The first round of the NBA playoffs are just about complete. So who has emerged as the team with the best chance of becoming champions?
As the NBA championship race heats up, it’s time to re-evaluate the state of play and sort out who leads the pack, as we enter the Conference Semis stage.
Let’s have a look at the NBA power rankings after the first round.
1. Boston Celtics
The Celtics were by far the most impressive team in round one as they thrashed the highly-fancied Brooklyn Nets 4-0.
Following the clean sweep, the Celtics find themselves in the Conference Semis for the fifth time in the last six years, hosting the defending champs Milwaukee.
In a boost for the Celtics, Bucks All-Star swingman Khris Middleton is expected to miss the entire series with a MCL knee injury.
Boston boasts one of the best defences, led by Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart. And offensively, Jayson Tatum is at the top of his game, averaging 29.5 points, 7.3 assists and 1.8 steals in the first round.
2. Golden State Warriors
With superstar Steph Curry finding form, the Warriors are one of the favourites for the NBA championship. It’s easy to picture it, too, given their dominance from 2015-19 – collecting three titles from five straight trips to the Finals.
Curry scored 30 points in his return to the starting five as the Warriors beat Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets to win their first-round series in five games.
Warriors guard Jordan Poole and Klay Thompson are in form too, giving opponents Memphis plenty of defensive headaches.
3. Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns defeated the New Orleans Pelicans 4-2 in the first round and received a timely boost in their game six win after Devin Booker made a surprise return from a hamstring injury.
Booker entered the post-season averaging a career-high 26.8 points in 68 games, plus 5.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.
They entered the Playoffs as championship favourites following a League-best 64-18 record, eight games better than any other team.
If Booker can remain healthy, the Suns should be too good for the Dallas Mavericks and cruise to the Western Conference decider.
4. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks easily overcame the Chicago Bulls 4-1 in round one to set up an exciting semi-final series against the Celtics.
As mentioned, All-Star swingman Khris Middleton is expected to miss the entire series with a MCL knee injury.
Superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo is capable of winning the series on his own, however it will take a superhuman effort to do it alone against this well balanced Boston outfit.
5. Miami Heat
Miami’s defence knows how to shut down superstars, making Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young look pedestrian in the first round.
The Heat took the series 4-1 and have a chance to match that against the 76ers, who may be without MVP contender Joel Embiid for much of the Semis showdown.
All-Star forward Jimmy Butler was back to his best against the Hawks, averaging 30.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.8 steals per game.
6. Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks steadily improved game-by-game in their 4-2 round one win against the Utah Jazz.
Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic was strong and had 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in game six to put the finishing touches on the first playoff series win of his career.
Spencer Dinwiddie has given Dallas a solid primary ball-handler and scorer off the bench and Dorian Finney-Smith continued improvement makes him an ideal complimentary piece to put alongside Doncic.
The Mavericks will now come up against the Suns, who will be full of confidence after Devin Booker returned from injury.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Ja Morant’s Memphis edged out the Timberwolves to progress. But given how highly opponents Golden State are rated, it’ll be a tall order for the Grizzlies.
Morant dueling with Steph Curry should be a whole lot of fun, though.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
They take on the East’s top seed Miami without their 1A player, a recipe for trouble.
Joel Embiid (orbital facial fracture) is out ‘indefinitely’ and will miss the first two games, minimum.
That will make this mission incredibly tough, as they face yet another premature Playoffs exit.