LeBron James has led his team to the NBA Finals in seven consecutive seasons. As a result, the Cleveland Cavaliers operate as the de facto pick to win the Eastern Conference each season and they will until James either falls short of that goal or flees for a new destination.
However, not everyone in the NBA believes in this baseline hypothesis and Bradley Beal of the Washington Wizards is among the opposing group. In speaking with Brian Windhorst of ESPN, Beal revealed that he sees the Wizards as the team to beat in the conference this season and even doubled down in plainer terms.
“I feel like we’re the best team in the East, I really do,” Beal said. “That’s how we feel coming into the season.”
This isn’t the first time that Beal has expressed big-time confidence in himself and his team, as the talented shooting guard indicated that the Cavs “didn’t want to see” the Wizards in last year’s playoffs. The ESPN report included Beal reflecting on that episode, an exchange with J.R. Smith at the time and how that speaks to this season.
“We love the matchup against them and why not? I said it and JR didn’t like it too much, some of their other guys didn’t like it too much. But I felt that way. It’s not disrespect with them, I’m not saying we’d have won the series, but I feel like our competition level and matchups would’ve been better. I’d have loved to see it, but at the end of the day you tip your hat to them. They’ve been in the Finals for the last three years.”
Because of Cleveland’s perceived volatility in the post-Kyrie Irving landscape, some certainly believe that the Cavaliers could be vulnerable to a charge from a team like Boston, Washington or even Toronto from a regular season perspective. After all, the Wizards are the younger team and, with some of the flashes from Beal and Otto Porter (to go along with top-shelf play from John Wall) a season ago, more progress could arrive in the near future.
Until further notice, though, the “safe” pick will be LeBron James and words like this from Beal and others could help to motivate the best player on the planet. That is always a terrifying proposition.