The Trailblazers, Pacers and Thunder have become the first three teams to be sent home from the NBA playoffs. The Cavaliers and Warriors both swept their first-round opponents. The Rockets also sent Oklahoma City home, leaving 13 remaining teams.
As the playoffs have started, teams have started to reveal their true abilities. Playoff LeBron James has elevated the Cavs to another level, while the Celtics have struggled to capture their magic from the regular season. As teams begin to take playoff form, their championship potential has started to become unearthed.
[su_heading size=”14″]Tier 1: The Elite [/su_heading]
The top tier of NBA playoff teams consists of teams that have proven that they can win the title. They aren’t contenders, but rather the teams nobody would be surprised to see hoist the trophy come June.
The defending champions obviously have to be on this list. James has entered playoff mode. It’s evident by his massacre of the Pacers this week, and seems to once again be an unstoppable force. He has more depth than he had last season, and they have played well even without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love so far.
The path through the East shouldn’t be incredibly difficult this year, and the Cavs will most likely once again find themselves in the NBA championship. Seeing them repeat would hardly be a surprise.
Golden State Warriors
Even though Steve Kerr may miss the entirety of the playoffs, the Warriors still remain the favorites this year. They have two of the five best players in the league on their team, along with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green behind them. JaVale McGee is also having an incredible postseason so far.
The Warriors are one of the most dangerous teams in the league on both sides of the floor, so it is no surprise that they are one of the two elite teams in the league right now. They are undoubtedly the championship favorites right now, assuming they can stay healthy.
[su_heading size=”14″]Tier 2: The Contenders [/su_heading]
The second tier of NBA playoff teams consists of teams who have a chance to dethrone the Cavs or Warriors. They are the teams that have a chance to win the championship despite being the underdogs.
The Rockets have proven themselves as a legit team so far. James Harden leads the most dangerous offense in the league right now and can put up points in a hurry. The Rockets are a serious threat to pull off an upset, especially with the way Patrick Beverly has played so far.
The biggest flaw of the Rockets this postseason is that they might have a tough time guarding long wing scorers. Guys like Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Durant and LeBron James would pose matchup problems for the Rockets, and they would likely have to get through each of those players to win the championship. Their offense still makes them a threat and they remain a contender in the playoffs.
San Antonio Spurs
Although they have struggled with the Grizzlies so far, the Spurs will be a contender as long as they have Kawhi Leonard healthy and Gregg Popovich calling the shots. Leonard looks like the best player in the playoffs not on the Warriors or Cavs and has had a ridiculous series.
The elite coaching of Pop combined with the elite defense of Leonard and the Spurs could pose a huge problem for the Warriors. If they can take the Warriors off of their rhythm, they could make a run at the championship.
[su_heading size=”14″]Tier 3: The Outside Shot Teams [/su_heading]
These teams are the last teams that have a shot at the title. They aren’t contenders, but with a little bit of luck they could end up having a shot at the NBA Finals.
The Raptors came out slow against the Bucks, but have since started to regain their form. They are one win away from taking the series from the young Bucks.
The Raptors’ backcourt remains the strongest part of the team, and also their biggest weakness in the playoffs. DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry have continued their trend of weak play during the playoffs as they have struggled immensely.
If Lowry and DeRozan can consistently play like superstars, the Raptors may have a chance at taking down the Cavs. Otherwise, all they have is an outside shot.
Los Angeles Clippers
This team could have ranked in the second tier if Blake Griffin was healthy. However, it is unlikely that Chris Paul will be able to carry this heavy of a load through the entire playoffs.
Paul has played phenomenally so far, but it will be tough to keep up this level of play up if they face the Warriors. The Warriors will also have an extended period of rest, while the Clippers will be playing two to three more games this round. If Paul can reach yet another level, they may have a chance. For now, they remain an outside shot team.
With the emergence of clutch time Joe Johnson, the Jazz have been putting up quite a fight against the Clippers. A healthy Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward will also make this team a tough out.
Like the Clippers, the Jazz simply don’t have the firepower to keep up with the Warriors in the second round. Both teams have a big defensive stopper in the frontcourt and scoring ability in the backcourt and wing. However, they will likely fall victim to the Warriors’ powerhouse.
The Wizards came out hot at the beginning of the series, but have since struggled against the Hawks. The Wizards have given the Cavs some trouble in the past, so it’s not crazy to think they might have an outside shot in a series against them.
The Cavs would likely have a tough time guarding the pick-and-roll between John Wall and Marcin Gortat. If the Wizards can exploit that, they may be able to put up points against the Cavs. Ultimately though, they simply don’t have a solution for LeBron James. Like most other teams in the East, James creates too many matchup problems for a small team like the Wizards to defend. They have a chance, but it’s a small one.
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