The 2019 NBA playoffs are flying along, and after a thrilling second round we’ve now reached the conference finals.
In the East, the top two seeds advanced, and the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks will take on the second-seeded Toronto Raptors with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. Not only will this be the first time that a team without LeBron James will represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals since 2010, but it will also represent a milestone achievement for whichever team advances. The Bucks haven’t been to the Finals since 1974, while the Raptors have never advanced that far.
Out in the West, the top-ranked Golden State Warriors are back in the conference finals for the fifth straight season, and will be hoping to make it five straight trips to the Finals as well. Their three-peat attempt will run through the third-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who scored a slight upset over the Denver Nuggets in the second round. After completing a 17-point comeback in Game 7 on Sunday, the Blazers are in the WCF for the first time since 2000. Winning this series would send them to the Finals for the first time since 1992.
Ahead of the two series, SportsLine data scientist Stephen Oh ran the projections to determine which teams have the best shot at advancing to the Finals and winning it all. Unlike seasons past, there isn’t a clear-cut favorite.
SportsLine projections for NBA title
A few takeaways from these projections:
- Even with Kevin Durant out injuredfor at least Game 1of the WCF, and likely Game 2 as well, the Warriors are still pretty comfortable favorites against the Trail Blazers. But the injuries and inconsistent play, coupled with strong performances from the Bucks and Raptors in the East has their title chances as low as they’ve been all season. While most would still consider them the favorites, no one thinks the Warriors will run away with the title anymore, and SportsLine’s projections agree.
- The simulations see the Eastern Conference finals as pretty much a toss-up. The Bucks have home-court advantage, and that might end up being the difference. These were the two best teams in the East all season long, and each boast a top-five player in the game. That matchup may end up coming down to the supporting casts.
- No one thought the Trail Blazers would get this far, especially after Jusuf Nurkic’s broken leg toward the end of the regular season. But they bounced back from a 17-point deficit in Game 7 on the road against the Nuggets in the second round, proving they belong right where they are. And in what might be a bit of a surprise, the SportsLine data gives them a decent chance of pulling a big upset on the Warriors. To do that, though, they desperately need to steal one of the first few games while Durant is out injured.