Teams That Can Win The NBA 2023 Title

The NBA All-Star break is over and the second half begins — although calling a half is a misnomer. The teams have less than 25 games left on their 82-game schedule, so the race for the championship has officially begun.

For most of the year, after the All-Star break, a number of teams have separated themselves from the pack to look like strong contenders for the championship, but this season’s race is unusually expansive and if what do we learn from last season – when the Phoenix Suns ran away from the group in the regular season only to explode in the second round of the knockouts – being on top of the leaderboard in February doesn’t guarantee anything.

So, while the Boston Celtics go the long way with the best of the league (half a game ahead of the Milwaukee Bucks), there are at least 10 teams that can cultivate championship aspirations to some degree, with a Team numbers loomed at the edge of the race.

With that in mind, let’s break down the NBA’s contenders into tiers and see what makes each team a threat to the title.

The top shelf

Boston Celtics

Last NBA title: 2008
Last Finals appearance: 2022

By all major metrics, the Celtics have been the NBA’s best regular-season team for the past year. This season, they lead the league in net rankings as they combine the league’s third most effective attack with the fourth most effective defence.

The team has continued to thrive under first year coach Joe Mazzulla, but one thing to watch out for in season’s playoffs will be the club’s growing reliance on three-pointers and the difference in the performance that the habit brings. Last season, Boston ranked eighth for 3-pointers per 100 possessions, but under Mazzulla, the Celtics have risen to the top in that category. It’s fair to say this team lives and dies by 3. When Boston has taken 40% or more of their 3s this season, the Celtics are leading 23-0, but when Team C have shot 34% or worse, they’re just 9-12.

Boston’s trip to the Finals last season was no luck, but it was also aided by an untimely injury to Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who missed their entire second-round epic series. The road to the Finals this season could include consecutive series against Cleveland and Milwaukee. Those two are ranked first and second respectively in defensive ratings, and also rank in the top 10 for the fewest 3-pointers allowed.

Real Women Love Basketball Smart Women Love The Boston Celtics Shirt

See more: Love Boston Celtics Shirt

Boston Celtics Shirt

Milwaukee Bucks

Last NBA title: 2021
Last Finals appearance: 2021

Speaking of Milwaukee, the Bucks enter the second half of the season as the hottest team in the NBA. They have won 12 straight and have yet to lose in 2023 when Middleton, who is still battling a pain in his right knee, has been able to play. The Bucks’ title defense last season was derailed by Middleton’s injury, but the recent hot period is a compelling reminder that Giannis Antetokounmpo & Co. possibly the best team in the league overall.

However, despite the recent winning streak, the Bucks have a net rating this season of plus 3.2, which is roughly equal to the New York Knicks (plus 2.3) to the league-leading Celtics (plus 6.2).

Real Women Love Basketball Smart Women Love The Milwaukee Bucks

See More: Love Milwaukee Bucks Shirt

Denver Nuggets

Last NBA title: Never
Last Finals appearance: Never*

Nikola Jokic & Co. are racing against the Western Conference, after five games ahead of second-placed Memphis Grizzlies. However, the Nuggets don’t get the respect for a typical Western No. 1 seed because of how they’ve performed over the past three postseasons. Nuggets supporters can point to 2020, 2021 and 2022, when Denver was knocked out by the eventual Western Conference champions (two of which won the title), but the Nuggets had the total score 2-12 in those series.

Maybe this season will be different. The Nuggets have never had a problem scoring goals, and there are encouraging signs that their defence is performing well. In the past 15 games, Denver ranked 9th in the NBA for defensive effectiveness. That’s an important marker to watch – in each of the past three seasons, Denver has placed 12th or below in that category out of the league’s 16 playoff teams.

Phoenix Suns

Last NBA title: Never
Last Finals appearance: 2021

Kevin Durant’s arrival in Phoenix changed everything. Just a few weeks ago, the Suns in fifth place were struggling with a campaign of ups and downs. After rocking the world on trade deadlines, Phoenix now finds itself a betting lover from the West.

Although Durant has yet to make his Suns debut, it’s safe to say his arrival will improve the league’s 18th-ranked offense. At 34, Durant is still one of the best goalscorers in the world, and as he’s been healthy this season, he’s been particularly brilliant in midrange.

Devin Booker, who is averaging 26.6 points per game this season, is about to become the Suns’ second pick, which is scary considering how well Phoenix has performed with him running things. Overall, the Suns have only scored 113.5 points per 100 possessions, but that number has grown to 120.0 with Booker on the floor.

However, it won’t be easy. Even with the Sun getting well quickly, they only have 22 games to go to the knockouts before the post-season begins. The real concerns here are depth and health. The blockbuster trade eased Monty Williams’ spin, and Durant, Booker, and Chris Paul have all missed key times this season. If they’re healthy, they can win it all, but for these guys, it’s a big “if”.

The second tier

Philadelphia 76ers

Last NBA title: 1983
Last Finals appearance: 2001

Since Christmas Day, the 76ers have won 19 of their 26 games, same mark as Eastern Conference favorites Boston and Milwaukee. So why aren’t they in the top tier? Like Denver, Philadelphia’s post-season resume scares no one — well, except for 76ers fans. Philadelphia hasn’t even made it to the conference finals – much less the NBA Finals – since the team led by Allen Iverson in 2001, and the core team of Joel Embiid, James Harden and coach Doc Rivers did not do its job correctly in May.

It’s a factor, but there’s no doubt that Embiid is one of the most unstoppable players in the world right now, and Harden deserves credit for not only accepting a lesser role but thriving in it. Harden is one of the best shot makers in the game. He leads the association in “assist poinys created” and his coin is generating a whopping 28 points per game for Philadelphia. In a regular season, this kind of play would make the 76ers more of a threat, but both Boston and Milwaukee deserve more respect as they head towards post-season.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Last NBA title: 2016
Last Finals appearance: 2018

The Cavaliers are ascendant. Perhaps no team in the league has more young stars than Cleveland. They may be the favorites to win championship contenders in 2025 or 2027, but this is 2023 and teams like Boston and Milwaukee have proved they can win the East and win big time on on big time stage. Meanwhile, Cleveland hasn’t reached the post-season without LeBron James since 1998 and hasn’t won a series without him since 1993.

Donovan Mitchell has changed the game for this team, and has sped up its time, but there are too many unknowns to place the Cavaliers in the same category as the Celtics and Bucks, despite their high net ratings (plus 5.8, second in the NBA).

Still, the combination of an elite defense and amazingly young defenders is a sustainable recipe for post-season success, and that’s exactly what Cleveland is bringing to this season’s playoffs. The Cavaliers won’t make it easy, and they could shock the world this season.

Memphis Grizzlies

Last NBA title: Never
Last Finals appearance: Never

On January 19, the Grizzlies were cruising. They won 11 games in a row. They are 31-13. They have the best defense in the league and sixth-ranked offense.

That was over a month ago. Since then, Memphis has won 5-8 and is without Steven Adams (knee) in the past 11 games. The Grizzlies look more like a lottery team than a candidate. Can Adams really be that important? Yes!

Adams remains one of the best rebounders in the league and his 5.1 rebounds per game is a huge reason the Grizzlies are second in the league for second-chance points until he got injured. Since Adams’ departure, Memphis has dropped to 20th in that category. In the same time frame, the Grizzlies’ offense has ranked 26th on the chart.

The good news is that Adams will be back in the lineup soon – the team said he will be out for three to five weeks on January 24. If Memphis can get his form back when he returns to the starting XI, that’s good enough to compete for the championship this spring.

LA Clippers

Last NBA title: Never
Last Finals appearance: Never

We’ve been four years into the Kawhi Leonard/Paul George era, and the Clippers don’t have much to show. This season’s version of Steve Ballmer’s super team might be the best, even though LA entered the second half with just five games over .500. It’s a deceiving sign, because in the 706 minutes that Leonard and George played together, the Clippers had a terrible net score of plus 11.5.

If both stay healthy and continue to play well like this, the Clippers will be hard to beat in the seven-game series. When healthy, Leonard is good enough to lead his teams to the promised land – he did it twice. However, he has only had one healthy postseason with the Clippers, in 2020, when they took a 3-1 lead over the Nuggets in the bubble.

The deadline to acquire Eric Gordon, Mason Plumlee and Bones Hyland will give this team new vibes and more versatility for coach Tyronn Lue to test in the post-season, but the acquisition of Russell Westbrook will get more attention. That move could be genius or disaster for an organization desperate to win its first NBA title.

Dallas Mavericks

Last NBA title: 2011
Last Finals appearance: 2011

Somehow, the blockbuster deal that brought Kyrie Irving to Dallas wasn’t even the most impactful deadline deal in the Western Conference. However, the arrival of Irving reshaped the Mavs’ outlook, even though Dallas had only two games above .500 at the break.

The combination of Irving and Luka Doncic offers two of the most creative and unstoppable players in this game at the moment, but the real questions remain at the less intriguing end, where Dallas has not good enough for the whole season. Mavericks’ defense ranks 24th in the league. It’s the worst of all the teams here and the biggest reason why the other teams have a better chance of winning it all this season.

Golden State Warriors

Last NBA title: 2022
Last Finals appearance: 2022

In a vacuum, this season’s Warriors team is unlikely to be as high; However, we’re not in a vacuum, we’re playing professional basketball, and this team’s nearly decade-long resume demands respect. Not only did the Warriors win it all last season, but they’ve also been knocked out of the Western Conference in six of the past eight seasons.

While other Western teams – eight, in fact, based on the current standings – have performed better this season, none have as much playoff experience as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. It will be really interesting when a team like Memphis, Sacramento or even Denver draw the defending champion in the first round. The playoffs are the Warriors’ natural habitat, especially in the West, where they haven’t lost a series since 2014 — the season before Steve Kerr took over as coach.

The long shots

Sacramento Kings

Last NBA title: 1951
Last Finals appearance: 1951

Mike Brown and his first-year coaching staff have done the impossible – they brought one of the least successful professional sports organizations of the 21st century into the playoff picture.

Sacramento’s 16-season playoff drought is coming to an end thanks to an offensive awakening led by De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. The Kings have the NBA’s second-ranked offensive ability, which is impressive, but their third-seeded status in the West is slim. By ESPN Analytics’ calculations, they’re currently sitting atop a 10-team logjam, and they have the league’s third-toughest remaining fixture schedule. No matter how you look at it, this season in Sacramento has been a smash success, but the Kings are long shots come the playoffs time.

Miami Heat

Last NBA title: 2013
Last Finals appearance: 2020

The East clearly has four contenders: Milwaukee, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland. But if there’s one team that could throw a monkey wrench in the Eastern Conference, it’s Miami. The Heat always seem to be tdangerous loomers, and with Erik Spoelstra and Jimmy Butler leading the way, you can never take this team lightly. Just ask the Celtics, who reached the Eastern finals as big favorites last season, only to narrowly escape loss after a final Butler miss in a series of seven games back and forth.

Can Miami do it again? All regular-season stats suggest that’s unlikely – the Heat have a negative net rating across 59 games – but Spoelstra and Butler’s legacy won’t be based on weird regular-season stats . This team works best in the spring.

The longest shot

Los Angeles Lakers

Last NBA title: 2020
Last Finals appearance: 2020

If it takes a bit of faith to call Miami a contender, it takes even more to attribute that title to this 13th-placed Lakers team. However, the Lakers have LeBron James, who has reached the Finals nine times over the past 13 seasons. For that reason – plus the improvement they’ve gone through at the time of the transaction – they get referrals here.

The moves the Lakers made on the trade deadline to add D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley and Jarred Vanderbilt to the rotation would have made the game better, but their dreadful start – as mentioned, they stand at 13th place, after two games even making it to the play-in – has left them in a desperate situation. At All-Star Weekend in Utah, James called the remaining schedule the most important 23 regular season games of his career. There is no room for error or injury (which made the hand injury that kept James out of the second half of the All-Star Game a concern). The hole is deep, but if there’s one player who can defy the math and beat the ages, it’s the player who led the 3-1 comeback in the Finals against a 73-match behemoth won seven years ago.