Analyzing NBA Contenders

Who has the best shot at the NBA Finals?

With the NBA regular season preparing to wind to a close, the NBA title picture has started to clear up. New additions from the trade deadline are finally beginning to settle into their role with their new teams, and title contenders and pretenders have begun to make themselves known. You can see that the Warriors’ NBA Championship odds have been very consistent throughout the whole season while a few of the other teams have experienced fluctuation. In this article, I will be taking a closer look at the top teams from each conference and looking at where that team stands in the NBA title picture.

East

Milwaukee Bucks- The Bucks have been the most consistent team in the NBA to this point, boasting an NBA-best record of 52-18 on the season. Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued his meteoric rise and has established himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and Mike Budenholzer has his team as one of the favorites to come out of the East. However, all is not well with Milwaukee, with the devastating news that guard Malcolm Brogdon is expected to miss 6-8 weeks with a plantar fascia tear. Brogdon, who averages 15.6 points per game on the season, has been a steady presence for the Bucks all season long and his absence could prove problematic down the stretch.

Toronto Raptors- The Raptors have stayed steady in the two seed for most of the season, and their 4-4start to the month of March makes it unlikely that the Raptors will be able to catch Milwaukee for the top seed in the East. The Raptors have a history of struggling in the playoffs, however, Nick Nurse has done a great job with this team so far this season, and Kawhi Leonard is a top-5 player in the league when he’s healthy. The emergence of Pascal Siakam has been another big boon for Toronto, and the third-year man has upped his scoring average to 16.4 points per game on the season, along with being an elite defensive player on the other end. Toronto and Milwaukee seem to be the most likely match-up in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers- With Joel Embiid finally healthy, the 76ers have started to play much better basketball of late. The 76ers have won four consecutive games since his return, including a road win over the Bucks. The 76ers arguably have the most star power of any team in the East, with Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jimmy Butler, and Tobias Harris headlining the list of stars in Philly. Harris, in particular, has been very successful with the 76ers following his trade from the Clippers, averaging 19.3 points per game on the season on an efficient 50% shooting from the field. Depth and health are the top two concerns for this team, but on paper, they have the potential to spoil either the Raptors or the Bucks bid to come out of the East.

Boston Celtics- The Celtics have been a major story for much of the NBA season, though not necessarily for the right reasons. Boston has fallen well below expectations up to this point, but they seem to be figuring things out at just the right time. The Celtics have won four of their last six games, including a 33-point win over the title favorite Golden State Warriors. Boston certainly has more than enough talent to contend in the East, and if they’ve truly figured things out this could be a very dangerous team come playoff time.

Indiana Pacers- The Pacers were once looked at as a legitimate contender to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown but losing Victor Oladipo for the season has made that possibility seem unlikely at best. I still feel obligated to include the Pacers on this list, as the Pacers have managed to stay afloat even without Oladipo, boasting a 44-27 record, good enough for the fourth seed in the East and holding on to a one-game lead over Boston. However, the Pacers are in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season, with eight of their next nine games coming against teams currently in the playoff picture.

West

Golden State Warriors- The clear title favorites once again, the Warriors find themselves in a tie with the Denver Nuggets for the one seed in the West. Though the Warriors have struggled more this season than they have previously, this team simply has too much talent to not be considered the clear favorites. The Warriors boast five all-star caliber players in Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins in-particular has played some of his best basketball this season lately, averaging 16.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 4.2 assists in March including a 27-point performance ina victory over the Rockets in Houston. The Warriors NBA Championship odds have been very consistent.

Houston Rockets- The Rockets early season troubles seem to be firmly behind them, and their 9-1 record over their last ten games is only matched by the San Antonio Spurs. James Harden finds himself once again in the MVP conversation, and his 35.9 points per game are a career high. The Rockets proved last season that they could go toe to toe with Golden State, and this team is beginning to look like the biggest challenger standing in the Warriors way.

Denver Nuggets- The Nuggets have been one of the most impressive teams in the NBA this season, and their record of 47-22, good enough to tie with Golden State, speaks volumes of what this team has been able to accomplish so far. Nikola Jokic is arguably the best big man in the NBA, averaging nearly a triple-double with 20.3 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 7.5 assists per game on the season. One major area of concern for this team, however, is their struggles on the road. The Nuggets sit at just 17-16 on the road compared 30-6 at home. Grabbing the number one seed will be crucial for the Nuggets title hopes, as home court advantage has proven to be one of the Nuggets biggest strengths.

Oklahoma City Thunder- The Thunder have struggled of late, dropping three consecutive games and dropping to the sixth seed in the competitive Western Conference. However, despite their struggles, the Thunder still have a lot of talent on their team that can make them dangerous come playoff time. Paul George is having the best year of his career, averaging a career-high 28.3 points per game and inserting himself into the MVP conversation. The Thunder have stayed within the top four in the West for most of this season and their recent slide is cause for concern, especially if this team finds itself having to face Houston or Denver in the first round. It is crucial that the Thunder secure at least the five seed, most likely setting up a match-up with the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round, a team that as constructed has struggled to get out of the first round.

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