There has been a rare period of parity in the NBA over the last four seasons.
For eight straight years from 2011 to 2018, a LeBron James-led team won the Eastern Conference. Five years in a row from 2015 to 2019, the Golden State Warriors represented the Western Conference in the big dance.
That included showdowns with the Cleveland Cavaliers in four consecutive years (2015 to 2018), with the Warriors winning three of the meetings. The Warriors faced the Toronto Raptors in the 2019 NBA Finals, with Kawhi Leonard and company bringing Canada its first NBA Championship.
The last three NBA Finals have featured six different teams: The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat in 2020, the Phoenix Suns and Milwaukee Bucks in 2021 and the Warriors and Boston Celtics in 2022.
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Many teams look capable of going on a deep post-season run, but which clubs stand out as the main championship contenders? Let’s take a look.
The main favourites
These teams are strictly in championship-or-bust mode. Anything less than a title celebration will be deemed a disappointment.
Led by the dynamic superstar duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics exceeded expectations a year ago to reach the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010. With those two prolific scorers and a world-class defender in Marcus Smart, the C’s have as good a chance as anybody else of winning it all in 2023.
Golden State Warriors
Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson are still in their primes. Jordan Poole and two-way stalwart Andrew Wiggins are capable of taking over a game at any point as well.
As currently constructed, the defending champions have a terrific opportunity to claim their fifth championship in eight years.
Who knows? If the Bucks had Khris Middleton for their second round series against the Celtics, maybe they would have reached the NBA Finals for the second year in a row.
But the defending champs were ousted by the Celtics in a tight seven-game series, putting the hopeful dynasty on hold. Giannis Antetokounmpo is still the best player in the conference, and when this team is at full strength, they’re more than capable of beating anybody.
The FanDuel sportsbook gives Milwaukee the best 2023 NBA title odds at +550.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers, Warriors and Celtics actually share the best odds (+600) of winning the NBA Championship at DraftKings. FanDuel gives LAC the third-best odds (+650) behind onl Milwaukee (+550) and Boston (+600).
Kawhi Leonard missed all of last season recovering from a partially torn ACL. With the two-time NBA Finals MVP and Paul George back on the court together, the Clippers have all the makings to bring the franchise its first championship.
Leonard can single-handedly take over postseason games, as we saw in his 2014 and 2019 NBA Championship runs with the San Antonio Spurs and Raptors, respectively.
The Next Tier
Phoenix blew a 2-0 series lead to Milwaukee in the 2021 NBA Finals and dropped four in a row.
Rather than learn from the heartbreak, the Suns wound up getting humiliated by the Dallas Mavericks in Game 7 (123-90) at home in second round play.
The Suns’ track record under Williams speaks for itself, but this group has to learn how to close out playoff games. The last two playoff meltdowns are the key reason why Phoenix is a tier below the main contenders.
The Heat were a Jimmy Butler three-pointer away from reaching their second NBA Finals in three years. But they fell just short against the C’s in a back-and-forth seven game series.
This team remains as dangerous as ever with Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Lowry and Tyler Herro leading the way. But do they have enough offensive firepower to keep up with the top Eastern Conference heavyweights come playoff time?
If Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and Ben Simmons all stay healthy and clear of drama, the Nets could very well piece together a deep postseason run.
But is this team really locked in together? Durant sought a trade in the offseason and wanted head coach Steve Nash gone. Neither request was granted. The talent is there, but we don’t know if the chemistry and determination is.
The Nuggets are led by back-to-back NBA MVP Nikola Jokić, who will always give them a chance.
The return of standout guard Jamal Murray (he missed all of 2021-22 recovering from a torn ACL) which will greatly boost Denver’s title chances. Murray and Jokić are one of the game’s most explosive scoring duos, and now they’re back together after 18 long months.
If Murray stays healthy, the Nuggets’ offense can carry them past anybody in the gauntlet that is the Western Conference.