Will the NBA playoffs lead to Cavs-Warriors III in the finals?
(CNN) — As teams make the final push toward the NBA playoffs, not much has changed from a year ago.
That’s because the same question looms as it did in 2016: Can anyone stop the Golden State Warriors?
The regular season ends April 12. The playoffs start April 15. Sure, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers are the defending NBA champions, and they’re a favorite to return to the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year.
But the talk all season has been about the super team assembled in Golden State, having added Kevin Durant to an already loaded roster with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.
A year after setting the NBA regular-season wins record with 73, the Warriors once again are at the top of the Western Conference heading into April. As in 2016, Golden State is closing in on home-court advantage for the postseason, with the San Antonio Spurs close behind.
The Warriors aren’t on the blistering pace they were last year, and they’re currently without Durant, who has been out the past month because of a sprained medial collateral ligament and bone bruise in his left knee.
The team is hopeful Durant will be back for the postseason. On Wednesday, the Warriors said Durant “has made very good progress” and “a return to game action prior to the end of the regular season remains a possibility.”
But even if Durant isn’t available, the 2016 runners-up and 2015 champs are still title favorites. Can anyone else make waves in the West? The Spurs — in the playoffs for the 20th consecutive season — are 2-1 against the Warriors this season.
The Houston Rockets, led by MVP candidate James Harden, are making a run as well. However, they were 1-2 against the Warriors heading into their Friday game against Golden State.
In the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers don’t have a stranglehold on the top spot. This year, the reigning champs are in a battle with the Boston Celtics for the No. 1 seed, and having home-court advantage could be pivotal should the two teams face each other in a best-of-seven series in the Eastern Conference finals.
And lately, Cleveland hasn’t rocked. The Cavs went 7-10 in the month of March and have dropped five out of their last eight games.
“We’re just in a bad spot right now,” James said after losing to the Bulls on Thursday. “Not disappointed with the effort. We’re just in a bad spot. We’re going to try to figure it out.”
Also lurking nearby in the East are the Toronto Raptors, who reached the Eastern Conference finals last season, and the Washington Wizards.
Additionally, look out for potential upsets in the early rounds. Depending on where they’re seeded, triple-double machine Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder could scare a first-round opponent in the West. Westbrook has 39 triple doubles, two away from tying Oscar Robertson for the most in a season.
In the East, the Miami Heat — who started the season 11-30 — have been scorching down the stretch. Now, it appears they’ll reach the playoffs and will be a team no one wants to play.
But make no mistake: Everyone is chasing Golden State. And for the third year in a row, a Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals is a real possibility. Will it happen again? Stay tuned.