable and electrifying Stanley Cup playoffs of the NHL.
The Washington Capitals, outmatched in depth and perennial playoff chokers, took both games in Tampa Bay to start the series in their first conference final in the Alex Ovechkin era. Who saw that coming?
Tampa Bay, which looked like it had already won the cup after its five-game dissection of the No. 2 seed Boston Bruins, then proceeded to blitz the nation’s capital, stealing two games to get home ice right back.
The Winnipeg Jets, who have the strongest roster in hockey, won a lengthy battle against the Nashville Predators, beating the Presidents’ Trophy winners in seven. This is the first Winnipeg NHL team to play in the conference final, but this favored team is somehow down 3-1 to …
… the Vegas Golden Knights, who were born only last year. This expansion team made of misfits and owner of the best pregame show in sports are now inexplicably one game away from the cup finals, despite being consistently outshot and outplayed.
There would be no surprise if any of the teams left wound up winning the Stanley Cup. Yes, the Lightning and the Jets have superior rosters, but energetic play and opportune bounces have given the Capitals two games on the road and the Knights three games in a row.
It’s also criminally underrated how nice it is to see different players have a shot in the spotlight. None of these teams were in the conference finals last year. Only the Lightning made it this far in 2016.
A backup goalie last year, Marc-André Fleury is having the playoffs of his life and is single-handedly making sure “the house always wins,” even in the playoffs.
There’s a generational talent having his first taste of the conference final spotlight — Ovechkin.
There’s a captain looking to finally lead his team over the hump after losing last season to injury — Steven Stamkos.
All of these storylines are compelling and refreshing. Add in the need for star hockey players to rest during games and there exists large potential for other players to create a name for themselves.
Enough of James Harden lulling you to sleep in isolation, Kevin Durant putting the ball through the hoop at will, LeBron James carrying an entire city and Brad Stevens squeezing every milligram of talent out of his team. Nothing else is new. We’ve been given too many doses of all that already.
Tune in to the Stanley Cup playoffs instead. Embrace the randomness of the puck on ice, enjoy the blistering pace of up-and-down action, and indulge in the stories of these four remaining teams, because you never know if these same people are going to appear on this stage again.
Oh, and if you didn’t already get the memo, which was given July 4, 2016: Here, the Warriors are going to win their third championship in four years, sometime next month.