While the all-star break is not the exact halfway point of the NBA season, it is the time for teams to exhale and monitor their place in the standings prior to the second half push. The Golden State Warriors have cemented their place atop the NBA in recent years, and while most came into the season thinking it was the Warriors and then everyone else, Golden State has dropped to the second seed in the Western Conference, making folks wonder if perhaps they are more vulnerable this year than years past. Betting on basketball is always difficult but this year some teams are especially clouding the waters of who truly reigns supreme. As all-star break weekend finishes let’s look at 2018 NBA contenders and pretenders.
Houston Rockets – Houston is the team that has surpassed Golden State as the top seed in the West, albeit by 0.5 game. The addition of Chris Paul has clearly taken Houston to the next level and he and James Harden have had no issue sharing the wealth in the backcourt. Skeptics won’t believe Houston can play the proper defense to win a championship, but they may possess the best offense in the NBA, even better than the Warriors.
Cleveland Cavaliers – Despite only being the third seed in the East, Cleveland’s revamped roster has put them right back into title contention. The Cavs have quickly righted the ship following a disastrous January and with LeBron James looking reenergized they are certainly contenders.
Toronto Raptors – While much of the talk in the East has surrounded Cleveland or Boston, Toronto quietly sits in first place. The Raptors depth is better than ever before and while they will certainly have to show they are capable of making a deep playoff run, these Raptors have a different feel than years past.
San Antonio Spurs – While it may seem crazy to ever bet against Greg Popovich and the Spurs, they just simply aren’t quite as good this year. The injury to Kawhi Leonard that won’t seem to heal also does them no favors. Expect teams like Minnesota and Oklahoma City to pass San Antonio if Leonard cannot get healthy.
Washington Wizards – The Wizards have surprised as of late with their strong play without point guard John Wall but don’t expect it to last. The Wizards have a talented backcourt duo of Wall and Beal but have failed to put the proper supporting cast around their all-star duo. They also seem to lack team chemistry and may have locker room issues similar to Cleveland earlier in the year.
Boston Celtics – This team is the toughest to label a pretender. The Celtics have most of the potential pieces of a championship team but simply lack the experience and bench depth to make a serious push this year. Boston will still be a tough out this year but look for them to form into a true contender in a year or two after gaining experience and getting forward Gordon Hayward healthy and acclimated.