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NBA Contenders and Pretenders - The Teams That Could Win the 2024 Title

Credit: Pavel Ibarra/AP


After wrapping up a less-than-mediocre All-Star weekend in Indiana, it’s time to reset and think about the NBA’s title race heading into the latter half of this season.


This NBA season has seen some of the tightest regular season play in recent history, in both the East and the West conferences. The Western Conference features numerous powerhouse teams, with ten teams posting a .500 and above winning percentage. The Eastern Conference is also proving to be solid, with eight teams posting a .500 and above winning percentage. 


The Minnesota Timberwolves and the Boston Celtics sit at the top of their respective conferences, posting solid records that set them apart from the rest of the pack. The Celtics have posted a 43-12 record at this point in the season, cementing their place as the best team in the league and the favourites to bring home the Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Timberwolves have posted a 39-16 record, setting a franchise record for most games won at this point in the season. With that, the two teams are likely favourites to meet in the NBA finals after becoming champions of their respective conferences, however, with the level of NBA competition this year, there’s a lot of reason to believe otherwise. 


Out West, the race for the top spot is much more competitive. Although the Minnesota Timberwolves look dangerous, especially with a one-and-a-half-game lead over the second-place Oklahoma City Thunder, the top four teams - including the defending NBA champions Denver Nuggets - are separated by just three games. Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers lurk in play-in range, after the Lakers tore through the play-in a year ago to reach the conference finals. 


Out East, The Celtics sit out in front after bolstering their already strong roster this past summer, which has proved valuable throughout the season so far. The Cleveland Cavaliers sit in second, with the 2021 NBA Champion Milwaukee Bucks a few games behind. The New York Knicks currently sit fourth in the East but look even stronger after making some big trade deadline moves in OG Anunoby, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks. The Miami Heat currently sit in seventh, but it’s hard to bet against playoff Jimmy Butler and what he will do to guarantee a playoff spot for his team.  


With that, let’s have a look at which teams are true playoff contenders, and which ones are just pretenders.


Nuggets Championship

Credit: Jesse D./Getty Images


The Boston Celtics are the clear favourite to win the title this year. This past off-season, they went out and grabbed two of the league’s best players in Kristaps Porzingus and Jrue Holiday, to fortify a roster that already holds two of the league’s best players in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Aside from those four players, the roster also holds a monumental amount of depth, with Derrick White and Payton Pritchard posting career-high numbers. They currently are on one of the best regular season runs of all time, beating opponents by ten points per game on average. The Celtics are absolutely contenders and we can likely be seeing a Celtics banner hung in TD Garden following June 23. 


Last year’s NBA champs, the Denver Nuggets, are arguably a clear second in terms of favourites to win the title and win back-to-back championships - which would make them the seventh team in NBA history to achieve such a feat. Led by two-time league MVP and finals MVP Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets currently post a 36-19 record, sitting at fourth in the Western Conference. Similar to the Celtics, the Nuggets have a ton of roster depth. Point guard Jamal Murray is Jokic’s right-hand man, averaging 21 points, 7 assists and 4 rebounds. The bench is filled with two-way stellar sixth men like Christian Braun, Aaron Gordon and Michael Porter Jr. The Nuggets are very much contenders this season, especially with deep playoff experience from last season.


Another contender this season is the veteran Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers have been shuffling their roster around a lot these past couple of years, but it seems they have finally found a system that works. Near the end of October of this current season, the Clippers sent a bunch of bench players over to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for veteran James Harden. With Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and Russell Westbrook already on the team, it was bound to make them one of the scariest teams in the league. 

They started slow, but once they got the chemistry right, they shot up to third in the Western Conference, with a record of 36 and 17. This could finally be the year that Paul George, James Harden and Russell Westbrook get the championship rings they so deserve. 


Now, with so many contenders this season, there has to be a few pretenders. The Minnesota Timberwolves, as well as the Oklahoma City Thunder - despite their fantastic records up to this point in the season - likely do not have what it takes, just yet, to become NBA champions. 


Playoff experience plays such a massive part in how far a team goes in the playoffs, which is something the Thunder lack completely. With a team full of young stars like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander - who is in contention for MVP - Jalen Williams and Chet Holmgren, a lack of playoff experience will play a massive part in their run. Of course, as they currently sit just one game behind first in the Western Conference, they will make the playoffs. But, with a combined zero playoff wins between all of their starters, they will likely struggle as they get deeper into the playoffs. 


It’s the same story with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even with Anthony Edwards, Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns all on the same squad, the lack of playoff experience will be a major issue. Anthony Edwards has only played 11 playoff games in his career and is yet to win a playoff series. Karl-Anthony Towns has played 16, but he too is yet to win a playoff series. Rudy Gobert has played 54 playoff games and has won two total series’, however, he lacks the necessary leadership qualities to be a leader for his team come playoff time. So, with two of their best players lacking playoff wins and the other lacking leadership qualities, it’s highly unlikely that they will be making a deep playoff run.


Nuggets Parade

Credit: Justin Edmonds/Getty Images


For NBA fans, this has been one of the most competitive and enjoyable seasons to watch in recent history. Especially with the decline in defence, the offensive explosion allows more players to shine and show off their offensive capabilities - which is not only entertaining for fans, but it strengthens rosters as more players get more opportunities to score. 


There are certainly clear favourites to win this year, such as the Boston Celtics. However, it’s the playoffs and anything can happen. The Celtics could lose in the first round, shaking up the entire playoff picture. The Thunder could run through teams with loads of playoff experience, silencing the doubters and proving experience doesn’t matter. The Golden State Warriors, who are currently in a play-in position, could clinch a playoff position and once against demonstrate why you can never doubt Steph Curry. Truly, anything can happen. 


As the season gets close to the end and teams start preparing for the playoffs, be on the lookout for unforeseen circumstances that could completely reshape the playoff picture. The beauty of the NBA lies in its unpredictability, and the playoffs are no exception to that.



Edited By: Josh Reidelbach



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