The LA franchises look stronger than they have been in years, the Warriors are never far away and the Rockets have caught the eye in pairing Russell Westbrook with James Harden.
Is the NBA Championship winner likely to come from outside that quartet? A case can be made for the Bucks and the 76ers, but otherwise, it’s hard to see past the favorites with the sportsbooks. And yet the history books are littered with what we might call ‘surprise’ champions. Remember the Cavs in 2016, the Mavericks in 2011 and the Pistons downing the Lakers back in 2004?
Shock results do happen in the NBA, and if any of these franchises can build up a head of steam and pick up some early season wins, then you just don’t know where that journey will take them. So let’s take a look at some candidates who could enjoy an eyebrow-raising run to the playoffs and beyond.
The Denver Nuggets
The Nuggets started their Western Conference campaign with a 108-100 victory over the Trail Blazers, and they showed just about enough to suggest that they could be a factor in this season’s play-offs. Michael Malone’s men lost in the Conference semi-finals last season, but they will be hoping to kick on from that now that their roster is another year older and wiser.
Nikola Jokic could walk into most teams in the NBA, while the likes of Gary Harris, Will Barton and Jamal Murray are all solid, consistent performers. While a tip of the hat is given to Utah Jazz, most would expect the Nuggets to dominate the Northwest Division, and while they could face the Lakers or the Clippers in the Conference play-offs there’s no reason why this roster – which while lacking in stars is greater than the sum of its parts – could go on to cause a major upset.
The Indiana Pacers
If Giannis Antetokounmpo struggles with ‘second season syndrome’, which can sometimes afflict MVP award winners, then the door could become ajar for others in the Eastern Conference – not least in the Central Division. And while the Pacers did not get their season off to the most inauspicious of starts in defeat to the Pistons, as well as losses to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Detroit Pistons, there are still plenty of reasons for their supporters to be optimistic this term.
They’ve got Victor Oladipo for one thing. The two-time All-Star is an outstanding performer, and when Oladipo returns from injury in December as anticipated he will give the Pacers a welcome boost.
Can they survive without him until then? There’s certainly a chance given that they recruited well in the off-season. Malcolm Brogdon, Domantas Sabonis, T.J. Warren….these are classy operators who can elevate their franchise to the higher echelons of the Conference.
And if the Bucks fluff their lines, who knows how far the Pacers can go? If you have just learned about betting on the NBA Championship outright market, then Oladipo and co could be a shrewd investment at lofty sportsbook odds around the +5000 mark, but why are these keys numbers so critical?
The Brooklyn Nets
Ah, the Nets. Big things were expected from Sean Marks’ roster, but with Kevin Durant out for the season after tearing his Achilles it seems that expectations have been rather muted.
However, it would be foolhardy to write off any team featuring Kyrie Irving, who will surely revel in putting his stamp on a new franchise.
The suspension to Wilson Chandler is not ideal, but there is still plenty of quality and experience onboard in Taurean Prince and Garrett Temple et al. At center, the promising Jarrett Allen will flux in and out alongside DeAndre Jordan, a close friend of Irving’s who will surely help to get the best out of this mercurial talent.
Most pundits are predicting an LA whitewash of NBA 2019/20. That’s fine – but there is enough evidence to suggest that the Nuggets, Pacers, and Nets could make a good run at the play-offs and then….who knows?