Back in October, the Golden State Warriors were the favorites to win their third straight championship. And with just 22 games left to be played in the regular season, the Warriors remain the pick.
But not everything has gone as expected over the last six months. The next two months aren't only about who takes home the Larry O'Brien trophy and the regular season has set us up for what should be a fun four rounds of playoffs.
With the Cleveland Cavaliers back in Lotteryville, there will be a new champion in the Eastern Conference. And though there's been a clear best team in the East this season, any of four contenders could be in The Finals come June.
In the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets look like a real threat to the Warriors again. But every West playoff team has the talent to get through a round or two.
Before we can get there, there is still some regular-season business to take care of. With two days of games remaining, only one playoff series is locked in. Boston Celtics-Indiana Pacers will be the No. 4-vs.-No. 5 series in the East, and it will start in Boston on Saturday or Sunday.
The Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers know what their seeds are (No. 1, 2 and 3, respectively), but don't know who they'll be playing this weekend. The Brooklyn Nets and Orlando Magic are in (giving us at least four new playoff teams this year), and the Detroit Pistons, Charlotte Hornets and Miami Heat are playing for the final spot in the East.
The Warriors are the No. 1 seed in the West, but everything beyond that is fluid. And here's a reminder: In each of the last 12 years (from 2007-18), at least one team with home-court advantage has lost a first-round series. Of the 23 first-round upsets over that span, 14 have come in a No. 4-5 series, but nine did not.
- Last week: East race gets even tighter as playoffs near
- This time last year: Cavs and Warriors look vulnerable as regular season closes -- With three days left in the season, no playoff matchups were set. Three games separated the third-place Blazers from the ninth-place Nuggets in the West, with the Wolves looking to end their 13-year playoff drought. Dennis Smith Jr. brought the dunk contest to a game against Portland and Chris Paul hit a game-winner for the Rockets, who were going into the playoffs as the overall No. 1 seed. The Sixers went in with a 16-game winning streak, the Warriors went in without Stephen Curry, and the Cavs went in with the league's 29th-ranked defense. The Suns were set to finish last in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but Tyson Chandler said, "I think we can make the playoffs next year with the proper moves, to be honest."
Plus-Minus Players of the Week
- Mr. Plus: James Harden (HOU) was a plus-113 in four games last week.
- Mr. Minus: Lou Williams (CLE) was a minus-69 in three games last week.
Plus-Minus Players of the Season
- Mr. Plus: Stephen Curry (GSW) is a plus-688 this season.
- Mr. Minus: Collin Sexton (CLE) is a minus-656 this season.
Teams of the Week
- Make It Last Forever: Houston (4-0) -- Five the Rockets' wins on a six-game winning streak have been by 24 points or more.
- Something Just Ain't Right: LA Clippers (0-3) -- The Clippers put themselves back in eighth place with a three-game losing streak, with the five-point loss to the Lakers (in which they held a 12-point lead) probably hurting more than the blowouts at the hands of the Rockets and Warriors.
East vs. West
- The West is 251-196 (.562) against the East in interconference games after going 11-1 last week and with three interconference games remaining. This was the 19th time in the last 20 years that the West had a better record and this was the East's worst record of the last four seasons.
Schedule strength through Week 25
- Toughest: 1. New York, 2. Phoenix, 3. Dallas
- Easiest: 1. Milwaukee, 2. Toronto, 3. Indiana
- Schedule strength is based on cumulative opponent record, and adjusted for home vs. away and days of rest before a game.
Movement in the Rankings
- High jumps of the week: Brooklyn (+3), Charlotte (+3), Three teams (+2)
- Free falls of the week: Miami (-3), Detroit (-2), Indiana (-2), LA Clippers (-2)
Week 26 Team to Watch
- Detroit -- The Pistons have lost four straight games (and seven of their last nine), but still control their own destiny. If they win both of their remaining games -- Tuesday against Memphis and Wednesday in New York -- they're in the playoffs. If they lose one, the Hornets have a chance. And if they lose both (and Charlotte loses at least one of its games), the Heat have a chance.
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Pace: Possessions per 48 minutes (League Rank)
OffRtg: Points scored per 100 possessions (League Rank)
DefRtg: Points allowed per 100 possessions (League Rank)
NetRtg: Point differential per 100 possessions (League Rank)
The league has averaged 100.7 possessions (per team) per 48 minutes and 109.7 points scored per 100 possessions this season.
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NBA.com's Power Rankings, released every Monday during the season, are just one man's opinion. If you have an issue with the rankings, or have a question or comment for John Schuhmann, send him an e-mail or contact him via Twitter.
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