The NBA Playoffs are on the horizon, with the play-in tournament beginning on April 12th. From that point, first round matchups will start on April 16th. Here, we go over which teams have the best odds of securing an NBA Championship:
20. San Antonio Spurs
Isaiah Hansen: The San Antonio Spurs really have no business being anywhere near the playoffs if we’re being honest. Thanks to the absolute disappointment that is the Los Angeles Lakers, the Spurs found their way into the play-in tournament. That being said, the Spurs have a young core and are building a foundation for a brighter future. Dejounte Murray and Keldon Johnson are both efficient players who are bound to get better over time. If this is indeed Head Coach Gregg Popovich’s last season, it’s nice to know that he is at least going out with his head held high with one more playoff appearance.
19. New Orleans Pelicans
Gary Sonneberger: With an unlikely underdog story, the New Orleans Pelicans and Brandon Ingram caught fire at the right time. This, along with the collapse of the Los Angeles Lakers, gave the Pelicans and opportunity to sneak into the play-in tournament. CJ McCollum has reinvigorated the half court offense, but the Pelicans are far from talented enough to make noise. A play-in win is possible, but I wouldn’t count them getting into the actual playoffs. Zion Williamson looks over this team, who could use his help drastically.
18. Charlotte Hornets
Devon Withers: For the second consecutive season, the Charlotte Hornets find themselves in the play-in tournament. The team has been led by the efforts of Miles Bridges and LaMelo Ball; both of whom finished the regular season averaging more than 20 points per game. The Hornets face an early challenge when the time comes to play against the Atlanta Hawks, who reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season. Charlotte is a young team, but they are a few years removed from being contenders in the East.
17. Cleveland Cavaliers
Isaiah Hansen: Talk about overachieving? Even when the Cleveland Cavaliers had a healthy Collin Sexton, very few saw the Cavaliers as a playoff factor for 2022. After losing Sexton, Darius Garland stepped up in the biggest way possible. There is a new “lob-city” in the NBA, led by Garland to go with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. This young core has allowed Kevin Love to essentially kick his feet up on the perimeter in becoming a factor in the league again. They shouldn’t be a championship factor, but the Cavaliers have exceeded all expectations thus far.
16. Los Angeles Clippers
Gary Sonneberger: With low expectations, the Los Angeles Clippers have found a way to sneak their way into the play-in tournament. Head Coach Ty Lue has done a masterful job this year, especially considering the absence of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. George, who was on a tear at the start of the year, hopes to continue his dominance with the newly-acquired Norman Powell. Like the Denver Nuggets, the Clippers are more prepared to make a deep run next season when a healthy roster is present. While they could shake things up for a team in the first round, the Clippers lack the firepower to contend with the other teams in the West.
15. Atlanta Hawks
Devon Withers: This is an odd situation, considering the Atlanta Hawks reached the Eastern Conference Finals last season. That being said, Trae Young is averaging 28.4 points per game while shooting at a career-high 46% from the field. There isn’t nearly enough support for Young, but there is a realistic chance for Atlanta to make its way through the play-in tournament and make some noise in the first round of the playoffs.
14. Minnesota Timberwolves
Isaiah Hansen: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been one of the biggest teases in the NBA. Any team that has a young core entailing Karl-Anthony Towns, Anthony Edwards and D’Angelo Russell should be the among the contenders. They are likely one significant piece away from being a favorite in the West, but it’s hard to favor them as currently constructed against a stacked conference.
13. Chicago Bulls
Gary Sonneberger: After an impressive first half from DeMar DeRozan, the Chicago Bulls have generally cooled off in the back half of the season. The once-first-seeded Bulls have fallen far down to the sixth spot, with injuries derailing most of their year. Lonzo Ball, who was playing at an All-Star level at times, has been out for an extended period. Alex Caruso faced a terrible wrist injury, sidelining him for an extended portion as well. With an 8-15 record since the All-Star break, the Bulls are a likely first round exit.
12. Utah Jazz
Devon Withers: Once deemed as title contenders by the ‘Deep From Three’ team, the Utah Jazz face an uphill battle against the fourth-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the NBA Playoffs. The narrative surrounding the Jazz involves the future of Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert. With an early playoff exit, Utah may be forced to re-evaluate the future of their franchise’s biggest stars.
11. Toronto Raptors
Isaiah Hansen: Putting the 2020-21 NBA season aside, the Toronto Raptors always find a way to compete it seems. They have overperformed and seem to be a potential super team in the making. If Scottie Barnes can continue developing alongside Pascal Siakam with Fred VanVleet leading the way, the Raptors may truly flirt with a deep playoff run, if not a championship. One would figure it’s too early, but they have the potential to shock everyone this year.
10. Denver Nuggets
Gary Sonneberger: Enough has been said about the outstanding play of MVP favorite Nikola Jokic. His ability to make his teammates better and carry this injury-riddled Denver Nuggets team to a decent seed is impressive, but not enough to make a ton of noise in the West. Jokic might win an entire playoff series by himself, but I wouldn’t put money on it myself. His teammates can only do so much, and without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, the Nuggets aren’t as high up on the power rankings as they could be. Next year? Different story.
9. Dallas Mavericks
Devon Withers: Once the Dallas Mavericks departed from Kristaps Porzingis at the NBA Trade Deadline, many assumed the front office was preparing to build for the future. That didn’t become the case, as the Mavericks finished as the fourth seed in the Western Conference. Luka Doncic continues to play at a high level, but one wonders whether the Mavericks can become legitimate contenders this season.
8. Philadelphia 76ers
Isaiah Hansen: The Philadelphia 76ers are an interesting factor in the playoffs. Joel Embiid and James Harden should be enough to compete with any team in the East. They may be the least feared great duo in the NBA, simply because of Harden’s inability to shine when called on. It’s a lot to ask of the two to find a championship-winning formula in just two months of playing with each other. They have a chance against anyone, but they aren’t the championship threat they should be.
7. Memphis Grizzlies
Gary Sonneberger: While winning games is obviously the most important part of the season, the Memphis Grizzlies managed to combine that with some of the most entertaining basketball in recent years. Ja Morant has vaulted himself into superstardom, Jaren Jackson Jr. has claimed a big case for Defensive Player of the Year, and the return of Dillion Brooks as of late has made this Grizzlies team all the more terrifying to play. If the cards fall right, this team could make a deep run. Experience, however, is not on their side. A second round exit is possible, not due to lack of talent, but lack of insight.
6. Boston Celtics
Devon Withers: The Boston Celtics have seen their fair share of up’s and down’s this season, with the low point being the future of Jaylen Brown with the team brought into question. Instead of becoming sellers at the NBA Trade Deadline, the Celtics didn’t budge and became the second seed in the Eastern Conference because of it. Their current position, however, is the worst case scenario. Based off projections, a seven-game series against Kevin Durant and the Brooklyn Nets is on the horizon.
5. Brooklyn Nets
Isaiah Hansen: What was supposed to be the most prolific scoring trio in NBA history simply wasn’t meant to be. The Brooklyn Nets moved on from James Harden and have brought in Ben Simmons, who has yet to play a game this season. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are talented enough to win an NBA Finals, but they shouldn’t be ranked at the #5 spot. The constant questions around this team has led them to be quite underwhelming so far. Simmons is rumored to potentially be available for the first round of the playoffs should they get there, but is there enough time to make it work? Probably not.
4. Miami Heat
Gary Sonneberger: After a scary four-game slump, the Miami Heat have ended the season with a bang. The top-seeded team in the East that was deemed “dangerously looming” has finished with a top 10 offense and a top five defense, cementing their place as a contender. Tyler Herro looks to continue his Sixth Man of the Year campaign into the playoffs, with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler as a fearsome duo for teams to deal with defensively. With Victor Oladipo’s final game being a 40-point outing on April 10th, the gates are open for a deep playoff run.
3. Golden State Warriors
Devon Withers: The Golden State Warriors are truly back, with the trio of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green back in the mix of the Western Conference Playoffs. In a three-point shooting league, the Warriors have made the third-most shots from beyond the arc. Klay Thompson has averaged 20.4 points per game since returning to the starting lineup, but his health will be vital in Golden State’s chances at a title this year.
2. Milwaukee Bucks
Isaiah Hansen: Championship hangover? More like championships aren’t over. Just ask Giannis Antetokoumpo, who is putting on a show this season. He is averaging 30 points and 12 rebounds per game and still has the core that helped him win a Championship last season. The Bucks are in play and until further notice, they should be the favorites to repeat.
1. Phoenix Suns
Gary Sonneberger: After setting a franchise record 64 wins, the Phoenix Suns are the obvious favorites for the title this year. Holding the highest betting odds, and sporting a top five offense and defense, the Suns look to make a run back to the NBA Finals. If Chris Paul and Devin Booker can stay healthy, this team is a scary opponent to face at any stage in the playoffs.
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