By BRIAN MAHONEY
The Associated Press
Maybe this is the year.
Maybe the Golden State Warriors, opening the postseason without Stephen Curry or any momentum, won’t be the best of the West, where there’s a Houston team that can run and gun as well as they do.
Maybe the Cleveland Cavaliers, starting from the middle of the pack in the East, just have too big a hill to climb, even with LeBron James carrying them.
Or perhaps none of that matters, and the NBA is headed toward Round 4 of its reigning rivalry.
The postseason opens Saturday and it’s far from a guarantee it ends with a record fourth straight NBA Finals matchup between the Warriors and Cavaliers. Neither was the best team in its conference during the regular season — the Cavaliers were only No. 4 in the East — and it’s not hard to envision a Houston to Toronto trip replacing what’s become an annual Oakland, California, to Cleveland itinerary.
Then again, the Warriors could be as dangerous as ever once Curry returns from a knee injury that could have him back for the second round. James has played in the last seven NBA Finals, so nobody knows how to get to the finish line better, no matter from where he starts.
And the other top contenders have to overcome their history of disappointments. Houston’s Mike D’Antoni and James Harden have never won, and Chris Paul hasn’t even gotten out of the second round. The Raptors had their best regular season ever, but they were last seen in the postseason getting stomped in four straight by James and the Cavs last year in the second round.
Golden State faces No. 7 San Antonio on Saturday in the postseason opener, followed by the top-seeded Raptors and No. 8 Washington Wizards in the East. Sixth-seeded Miami and No. 3 Philadelphia are then followed by Portland-New Orleans in the other 3-6 matchup.
On Sunday, it’s No. 7 Milwaukee at No. 2 Boston, and the Cavs hosting the No. 5 Indiana Pacers in the East, followed by No. 5 Utah at No. 4 Oklahoma City. The Rockets wrap up opening weekend against No. 8 Minnesota, ending the NBA’s longest playoff drought with its first playoff appearance since 2004.