SAN FRANCISCO, (Reuters) – The Golden State Warriors enter the NBA playoffs this weekend looking for redemption after last season’s shocking defeat in the Finals, where the team blew a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the best-of-seven series.
Despite the unprecedented championship series collapse, expectations for the Warriors to win the title this year are sky high, and for good reason.
In the offseason they added one of the league’s premier scorers, former league Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant, who quickly adapted to the team’s fast-paced and unselfish brand of basketball. Despite an injury to Durant late in the season that kept him sidelined for 19 games, the team finished with NBA’s best overall record, ensuring home court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Durant returned to the starting lineup earlier this month and has shown no sign of lingering problems from the knee injury, boosting the Warriors’ odds of winning.
Westgate Las Vegas Superbook on Thursday listed the Warriors as 1-2 favorites to bring Oakland their second championship trophy in three years.
ESPN analyst and former NBA head coach Jeff Van Gundy on Thursday anointed the Warriors the champions before the first playoff game had even been played.
“Golden State is your champion. It won’t be close,” Van Gundy told ESPN’s The Lowe Post podcast.
“No one is gonna push them. It’s over.”
The Warriors faced similarly high expectations going into last year’s playoffs after they won an NBA-record 73 games during the season, which made their inability to claim the title all the more shocking.
Even that disappointment could pale in comparison to this year should the team fail to win it all.
“For the Warriors, it’s obviously championship or bust,” Turner Sports analyst Reggie Miller and Hall of Fame shooting guard told reporters on Thursday.
“You don’t go out and get Kevin Durant and be happy to get to the Conference Finals or the NBA Finals and lose. They have to win a championships. Period.”
Turner Sports analyst and former coach Kevin McHale said Durant will be key to helping the Warriors finish off close games, something they were unable to do in Game Seven of last year’s Finals when they surrendered their lead late in the fourth quarter to LeBron James and the Cavs.
“KD makes them better. He’s a closer,” McHale told reporters.