LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers will enter the NBA Playoffs as favorites to win a championship, but there are several teams given a realistic chance at making a run to the title in one of the more open fields in recent years.
The Cavaliers will enter the playoffs as the second seed in the Eastern Conference, but have been playing excellent basketball as of late, making them the favorites to reach the NBA Finals and take home the franchise’s first NBA Championship.
Final Night of Season Provides Playoff Drama
The final week of the NBA season saw several playoff spots up for grabs, as well as a mad scramble for seeding in the Western Conference.
In the east, the Brooklyn Nets made the playoffs as the eighth and final seed after defeating the Orlando Magic on the final night of the season, while the Indiana Pacers also lost to the Memphis Grizzlies.
That combination left the two teams with identical 38-44 records, and the Nets advanced to the playoffs because they beat the Pacers 2-1 in their season series.
Out west, the New Orleans Pelicans managed to hold on to the eighth seed by beating the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of the season, holding off the Oklahoma City Thunder for the final playoff spot.
That game was also significant for San Antonio: the loss dropped from the second seed all the way to the sixth seed, creating a much more difficult path for the defending champions to get back to the finals.
Cavaliers, Warriors Are Favorites
As has been the case in many recent seasons, it appears that the Western Conference field is much stronger than the competition on the Eastern side, which may explain why the Cavs have been installed as a 12-5 favorite at many sportsbooks.
While the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks are certainly capable of beating Cleveland, they’ll be significant underdogs if the two meet in the Eastern Conference finals; the Hawks are being offered at 8-1 to win the NBA Championship, showing that they’re getting far less respect than Cleveland despite winning seven more games in the regular season.
The second choice in the betting, the Golden State Warriors, have been made a co-favorite by many bookmakers. Led by Stephen Curry, the top seed in the Western Conference finished ten games ahead of anyone else, which has earned them enough respect to be listed at 11-4 odds by bookmakers.
They have several tough challengers they might face before they reach the finals, however, including the Spurs (7-2), the Los Angeles Clippers (14-1) and the Houston Rockets (16-1).
Spurs and Clippers Face Off in Tough First Round Matchup
The Spurs and Clippers, however, find themselves in a difficult position in the first round. Despite the fact that they may well be two of the top three teams in the Western Conference, they have been seeded against each other in the first round thanks to the Spurs loss on the final day of the season, meaning one contender will be sent home early.
The Spurs are considered a slight favorite in the series.
Another team to watch in the Eastern Conference may be the Chicago Bulls. Listed at 14-1 to win the NBA Championship, the Bulls could make a run if guard Derrick Rose can remain healthy.
That’s a major question, though: Rose has been hurt several times in recent years, and checked out of the final game of the season due to soreness in his left knee.