The NBA isn’t so cut and dry this year that’s for sure. Every season it feels as though a Steph Curry versus LeBron James final is inevitable but things look a little different this time around. Curry is out for an unspecified period of time and the Cavaliers are a little shaky heading into crunch time. Could this be the year of the underdog? Take a look at our predictions for the top teams.
1. Houston Rockets
It feels like a unanimous decision by every NBA fan to expect the Rockets to end up on top. They’re number one in the Western Conference with a 65-17 record. They have the second best offense in the league and sixth best defense, making them a versatile threat on both sides of the court. It seems all but a sure thing that James Harden will be named the MVP this year, as yet more proof that Houston is the team to beat. With a 41-3 record when the team has Chris Paul, Harden, and Clint Cappella on the floor, the odds are definitely in their favor to win the NBA Championship.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Cavaliers take second simply because it’s hard to bet against LeBron James, Jeff Green, and Kevin Love. Yes, Cleveland has been plagued by injuries all season and some shaky playing, but the playoffs are their time to shine. Fourth in the Eastern Conference with a 50-32 record, they will need to be at the top of their game to maintain their legacy. They will need to test out if their overpowering offense will be enough to win games if their defense just isn’t up to snuff.
3. Philadelphia 76ers
Nipping at Cleveland’s heels are the 76ers who are poised to be the underdogs in the post season. Currently third in the Eastern Conference with a 50-30 record, they managed to finish up the regular season with a sixteen win streak. That in itself should worry the other teams, because it means Philadelphia is red hot right now. With the third best defense in the league, other teams will need to really frustrate them if they hope to win on offense alone. Recently, they defeated Cleveland and that alone should have the other members of the league worried. Also, the Clippers are probably kicking themselves over releasing JJ Redick due to health and age concerns considering he’s having his best season yet.
4. Golden State Warriors
Like the Cavaliers, the Warriors have plenty of playoff experience and a roster of talented players. Unfortunately, the team has lost its step following the loss of Steph Curry which doesn’t make them a shoo-in for the finals. Golden State is second in the Western Conference with a 58-24 record, making it their worst season in the past four years. The only positive news coming out is that Curry is expected to return in the second round of the playoffs. It’s unclear if he’ll be back in perfect shape but if the Warriors can survive the first round then they have a real shot.
5. Toronto Raptors
It’s weird to have the Raptors down in fifth place in these rankings despite the team finishing up on top of the Eastern Conference. Despite the resurgence Toronto had this year with their three-point centric offense and strong depth might have just been luck. The team ended the regular season on a low note, and their confidence might not remain strong for the playoffs. There have been plenty of dominant teams fall during the postseason due to nerves and lack of experience.
6. Utah Jazz
Rudy Gobert returned and all of a sudden the Jazz are a serious team to be reckoned with. Fifth in the Western Conference with a 48-34 record, but their defense is what made them known. Gobert is most likely looking at a Defensive Player of the Year win, while Donovan Mitchell has been amazing on offense. Their biggest struggle will be showing the entire team can step up not just these two players. However, Utah has slowly become one of the best teams in the league and seeing them surprise fans in the post season wouldn’t be disappointing in the slightest.
7. Portland Trail Blazers
Portland is number three in the Western Conference with a 49-33 record but they almost lost that spot at the last minute. Their lackluster finish definitely shoots them down the list despite their great performance following the NBA All-Star break because they don’t have as much momentum compared to other teams. The Trail Blazers do have Damian Lillard, has been a huge motivator for their strong offense but they will need to perform at the next level if they want to remain in the post season conversation.
Even if the Cavaliers and the Warriors don’t manage to make it to the finals this year, it will be a nice change of pace to see some new teams battle over the Championship. The NBA has had the highest ratings compared to other athletic leagues especially because of the talent littered throughout all of the teams.