So last week, we took a look at the remaining playoff teams and ranked them in order of who had the best chance to win a championship. Now that the current round has progressed a little, some teams have better chances than others to advance because of series deficits they have to make up. However, we’re not picking teams to advance, we’re selecting based on their ability to win it all. This means that I may rank a team not likely to advance against a more likely conference finalist, because I think they have a better chance of winning in the next two rounds than the winner of Hawks-Wizards. (Spoiler: they’re last.)
- Los Angeles Clippers (Last week 3rd)
So, are the Clippers the best team in the league right now? At the very least, they’re the most likely to move on to the next round, and that’s a big step for Chris Paul, who has yet to see a conference finals game. Houston missed its opportunity in the first game of the series when Paul was out. Now he’s back and the Rockets don’t look like they can handle the Clippers at full strength.
- Golden State Warriors (Last week 1st)
- Memphis Grizzlies (Last week 8th)
I’d like to apologize to the Grizzlies and their fans, both for ranking them eighth last week and putting them below the Warriors this week. Yes, the Grizzlies have the lead and a chance to go up 3-1 at home, but they were really close to blowing a 19-point lead with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter of Game 3, only scoring nine points in the first nine minutes of the fourth. The Warriors showed poor composure letting the game get away from them in the first place, but losing such a big lead is never a good look, even if you pull out the win at the end.
- Cleveland Cavaliers (Last week 2nd)
- Chicago Bulls (last week 5th)
When you hold LeBron James and Kyrie Irving to a combined 12-40 from the field, you need to win those games. The Bulls have done a great job proving that they can beat this Cavs team, and losing Kevin Love seems to have hurt Cleveland more than I thought it would. I’m still picking Cleveland to win this series, but I’m not nearly as confident about it as I was before. Either way, the winner of this series is making the Finals. I like Cleveland more than Chicago on that stage, but I like the Western Conference teams a lot more.
- Houston Rockets (Last week 4th)
- Atlanta Hawks (last week 7th)
- Washington Wizards (Last week 6th)
You may be asking: Why is Houston above a team that’s down 2-1 when they’re down 3-1 to the Clippers? More importantly, why are the Hawks down 2-1 ahead of the team that’s beating them? The answer is potential. The Rockets have the potential to be a very strong team, even if they look lousy right now. They have a top-flight center and a second-place MVP candidate in James Harden. If they somehow managed to pull off a miracle comeback to advance, they have the talent to compete with anyone. As for the Hawks, they didn’t finish with the league’s second-best record by accident. If they can look like the team they were in the regular season, they could make some noise moving forward. I don’t see the same road for the Wizards. It looks like John Wall won’t return for the postseason, and that doesn’t bode well for the Wizards’ championship dreams. Even if they make it through this round to the conference finals, I don’t think they can beat either of the next two teams they’d face to win a championship, and ultimately, that’s what I’m basing these rankings on.