At the All-Star break, the NBA season is roughly two-thirds over.
The recent trade deadline gave teams a chance to bolster their rosters and gear up for a playoff run, build for the future, or begin the rebuild.
While the buyout market will give teams some last-minute additions, the rosters are set for the rest of the season. With under 30 games remaining, here are the NBA’s title favorites, contenders and the rest of the league ranked.
1. Milwaukee Bucks (48-8)
2. Los Angeles Lakers (41-12)
3. Los Angeles Clippers (37-18)
The Bucks have been nearly unstoppable all year, and are on pace for 70 wins. Behind another MVP-caliber season by Giannis Antetokounmpo and a great supporting cast, Milwaukee is the easy favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference.
In the Finals, the Bucks’ league-best defense has a great chance of earning them an NBA title, especially if Antetokounmpo proves to be the best player on the court.
Out West, the two L.A. teams have proven to be the two top teams in the conference, with Denver and Utah close behind.
The Lakers, in particular, have been dominant, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis playing excellent basketball. The team is one of three (including Milwaukee and Boston) to have a top-five offense and defense.
The Clippers have also been great, despite dealing with injuries (most recently Paul George). The team’s depth has been one of the driving factors of their success, and if healthy, could out-score the Lakers’ second unit in a series.
One way or another, the inevitable Western Conference champion will have to beat one of the two L.A. teams in a series, something easier said than done.
4. Toronto Raptors (40-15)
5. Boston Celtics (38-16)
6. Denver Nuggets (38-17)
7. Utah Jazz (36-18)
8. Miami Heat (35-19)
9. Houston Rockets (34-20)
Behind Milwaukee, there are several teams jockeying for the second through sixth seeds in the East. Toronto and Boston are at the top of that list, both riding hot streaks into All-Star Weekend.
The Raptors’ success has been one of the biggest surprises this season. With the same team as last year minus Kawhi Leonard, Toronto has shocked many by remaining one of the East’s best teams and the league’s best defenses, with Pascal Siakam leading the way.
Boston’s wing depth makes them a team that will be dangerous come playoff time. Jason Tatum and Jaylen Brown have stepped up as excellent two-way players to complement Kemba Walker.
Their bench may be an issue against a deep team like Toronto or Milwaukee, but their five best players will be enough to give any team in the East problems in a seven-game series.
Finally, Miami is another contender in the East. The recent addition of Andre Iguodala gives them another solid piece to add to their depth. The Heat won’t be an easy out for anyone in the Playoffs.
In the West, Denver and Utah are near the top. Denver is having another strong year behind the Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray tandem and deep rotation. Despite no traditional superstar, the Nuggets will still be a tough out in the Playoffs.
Same goes for the Jazz, the team ranking eighth in both offensive and defensive rating. Rudy Gobert continues to be the team’s anchor on defense, while Donovan Mitchell and Bojan Bogdanovic are the offensive catalysts. The play of Mike Conley will be key to their postseason run, as he has missed time and underperformed this season.
Houston is another West team that has a shot at the title. While they have the second-best offense behind James Harden and Russell Westbrook, their 15th ranked defense could be an issue. The addition of Robert Covington should help this on the perimeter, but the small-ball lineup could be problematic against many teams in the Conference.
10. Philadelphia 76ers (34-21)
11. Oklahoma City Thunder (33-22)
12. Dallas Mavericks (33-22)
13. Indiana Pacers (32-23)
The Philadelphia 76ers, despite their dysfunction and inconsistency through much of the season, are still a lock to make the playoffs. A favorite to start the year, the Sixers’ offense has been better-than-average, and they rank fifth in defense. If coach Brett Brown can find the right frontcourt rotation, balancing Al Horford and Joel Embiid, Philly can still be a dangerous team in the playoffs.
Behind them in the East is Indiana. The Pacers rank in the middle of the pack in both offense and defense, but have still maintained a solid record behind the play All-Star Domantas Sabonis and others. With Victor Oladipo finally back from injury, Indiana can potentially climb the ladder in the standings during the playoff push.
Out West, the Thunder and Mavericks are neck-and-neck for the six and seven seeds. OKC has been another surprise this season, as Chris Paul, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and others have been unexpectedly good in the conference. The Thunder could be a spoiler team in the right first-round matchup.
Dallas has the same record as OKC, and sits seventh in the standings. MVP candidate Luka Doncic has fueled the Mavs’ offense to the best in the league by a wide margin. He’s been phenomenal, but Dallas is likely another piece away from contending for a title.
14. Brooklyn Nets (25-28)
15. Memphis Grizzlies (28-26)
16. Orlando Magic (24-31)
17. Portland Trail Blazers (25-31)
Despite Kyrie Irving missing much of the year due to injury, the Nets have still been able to maintain a playoff spot. Led by Spencer Dinwiddie’s scoring, Brooklyn has six players that average double-figures while their defense is ranked ninth.
Orlando is right behind Brooklyn in the standings at the eighth seed. So far, their season has been another average one that will likely result in a sweep at the hands of Milwaukee. While they’re good enough to sneak into the playoffs, it’s hard to see where the Magic stand going forward.
Rookie of the Year frontrunner Ja Morant as led Memphis to the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The core of he, Jarren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke make the Grizzlies one of the most promising young teams in the league. Some playoff experience this spring would be an incredible accomplishment for the franchise, as they began rebuilding only a year ago.
Portland is one of the teams that injuries have plagued the most. However, Damian Lillard’s recent offensive tear has the Blazers just outside the playoff picture. The slow start may have hurt them, but an injury or skid by a team close in the standings could pave the way for Portland to make the postseason.
Out of the picture
18. New Orleans Pelicans (23-32)
19. San Antonio Spurs (23-31)
20. Sacramento Kings (21-33)
21. Washington Wizards (20-33)
22. Phoenix Suns (22-33)
23. Chicago Bulls (19-36)
24. Minnesota Timberwolves (16-37)
25. Golden State Warriors (12-43)
Behind Memphis and Portland, there’s a tight race of teams trying to push into the playoffs. New Orleans, San Antonio, Sacramento, and Phoenix are all within a game of each other.
Of the teams, the Pelicans have the best shot of getting in. Zion Williamson recently made his return, and will only get better as he continues to fit with Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball and others. The Pelicans also have depth, which would make a big difference in the playoffs.
San Antonio is right behind New Orleans in the standings. While the DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge duo has been good for the Spurs yet again, they haven’t stood out among the best teams in the West. However, you can never count out a Gregg Popovich-coached team.
The Kings have been a disappointment this season. The team is loaded with offensive weapons like Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovich, yet haven’t been able to recreate their fast-paced style of play that worked so well for them last year.
Phoenix has also underachieved. The team started the year off hot, but have since fizzled out. The Suns still lack a third scoring option behind Devin Booker and Kelly Oubre. A high draft pick and another year of development for DeAndre Ayton will likely put them in a better spot next season.
In the East, the Wizards have an outside shot of making the postseason. Bradley Beal, the biggest All-Star snub, has led Washington to one of the better offenses in the NBA; but with the worst defense in the league, the team is on the outside looking in. Likely, the team will have to start planning for next year when John Wall returns.
Behind the Wizards are the Bulls, who could potentially make the postseason if they went on an unprecedented run to close out the year. While decent on defense, the team has been without many of their core players for portions of the season, causing their offense to struggle. Health has cost Chicago this season, and moves should be made this summer to better build around Zach LaVine.
Golden State and Minnesota are the two teams at the bottom of the Western Conference. The teams recently traded stars with D’Angelo Russell headed to the Timberwolves, with Andrew Wiggins and picks going to the Warriors.
The deal is win for both teams: Minnesota gets Karl-Anthony Towns his friend as a co-star, and Golden States gets draft assets and a solid scorer who could thrive in a new system with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson back next season.
26. Atlanta Hawks (15-41)
27. Cleveland Cavaliers (14-40)
28. Detroit Pistons (19-38)
29. Charlotte Hornets (18-36)
30. New York Knicks (17-38)
These teams will have the coming years to look forward to. Of them, Atlanta is in the best position going forward. All-Star Trae Young’s offensive ability is already among the best in the league at his position, while the fit of big men Clint Capela and John Collins will hopefully develop further.
Young’s progress as a defensive player will be key, as well as how quickly De’Andre Hunter can develop into a reliable scoring option.
Cleveland and Detroit struck a deal for Andre Drummond at the deadline, but both will remain at the bottom of the East for years to come. Cleveland’s young players aren’t developed yet, and Detroit has only a few solid prospects heading into their rebuild. Derrick Rose, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson will all be on the trading block this summer.
The Charlotte Hornets have some solid young players, but overall still have a lot of work to do. Devonte Graham is a strong candidate for Most Improved Player this year, averaging 18 points per game, and PJ Washington has been one of the better rookies this season. However, Charlotte is still a few years away with the young core they have.
The team in the worst situation is the New York Knicks. They acquired a first-round pick from the Clippers in the Marcus Morris trade, but overall did not do enough at the trade deadline to better set themselves up down the road.
This offseason, the Knicks need to look at dealing the likes of Julius Randle, Bobby Portis, and Taj Gibson for any future picks and young players they can get to surround RJ Barrett. Otherwise, the cycle of disappointment for Knicks fans will continue.
Featured image credited to AP.
Stats credited to basketball-reference.com.