Two teams have clearly separated themselves this NBA season, and it's not too early to start thinking of the Finals.
Their coaches - Steve Kerr for Golden State and Mike Budenholzer of the Hawks - are guiding the All-Star teams. Five members of the teams will be headed to Madison Square Garden in less than two weeks, and if Dwyane Wade's hamstring remains Pringles-brittle, there could be a sixth.
Golden State's Steph Curry is the favorite to win the MVP award. His teammate, Draymond Green, is likely to win NBA Defensive Player of the Year. One of the above-mentioned coaches will be the coach of the year, barring a miracle.
And what's not to love about these teams, and I'd like you to stress the word "team" when reading. Both the Warriors and Hawks are units.
Golden State has two former All-Stars still in their prime in Andre Iguodala and David Lee, who were benched for children in Green and Harrison Barnes. That takes a lot for two veterans, who also combine to make $27.3 million this season, to accept coming off the bench. However, Kerr works them into the rotation effectively and even at the ends of games.
Budenholzer's Hawks mirror the San Antonio Spurs. Bud studied at the altar of Gregg Popovich and Atlanta plays the same way. It's a system based on passing, movement and unselfishness.
Both teams are two-way threats. The Hawks rank third in opponents' scoring, while Golden State is 15th, but the Warriors are first in opponents' field- goal percentage (Atlanta is fifth.) Offense isn't a problem, either. The Warriors are the top-scoring squad in the NBA and the Hawks are sixth. Both are top 10 in forcing turnovers.
Depth is not an issue as evidenced by Iguodala and Lee for Golden State. Atlanta's starters are relied on more heavily, but six second-unit guys average over 4.5 points per game.
So why then is there such little faith in both, or either, making the NBA Finals?
Read people like me or other pundits. Listen to the experts and few believe this is the matchup we'll see in June.
The wise guys and gals still love the Cleveland Cavaliers. Most pick the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference. Charles Barkley likes the Washington Wizards and Memphis Grizzlies. How can we forget the defending champion San Antonio Spurs?
Heck, some people fancy the chances of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the West more than Golden State. Let's not dwell on the fact that OKC is three games behind the Phoenix Suns for the eighth seed and has to jump the New Orleans Pelicans for a postseason berth.
Why no love?
Most have not bought into the Warriors and Hawks completely for a few reasons, as best I can speculate.
(I'm sticking by my picks of Cleveland and the Los Angeles Clippers because I think it's still possible and no need to flip. But the analytical side of me would take Golden State and Atlanta right now for the worst-imaginable Finals for the NBA.)
First, the coaches are sensational, but untested. Kerr is in his first season, Budenholzer is in his second. His Hawks took the Indiana Pacers to seven games as the eighth seed last year.
However, neither has been close to the cauldron of a conference finals, or an NBA Finals. How will they react to the Xs and Os? How will they react to the increased scrutiny, the media commitments that come with that ascension?
The players are another story. Postseason experience is light on both rosters. Only Atlanta's Thabo Sefolosha has appeared in the Finals. His Hawks teammate Paul Millsap made a Western Conference Finals appearance with the Utah Jazz 10 years ago.
On the Warriors, Leonard Barbosa made it to a pair of conference finals with the Phoenix Suns.
The current incarnation of the Hawks has been together for a season-plus. Continuity is important, but even Al Horford and Jeff Teague, the longest- tenured Hawks, don't have deep playoff runs under their belts.
This Warriors group has made the playoffs the last two seasons, but advanced past the first round once. Last season, the lost in the opening round. That doesn't bathe oneself in confidence come playoff time.
Inexperience is one thing, but style comes into play. Both teams are primarily thought of as jump-shooting groups. Playoff basketball is a fistfight. Are these teams physically tough enough to endure?
The Warriors are the scrappiest litter in the zoo. They've started more fights than cheap beer. Andrew Bogut is a premiere defensive big man and a bad dude in the paint. Green is as well, although he's less a bulky force than a versatile agitator.
Would you want to start a scrap with Horford over a game of Scrabble? Of course not, but the Hawks are a little softish. They could use help on the interior and a rim protector.
There's nothing wrong with liking other teams more. My unconditional love in Memphis is unmatched, but the Grizzlies made one conference final. Everyone loves the Spurs and they may get it together by the summer, but this team hasn't played at the level they're capable.
The Thunder? I draw the line. The Warriors are 14 1/2 games ahead of OKC, so let's dismiss them.
In the East, there's a presupposition the Bulls or Cavaliers will get it together before the postseason. Fifty games is a pretty strong sample size, so why would one assume either was better positioned to make a deeper run than Atlanta?
Parity exists in the NBA and it's a good thing. This season, there are several legitimate teams that could make a run at a ring, so the relative lack of fanfare for the Warriors and Hawks is explainable.
It's also wrong. We aren't talking about the two teams who happen to be atop the standings at the moment. The Warriors and Hawks have run through the league. They score, they defend, they're deep, they're professional and committed.
I, for one, looked at this point in the season and believe that Golden State and Atlanta can sustain high levels. I believe this is a future Finals matchup. Get on board, world.