The Golden State Warriors remain the heavy favorites to win the NBA title in the upcoming 2017-2018 season. That being said, Stephen Curry and company will stiff competition next season with teams retooling to take down them down. Here are 5 teams that can potentially derail the defending NBA champions’ quest for a back-to-back title.

Houston Rockets: Can Chris Paul, James Harden, and Mike D’Antoni make it work?

Reigning Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni thought James Harden was a point guard in a shooting guard’s body.

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It turns out that the coach was right as Harden led the NBA in assists last season. Harden also finished second behind Russel Westbrook in the MVP voting, yet another testament that the Bearded One is ready to launch the Rockets back to the promised land.

Then, the Rockets acquired the All-Star Chris Paul, a traditional pass-first point guard in the mold of former D’Antoni protégé Steve Nash. Paul and Harden seemingly have a good relationship on-court and off-court.

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And from the looks of it, Paul and Harden can coexist together and share point-guard duties.

Disgruntled All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks has recently stated that he would waive his no-trade-clause only for the Houston Rockets. If the Rockets manage to acquire Anthony, a bonafide scorer, the combination of the three All-Stars Harden, Paul, and Melo would be enough to cause nightmares for opposing teams.

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With a supporting cast including Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Nene, Clint Capela, and Ryan Anderson (assuming that they are not going to be involved in any trade package for Carmelo Anthony), the Rockets will have enough star power to potentially outshine the Dubs, with or without Anthony.

However, it took the Warriors several years of rehearsals and a new coach before they got their hands on their first NBA title. There is no telling if the Rockets will be an instant hit, but there is no denying that they may have a chance to stop the Warriors.

San Antonio Spurs: Health of key-players remain an issue

The San Antonio Spurs were in the process of running out the Golden State Warriors at the latter’s home court when the unthinkable happened. Kwahi Leonard, the Spurs leading scorer and arguably their best defender, went down to a season ending injury. Without the man they call “The Klaw,” the Spurs were easily dismantled by the Dubs.

Truth be told, the 26-year-old Kawhi Leonard is already a superior player than he was when he took home the NBA Finals MVP trophy.

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However, since then, the Spurs saw one of their franchise cornerstones retire from the NBA. That is not to say that San Antonio has lost significant firepower to be a title contender with Tim Duncan gone.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol have proven that they can work well together. Of course, the old reliables Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are still in the lineup, albeit with Parker projected to be out for at least half the season and Ginobili losing a step or two.

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Danny Green and Patty Mills are still dangerous outside threats that could open up the lane for their big men. Gregg Popovic remains one of the best coaches in the NBA and barring injuries to key players like the one that ended Leonard’s season, San Antonio would still be one of the teams to beat in the NBA.

And there is also the chance that Kyrie Irving could play for the Spurs. Irving has reportedly shortlisted San Antonio as one of the teams he wants to be traded to.

The loss of Jonathan Simmons and Dewayne Dedmon to free-agency may have hurt the Spurs’ long-term plan, especially when most of their veterans are nearing the twilight of their careers. That being said, if the Spurs can manage to stay healthy throughout the playoffs, they can give the Dubs a run for their money, with or without Kyrie Irving.

Cleveland Cavaliers: LeBron James’ last hurrah in Cleveland? Kyrie staying or leaving?

It has been said that LeBron James can lead a college team to the NBA Finals. That statement is a testament of how massively talented LeBron is. Winning an NBA title is another matter, however, especially since basketball is a team game. And the Golden State Warriors has the better team last season.

LeBron James, fresh off from his 7th straight NBA Finals appearance (8th overall), has said on record that the Warriors are probably the best team he has ever faced in the Finals. But how good are the Dubs really? Consider this: the Cavs took just one game against the Warriors after breezing past the Eastern Conference like they were the aforementioned college teams.

That being said, trouble is brewing in Cleveland. Kyrie Irving reportedly wants to be traded. There is also the possibility that James himself will not be in a Cavs uniform after next season. However, if Kyrie Irving stays in Cleveland, LeBron, Kyrie, Kevin Love and company can exact their revenge on the Warriors next season.

James reasoned that the Dubs have more firepower than the Cavs last season. The Cavaliers responded by acquiring veterans Derrick Rose and Jose Calderon to complement the Cavs regular rotation players like Channing Frye, Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert, Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, and Kevin Love.

On paper, the Cavs team can probably beat any team in the NBA, including the Warriors. However, the Dubs are a different animal altogether and the Cavs would be hard-pressed to defeat the Warriors if they were to meet in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive time. One thing is for sure, the Cavs will have a tougher time in the Finals if Irving gets traded, regardless who they get in return for Kyrie.

Boston Celtics: Gordon Hayward reinforces the Celtics

Gordon Hayward had a breakout year last season and the Boston Celtics took notice of his impressive play. The Celtics had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season but fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Conference Finals.

The Celtics believe that they are better equipped to handle the Cleveland Cavaliers this year. The arrival of Hayward, the drafting of highly touted rookie Jayson Tatum, and the signing of Marcus Morris could provide the Celtics the much-needed firepower they seemed to be lacking when they squared off against the Cavs.

If they can get past the Cavs in the Eastern Conference, Boston could potentially upstage the Golden State Warriors if they were to meet in the NBA Finals.

The Celtics, under head coach Brad Stevens, play hard every game. While they are traditionally weak in the rebounding department, Boston has proven that they can play at both ends of the floor. And with Isaiah Thomas, who had an MVP-type year last season, and the veterans Al Horford, Marcus Smart, and Jae Crowder leading the way, the Celtics has a good chance to beat any team in the NBA, the Dubs included.

Golden State Warriors: Can they beat themselves?

The Golden State Warriors are primed for another championship run. They locked up 2-time MVP Stephen Curry to a long term deal but it was Kevin Durrant’s contract that allowed the Dubs to retain their core group.

The Warriors added Nick Young, Omri Caspi, and Jordan Bell to round up their crew. They have one of the best coaching staff in the league headed by Steve Kerr. And they seem to genuinely like each other. So how are they going to beat themselves?

Well, there is such a thing as overconfidence. There is such a thing as a habit, off-nights, Draymond Green drama, coaching change, and possible Shaqtin’ a Fool moments that could take away a player’s confidence. But if the Warriors stay disciplined enough, the Dubs has a good chance to win their third NBA title in the last 4 years.

However, injuries can also play a role to a team’s season. No matter how good the supporting cast is and no matter how well coached the team is, injuries to key players can derail championship run (see Kawhi Leonard above). But a team built like the Golden State Warriors can survive such misfortunes. They’ve already proven that last season after Kevin Durrant went down with an injury.

While Draymond Green can sometimes be a distraction to the team, his emotional outbursts have paid dividend in the past, especially whenever he feels that the team is slacking off. But he can only do so much. Barring key technical calls against Green at key points of the season, like the time they lost 1-3 lead and self-destructed against the Cavs, the Dubs will make it two-in-a-row next season.

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