The NBA’s regular season and play in round has ended and the playoffs will now officially start. For the first time in a long time, both conferences will have stiff competition. The usual suspects are lurking, but we have some new teams vying for the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Let’s take a look at all the teams: from those who should be there at the end to those that have a real long shot of getting there.
1. Phoenix Suns (64-18)
Spotlight: The Suns lead the league, shooting just over 48% from the field.
Devin Booker, DeAndre Ayton and Chris Paul look to lead the Suns back to the NBA finals. The Suns are highly efficient on offense and better on defense than most people think. The road to the finals will go through Phoenix.
2. Milwaukee Bucks (51-31)
Spotlight: Giannis Antetokounmpo averaged 29.9 points, 11.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists during the regular season.
The defending champs put up a ton of points (115.5 points per game), but have slacked a bit on defense this season. They should be considered the favorites to represent the Eastern Conference.
3. Golden State Warriors (53-29)
Spotlight: Jordan Poole averaged 18.5 points per game and shot over 36% from three.
Poole has been great all season, along with all-star Andrew Wiggins (17.2 points per game). The Warriors will ultimately go as far as Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green will take them. Can they stay healthy?
4. Brooklyn Nets (44-38)
Spotlight: Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant average a combined 57.3 points per game when playing with each other this season.
That lethal duo will be Brooklyn’s biggest advantage over any team they play. Will they have Ben Simmons to add to the mix and will he have anything to contribute? The additions of Seth Curry and Andre Drummond in that trade has paid off and should continue to do so going forward.
5. Boston Celtics (51-31)
Spotlight: The Celtics lead the league, allowing 104.5 points per game to opponents.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have provided a great offensive punch, combining to average 50.5 points per game. With the way the Celtics play defense, and those two guys playing great, it’s going to be hard to knock them off in the playoffs. If Robert Williams is unable to go, that could really hurt their chances at ultimate success.
6. Miami Heat (53-29)
Spotlight: Miami leads the league in bench scoring averaging 40.5 points per game.
That bench, in large part due to Tyler Herro (20.7 points per game), can really keep Miami in games and keep the starters fresh. The Heat play great on defense in every aspect except against the three point shooter. They’ve earned the top seed in the East, but for some reason they seem far from the best team.
7. Memphis Grizzlies (56-26)
Spotlight: Memphis has a record of 20-5 without Ja Morant on the court.
They give a great effort without their floor general thanks to the emergence of Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, Morant (27.4 points, 6.7 assists per game) will be available for the playoffs. They should be able to get past the inexperience and knock off a team or two.
8. Philadelphia 76ers (51-31)
Spotlight: Joel Embiid led the NBA in scoring, averaging 30.6 points points per game.
Embiid’s amazing season could net him the league’s MVP award, but anything less than a Finals appearance might be considered a failure. James Harden will have to ramp up his scoring in the playoffs: he’s averaging 21.0 per game since joining Philadelphia.
9. Utah Jazz (49-33)
Spotlight: The Jazz rank second in the NBA in three point field goals made and attempted.
Donovan Mitchell (25.9 points per game) and Rudy Gobert (14.7 rebounds per game) lead Utah on yet another playoff run, but how far will they get? The Jazz have not gotten past the conference semifinals since the 2006-2007 season.
10. Dallas Mavericks (52-30)
Spotlight: Luka Doncic is top five in both points (28.5) and assists (8.7) per game.
The Mavericks rank second in the league, allowing 104.7 points per game. They are also allowing the lowest amount of three pointers made per game (10.9). They have to hope Doncic can play through a calf injury and need a big performance from Spencer Dinwiddie.
11. Denver Nuggets (48-34)
Spotlight: Nikola Jokic finished the regular season averaging 27.1 points, 11.0 rebounds and 7.9 assists per game.
Jokic will probably not be enough to win the title by himself, but he will keep Denver in any series. The Nuggets will probably not get Michael Porter Jr. and Jamal Murray back for the playoffs. Nobody else on the roster has proven to be able to score consistently enough to make a difference.
12. Chicago Bulls (46-36)
Spotlight: DeMar DeRozan averaged 27.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game.
The resurgence of DeRozan, coupled with Zach Lavine, gives the Bulls a formidable one-two punch. Late seasons struggles (6-9 in the month of March) has dropped them to the sixth seed and having to win on the road in the playoffs is a tall task.
13. Minnesota Timberwolves (46-36)
Spotlight: Anthony Edwards averaged 26.0 points per game in Minnesota’s last six games of the regular season.
Edwards, Karl Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell might be the new young trio to be reckoned with. Towns has to play better than his play-in game performance.
14. Atlanta Hawks (43-39)
Spotlight: The Hawks are now 7-2 this month, including the wins during the play in-tournament.
The Hawks game plan is simple: give the ball to Trae Young (28.4 points, 9.7 assists per game) and get out of his way. They will need another player or two to step up offensively and take some of the pressure off of Young.
15. Toronto Raptors (48-34)
Spotlight: Rookie forward Scottie Barnes averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds per game.
Toronto will not blow the doors off you offensively, but Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet can get hot at any time. Those two have the championship experience, but it seems Toronto will have a tough time matching up against the rest of the East.
16. New Orleans Pelicans (36-46)
Spotlight: CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram average a combined 47.2 points per game in the 15 games they’ve played together in the regular season.
The Pelicans might find it hard to to bully their way through the playoffs like they did the play-in round. This will be (at the very least) a good learning experience for Willie Green’s Young squad.