The NBA Title Favorites Half Way Through The Season

Most NBA teams have now played about 40 games in the 2018-19 season, which means we’re basically half way through. Between the trade deadline, the All-Star Break, and the playoff push though, there’s a lot of excitement in the second half that seems to make it go faster every year. That means we’ll be into the postseason before we know it, and looking ahead to crowning a new NBA Champion.

Teams can always be organized into tiers when it comes to conversations like these, and there are probably about one to three teams most NBA fans feel could truly win the title. However, there are really eight that look like they could conceivably pull it off. Here’s where they stand half way in, based on a combination of odds, standings, and play to this point.

8. Milwaukee Bucks

The Milwaukee Bucks were the best team in the NBA for the first 10 games or so. It’s clear that the head coaching change to ex-Spurs head coach Mike Budenholzer has worked wonders for a roster that very much resembles the one from last season. Throw in the fact that Giannis Antetokounmpo is in the MVP discussion, and this team clearly has the stuff for a playoff run. However, as the season has moved along, it’s begun to look like the Bucks may still be a season or two and perhaps a player or two away from real contention. They could conceivably win a title, but it still feels like a long shot.


7. Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers really should have been on this list from the beginning, yet most people counted them out. It’s almost as if we forget that LeBron James has made the Finals automatically throughout his career, as well as that he stated his goal of a title this season, despite many assuming he’s taking a year to get acclimated to the tougher Western Conference, and to build up the team he ultimately wants to contend with. James has missed some time due to a rare injury, but before we went down L.A. was playing very good basketball, and looks capable of a legitimate postseason run.

6. Philadelphia 76ers

There’s absolutely no question Philadelphia has the talent to win the title. The trio of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, and the newly acquired Jimmy Butler is as skilled as any group in the NBA outside of Golden State, and JJ Redick is essentially a super role player, regularly among the team’s top two in scoring. Yet this team still feels a little bit young, inexperienced, and uncertain. They’re built to win titles, and could do so soon, but it feels like their window is still a year or two away, provided they continue to improve as a unit.


5. Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are the team that really seems to be flying under the radar so far. Most odds listings actually have them in a weaker position than this, though it’s a mystery as to why. They’re one of the best defensive teams in the league, and the switch from Russell Westbrook to Paul George as the primary offensive star has worked wonders. Role players like Jerami Grant and Dennis Schroder have been mostly spectacular, and Steven Adams continues to be one of the league’s most underrated players in the paint. The Thunder have all the pieces to make a run.


4. Houston Rockets

Houston has demonstrated for all of us how quickly a narrative can change in the NBA. Just a few weeks ago they looked like a long shot for a playoff berth. They were playing poorly, Chris Paul was hurt, and the West was passing them by. Then James Harden went on a tear, and all of a sudden they’re back in the West’s top tier and looking more like the team that nearly upended Golden State in the 2018 playoffs. They’ll need Paul to get back to full strength for the playoffs, but they look like a threat again.


3. Boston Celtics

The Celtics have almost had a Rockets-like journey, though they still haven’t worked out all the kinks. Boasting arguably the most talented roster in the league from top to bottom, outside of the Warriors, they simply couldn’t get things right for the first few months of the season. Gordon Hayward has been inconsistent in his return from injury, Terry Rozier has seemed frustrated with his bench role, Jaylen Brown has also had trouble adjusting, and Kyrie Irving started the season playing up-and-down. They’ve looked better of late, and Irving has had a nice stretch, but they still haven’t found their top form. The thing is, if they do, we almost can’t imagine how good it will look.

2. Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have been the best and most consistent team in the league this season. If we simply started the league in 2018-19, with no knowledge of the Warriors’ dynasty, Toronto would be the championship favorite. Pascal Siakam is one of the breakout players of the year, Serge Ibaka may well be the comeback player of the year, Kyle Lowry has been excellent, and Kawhi Leonard has gotten quite close to his Finals MVP-level form. And this is still a team a few months into having a new best player (Leonard) and a brand new head coach (Nick Nurse). There’s improvement to be made, and the Raptors suddenly look about as formidable as anyone.


1. Golden State Warriors

The Warriors have won three in four championships, and entered last year’s Finals with incredible -1075 odds before sweeping the Cavaliers 4-0. It’s for this reason that they’re the de facto favorite. While they’ve looked their typical dominant selves at times though, they’re quite clearly struggling more than usual. Draymond Green’s shooting has disappeared, Klay Thompson has struggled more than usual, and Golden State looks more like a two-star team (Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry) than the top-to-bottom juggernaut it’s been. Time will tell if all of this gets ironed out, but even so it’s too early to call anyone else the favorite. The gap just isn’t as big as usual.

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