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NBA playoffs 2018: Who are title contenders?

A year ago heading into the NBA playoffs, fans were preparing for ...

Posted: Apr 2, 2018 2:46 PM
Updated: Apr 2, 2018 2:46 PM

A year ago heading into the NBA playoffs, fans were preparing for Cavs-Warriors III in the NBA Finals, which ended with Golden State winning its second title in three years over Cleveland.

This season, though, Cavs-Warriors IV is not a guarantee.

Golden State has won two of the last three championships, all against Cleveland

Houston has the top seed in the Western Conference

The playoffs have clear-cut championship contenders -- both from the Western Conference -- and teams from the Eastern Conference that are in the hunt.

Here is a look at those groups:

Leading contenders

Houston Rockets

Any lingering questions if stars James Harden and Chris Paul would play well together have been answered. It's a resounding yes, they do.

When Paul -- who was acquired by Houston from the Los Angeles Clippers in the offseason -- and Harden are both in the lineup, the Rockets have dominated, and they appear to be on a collision course with Golden State in the Western Conference finals.

There's already one item in the Rockets' favor: They have home-court advantage for the Western Conference playoffs by earning the top seed.

The prevailing view for most of this season had been that the Warriors can win a seven-game series on the road if necessary. However ...

Golden State Warriors

... While the Warriors' lineup is packed full of stars, there is reason to worry: injuries. Stephen Curry has had ankle and knee problems, and head coach Steve Kerr has said he's ruling him out of the first round.

Additionally, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala all have missed games because of varying maladies.

The Warriors undoubtedly are a favorite to reach the NBA Finals, which would make it the fourth consecutive season. But their run is in jeopardy.

In the hunt

Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are having their finest season in franchise history and could be the team to beat in the East. They've also been healthy, with the core of DeMar DeRozan, Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka and Jonas Valanciunas and the young guys supporting them meshing well.

Historically, Toronto has underperformed in the playoffs. The one time the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference finals, in 2016, they got blown out by the Cavaliers. Provided it doesn't regress to old playoff form, Toronto is poised for a breakthrough.

Boston Celtics

The Celtics' season looked doomed from the opening minutes when Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome fracture dislocation of his left ankle. Turns out that was far from accurate, as evidenced by their 16-game win streak early in the season.

But there are still question marks. Star player Kyrie Irving, acquired in a blockbuster trade from Cleveland last summer, had a procedure March 24 to remove a tension wire in his previously surgically repaired left knee. Irving's estimated time away was listed at three to six weeks.

If Irving is not available, can the Celtics win? Even if he plays, it's tough to see the Celtics getting out of the Eastern Conference at this point.

Cleveland Cavaliers

It of course helps when you have arguably the NBA's best player, LeBron James, who is looking to return to the NBA Finals for the eighth consecutive year (and ninth overall). But it's been an unsteady year for Cleveland.

The question is how the Cavaliers will respond in the playoffs after a roller coaster regular season. They can score, but their defense hasn't been good. How will they hold up against playoff teams?

Just four players remain from Cleveland's title team from 2016: James, Kevin Love, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson. Within this season, the roster has had an overhaul, trading several players, including Dwyane Wade, Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Derrick Rose and Iman Shumpert.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 263023

Reported Deaths: 5752
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17675191
Hinds16813331
Harrison14224204
Rankin11167219
Jackson10839190
Lee9050144
Madison8568168
Jones6668114
Forrest6177124
Lauderdale6097192
Lowndes5518120
Lafayette516298
Lamar503965
Washington4923125
Bolivar4104109
Oktibbeha405982
Panola384881
Pontotoc376258
Warren3674103
Monroe3671108
Union355663
Marshall355270
Neshoba3485154
Pearl River3468105
Leflore3111109
Lincoln305688
Hancock291862
Sunflower291475
Tate279662
Alcorn272354
Pike268981
Itawamba268063
Scott259648
Yazoo255256
Prentiss252553
Tippah249250
Copiah249049
Coahoma248054
Simpson242171
Leake237367
Grenada223272
Marion222073
Covington219973
Adams213671
Wayne212634
Winston207371
George204339
Newton199046
Attala196963
Tishomingo194161
Chickasaw189044
Jasper179538
Holmes171768
Clay165837
Tallahatchie156235
Stone151425
Clarke147262
Calhoun140822
Smith129226
Yalobusha122034
Walthall114337
Greene113529
Noxubee112926
Montgomery111636
Carroll106622
Lawrence106517
Perry104531
Amite101426
Webster96124
Tunica88821
Claiborne88325
Jefferson Davis88329
Benton85623
Humphreys84624
Kemper80520
Quitman7089
Franklin69917
Choctaw63213
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45117
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 439442

Reported Deaths: 6657
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson644371007
Mobile31435569
Madison28158217
Tuscaloosa21492275
Montgomery19873332
Shelby19248132
Baldwin17128189
Lee13137107
Morgan12594142
Etowah12070181
Calhoun11496206
Marshall10420123
Houston8988164
Limestone832081
Cullman8257124
Elmore8183110
DeKalb7871107
Lauderdale7847107
St. Clair7808130
Talladega6445112
Walker6028183
Jackson599145
Colbert548694
Blount546286
Autauga535862
Coffee460764
Dale409685
Franklin374150
Russell354215
Chilton344373
Covington338580
Escambia334544
Tallapoosa3143109
Dallas312996
Chambers303470
Clarke298036
Pike262431
Lawrence253355
Marion253161
Winston233342
Bibb222348
Geneva210247
Marengo208231
Pickens199531
Hale184944
Barbour180538
Fayette177829
Butler173160
Cherokee165131
Henry159525
Monroe152021
Randolph145536
Washington141727
Clay129746
Crenshaw123745
Macon121937
Cleburne121525
Lamar119922
Lowndes114836
Wilcox107922
Bullock103328
Perry99918
Conecuh97822
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63418
Choctaw51924
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