The NBA regular season is coming to a close and that can only mean one thing: playoff time. Most NBA experts have a finals rematch from last year pegged as the most likely scenario, as both the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers have once again stayed on top of their respective conferences this season. Both teams look poised to repeat history and make it all the way to the finals, but if the NBA has taught us one thing, it’s that nothing is set in stone circa the Mavericks title run in 2011. This year’s regular season has shown us a lot of hungry teams that would do anything to pull off an upset and go all the way to an NBA championship and here are the five most likely teams to do it.
Washington’s backcourt is arguably the second best in the league after the Splash Brothers (Curry and Thompson) and they have shown time and time again that they are capable of competing with the best teams in the league during the regular season. They certainly hope this is the year that they overcome their lack of bench depth with the midseason acquisition of veteran Brandon Jennings and finally shine in the postseason.
Los Angeles Clippers
The biggest ‘What-If’ scenario in the NBA for the past five years has been the Clippers. Everything from injuries and scandals to Josh Smith suddenly turning into a three point specialist have derailed the Clippers in their postseason pursuits. With Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and J.J Redick becoming free agents at the end of the season, this might be do or die time for this star studded team.
The Raptors made big moves before the mid-season deadline parting with their longstanding sixth man Terrence Ross to add big man Serge Ibaka to the mix. This Raptors team took the defending Champion Cleveland Cavaliers to six games last season and hopes that they go all the way this year. The big factor for the Raptors would be the form of their all-star point guard, Kyle Lowry, after his return from wrist surgery.
James Harden looks to be leading the MVP race this year after putting up a monstrous 29 points, eight rebounds and 11 assists per game and surging an unexpected Rockets team to a third seed in the Western conference. New head coach Mike D’Antoni seems to bring his fast paced brand of basketball from his days in Phoenix with Steve Nash and incorporate it to Harden with good effect. Additions such as Ryan Anderson and Louis Williams pile onto the run and gun offence as there is no stagnant basketball on the offensive end for the rockets after the departure of center Dwight Howard.
San Antonio Spurs
The Tim Duncan era has come to an end but it goes to show what a well-run organization the Spurs are from top to bottom as they are currently second in the West. Surprisingly even overtaking the Golden State Warriors for a brief period of time the Spurs haven’t seemed to lose a step as Gregg Popovich’s system oriented basketball team has rose above predictions for the season. All-star Kawhi Leonard has been putting up 26 points per game and leading the team on the defensive end as well. With the health scare of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge out of the way the Spurs look to bring another title to San Antonio for what might be veteran Manu Ginobili’s last season in the NBA. The big question for the Spurs would have to be with the production of veteran Tony Parker, who has seen his numbers declining at a steady pace. Popovich’s management of minutes, with the new addition of Pau Gasol in the lineup, also would factor into the Spurs’ success during the postseason. What is evident from the regular season is that if their team chemistry can translate into this postseason, they can compete with any team and might be the one that breaks out of the mold this season.
-Thomas Fenn, Contributor