1. Golden State Warriors (66-15, 1st in Western Conference)
The Warriors look even more unbeatable now that Kevin Durant has returned to the starting lineup. Durant, a four-time scoring champion, will greatly improve Golden State’s play with the playoffs looming large. The Warriors became only the sixth team ever to reach 60-plus wins in three consecutive seasons. The last team to do so was the Bulls in 1998. With home court advantage throughout the postseason, where Golden State boasts an insane 133-12 record the past three years, the Warriors are the clear favorites to hold the Larry O’Brien Trophy when all is said and done.
2. San Antonio Spurs (61-20, 2nd in Western Conference)
Barring a major defensive breakdown against the Jazz on Wednesday, the Spurs will carry the best defense heading into the playoffs. Pair that impenetrable defense with an offense built on ball movement and always finding the best shot, the Spurs almost look as unbeatable as the Warriors. One opportunity San Antonio missed might be that it didn’t overtake Golden State for the No. 1 seed during Durant’s injury. Now the Spurs are matched up with the physical Grizzlies in the first round.
3. Houston Rockets (54-27, 3rd in Western Conference)
The Rockets have good odds of becoming only the second team in NBA history to win Coach of the Year (Mike D’Antoni), Most Valuable Player (James Harden) and Sixth Man of the Year (Eric Gordon) in the same year. Larry Brown, Allen Iverson and Aaron McKie of the 2001 Sixers were the first and only trio to earn the honors. The Rockets’ prolific offense will have to continue to stay hot if they want to go far in the playoffs. Fans will have the thrill of watching Harden and Russell Westbrook, two players posting historical numbers, duke it out in the first round.
4. Boston Celtics (52-29, 1st in Eastern Conference)
Even after an embarrassing 23-point loss against the Cavaliers on national TV last Friday, the Celtics still have the better odds to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East. If Boston holds off against the Bucks at home Wednesday, the men in green will have sole possession of the top seed and home-court advantage in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
5. Cleveland Cavaliers (51-30, 2nd in Eastern Conference)
The Cavaliers had a chance to reclaim the No. 1 seed, but three straight losses against the Hawks and the Heat have them trailing a game behind the Celtics. To make matters worse, the Cavaliers are still playing lackluster defense and show no sign of urgency with the playoffs less than a week away. One fact that is reassuring Cavaliers fans is that LeBron James has made it to the NBA Finals all five times when his team finished the season as the No. 2 seed.