Warriors look tough to topple

Stephen Curry
Stephen Curry
After 1230 regular-season games, the NBA playoffs begin tomorrow morning. Jeff Cheshire looks at how they are shaping up.

Western Conference

Teams to watch

Golden State Warriors

The two-time defending champions are still the team to beat. At times they have been as sublime as ever, particularly once their injuries disappeared. They pose threats all over the floor and remain deadly from long range.

Denver Nuggets

A surprise package this year, the Nuggets finished second in the west after not making the playoffs since 2013. Tough to beat at home, they have the league's best big man in Nikola Jokic, impressive young Canadian point guard Jamal Murray and a host of good pieces around them.

Players to watch

Stephen Curry (Warriors)

The best shooter in history is having one of the best seasons in an illustrious career. He combines with the league's best scorer in Kevin Durant to form a deadly duo.

Nikola Jokic (Nuggets)

A skilful big man who can do it all. Tough to stop around the rim, but can also handle the ball and is an elite passer - averaging 7.7 assists per game.

James Harden (Rockets)

Went on a historic scoring run mid-season and remains one of the toughest players to stop. He knows how to get to the foul line, while his step-back three is one of the most unguardable shots in the league.

Eastern Conference

Teams to watch

Milwaukee Bucks

Another surprise package, the Bucks rode Giannis Antetokounmpo's brilliance to put together a league-best 60-22 record.

Toronto Raptors

A well-functioning team led by arguably the best two-way player in the world in Kawhi Leonard. Have proved very difficult to beat in Toronto in recent years.

Players to watch

Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

A 2.11m do-everything superstar who could make a claim to be the NBA's most valuable player this year. Has not quite added the long-range shot to his game yet, but has few other weaknesses and is the main reason the Bucks are relevant.

Joel Embiid (76ers)

A big man with exquisite footwork, capable of threatening both inside and from the perimeter.

Kawhi Leonard (Raptors)

An elite perimeter defender who has a remarkable record of more career steals than fouls. Offensively he is well-rounded, too, making the biggest impact of his career in his first year in the North.

Kiwi connections

Steven Adams wound up with 13.9 points and 9.5 rebounds per game averages for the season. An increasingly key part of the Oklahoma City Thunder, he faces Harden's Rockets in the first round. Sean Marks has worked wonders as general manager at the Brooklyn Nets, returning them to the playoffs after several lean years. They face Philadelphia in round one.

Prediction

The Warriors roll through the West, while Leonard and the Raptors upset the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals. They are no scratch on the Warriors though, Golden State's firepower will prove too much to bring a fourth ring to Oakland in five years.

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