1. Los Angeles Lakers
There are only a handful of true superstars in the NBA, players so good that merely having them on your roster gives you a shot at an NBA title no matter who else you have. The Lakers have one of those players: LeBron James, who has made the Finals in eight straight playoff appearances. At the age of 35, LeBron is playing as well as ever. The Lakers point-forward is averaging 26.6 points per game, 10.3 rebounds and 8.8 assists. Oh, and he’s not even the Lakers leading scorer – that honor belongs to Anthony Davis and his 27.6 PPG. There’s no doubt that after LeBron and AD, the Lakers don’t really have anyone who inspires much confidence. The idea of trying to close out a potential Game 7 with Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso on the floor is a frightening concept for Lakers fans I’m sure. But, with LeBron and AD at the helm, they should like their odds against any opponent. And somehow, as thin as they are behind their stars, this team plays excellent together. They lead the remaining teams in field goal percentage, points per game, assists per game, rebounds per game and blocks per game. That’s a recipe for success no matter who you have on your roster. It should be noted, though, that the Lakers rank 13th out of the 16 total playoff teams in free throw percentage at 72.7%. The other three remaining teams all rank in the top five in that category. But with the Clippers eliminated, this appears to be the Lakers’ championship to lose.
2. Miami Heat
This Miami Heat team reminds me a lot of last year’s Toronto Raptors. They’re deep, they’re scrappy defensively and they have a true star behind the wheel who can make game-sealing shots when they need it most. And no, Jimmy Butler is not quite Kawhi Leonard, but he’s been excellent for the Heat in the playoffs, averaging 21.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.1 steals. He brings it on both ends on the floor and makes everyone around him better. Meanwhile, the team’s other stars, Goran Dragic (21.9 PPG) and Bam Adebayo (16.4 PPG) are bringing it as well. Likewise, Miami is getting excellent 3-point shooting from Jae Crowder (41.7 %), Tyler Herro (40.0%) and Duncan Robinson (38.2%), as well as great defense from everyone on the roster. This team simply does not have a weakness; the Heat have gone 9-1 in the playoffs and already have a 1-0 lead against the Celtics in the Conference Finals. You’d be hard-pressed to find a team that wants to see Miami this postseason.
3. Boston Celtics
With the talent on this roster, the Celtics could easily find themselves in the top spot on this list. Although, unfortunately for Boston, only Marcus Smart has been incredible; Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have taken turns being great while the other is quiet. Boston has not had a true firing-on-all-cylinders performance from their stars, which is why they struggled to put away the talent-deficient Toronto Raptors in the second round. To be fair, though, Tatum and Brown have each had several big games and put their stamps on a few signature wins as well. The true cause for concern with the Celtics is Kemba Walker, who has been struggling mightily in the first deep postseason run of his pro career. In the Celtics’ past five games against the Heat and Raptors, Kemba has gone 5-34 (14.7%) from 3-point range. Yikes. That being said, if Kemba does get it going, then good luck to everyone else, because this team is scary. The Celtics are simply too good on both ends of the floor to ever be blown out, so Boston is only ever a few clutch plays away from winning.
4. Denver Nuggets
I feel like I’m doing the Nuggets a favor by putting them in the bottom spot on this list. They appear to not only enjoy the underdog mentality, but need it to succeed. Through the team’s first 14 games, The Nuggets have gone 6-0 when facing elimination and 2-6 when they’re not. They’re the first team in NBA history to erase two separate 3-1 series deficits in the same postseason. As impressive as those comebacks were, one has to wonder how many times the Nuggets can flirt with elimination before a veteran team (LeBron and the Lakers come to mind) is able to put them away. That being said, the fact that Kawhi Leonard and the LA Clippers were unable to do so really says something. The biggest reason the Nuggets are even still in Orlando is the fact that Jamal Murray (27.1 PPG) and Nikola Jokic (25.4 PPG) are playing the best basketball of their lives. Add in big contributions from Jerami Grant, Paul Millsap, Michael Porter Jr., Gary Harris and Monte Morris, and the Nuggets are a true force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference. I wonder what we’ll be saying if the Lakers go up 3-1 in this series.