1. Golden State Warriors (49-9, 1st in Western Conference)
It’s only February and the Warriors have already clinched a playoff berth. Undisputedly the best team in the league, Golden State was content with its roster as the trade deadline passed. The big question for the Warriors now is just how much their potential playoff opponents have improved after the deadline. The Pelicans traded for a top big man in DeMarcus Cousins and the Rockets acquired one of the most efficient scorers this year in Lou Williams. The Warriors will begin their five-game road trip out east this week against the Wizards, Bulls and Knicks.
2. San Antonio Spurs (45-13, 2nd in Western Conference)
San Antonio continues to be a force in the West despite the lack of hype around the team. Pau Gasol is back in action from his broken hand and appears to be comfortable in his temporary role off the bench. San Antonio has the best defense in the league behind two-time Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard. Once again, coach Gregg Popovich and his team will be a contender and the toughest challenge for the Warriors in the West this year. The Spurs will match up against the new-look Pelicans as they visit New Orleans on Friday.
3. Houston Rockets (42-18, 3rd in Western Conference)
Houston was one of the few active participants in a rather quiet trade deadline this year. The Rockets snatched up Williams at the cost of Corey Brewer and a first-round pick. Williams is one of the most efficient scorers this year, placing in the top six in true shooting percentage among qualifying guards. The 12-year veteran is a perfect fit for Mike D’Antoni’s run and gun offense and will provide firepower off the bench for Houston. The Rockets are primed to make a deep playoff run behind their prolific offense and MVP candidate James Harden.
4. Cleveland Cavaliers (40-17, 1st in Eastern Conference)
Cleveland was one of the many teams that didn’t make a splash at the trade deadline. However, help is coming. The Cavaliers are expected to sign Andrew Bogut and Deron Williams this coming week once both players hit the market after being bought out by their former teams. Former No. 1 pick Andrew Bogut will be an anchor on the defensive end while three-time All-Star Deron Williams will fit the “playmaker” role that LeBron James so desperately coveted. Cleveland is stocking up its roster in anticipation of another Finals run.
5. Boston Celtics (38-21, 2nd in Western Conference)
Danny Ainge decided not to make a move at the trade deadline again. Much to the dismay of Celtics fans, Boston chose to hold on to its draft picks and assets instead of trading for a talented All-Star such as Paul George or Jimmy Butler. It will be difficult for the Celtics to hold on to their second-place spot, especially considering how much the Raptors have improved over the trade deadline. The Celtics have a couple of critical games this week as they square off against the Hawks and Cavs at home before heading on a road trip out west.