1. Golden State Warriors (63-14, 1st in Western Conference)
News of Kevin Durant’s return has taken the spotlight in the midst of the Warriors’ 11-game winning streak. Durant is expected to return to the lineup sometime during Golden State’s last three games of the season. The Warriors have proven that, even without the 2013 MVP, they are the best team in the league. Golden State has placed in the top two in offensive and defensive ratings for most of the season. With the No. 1 seed clinched, the Warriors will most likely face the Blazers in the first round of the playoffs. Golden State defeated Portland in five games last year in the Western Conference semifinals. The Warriors play the Wolves, Suns and Pelicans this week.
2. San Antonio Spurs (59-17, 2nd in Western Conference)
San Antonio will most likely reach 60 wins for consecutive seasons, something Gregg Popovich hasn’t accomplished in his illustrious coaching career. The Spurs have stayed obscure in the shadow of the Warriors for most of the season. San Antonio cruised through the season, never losing more than two in a row. Expect Popovich to rests his players even more with postseason less than two weeks away. The Spurs will prepare for a physical and lengthy series in the first round against the gritty Grizzlies, unless the Thunder lose their 1.5 game lead on the No. 6 seed. The Spurs have a busy week with four games on the schedule, playing the Grizzlies, Lakers, Mavericks and Clippers.
3. Boston Celtics (50-27, 1st in Eastern Conference)
The last time Boston finished with the best record in the East was in 2008, when the first “Big Three” was assembled. That team went on to lead the Celtics to their first championship in over 22 years. Less than a decade later, general manager Danny Ainge’s plans have all worked out to near-perfection. The Celtics are sitting atop the East with five games left in the season. Boston has become an attractive destination for free agents and Ainge still has a whole drawer of picks for the next couple of years. The Celtics are no longer an up-and-coming team with the playoffs as a goal anymore. Coach of the Year candidate Brad Stevens and his team of underdogs are aiming for nothing less than the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Celtics play the Cavs, Hawks and Hornets this week, all potential playoff opponents.
4. Houston Rockets (52-25, 3rd in Western Conference)
The Rockets have been slipping of late, and James Harden’s nagging left wrist injury is a big reason why. Houston was on a three-game losing streak before dropping the lowly Suns on Sunday. Harden has stated he doesn’t want to be rested, but with the Rockets holding down the No. 3 seed, there is no reason for the MVP candidate to risk any further chance of injury. Big man Sam Dekker had surgery for a fractured hand Monday and will be evaluated in a week. The Rockets will take on only one playoff-bound team with five games remaining on the season.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (49-27, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
Frankly, the Cavaliers probably don’t belong in the top five in this week’s power ranking, but LeBron James has made it to six straight Finals for a reason. With a blowout win over the Sixers to close out a disastrous March, Cleveland ended up with a 7-10 record in the month, the same record as the last-place Nets. James is having one of the best seasons of his career, a scary thought considering that he was already a shoo-in Hall of Famer three years ago. The showdown against the Celtics on Wednesday is looking to be like a preview for a potential Eastern Conference Finals matchup. The Cavaliers have the No. 2 seed in the East, 0.5 games behind the first-place Celtics.