Updated Championship Odds for Every NBA Team

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2018

Updated Championship Odds for Every NBA Team

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    Very few NBA teams exit the All-Star break with legitimate championship hopes.

    Roughly one-third of the league is competing for something different altogether: the best draft-lottery odds. And after them, we have a commingled bundle of fringe playoff hopefuls and first-round steppingstones who, despite trying to play beyond the regular season, have no real shot of raising the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

    From there, we move into the dark-horse contenders. These teams are playoff locks and incite real fear into the Association's foremost favorites. But they are not, under any circumstance, expected to sniff the NBA Finals.

    At long last, beyond this group, we move onto the genuine championship-chasers. These squads are small in number but big on ambition. They ferry a lion's share of the drama, intrigue and general mystery attached to the postseason.

    Do not let these tiers discourage you as we pore over every team's remaining title odds, courtesy of OddsShark. Keeping tabs on the non-contenders, from the completely irrelevant to the gradually budding, remains an important exercise—a refresher for the tankathon, dark-horse trajectories and big-picture priorities.

    Though the latest championship lines will shape our top 10 breakdowns, the initial 20 will be separated into tiers based on both their odds and our own interpretation of where they stand in the NBA's postseason pecking order.

Eastern Conference Irrelevants

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Atlanta Hawks

    As the Hawks continue to duke it out for the NBA's top spot in the draft lottery, expect to see John Collins get more run in the starting lineup and overall. Bonus points to Mike Budenholzer if the Collins-DeAndre Bembry-Taurean Prince trio becomes his most-used three-man combination for the rest of the year.

                     

    Brooklyn Nets

    Since the Brooklyn Nets don't control their own first-round pick, a recent losing streak won't tempt them to bottom out on purpose. They'll keep doing their thing, much to the chagrin of sleepwalking contenders: play fast, try hard and shoot enough threes to catch Daryl Morey's attention.

    Getting a more extensive look at the Spencer Dinwiddie-D'Angelo Russell backcourt will take priority in the meantime. Both will need new contracts after next season, and the Nets have to figure out whether their partnership is worth a reinvestment.

                           

    Chicago Bulls

    The Bulls didn't trade Nikola Mirotic soon enough.

    After posting the league's worst record prior to his season debut, they went 15-12 between his return and the moment they shut him down. Now they must hope Kris Dunn, Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen don't develop enough chemistry to play them out of top-five lottery odds.

                     

    New York Knicks

    Eight straight losses? A blown 27-point lead heading into the All-Star break against the John Wall-less Washington Wizards? 

    A commitment, for now, to starting Emmanuel Mudiay, not Frank Ntilikina, at point guard?

    Consider the Knicks' tank fired up—their random second-half defensive detonation against the Orlando Magic on Thursday notwithstanding.

                      

    Orlando Magic

    Here's hoping the Magic don't whiff on their latest top-five pick or talk themselves into overpaying Aaron Gordon during restricted free agency. The post-Dwight Howard era is already littered with draft-day blunders, and their finances are murky enough without another over-the-top contract for an unfinished project. 

Western Conference Irrelevants

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    Dallas Mavericks

    "I'm probably not supposed to say this, but, like, I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night, and here we are, you know, we weren't competing for the playoffs," Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said on the House Call with Dr. J podcast (via ESPN.com). "I was like, 'Look, losing is our best option.' Adam [Silver] would hate hearing that, but I at least sat down and I explained it to them."

    Silver and the NBA did, indeed, hating hearing this. Cuban was slapped with a $600,000 fine. But don't worry: The Mavericks' tank is fine. They're a half-game back of the league's worst record, with an offense run by a rookie point guard. 

                 

    Los Angeles Lakers

    *LaVar Ball voice*

    "Irrelevant? The Lakers? They're fewer than 10 games back of the Western Conference's final playoff spot with more than 20 tilts to go!

    "We coming*, Golden State!"

    (*The Lakers are in no way making the playoffs and should instead hope the rest of the season includes a healthy Lonzo Ball, continued improvement from Brandon Ingram, more consistency from Kyle Kuzma and additional spunkiness from Josh Hart.)

                      

    Memphis Grizzlies

    So, um, how much longer until the Grizzlies shut down Marc Gasol for being too good? 

    Better yet, what should they do with Tyreke Evans? Do they keep rolling him out as a starter in hope that convinces him to re-sign this summer? Or do they prioritize the loss column and a top-five pick above all else and chance turning him off with an early vacation?

                               

    Phoenix Suns

    The Suns did well to get a partial-season flier on Elfrid Payton. Maybe too well. If he keeps turning in 20 points and eight assists on adequate three-point shooting, they may suffer from a case of "winning more games than we want to."

    Eh, actually, never mind. He's already been indoctrinated into their House of 40-Point Shellackings, and they have the league's fourth-toughest schedule to close the season, according to PlayoffStatus.com. Suns fans are free to picture DeAndre Ayton or Luka Doncic in purple and orange.

                          

    Sacramento Kings

    Yes, the Kings are contending for NBA-worst ratings on both offense and defense while tracking toward a mere 26 victories. But they're still outperforming their expected win total by almost five games, according to Cleaning The Glass—the second-highest discrepancy in the league.

    Is this not the most Kings anecdote ever?

Fading Pipe Dreams

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    Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

    Charlotte Hornets (+50000)

    Sliding the Hornets into the Eastern Conference's last postseason spot is the dare-to-be-great leap. Making up five games in the loss column over the final quarter of the season is a tall order, but they're 8-15 when trailing or leading by no more than three points entering the final three minutes.

    Convert even half those losses into victories, and the Hornets are working with something. They might be better than their record suggests—nowhere near championship-worthy but shy of hopeless.

                    

    Detroit Pistons (+15000)

    The East's No. 8 seed will come down to a two-team battle between the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat. That much is just about certain. 

    Ask yourself what you trust more: Andre Drummond and Blake Griffin's honeymoon lasting into and through Reggie Jackson's eventual return or any team coached by Erik Spoelstra?

    Exactly.

                    

    Los Angeles Clippers (+30000)

    Only five teams finish out the year with a tougher schedule than the Clippers, per PlayoffStatus.com. Even if you believe they're better off without Griffin—a leap unto itself—the odds they fend off two of the five teams vying for the West's final three postseason slots grow slimmer by the game.

                         

    Miami Heat (+15000)

    Miami's offense is a collective drag. And its frontcourt rotation is a headache. But dammit: This team knows how to keep games close.

    A league-leading 41 of the Heat's contests have seen them enter the final five minutes trailing or leading by no more than five points. They own a top-seven net rating in these situations, along with a 23-18 record. They're in no way championship material, but they're the favorites to snare the East's last playoff bid and, by extension, an opponent every alpha-seed hopeful should wish to avoid.

                         

    New Orleans Pelicans (+30000)

    "We could have gone through the playoffs," Anthony Davis told ESPN's Rachel Nichols of himself and teammate DeMarcus Cousins. "No one could really stop us as bigs. We go to the Finals if we went."

    Counterpoint: The Pelicans wouldn't be earmarked for the Finals with a healthy DeMarcus Cousins. They would, however, feel more like a playoff lock—in no small part because the Cousins-Davis-Jrue Holiday troika was pummeling opponents by 14.9 points per 100 possessions when they played without Rajon Rondo.

    Ah, well. New Orleans will instead have to settle for a coin-toss chance at making the postseason at all, according to FiveThirtyEight.

Intriguing, but Not There Yet

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    Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

    Denver Nuggets (+30000)

    Paul Millsap's return could vault the Nuggets into a more flattering category by season's end. Pull Will Barton from the starting lineup for him, and they have an opening five that has fared like a top-five team on both offense and defense through its first 14 appearances.

    But Millsap isn't slated to rejoin the rotation until March, by which point the Nuggets won't have the grace period necessary to establish themselves as a dark-horse contender. They'll be fortunate if they're humming on offense, let alone defense, once the playoffs tip off.

                       

    Indiana Pacers (+30000)

    Losing Darren Collison for a minute has not upended the Pacers' sneakiness. They still field a top-six offense, and the version of the starting lineup that includes Cory Joseph is blitzing rivals by close to 17 points per 100 possessions. 

    Feel free to pencil in the Pacers for a postseason appearance. They deserve it. But they have to convert too many tough shots, and their half-court defense and presence on the glass aren't polished enough to float much more than a first-round fly-by.

                            

    Philadelphia 76ers (+10000)

    Well, this hurts.

    The Sixers have the NBA's best defense since Christmas. Ben Simmons is finding ways to captain effective lineups that don't include a Joel Embiid safety net. With the league's easiest schedule in front of them, per PlayoffStatus.com, the Sixers are within reach of home-court advantage through the first round.

    If a general dearth of spacing and shot creation outside the starting lineup didn't remain a glaring downfall, even after the addition of Marco Belinelli, we might be able to talk ourselves into the Sixers as quasi-contenders.

                  

    Portland Trail Blazers (+30000)

    Will the Blazers' conservative defensive scheme hold up in the playoffs? Does head coach Terry Stotts have the nerve to glue Jusuf Nurkic to the bench when Ed Davis and Zach Collins are showing out as the superior frontcourt complements?

    Can Portland turn the Moda Center back into a distinct home-court advantage? Are there enough wings to fill out an effective playoff rotation? Will their recent offensive uptick ever not come at the expense of their returns on the less glamorous end?

    The uncertainty surrounding the Blazers is overwhelming. It'll take a micro miracle—or best-of-seven set with the Minnesota Timberwolves or San Antonio Spurs—for them to squeak past the first round. 

                         

    Utah Jazz (+30000)

    The Jazz turned on the jets prior to their All-Star respite. Although they're fighting back from a lottery position, they've essentially claimed a spot among automatic playoff entrants. They have their 11-game win streak to thank, along with a cupcake stretch run.

    Golden State is the only other playoff team in the West with an easier schedule from here, according to PlayoffStatus.com, and 14 of Utah's final 24 games come at home. Rudy Gobert once again anchors a league-best defense when he's on the floor, while the emergence of Royce O'Neale and a more aggressive Joe Ingles has enabled the offense to manufacture offense even when Donovan Mitchell goes cold.

    But the playoffs are a different beast. The Jazz will have no problem gumming up half-court works of their enemies. They're still built to play slow. The more physical, the better. But the methods of shot creation change on offense, and even with a scorching-hot Derrick Favors and Ricky Rubio, they're not yet equipped to conjure the highest-quality looks in merciless playoff settings.

Milwaukee Bucks (+6600)

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    It turns out teams can simultaneously underachieve while being the one underdog opponent no favorite should want to face in a seven-game series. The Milwaukee Bucks are proof.

    Purchasing an ownership stake in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference's playoff race doesn't beget much confidence. They're equal distances away from the No. 3 and No. 8 seeds—a double entendre identity threading the needle between lethal and harmless.

    Bench production remains a sore spot. Surviving spurts without Giannis Antetokounmpo becomes an easier task in the postseason, when he'll log 40-plus minutes every night, but small-sample flops can spell an entire team's undoing. Just ask the 2016-17 Oklahoma City Thunder.

    Cleaner bills of health will help. Malcolm Brogdon and Matthew Dellavedova are both laboring through weeks-long absences, and Jabari Parker is in the early stages of his return from a second ACL injury. But the Bucks are getting hammered so far with the latter on the floor. Interim head coach Joe Prunty will be forced into some difficult crunch-time decisions if that doesn't turn.

    Even so, Milwaukee is a nuisance.

    Top-heavy squads pose a unique danger in the playoffs if they're not exhausted. All seven of the Bucks' most-used lineups are outscoring opponents by at least 8.9 points per 100 possessions. Four of those seven are a plus-13 or better. They're also second in defensive efficiency since firing Jason Kidd.

    And not to be forgotten: Unless they're facing off versus the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Bucks will always employ the best player in the series. Having Antetokounmpo gives them stronger-than-faint championship appeal. 

Washington Wizards (+6600)

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Too much about the Wizards feels decidedly blah.

    They're contending for home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs yet up against a reinforced-steel ceiling. They're not climbing any higher than fourth place in the East. The teams in front of them—Cleveland Cavaliers, Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors—will never cede the necessary ground.

    Shoot, if we're being honest, the Wizards will be fortunate to tread water in the coming weeks.

    John Wall isn't slated to return from his left-knee debridement until the middle or end of March, a potential death warrant by itself. Washington went 7-2 through the first nine games of his latest absence, but it has the Association's hardest remaining schedule, according to PlayoffStatus.com, and the initial success without him is built atop a house of cards.

    Washington is slightly deeper, but the second unit is fraught with pitfalls. The backups rank 21st in points allowed per 100 possessions and have been even worse since the start of Wall's recovery. 

    Good luck scoring like a top-10 offense over the long haul while the All-Star point guard watches from the sidelines. The Wizards have yet to find a playmaker who can consistently headline units independent of both Wall and Bradley Beal.

    Kelly Oubre Jr. isn't the guy—at least, not right now. Head coach Scott Brooks remains reluctant to use Markieff Morris in a solo capacity. Tomas Satoransky is the best option, and the Wizards still score like the league's worst offense when he's running the show. The tides have shifted with Wall out, but that sample isn't nearly large enough to color Satoransky postseason-proof.

    Something about the Wizards is off even when they're at full strength. They fall inside the top 12 of both points scored and allowed per 100 possessions but fail to crack the top 10 in either department. And their shot profile is bizarre, verging on gross. They're third in long mid-range frequency and 28th in percentage of looks that come at the rim, according to Cleaning The Glass.

    Washington has given elite teams fits in the past. So, it has that. But not much else.

Minnesota Timberwolves (+3300)

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    Delay boarding the Timberwolves' bandwagon for as long as possible. 

    Despite situating themselves within striking distance of a top-three playoff seed, they have the look and feel of a regular-season mirage. Their weaknesses are incurable, while their strengths bear resemblance to smokescreens.

    Critiquing the Timberwolves defense has become a cliche. They appeared to turn a corner during a month-long stretch between December and January, but they've since settled back into reality. They're 26th overall in points allowed per 100 possessions and 29th since Jan. 15. 

    Generating enough stopping power within the starting five isn't a problem. Yank Jeff Teague for Tyus Jones, and the resulting lineup gets even stingier, allowing just 94.2 points per 100 possessions (sixth-best mark among 89 units to clear 100 total minutes).

    The bench, collectively, is a different story. No second unit notches a worse defensive rating. Rotations shorten in the playoffs, but depth still matters—particularly when coach-president Tom Thibodeau works his starters tooth and nail during the regular season.

    Assuming neither the bench nor fatigue will be an issue doesn't improve the Timberwolves' optics. Their top-three offense is based on free throws, second-chance points and iffy shot selection. Only the Knicks, Pacers and Wizards devote larger shares of their looks to long mid-rangers, and the Timberwolves are 29th in three-point frequency, according to Cleaning The Glass.

    Erasing sizable deficits is exponentially harder when teams cannot rely on the long ball to offset the variance. Minnesota, not surprisingly, is 8-13 when tied or trailing by no more than three points entering the final three minutes (third-worst record among Western Conference playoff outfits).

    Stir in a shaky showing versus sub-.500 opponents (14-10), and it becomes difficult, nearly impossible, to trust them in a playoff setting.

San Antonio Spurs (+2500)

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    Interactive championship-outlook time!

    Google-image search "sinking ship gif." Click on one of the returning results—whichever you prefer. Wait however long it takes to load. Now, sit there, eyes fixated on your phone, tablet or computer, watching the animated picture for a few seconds. Or more. Whatever you want. Do your thing.

    Congratulations! You've successfully taken stock of the Spurs' championship trajectory.

    Harsh? Maybe. Unjustified? Hardly. How else should we be reacting to the doomsday news that Kawhi Leonard probably isn't playing again this year?

    “I’ll be surprised if he returns this season,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters shortly after the team reopened for business following the All-Star break, per the San Antonio Express-News' Jabari Young.

    This bleakly worded update trumps what little optimism can be found in reported rebukes. Sources told ESPN.com's Adrian Wojnarowski that Leonard is "medically cleared to return" from his right quad injury but "bears the burden of determining when he's prepared to play again." Young, meanwhile, has heard the two-time Defensive Player of the Year continues to hope he'll take the court before the end of this season.

    Great. Grand. Wonderful. But these traces of positivity would mean a whole lot more if the Leonard didn't have just nine appearances to his name on the year—or if his status wasn't the purported center of conflict and confusion throughout the organization.

    Championship-or-bust hardheads must stop short of declaring this a lost season. The Spurs are on track for 50ish wins and deploy the league's second-best defense. They're built to make noise in the playoffs without Leonard...through the first round.

    Beyond that, they're screwed. They don't have the from-scratch scorers behind LaMarcus Aldridge to hang with the West's upper-most class. 

Toronto Raptors (+2200)

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    Mark Blinch/Getty Images

    Remember-my-team fusspots have never been armed with more ammo in support of the Raptors. They entered the All-Star sabbatical sporting the East's best record yet continue to fly noticeably under the championship-conversation radar.

    Certain doubts plaguing Toronto are warranted—most notably ceremonial postseason slumps from DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

    Both have playoff effective field-goal percentages miles below their regular-season percentages since the beginning of the 2013-14 regular season. DeRozan is at 41.2, compared to 46.3 during the regular season; Lowry sits at 46.6, demonstratively lower than his non-playoff mark of 51.9.

    Toronto has yet to enjoy trademark series from its stars at the same time. Dominant displays from both, together, through an entire best-of-seven set will go a long way toward placating the hardline skeptics.

    But placing too much stock in these struggles does a disservice to the Raptors' 2017-18 efforts. They're a different team. DeRozan and Lowry are different players. The former has mastered decision-making out of the pick-and-roll while transforming into a viable three-point threat; the latter is, for the most part, comfortable spending more time off the ball and still wreaking havoc at the defensive end.

    Most importantly, though, the Raptors are so much more than their two All-Stars. 

    No second unit is tallying a better net rating. Lineups directed by Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright that don't feature DeRozan or Lowry are strong-arming opponents by nearly 19 points per 100 possessions. The Raptors' second-most played unit is an all-bench mob. They are deep and versatile and fit to assume a bunch of different identities depending on the matchup in a way scant few squads can.

    (Clears throat.)

    Just two teams on the season place in the top five of both offensive and defensive efficiency. The reigning-champion Golden State Warriors are one. These Raptors are the other.

Oklahoma City Thunder (+2000)

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    Living up to their placement among the fringe favorites hinges on whether the Thunder can cobble together workable alternatives to Andre Roberson.

    Losing him for the rest of the year to a ruptured left patellar tendon is, in no uncertain terms, a crushing blow. So much of Oklahoma City's curb appeal lied in its defensive shapeshifting—specially the synergy between Roberson and Paul George, two gnats capable of shutting down All-NBA point guards to power forwards.

    Soldiering on without half of this duo has, to date, proved untenable.

    The Thunder are 19th in points allowed per 100 possessions since Roberson went down, a 4-6 stretch complicated even further by Carmelo Anthony's own offensive slump. They will never regain their previous form or the top-five defensive rating it included. But all hope is not lost.

    Playing Jerami Grant or Josh Huestis in Roberson's stead allows the Thunder to retain much of their switchability without measurably compromising the offense. The remaining four starters have spent a combined 63 minutes with Grant or Huestis as their fifth wheel. Oklahoma City has outpaced opponents by a total of 16 points during that time.

    Teensy-tiny samples are rife with caveats. And the Thunder need Anthony to find his shot—he's slashing 36.1/27.4/81.8 over his last 11 games—for their ancillary adjustments to matter. But they still have the tools to be the West's greatest non-Warriors, non-Houston Rockets threat.

Boston Celtics (+1200)

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    Overrating the Celtics is the latest NBA fad.

    Boston's league-best defense is no joke. The same goes for head coach Brad Stevens. Those two, together, win a first-round playoff series on their own. That combination might even be enough to skate into the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    Registering as a thorn in the side of Cleveland or even Toronto? That demands a little more.

    Landing another shot creator at the trade deadline was, specifically, a must. The Celtics are 28th in points scored per 100 possessions since the turn of the calendar. They have been better down the stretch of close games during this span but still need that additional face-up weapon to alleviate Kyrie Irving's crunch-time burden and remain afloat whenever both he and Al Horford take a breather.

    Jayson Tatum will be that player in due time. Jaylen Brown might be, too. Neither is there now. Boston's offensive output craters to league-worst levels whenever one of them plays without Horford and Irving.

    Having Brown and Tatum co-pilot their own lineups has helped in a big way, but the sample isn't large enough (62 minutes) to draw any profound conclusions.

    On the bright side, no matter what happens to finish this season, Boston is set up for dominance next year. Brown and Tatum will have more experience under their belt, and a healthy Gordon Hayward addresses, if negates, everything that ails the offense now.

    Until then, the Celtics' chances of nabbing the Larry O'Brien Trophy are overblown. They're no first-round steppingstone, but they're not an authentic powerhouse either.

Cleveland Cavaliers (+600)

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    Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

    Midseason roster overhauls are harbingers of instability and rarely, if ever, culminate in overnight about-faces. Even the best-laid shake-ups are subject to hiccups.

    Shifting dynamics take time to perfect. New faces need reps to mesh with incumbents. They don't know the plays. Half-court sets and directives must be simplified. Regular-season practice time is insufficient, if it exists at all. Perfecting overturned rosters demands a grace period that only a training camp can provide.

    Cleveland's trade deadline facelift is no different.

    Grabbing impressive victories over the Celtics and Thunder leading into the All-Star break doesn't necessarily portend a seamless transition. Jordan Clarkson, George Hill, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. are all helpful acquisitions, but they have a learning curve in front of them.

    "Just like how I suspected, they forgot the plays," head coach Tyronn Lue said after the quartet's first practice, per Akron Beacon Journal's Marla Ridenour. "So we grabbed them early, tried it, and then we’re going to grab them again after shooting and just continue to keep going through the plays and a couple defensive coverages."

    Still, this fresh dose of fluidity is preferable to what the Cavaliers were enduring beforehand. They followed up winning 18 of 19 games with a 21-tilt plunge into purgatory, going 7-14 with bottom-three defensive and net ratings.

    Impromptu, perhaps telltale victories over Boston and Oklahoma City aside, the Cavaliers changed out a collection of non-shooters (Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, Dwyane Wade), underachievers (Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas) and aging vets (Channing Frye) for youth, athleticism, length and additional spacing. The fresh start they get behind the scenes, in the locker room, cannot be understated either.

    These reinforcements may not have come in time for the Cavaliers to improve their playoff seeding. They'll need helping-hand slumps from the Celtics and/or Raptors for that. But their place on the East's postseason totem pole doesn't matter. They have the juice to make it through to the NBA Finals—and, more importantly, a better shot at rivaling the Rockets, Warriors or anyone else they might face upon getting there.

Houston Rockets (+400)

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    Houston, we have an actual impediment to another Golden State championship. (Sorry.)

    The Rockets are making the Warriors work for their Western Conference crown. They seized control of the No. 1 seed, for the time being, just before the All-Star break and have snuck into the top 10 of points allowed per 100 possessions.

    Marrying even an average defense to the Rockets offense makes for a lethal cocktail. But they, too, can reformat their identity on a whim.

    Plugging Nene in the middle gives them a more a physical, traditional feel. They can preserve their switchiness in space without sacrificing size by leaning on Clint Capela. And they have the resources to trot out all-wing combos that espouse the positionless pep necessary to discrown Golden State's "Death Lineup."

    That small-ball setup is, without question, the Rockets' ace in the hole. They're outscoring opponents by 28.5 points per 100 possessions in the 168 minutes Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker have logged together.

    Head coach Mike D'Antoni hasn't consistently rounded out this package with James Harden and Chris Paul, but that five-man unit profiles as a two-way terror. Godspeed to any team trying to grind out a victory while closing a game against that arrangement.

    Though, as of now, the Rockets may remain reluctant to steer into high-usage small-ball. Harden and Paul have been too dominant beside Clint Capela. Houston is 28-1—yes, 28-1—when this trio takes the court, with an offensive rating that would make the Warriors blush.

    If the NBA gets the Western Conference Finals matchup everyone's expecting, Golden State is hardly assured of making a fourth straight championship-round cameo.

Golden State Warriors (-180)

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Should the Warriors be heavier favorites? It feels like they should be heavier favorites.

    They've spent the past three-plus years being portrayed as a myth, without the slightest hint of hyperbole or irony. These odds feel almost anticlimactic in comparison. They intimate vulnerability.

    Are the Rockets that good? Or should the Warriors just be that afraid of...themselves? 

    "There's no sugar-coating it: The Warriors' failure to consistently summon the effort required to reach their potential is a problem," Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes wrote. "Maybe it's not something that'll matter when the games start to count in April, but failures of focus have cost the Dubs their lead on Houston in the standings, and there's always the concern that bad habits won't disappear when the stakes elevate."

    A bottom-two turnover rate is forgivable. Risk-addled showboating is the Warriors' default setting. Unforced eras and continual chaos is an unavoidable symptom of playing fast and free.

    Other blips aren't so easy to overlook. They're 28th in opponent fast-break frequency after finishing third last season, per Cleaning The Glass. They lead the league in three-point accuracy, but six of their 10 most-used players are shooting under 30 percent from deep. And they don't begin games with the vaguest sense of urgency; their first-quarter net rating ranks a so-so 15th.

    Yet, in spite of all that, the Warriors are in firm contention for the NBA's top record and already own the best point differential per 100 possessions. They're better in cruise control than just about any other team on its best night.

    Read into their regular-season disinterest at your own peril.

       

    Unless otherwise cited, stats courtesy of NBA.comESPN or Basketball Reference and accurate leading into games on Feb. 22. 

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey.