With just over six weeks remaining, most teams have some reason or another for optimism before we reach the end of the 2016-17 NBA regular season.
Yet every team has a worst nightmare or two in 2017. As we get ready for the playoff push and this year's draft lottery, here's the worst-case scenario for each NBA franchise the rest of this season (including the playoffs), starting with the best teams — because it's fun to imagine how a champion can crumble.
Golden State Warriors
Worst-case scenario: Remember that one time LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors?
Of course you do!
Now imagine those same Warriors went out and added Kevin Durant, stormed through the 2016-17 regular season, earned a Finals rematch against the Cavs, took a 3-0 lead ...
... and blew that.
We'd have to amend the Constitution to require every tweet from now until the heat death of the universe to include some sort of "3-0" lead joke, right?
Getty ImagesEzra Shaw
San Antonio Spurs
Worst-case scenario: Kawhi Leonard's outer synthetic flesh coating accidentally peels back in the middle of a game, revealing he is in fact a cyborg. NBA commissioner Adam Silver is forced to ban The Klaw from all further professional basketball activities.
Leonard sheds a single hydraulic tear as the thing he was programmed to do is taken away from him.
... sorry. It's hard to come up with realistic worst-case scenarios for the NBA's perfect franchise.
Worst-case scenario: Russell Westbrook beats out James Harden for MVP, but the Beard gets some semblance of revenge as the Rockets sweep their way through the first two rounds of the playoffs.
In the Western Conference finals against Golden State, however, the 3s stop falling and the Warriors sweep the Rockets instead. Uninformed critics of Mike D'Antoni's system peek out of their bunkers and scream, "I told you so!"
Worst-case scenario: Like the Warriors, the Cavs realistically aren't losing before the Finals. We won't even propose such silliness.
Instead, Cleveland's biggest nightmare is a rematch with Golden State that ends in a Warriors sweep and a championship celebration on LeBron's home court.
David Richard-USA TODAY SportsDavid Richard
Worst-case scenario: The Cavaliers' Kevin Love is unable to return for the postseason, J.R. Smith stays injured, and the Celtics push Cleveland to the brink in a hard-fought seven-game Eastern Conference finals.
After the Cavs eke out the elimination game victory, Danny Ainge slowly realizes he could have sent his team to the Finals had he managed a deadline deal for Paul George or Jimmy Butler. He then takes solace in the smug knowledge that even then, his team would have lost to the Warriors.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY SportsMark L. Baer
Worst-case scenario: All our bluster about how the Jazz can be the team to take down the Golden State Warriors in the near future amounts to nothing when the Dubs sweep Utah in the second round of the playoffs.
On the bright side, Rudy Gobert is under contract for the near future, which means he can't try to jump ship to the Warriors after the defeat.
Worst-case scenario: The Wizards have lost just three of their last 18 games and look poised to stake their claim as the second-best team in the Eastern Conference ...
... which means it'll be a real shame when Scott Brooks' lack of offensive creativity dooms Washington in the second round of the playoffs.
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Los Angeles Clippers
Worst-case scenario: The Clippers fall to the sixth seed while the Rockets maintain their position as the third-best team in the Western Conference, setting up a brutal first-round exit for Chris Paul's squad. That loss is the final straw for CP3, who takes his talents to the Big Apple this offseason, and Blake Griffin decides to follow suit by joining the Thunder.
Getty ImagesKevork Djansezian
Worst-case scenario: With P.J. Tucker and Serge Ibaka in the fold, the Raptors surge into the top 10 in both offense and defense over the final two months of the season.
And just as pundits start to crown them as a potential threat to the Cavaliers in the East, they fall flat in the second round against either the Wizards or Celtics.
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY SportTom Szczerbowski
Worst-case scenario: A team that destroyed opponents in the clutch over the first half of the season experiences massive regression over the remainder of the regular season, falling all the way out of the Western Conference playoff picture.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY SportsNelson Chenault
Oklahoma City Thunder
Worst-case scenario: Russell Westbrook sees his rebounding and assists dip below double-digits in March, and his subsequent mission to lock up the second season-long triple-double in NBA history causes the Thunder to tumble to the eighth seed.
I mean, a first-round matchup with the Warriors is the best-case scenario for us, but it probably wouldn't make Westbrook too happy.
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY SportsBill Streicher
Worst-case scenario: Just days after trading Tiago Splitter to the 76ers, Dwight Howard's back gives out for the final time, effectively ending his NBA career. Rather than retiring, however, the player formerly known as Superman keeps trying to play basketball — and keeps collecting the more than $47 million he's owed over the next two seasons.
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Worst-case scenario: Paul George continues to drop thinly veiled hints that he's not happy in Indiana before finally just showing up to practice one day in full Lakers regalia.
"What, this? It's just my new warm-up attire. Don't worry about it."
Worst-case scenario: Rajon Rondo plays outstanding basketball and convinces the Bulls front office that he deserves another shot as starting point guard next season.
Yeah. Good luck sleeping tonight after envisioning that horror show.
Worst-case scenario: Andre Drummond finally snaps on Stan Van Gundy, throwing a towel, the clipboard, and multiple chairs at his coach. And with the trade deadline in the rear-view mirror, the Pistons have no choice but to play out the rest of the regular season with an unhappy franchise player.
During the brouhaha, meanwhile, Markieff Morris flashes back to his time with the Phoenix Suns and joins in on sheer instinct, leading to "Malice at the Palace, Part II."
Worst-case scenario: Miami's red-hot streak during the middle of the season comes to a screeching halt in March as the Heat miss the playoffs — and because of their winning ways this winter, the Heat come away without a top lottery pick to show for their efforts.
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY SportsSteve Mitchell
Worst-case scenario: Defenses begin to adapt to the magical beast known as Nikola Jokic — and when his numbers regress a bit as a result, the NBA Twitter intelligentsia decides the incredibly skilled big man was overrated all along.
It's not the worst worst-case scenario, but the internet can be so mean sometimes.
In the postseason, the King would be out to teach a lesson once more.
David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty IDavid Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty I
Worst-case scenario: Buddy Hield really does look like the second coming of Stephen Curry for a couple of weeks, reinforcing Vivek Ranadive's belief in his own capabilities and guaranteeing he'll continue to meddle in the Kings' business for the next decade, at least.
Portland Trail Blazers
Worst-case scenario: The Blazers overachieved in the eyes of many last season by making the playoffs. In 2017, Portland's staring down the other side of the gun.
Failing to make the postseason when the West's eighth seed is current five games under .500 would be a titanic failure on the part of Damian Lillard's squad.
Worst-case scenario: The Hornets just keep sliding down the Eastern Conference standings, giving Kemba Walker pause about whether this is where he wants to be long-term.
As whispers about Walker wanting a trade start to leak despite the two years remaining on his contract, Charlotte fans turn against their superstar and drive him further out of town.
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportDerick E. Hingle
New Orleans Pelicans
Worst-case scenario: There are quite a few reports that Kings players weren't big fans of playing with DeMarcus Cousins. Although the Pelicans didn't pay much for Boogie, they'd have to be disappointed if he's unable to make it work with Anthony Davis in New Orleans.
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New York Knicks
Worst-case scenario: Kristaps Porzingis is sidelined for the rest of the season with a lingering foot issue, but he doesn't really miss much — because Carmelo Anthony grabs the ball and stares directly at Phil Jackson until the shot clock expires on every remaining Knicks possession in 2017.
Worst-case scenario: Tom Thibodeau grinds Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns into a fine dust in his futile quest to push the Wolves to the eighth seed in the Western Conference, leading to major injuries for Minnesota's two most important players.
Worst-case scenario: Let's not think about this one too long, but it's on the table.
Dirk Nowitzki breaks down over the remainder of 2017 and is unable to play through next season like he planned.
Ugh, that's the worst. The Big German deserves a proper farewell tour. If he were to be robbed of one more year by failing health, we might have to riot in the streets against the very concept of biology.
NBAE/Getty ImagesGlenn James
Worst-case scenario: Joel Embiid's nagging injuries keep him out for the rest of the season along with Ben Simmons, giving Bryan Colangelo the cover to fire Brett Brown (who's under contract through the 2018-19 season) and bring in his own coach.
The Process gets completely reset by the drastic change, and the Sixers remain awful for another half-decade.
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Worst-case scenario: Trading Serge Ibaka to the Raptors should open up minutes for Aaron Gordon at power forward, which seems like his natural position.
If Gordon continues to struggle at the four, however, the Magic are in deep trouble. He's essentially their last hope to develop a star out of all the draft picks they've used recently in this interminable rebuild.
Los Angeles Lakers
Worst-case scenario: The Lakers play their young guys and lose a ton of games in the process, falling all the way to the second-worst record in the NBA. (Sorry, no one's "beating" the Nets there.)
Just when L.A. fans start to hope they might keep their top-three protected pick this year, the basketball gods laugh in their faces by giving the Lakers the fourth pick in this year's draft.
It's either that or Magic Johnson hiring James Worthy as a consultant.
Worst-case scenario: Devin Booker has a late-season scoring binge with no real structure around him, which causes the young wing to think he should continue playing like mid-aughts Kobe Bryant.
Seriously, can the Suns start running actual plays that help their prospects develop at some point, or are we just going to keep letting them do whatever they want?
Worst-case scenario: Jeremy Lin serves as Brooklyn's representative at the 2017 NBA Draft Lottery — because he's injured once again and has nothing better to do.
He and the Nets then have to watch helplessly as their combination comes up for the No. 1 overall selection that Brooklyn owes to the Celtics in a pick swap.