The NBA playoffs return this weekend, and the pair of Big Apple teams can only watch at home like the rest of the city’s hoops fans.
The 30-team league has been pared down to 16 for the postseason. Realistically, however, only six teams have much of a chance at winning a championship in any given season. Since the NBA playoffs expanded to 16 teams in 1984, the only champion seeded lower than No. 3 was the sixth-seeded 1994-95 Rockets — they were the defending champions at the time, though.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top three seeds in each conference and how realistic their title hopes should be.
Cleveland’s strange downward spiral since the start of March is less of a concern than it appears. They’re still the reigning champs. They still have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. The Cavs may look like monsters again in June.
Top-two seeds have won 28 of 33 titles since 1984, which bodes well for a deep Boston squad led by All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas. Their playoff mettle has yet to be tested, so call them a dark horse to win the franchise’s 18th title.
Struggles against the Cavs would seem to put a lid on Toronto’s potential to reach the Finals, even with a pair of All-Stars in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Of the six, the Raps are the least likely to win it all.
James Harden could win the MVP, but he’ll have trouble willing Houston past both the top two clubs out west. In the unlikely event the Rockets reach the Finals, they’re an even or better bet to beat the East’s representative.
As long as Gregg Popovich rules in San Antonio, never count out the league’s most consistent powerhouse. If not for the Warriors, Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge would be favored to go all the way.
Golden State is the safest pick, by far, to horde some rings this summer. With four All-Stars, including Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant — who’ve combined for three MVPs — it’s almost silly to bet against them.