by Eric Fulton
The NBA regular season has come to an end. Now there are 16 teams vying for basketball's ultimate prize, the Larry O'Brien Trophy. We have some new teams, familiar teams, and a team that is looking to take their right in NBA history. Here's my ranking of NBA playoff teams least likely-to-most likely to win the NBA championship.
16. Detroit Pistons
Detroit clinched the 8th seed in the East in the regular season finale. They are making their first appearance in the playoffs since 2016. Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond lead a young squad that probably won't make much noise in the first round against the top seed Milwaukee Bucks.
15. Orlando Magic
The Magic return to the playoffs for the first time since 2012 by winning a very weak Southeast Division (They were the only team in that division to be at least .500 or better). They have great players such as Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic with a mix of veterans led by D.J. Augustin and Terrence Ross. It’s good to see Orlando back in the playoffs, but they will have another tough East opponent in the second seed Toronto Raptors.
14. Brooklyn Nets
Another team returning to the playoffs after a few years absence is the Brooklyn Nets. The Nets averaged a total of 23 wins the past three years before jumping to 42 this season. D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers completely gave up on, has found new life on the East Coast. While I don't expect them to be out of the first round, they could give the Philadelphia 76ers all they could handle.
13. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers have always been in the shadow of the Lakers when it comes to basketball in the City of Angels. However, the Lakers have had a ton of issues and will now once again watch their "little brother" compete for an NBA title. The Clippers do have one of the most respected coaches in Doc Rivers, and he will have his team ready to go against a very good Golden State Warriors team. But the Warriors will be too much for them in the first round.
12. Utah Jazz
Utah will be the five seed in the West. I like the Jazz overall as a team. Donovan Mitchell is one of the most exciting players in all of the NBA. Also, Rudy Gobert is a very underrated center. They surprised a lot of people by defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round last year, but this year's first round opponent will not be a cakewalk as they try to end the Houston Rockets' season early.
11. Indiana Pacers
No team lost a significant piece of their roster more than the Indiana Pacers after losing Victor Oladipo to a serious knee injury. While they did end up a five seed in the East, with Oladipo, they probably would’ve fought for a top three seed easily. They still have a very good roster with the likes of Myles Turner, Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdanovic. The Pacers still could give the Boston Celtics a battle in the first round, but we all have to wonder what could have been if Oladipo was still playing.
10. Portland Trail Blazers
Just like Indiana in the East, Portland is dealing with a serious injury to one of the its key contributors. On March 25th, Jusuf Nurkic suffered a severe leg injury and will miss the rest of the season. While his presence will be missed, the Trail Blazers still have one of the best in the game in Damian Lillard. Portland is looking to rebound after being swept by the New Orleans Pelicans in the first round last year. However, the loss of Nurkic could once again have Portland be one round and done.
9. San Antonio Spurs
If Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, and even a happy Kawhi Leonard were still on the Spurs roster, then San Antonio would be higher on my list. They are not. I do look for LaMarcus Aldridge and DeMar DeRozan to play hard and lead the team against a very good and surprising Denver Nuggets team. Coach Gregg Popovich will have the Spurs compete, and it wouldn't shock a lot of people if they go a full seven games in round one and perhaps make a decent run at upsetting Denver.
8. Boston Celtics
Boston is the four-seed in the East, but if they were in the West, they probably would’ve struggled to make the playoffs. It is kinda hard to figure out Boston as it has been a roller coaster season for them. They would need a star-studded performance from Kyrie Irving if they want to make a deep run. There is a lot of questions as in what will happen to this team in the offseason, but I do expect them to compete and win a series or even two.
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
Someone reading this would probably say the Thunder aren’t deserving of where they are on my list. Truth be told, both Paul George and Russell Westbrook could beat themselves on any given night, which could give Thunder fans fits (again!). This team is capable to go on a deep run, but it all depends on the games of George and Westbrook.
6. Denver Nuggets
There was no bigger surprise in the NBA this year than Denver finishing second in the Western Conference. Nikola Jokic is a dark horse candidate for MVP after putting up double-doubles nearly every night. Jamal Murray has become a real good player in his own right. Mike Malone should receive votes for Coach of the Year. As great as the regular season was for Denver, now we will see how they perform in the pressure filled spotlight of the playoffs.
5. Philadelphia 76ers
Philadelphia has a great chance to represent the East in the NBA Finals. However, they have major question marks going into the postseason. Will Joel Embiid stay healthy? Will Jimmy Butler's ego be their downfall? Can Ben Simmons step up in big games? Do they have good enough depth to go on a deep run? Is Brett Brown the right coach for this team? Plenty of questions for a team that needs to have all the answers.
4. Houston Rockets
Last year's Western Conference game seven is probably still on the minds of all the Rockets and their fans. They had an opportunity to surprise the entire basketball world by beating Golden State on their home court. But Chris Paul didn't play, and they kept missing three-pointers. MVP candidate James Harden was a no show when they needed him the most. If Paul and Harden can both stay on the court and have outstanding performances, the Rockets will make a run at the Finals.
3. Toronto Raptors
The Raptors boosted their chances at getting to the championship level last summer by acquiring 2014 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard to go along with point guard Kyle Lowry. They added all-star Marc Gasol in the trade deadline to help solidify their front court and give them a veteran presence. The good news is they don't have to face LeBron James this year. However, with Leonard's health being a liability sometimes, Toronto will have some tough matchups in the later rounds should they advance.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Congrats to the Bucks for clinching the NBA's best overall record this year with a 60-22 record and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the favorite to win MVP. Also, Mike Budenholzer is the favorite to win Coach of the Year. I love their depth led by Eric Bledsoe, Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol and Brook Lopez. They have the potential to get to the Finals, but they are probably going to face Toronto or Philadelphia in order to represent the East.
1. Golden State Warriors
Golden State has a chance to become the first team to three-peat since the ‘90s Bulls teams did it twice. With all stars Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant leading the way with an incredible supporting cast, they have the biggest targets on their back. This could be the last time this group plays together as Durant likely has plans to leave Golden State for a new destination this summer. Also, the Warriors will be in a new arena next Fall (Chase Center in San Francisco) and they would love to end their run in Oakland with a three-peat. They did not have the best regular season overall, but the Bulls didn't either when they won their third straight championship in 1993 and 1998. To them, it is all about the playoffs and all about making history.
We should have a drama filled NBA playoffs this year, and I can't wait to see how it unfolds.