Earlier this month I gave you six teams that could win NBA championship in June. Now, here are four teams that could spoil one or two of those teams championship dreams.
Boston Celtics (14-12)
The Celtics are quite possibly the only Eastern Conference team that is capable of knocking out the Cavs, Raptors and/or Bulls in the playoffs.
The Celtics have a solid trio in Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford and Avery Bradley. The Celtics are one of the best passing teams, they don’t turn the ball over, and they defend the three-point line well. They also make 11.1 three-pointers a game, which ranks fourth in the league, and limit opponents to shooting 44.0 percent from the field. The C’s are just outside the top-10 in point differential and three-point shooting percentage.
Thomas has picked up where he left off last year as a first-time all-star selection. The five-foot-nine-pint size point guard has topped the 20-point mark in 22 of his first 23 games and is averaging a career-high 26.0 points a contest. He has struggled with his shot this season overall and from beyond the arc though he has made 2.2 triples a game.
Bradley has transformed into a real offensive threat and is now a burgeoning star as he always could defend. He is averaging 18.0 points along with 7.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists, which are all career highs. Bradley is also shooting the ball as well as he ever has, especially from long distance – making a personal-best 2.2 triples a game while shooting 42.6 percent from beyond the arc.
Horford has expanded his game this year, his first with the Celtics. He has become more efficient as a passer while also becoming a better three-point shooter. He also has become a better rim protector, blocking 2.4 shots a game and holding opponents to under 61 percent shooting within six feet of the basket.
Boston’s biggest issues have been consistency, health and rebounding. Bradley is the only player to start every game and only one of five players to have played in each of the team’s first 26 games. The Celtics are 1-3 without Thomas, 5-5 without Horford and 3-5 without Jae Crowder.
Houston Rockets (21-7)
Houston is among the biggest surprises in the NBA. The Rockets have won nine straight and have not lost consecutive games this year. They are equally good at home as they are on the road. In addition, the Rockets have the third best point differential in the Western Conference and fifth-best in the league overall.
The Rockets have shown they can beat good teams as well as win close games. Houston is one of the best offensive teams ranking second in scoring, second in assists, fourth in field goal percentage and fourth in three-point percentage.
James Harden is having an unbelievable season, leading the league in assists with 11.8 a game and is sixth in scoring at 27.7 points. Harden, who is averaging a career-high 7.8 rebounds a game, already has surpassed his career-high in triple doubles (six) and needs just three more double-doubles to tie his personal best (23) in that category.
Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza are a big reason why the Rockets are making 14.8 treys a game. Gordon has picked up his production recently, averaging 20.3 points and 3.3 assists a game while shooting 49.2 percent from the field and 53.6 percent from beyond the arc in 10 December games. Anderson is making 39.6 percent of his three-point shots while Ariza is depositing 38.3 percent of his shots from beyond the arc into the nets.
Additionally, 22-year-old Clint Capella has done an outstanding job replacing Dwight Howard in the middle. Capella is posting career-highs in every statistical category.
Defense and turnovers are the Rockets biggest issues. Houston ranks 20th in scoring per game and 18th in defensive rating. The Rockets are tied for 24th in turnovers with 15.4 a game.
Utah Jazz (17-10)
The Jazz may have been included among the teams that could win the NBA championship had the team been completely healthy at the start of the season. Nevertheless, Utah has been playing fantastic basketball of late – winning three in a row and eight of 10.
The Jazz have a nice mix of veterans and youngsters. They are very deep and talented. Utah has the top scoring defense in the league, permitting 95.4 points a game, and possess the league’s best defensive rating. The Jazz are also an excellent shooting team and a decent rebounding team.
Gordon Hayward has taken his game to a new level this season. Haywood is averaging career-highs with 22.5 points and 6.3 rebounds a game. He has scored 20 or more points in 10 of his last 12 games and 15 times overall. The Jazz are 3-4 without Haywood in the lineup.
George Hill has been plagued by injuries this year though he has put up unbelievable numbers when he has been available. The 30-year-old point guard has nearly doubled his career scoring average this year from 11.5 points a game to 20.0. He is also shooting an incredible 53.4 percent from the floor and 45.6 percent from beyond the arc. Hill has missed eight straight games with a toe injury and has only played in 11 of the team’s 27 contests.
Rudy Gobert and Rodney Hood have also taken steps in their development. Gobert has 17 double-doubles and his scoring efficiency is over two points per shot, which is due to his ability to finish through contact. Gobert is averaging 12.0 points along with 11.6 rebounds a game while shooting 67.7 percent from the field. In the meanwhile, Hood is averaging 1.5 points more than he did last year as he is draining 2.3 three-pointers a game from beyond the arc – shooting 38.2 percent from long-distance this season.
Health and scoring are the Jazz biggest issues. The Jazz are 24th in scoring with 100.9 points a game, but they have the fifth-highest offensive rating in the league. So, when everyone gets healthy the Jazz will likely be a very dangerous team.
Memphis Grizzlies (18-10)
The Grizzlies have been one of the most injury bitten teams the past two seasons. Starters Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Chandler Parsons, as well as reserves James Ennis, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter has missed at least seven games so far. The good news is that Conley returned to the court on Friday
Conley and Marc Gasol are stars. And when Chandler Parsons returns from a knee injury, which has limited to six games so far, the Griz should have a productive big three. Throw in the veteran leadership and quality production from Zach Randolph, Vince Carter and Tony Allen, the Griz could make things difficult in the playoffs for some teams.
Memphis is one of the best defensive teams and one of the worst offensive teams in the league. Health is also a concern for one of the oldest teams in the NBA.