Although Golden State has, pretty much, emerged as the favorite to win the title, it won’t be an easy road for them. Several other teams have put together incredibly strong campaigns and won’t let the Warriors breeze through them for immortality.
Here are how each of the 16 playoff teams look in the title picture.
16. Memphis Grizzlies
Not only are this year’s title contenders great teams, but they also got lucky. None of the top-5 teams on this list have been affected by injury, the exact opposite of what happened to Memphis. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have been out for a while, and Zach Randolph has missed a decent amount of time as well. Outside of suiting up an NBA-record 28 guys this year, Jordan Farmar, Chris Andersen, Jarell Martin and Xavier Munford all got extended minutes as the Grizzlies lost 10 of their last 11 games. Their first round matchup against Spurs might be a tad unfair.
15. Dallas Mavericks
The Mavs squeaked into the playoffs by winning seven of their last nine games, despite having a bit of an injury bug themselves. Forward Chandler Parsons had hip surgery in March, and his absence hurts them in the scoring department. Athletically, they’re totally overmatched against the Thunder and with Parsons gone they don’t have a perimeter defender to challenge Durant. However, Dirk is still Dirk, and we don’t know what crazy tactics coach Carlisle has up his sleeve to combat OKC.
14. Houston Rockets
James Harden is probably going to average at least 30 points per game in the series against the Warriors. As far as everyone, there will be little impact. Houston fought hard to get into the playoffs and finished the season on a three-game winning streak. Despite their offensive firepower during the regular season, their defense was atrocious. Opponents get over 106 points against them while making almost ten threes. A dangerous combination when you have a Warriors team who can make threes with their eyes closed.
13. Indiana Pacers
Paul George came back even better than he was before his injury and almost singlehandedly carried the offensive load for the Pacers, averaging 23.1 points per game. Indiana brought in Monta Ellis as a wingman for George, but he didn’t pan out like they hoped and averaged just 13.8 points this year. Despite their troubles on the offensive part of the floor, Indiana’s defense is top-5 in the league and teams would be on serious upset alert if the Pacers had more offensive firepower.
12. Detroit Pistons
In the regular season, Detroit stole three of four games against their first round opponent, Cleveland. The Pistons have a boat load of young talent and had five guys average more than 14 PPG: Marcus Morris, Andre Drummond, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tobias Harris, and Reggie Jackson, so there’s potency on offense. Defensively, they’re mediocre. And their biggest issues come from the free throw line. They’re the worst team in the league percentage-wise, and it’s led by Andre Drummond’s horrendous 35.5%.
11. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland even making it to the playoffs is a tremendous feat. The team nearly fell apart in the offseason with LaMarcus Aldridge, Wesley Matthews, ad Nic Batum all departing. Damian Lillard‘s game elevated to other-worldly levels, and C.J. McCollum emerged as a legitimate two-guard. Their offense is extremely efficient, but just two people outside of Lillard and McCollum are threats — Allen Crabbe ad Al-Farouq Aminu. They averaged 10.3 and 10.2 points, respectively. Portland’s problems boil down to depth and defense. It’s possible that they have the thinnest bench among playoff teams, and their 20th-best defense isn’t going to help.
10. Charlotte Hornets
Charlotte’s a top-10 team because of how effectively they play both sides of the ball. Their ORtg of 107.1 is ninth in the league, and their 104.3 DRtg is eighth, putting them with GS, SAS, LAC, and CLE as the only teams that are top-10 in both. Kemba Walker led his club to a 48-win season while averaging about 21 points and he had a superb supporting cast. Nic Batum, Marvin Williams, Jeremy Lin, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky all did their parts to help push Charlotte into the playoffs.
9. Miami Heat
If the Heat’s offense were just a little more deadly, they’d be a serious threat for a championship. Bosh’s injury impacted them on that side of the floor as he went down as their leading scorer at 19.1 points. Regardless, their defense is magnificent, and they can match up with virtually any team in this year’s field. Hassan Whiteside has been a clear difference maker, and his presence alone is enough to make teams not drive into his paint. Although they managed to blow a 26-point lead against the Celtics on the last day of the season, they’ll still make some noise in the playoffs.
8. Atlanta Hawks
After their 60-win season a year ago, seeing them regress to 48-34 was puzzling. They made up a ton of ground in March, finishing the month 12-4 before falling off a little in their last six games (3-3). They have a couple of really superb playmakers led by Jeff Teague, but no one who will take your breath away. And that’s where a lot of their problems come from. The Hawks will be able to hang in a defensive battle, but if it turns into a shootout, they can have a lot of problems putting points on the board.
7. Boston Celtics
Unlike their first round opponent, the Celtics have no issues in a defensive battle or a shootout on offense. They put up the league’s fourth-best defensive rating with 103.6, and the tenth best offensive rating with 106.8 — not bad for a team without a bona fide superstar. Isaiah Thomas is deadliest sub-six foot player we’ve seen in awhile. His aggression is unmatched, and his 22.2 points and 6.2 assists illustrate superb playmaking skills. Even when Thomas isn’t involved with the offense, Turner, Smart, Olynyk, Sullinger, and Bradley can all make plays and knock down shots.
6. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors are viewed as the only team in the East who would be able to take down the Cavaliers. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry are arguably a top-2 backcourt in the league, and they have the collective defense to match up with almost anyone — a common theme among this year’s best teams. Toronto’s biggest issue is going to be whether or not they get more production from guys like Ross, Scola, Patterson, Biyombo, and Valanciunas.
5. Los Angeles Clippers
Blake Griffin came back healthy and their depth improved, but LA is going to need everything they can get if they meet up with GS in the second round. Both their defense and offense are great, but DeAndre Jordan‘s free throw shooting his a serious hindrance to them. Jordan, who shot 43% this year, is a top rebounder and shot blocker and is someone who needs to be on the floor for the Clippers’ postseason success. J.J. Redick will be an x-factor as well because when he shoots well, the Clippers are tough to beat.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
Any team with a duo as dynamic as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant is going to contend for the title almost every season. Westbrook amassed a record 18 triple-doubles this year, Durant had career-highs in points (28.2) and rebounds (8.2), and the Thunder showed how deep their bench is. The primary cause for concern in OKC would be the Thunder’s poor decision making which leads to horrible fourth quarter collapses. Multiple times this year, the Thunder have been up on an opponent, went into the fourth, and just collapsed because of sloppiness with the basketball.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Unlike last year, the Cavaliers will be going into the playoffs fully healthy. The chances of them making the finals are high, but not as high as previous seasons because the East emerged as the more competitive conference this year. Their offense is great, defense is top-notch, and Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love make them one of the best rebounding teams in the league. They have the athletes and versatility to match up against any team in the field, and it’ll ultimately come down to how efficiently they move the basketball.
2. San Antonio Spurs
When your defense is historically good like San Antonio’s, you’re presented with a great shot at being a champion. Kawhi Leonard‘s emergence as a superstar on the offensive end has pushed the Spurs to become one of the best teams of all-time. Signing LaMarcus Aldridge in the offseason was magnificent as well, as the Spurs got a premier interior defender to supplement Tim Duncan. Depth has never been an issue with the Spurs, and this team is no exception. Their bench players understand their role and don’t miss a beat when the lineups get jumbled.
1. Golden State Warriors
Shocking, right? It’s hard to fathom that the Spurs put together 67 wins and were still six games back of another team. The Warriors have changed the game in more ways than one, starting with their literal lights out shooting. They hit 1,077 threes at 41.6%, a number that’s never been seen before. Steph Curry is the obvious leader of the team, but Draymond Green‘s versatility is what makes them sensational. As if their offense wasn’t enough, they allow 105 points per 100 possessions, a number that’s fifth in the league and averaged 28.9 assists per game — the most since the Cavs in 1992-93.