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.

Confirmed Cases: 97049

Reported Deaths: 2919
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7148160
DeSoto562361
Harrison388374
Jackson352170
Madison331289
Rankin330879
Lee274870
Forrest250075
Jones249879
Washington225977
Lafayette219340
Lauderdale2064125
Bolivar184766
Oktibbeha180152
Lamar172435
Neshoba1580104
Lowndes157958
Panola150731
Sunflower147346
Leflore141381
Warren140950
Pontotoc127916
Pike124051
Monroe123669
Copiah119233
Scott117627
Coahoma116229
Marshall111117
Lincoln110453
Holmes109859
Grenada109536
Yazoo106230
Simpson104746
Tate100638
Union99824
Leake96138
Adams94237
Wayne90521
Pearl River89453
Marion86835
Prentiss86317
Itawamba83121
Covington82723
Alcorn82311
George78213
Tallahatchie77421
Newton77324
Winston74219
Tishomingo69138
Chickasaw68524
Tippah67217
Attala67025
Clarke60346
Walthall60226
Clay59618
Hancock58822
Jasper57715
Noxubee55116
Smith53615
Calhoun52212
Tunica49715
Claiborne46516
Montgomery46520
Yalobusha43614
Lawrence43313
Perry42419
Greene38717
Humphreys37815
Quitman3775
Stone37512
Jefferson Davis34211
Webster33813
Amite33210
Carroll32012
Wilkinson30518
Kemper29015
Sharkey26613
Jefferson2439
Benton2283
Franklin1933
Choctaw1866
Issaquena1053
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 136055

Reported Deaths: 2364
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson19752350
Mobile13449292
Montgomery8852184
Tuscaloosa8654118
Madison792778
Shelby601349
Lee592760
Baldwin552650
Marshall396143
Calhoun353444
Etowah352145
Morgan331428
Houston292021
Elmore267348
DeKalb243221
St. Clair233036
Walker231984
Talladega217129
Limestone211920
Cullman190720
Dallas179126
Franklin178129
Autauga177325
Russell17633
Lauderdale172333
Colbert166626
Blount161715
Escambia161124
Chilton158830
Jackson158111
Covington140327
Dale139244
Coffee13596
Pike120510
Chambers116842
Tallapoosa116485
Clarke110016
Marion96829
Butler91339
Barbour8857
Winston74512
Marengo72420
Pickens66614
Bibb65610
Lowndes65427
Randolph65413
Hale64428
Geneva6344
Lawrence62123
Cherokee61213
Bullock60614
Monroe5908
Clay5878
Washington55913
Perry5416
Crenshaw54032
Conecuh53611
Wilcox53211
Henry5075
Macon48318
Fayette4628
Sumter43819
Cleburne3825
Lamar3702
Choctaw35112
Greene30315
Coosa1723
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Clear
62° wxIcon
Hi: 67° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 62°
Columbus
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 61°
Oxford
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 69° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 59°
Starkville
Clear
59° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 59°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather