By Brandon Easler
1. Houston Rockets
It is clear that the Rockets are the number one team on this list, as they are first in the West for the time being and have the best record in the NBA. They have amassed a 28-1 record when Chris Paul, James Harden, and Clint Capela all play. They also have the best offensive rating and 8th best defensive rating in the league. Injuries would likely be the only thing holding back the Rockets. If CP3 can stay healthy for the rest of the season, there might be a different West participant in The Finals.
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
No surprises that the Cavs would be near the top of this list. The three-time defending Eastern Conference Champions will likely be awaiting the West winner once more. Should that be the Warriors, the Cavs will likely be better prepared than they were last year. Their trade deadline deals have added much needed youth, depth, and defensive capabilities. However, they will need to improve drastically on their 29th best defensive rating in order to have a shot at taking down the high-powered Warriors.
3. Boston Celtics
What is one way to shut down one of the most potent offenses in the league? Defense of course! The best defense in the league could be awaiting the Warriors in The Finals should the Celtics get through the East. Led by Kyrie Irving, this team would pose a serious threat to the Warriors, as Kyrie himself knows what it takes to beat them. However, youth and inexperience could throw a wrench into the Celtics plans, as many of their top contributors are rookies or second-year players. Their offense will need to improve (20th best in the league) and their young players will quickly have to learn to match the high intensity of the playoffs if they are to have a shot at dethroning the Warriors.
4. Oklahoma City Thunder
You might be wondering why the 5th best team in the West is so high on this list. The answer is simple, the Thunder match up extremely well with the Warriors best players. Westbrook has given Curry consistent problems due to his size and speed, Paul George can do enough on Durant to lessen his impact, and Carmelo Anthony has the capability to equal Klay’s production offensively. The regular season is not always the best way to show signs of a possible upset due to teams not playing to their highest level, but so far the Thunder have beaten the Warriors by 17 and 20 this season. The biggest problem for the Thunder will be their bench, as they have little depth behind their 4 main impact players of Westbrook, George, Melo, and Adams.
5. San Antonio Spurs
Can you really ever count out a team coached by Pop? The answer is no. After having the Warriors on the ropes during the first game of the Western Finals last year before Kawhi’s injury, the Spurs think they have enough to take down the Warriors. However, Kawhi’s quad injury could be the Spurs undoing as they most likely have only a slim shot to dethrone the Warriors without him. Even though Leonard has only played in 9 games this year, the Spurs are still 2nd in defensive rating and 16th in offensive rating which is very impressive considering they have been without their star player for most of the year. With talk surfacing about how Kawhi might want to leave the Spurs, it will be interesting if the team can come together quick enough to defeat the Warriors.
While all of these teams certainly have a shot at beating the defending champs, the Warriors do still have arguably 4 of the top 30 players in the league. Any team that faces them in the playoffs will have to play close to perfect for 4 games in order to send the defending champs packing.
All stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com.
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