1. Golden State Warriors (59-14, 1st in Western Conference)
The Warriors are on a seven-game winning streak and have done so in blowout fashion, winning by an average of 17.7 points. Golden State is holding down the top spot comfortably with a 2 1/2 game lead in the West and coach Steve Kerr delivered more good news when he told reporters Kevin Durant is a couple of weeks away from returning to the lineup. Durant, the 2014 MVP, suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain Feb. 28. Golden State will have its toughest stretch of the season this week with games against the top seeds from both conferences. Steph Curry & Co. will first travel to The Lone Star State and play back-to-back away games against the Spurs and Rockets, the No. 2 and No. 3 seed in the West respectively, then travel back home to host the Rockets and Wizards.
2. San Antonio Spurs (56-16, 2nd in Western Conference)
The Spurs are sitting 2 1/2 games behind the Warriors, and coach Gregg Popovich is more likely to rest his players and be content with the No. 2 seed than chasing the top spot in the West. San Antonio enters Monday’s much-anticipated matchup against Cleveland on a modest four-game winning streak. The Spurs have the toughest remaining schedule in the league, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, with eight of their last 10 games against playoff teams. San Antonio plays the Cavaliers, Warriors, Thunder and Jazz this week. All four games will be nationally televised.
3. Houston Rockets (51-22, 3rd in Western Conference)
It’s starting to sound like a broken record, but the Rockets, another top team in the West, also carry a winning streak heading into this week. James Harden led his team to a victory over MVP candidate Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Sunday night to extend Houston’s winning streak to four games. The Rockets are 11-4 and own the top offense in the league since the All-Star Break. Harden has made it clear he doesn’t want coach Mike D’Antoni to rest him down the stretch despite the remaining games having no impact on playoff seeding. Houston plays Golden State twice this week, a preview of a possible Western Conference Finals matchup.
4. Boston Celtics (48-26, tied for 1st in Eastern Conference)
Barring a nuclear implosion, the Celtics are on pace to finish with a 50-plus win season for the first time since 2011. Boston is on a, you guessed it, four-game winning streak, and is finally looking down upon the rest of the conference along with Cleveland. The Celtics have the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, with seven of their last eight games against teams with records no better than a game above .500. FiveThirtyEight.com gives the Celtics a 66-percent chance to snatch the East’s No. 1 seed from Cleveland. The gritty bunch led by Isaiah Thomas and a handful of defensive juggernauts in Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Al Horford and Jae Crowder may just be enough to usurp LeBron James’ throne in the East.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (47-25, tied for 1st in Eastern Conference)
OK, it may be time for Cleveland to panic. If it weren’t for a certain future Hall-of-Famer named LeBron, the Cavaliers probably wouldn’t have been in this week’s top 5. Cleveland is a disappointing 8-9 and has the second-worst defense in the league since the All-Star Break despite getting healthier. The Cavaliers got Kevin Love and J.R Smith back from injuries, starters from last year’s championship team, but have yet to translate that into winning. Cleveland is 23rd in the league in defensive ratings according to NBA.com. The last team to win the Finals without a top-15 defense in the league was the Lakers in 2001. The playoffs are less than 20 days away and the Cavaliers are running out of time to right the ship.