The Golden State Warriors are headed to their fifth-consecutive NBA Finals, but there is one stark difference: Their opponent will, for the first time, be a team other than the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers. What is interesting is that even though the Dubs will be missing — at least, initially — the All-Pro services of injured forward Kevin Durant, and center DeMarcus Cousins will take some time getting back into the swing of things, they are widely considered the odds-on favorites to complete the three-peat and take home their fourth championship in five years.
From Las Vegas betting guides to the ESPNs and NBA.coms of the sports media world, experts everywhere are lining up behind Golden State, often times picking the incumbent champions to settle the series in six games. VegasInsider.com lists the Warriors as the favorites to win the Finals (-270). According to Odds Shark, online sportsbook Bovada favors the Dubs (-280) to take home the hardware.
ESPN.com asked their staff of 21 NBA experts to weigh-in with their 2019 Finals predictions. 19 out of the 21 experts polled picked the Warriors to prevail, with 14 taking the Dubs in six games. For what it's worth, the two outliers who picked the Raptors, had the northerners in seven.
According to the Washington Post, Sports Illustrated's Rohan Nadkarni and Howard Beck of Bleacher Report both picked the defending champs to repeat in six. TNT NBA analysts Shaq and Kenny Smith both are throwing their lot in with Golden State; Shaq stated, "[The Warriors] play better when people doubt 'em," while Smith quipped, "[KD's injury] gave them something to prove."
CBS Sports asked their panel of 10 NBA experts to cast their vote: All of them went with Golden State. On an ESPN SportsCenter Special: Finals Preview, iconic NBA players and media figures Magic Johnson, Doc Rivers, Stephen A. Smith, and Michael Wilbon each signed their names to a Golden State series victory.
All of those lines and predictions aside, the games still have to be played. And there happens to be one interesting outlier predicting that the Raptors will prevail in their first-ever NBA Finals. FiveThirtyEight (as of 5:00 p.m. Wednesday) places the Raptors' series win probability at 54%, according to their data-driven models, assuming Durant and Cousins will miss multiple games.
Nate Silver, the founder and editor-in-chief at FiveThirtyEight, makes a very compelling and statistically-based argument to back his prediction. He cites the Raptors' home-court advantage, their best lineup's rounding into form as of late, and the difficult-to-pin-down and constantly evolving timeline for the return of KD and DeMarcus — to name a few — as reasons to believe in Toronto's chances.
However, Silver's models are not perfect. Just ask former-Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. On the day of the election, November 8th, FiveThirtyEight's election forecast gave Hillary a 71.4% chance to defeat then-candidate Donald Trump. We all know how that turned out...
Soon enough, the players will have their opportunity to let their play do the talking and write the history. We'll see who has the better insight into the future: Nate Silver and a handful of Raptor-supporters, or the overwhelming majority of NBA analysts and sports media members who chose to ride with Golden State. Game 1 will be played tomorrow night in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, at Scotiabank Arena (formerly the Air Canada Centre).