The NBA season began with little prospect for drama.
The Golden State Warriors still have their big four to rule the West, and the East belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers as long as they have LeBron James, right?
But the picture has changed quite a bit since November… or so it seems.
If you are a casual fan ready to dive into the postseason, are five things to know about the NBA playoffs, which begin this weekend:
1. The best (regular season) team in the Western Conference was not the Warriors.
Houston had the best record in the league, going 65-17 behind MVP candidate James Harden.
There’s still a lot of skepticism about them, though, because they haven’t shown their brand of basketball will hold up in the playoffs.
2. The best (regular season) team in the Eastern Conference was not the Cavs.
Toronto is the No. 1 seed in the East, going 59-23 as Cleveland and the Boston Celtics broke in new lineups and dealt with numerous injuries.
There’s still a lot of skepticism about the Raptors, too, because they haven’t shown they can beat LeBron in the playoffs.
3. The Warriors and Cavs are still the betting favorites in their respective conferences.
Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson all missed at least nine games this season. Curry only played 51 games and is out for the first round — it not longer — with a knee injury.
Apparently the oddsmakers at Bovada are confident Golden State can get past a wounded San Antonio Spurs team and Curry will return sooner or later, because the Warriors are still 7/5 favorites to win it all.
Cleveland blew up its roster at the trade deadline, but the Cavs are younger and more athletic than they were — and they still have LeBron. They are 5/4 to win the East with Toronto at 8/5.
4. The East is still a joke.
The Eastern Conference has been the little brother to the West for more than a decade, and a look at the standings shows that is still the case.
More surprising than the nondescript Raptors winning the No. 1 seed in the East was the injury-ravaged Celtics finishing second in the standings. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are both sidelined for Boston, meaning a first-round upset at the hands of Milwaukee is a definite possibility.
On the bright side, the third-seeded 76ers have been the talk of the league with Philadelphia’s impressive collection of young talent finally coming together after years of languishing at the bottom of the standings.
5. The West could get wild.
The Warriors-Spurs opening round series would be a lot more interesting if Kawhi Leonard surprisingly became available, but the Warriors struggled down the stretch and San Antonio coach Greg Popovich has a way of getting more out of less, so you never know.
Meanwhile, the Rockets face an uber-taletned Timberwolves team that is viewed as an underachiever in some circles despite ending a long playoff drought. What if the light comes on for Minnesota?
Then you’ve got the highly entertaining Blazers against Anthony Davis and the Pelicans in the 3-6 matchup with the star-studded Thunder taking on the new-look Jazz in the 4-5 series.
Upsets are more of a college basketball thing, but this is a year where more look likely than usual in the NBA.