-- Which teams have the best chance to prevent the first-ever NBA Finals trilogy? If we won't be watching another Golden State Warriors vs. Cleveland Cavaliers rematch in June, these five teams are the most likely to crash the party.
Remember, the Warriors looked invincible last year until the Oklahoma City Thunder went up 3-1 in the Western Conference finals. The Raptors took the Cavaliers to six games and could earn home-court advantage in the East this time.
Golden State and Cleveland will have to beat legitimate teams capable of pulling off upsets to get to a rematch. Let's use ESPN's Basketball Power Index (BPI) to project who could surprise in each conference.
Odds of beating Cavaliers in a series:?48% without home-court?
Conference title: 42.2% | NBA title:?9.7%?
Vegas championship odds: 40-1
A recent skid from the Raptors has BPI now projecting that Toronto will finish No. 2 in the East, after an extended stretch of likely finishing ahead of the Cavs. The difference between Toronto having home-court advantage?vs. Cleveland having home-court amounts to a 9.0 percent swing in odds.
Toronto is 4.5 games back of Cleveland right now, but BPI only projects the teams to finish two games apart. If the Raptors took the first two home games in a hypothetical Eastern Conference finals matchup, BPI would give them an 80 percent chance to win the series and make the NBA Finals.
Odds of beating Warriors in a series: 29% without home-court
Conference title:?25.2% | NBA title: 18.6%
Vegas championship odds:?8-1
The Spurs have the third-best title odds, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, and carry the NBA's second-best record ... so, no, they aren't really a dark horse. But it's noteworthy that they fall to No. 2 here. Having to get through the Warriors will do that.
As is the case every season, they are the looming giant in the West that no one talks about until March. The Spurs have the best defense and second-best overall rating, according to BPI. The only remaining games the Spurs are not projected to win are road games against the Cavaliers and Raptors. They kicked off the season with a victory over the Warriors by nearly 30 points on the road and are favored to beat them at home in their two remaining regular-season matchups.
Odds of beating Cavaliers in a series: 27% without home-court
Conference title: 8.8% | NBA title: 0.9%
Vegas championship odds: 50-1
Although the Celtics don't have a significant chance to win the NBA title, they have the second-best odds to eliminate the Cavs and seriously open up a championship path. This likely Eastern Conference semifinal matchup would probably not be the sweep it was when the Cavs and Celts met in 2015 in the first round. In fact, the Celtics winning in six games has effectively the same likelihood as the Cavaliers winning in four, per BPI.
The Cavaliers have won the first two regular-season matchups, but the Celtics are favored to win the remaining two. Al Horford didn't play in the first game, and both games were close and in Cleveland.
Odds of beating Warriors in a series: 16% without home-court
Conference title:?6.4% | NBA title: 3.7%
Vegas championship odds:?30-1
With Mike D'Antoni at the helm and key additions Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon providing desperately needed 3-point shooting, the Rockets are rolling. They'd likely have to get through the Spurs to meet the Warriors in the Western Conference finals.
Houston has already upset Golden State in Oakland, but the Warriors are favored in the remaining three regular-season matchups. If the Rockets were able to steal one of the first two games in a series, BPI would project the series to go seven games and give the Rockets a 27 percent chance of winning.
5. LA Clippers
Odds of beating Warriors in a series: 12% without home-court
Conference title: 2.9% | NBA title: 1.4%
Vegas championship odds: 30-1
Is this the year the Clippers make it out of the second round? They have yet to accomplish that with Chris Paul, and BPI does not expect it to happen this season, giving the Clippers only an 11.8 percent chance.
First, they'd need to upset the Warriors in what is the most likely conference semifinal matchup behind Rockets-Spurs. The odds of such an upset are slim, and the Clippers would become the favorites to win the series only?if they were able to amass at least a two-game lead.
For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index.?