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How many teams can be considered legitimate title contenders?

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The end of the Golden State Warriors’ dynasty opened up the NBA. One of the most eventful offseasons in league history changed the balance of power as front offices jostled for position. The NBA betting odds have reflected this throughout, with no team becoming a runaway favourite. Currently, 3 teams have almost the same odds from all of the bookmakers.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks have charged into the distance in the Western and Eastern Conferences respectively. With three MVP candidates between them and four All-Stars, the duo are considered by many as title favourites. The Los Angeles Clippers, with a very different approach to the regular season, are not far behind them.

That’s where we enter a grey area. The Philadelphia 76ers were meant to be the fourth of the title contending quartet, but Philadelphia face a battle to make it out of the first round as it stands. The Sixers are still loaded with talent – they are yet to show they can contend for an NBA championship.

The teams that have outperformed the Sixers in the East – Miami Heat, Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers, Toronto Raptors – all have question marks. To call any of them serious challengers is inaccurate.

Miami might be a player short and are reliant on a trio of rookies. Boston lack a big to go toe-to-toe with Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid or even Domantas Sabonis. Indiana’s fate depends on the level Victor Oladipo can reach this year after a tear in his quad. Toronto are deep, experienced and have a blossoming superstar in Pascal Siakam, but they’re a long way from being favoured in a series against Milwaukee.


The scenario is similar in the West. Outside of Los Angeles, teams are notably flawed.

Utah Jazz have played great basketball of late, but they won’t have the best player on the floor in a series against any of the top six in the Conference. They still lack a wing defender to throw at LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard or Paul George. Houston are going super-small, which is undeniably a risk. Dallas Mavericks have cooled off, their defence will be vulnerable against the best teams. It remains to be seen if the Denver Nuggets’ Jamal Murray can lead an offense in the postseason.

There is no locked-in favourite. No team has such a talent advantage that they will stroll to the NBA Finals and overwhelm any opponent. With likely the three best players in the league, though, the Lakers, Clippers and Bucks are a distance ahead of the rest.

Each team has their qualms; Lakers need a second ball-handler, Clips’ paint defence, Bucks’ offence if Antetokounmpo is stopped.

None are as debilitating as the concerns that linger for the chasing pack, though. They aren’t unbeatable, but they will be strong favourites in any playoff series against the grey area teams.


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