With just over two weeks left in the regular season, we're starting to get an idea of what the NBA standings are going to look like come playoff time. In the Western Conference, the Phoenix Suns have clinched the number one seed with the best record in the NBA. Behind them are the Memphis Grizzlies who have overcome the Golden State Warriors for the second spot in the West. Over in the East, the Miami Heat hold the first seed while the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers aren't too far behind. Out of all six teams, here are my rankings for who has the best title chances.
1. Phoenix Suns
Since the beginning of the season, the Suns have been the best team in the league. They will be the only team to win 60 games, and will have home court advantage for the entire postseason. The first two players that come to mind, without question, are Chris Paul and Devin Booker. When both players are on the court, Phoenix is an amazing 44-8 record. However, they aren't the only ones carrying the team. Other young players such as Mikal Bridges, DeAndre Ayton, and Cam Johnson have continued to make significant contributions in their third seasons. Offensively, Phoenix stands in the top five for points, assists, and field goal percentage, while their defense has only allowed 106 points per game. On top of their success, they still have the bitter taste of last year's defeat to the Bucks so they will be poised to get another opportunity.
2. Philadelphia 76ers
Like the Suns' duo of Booker and Paul, Philadelphia also has their own scary duo of James Harden and Joel Embiid. After putting up an MVP caliber season last year, Embiid is making an even stronger case this year. His field goal percentage is slightly down from last year but he is averaging career highs in points and assists. He also hasn't had to deal with many double teams with the acquisition of former MVP James Harden. His perimeter game gives the 76ers more floor spacing than they ever had with Ben Simmons complementing Embiid. The two superstars form a deadly pick and roll duo as Harden loves to create off screens while Embiid can either roll to the basket or shoot from outside. How far Philadelphia goes in this year's postseason however, depends on whether their other scoring options in Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey show up.
3. Milwaukee Bucks
After being in the thick of the playoff picture, the Bucks are back where they belong at the top of the standings. Despite last night's loss, they still hold the number two seed in the East and are only 2.5 games out of the one seed. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middletoon, and Jrue Holiday have continued to play at a high level with all three leading the team in points. Despite Brook Lopez missing all but one game, they still lead the league in points with 114 per game. Their bench is constructed of players who aren't over the hill, but can still give around 20 minutes a game. Overall, this is a team that mostly resembles last year's championship roster. They already know what it takes to reach the promise land and it's not crazy to say that this team might even be better than last year's team. The only team that may give them a tough time is Philadelphia but they are the team to beat.
4. Miami Heat
Despite a disappointing 2020-21 season that saw the Heat get swept in the first round, the Heat reloaded their roster by singing Kyle Lowry to team up with Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. As of now, Miami is first in the East with 47 wins and history suggests that they are on pace toward getting back to the finals.
While their offense is okay, they really on the defensive end where they leave their mark. Bam Adebayo's insane athleticism gives Miami a guy who can protect the rim despite being his small size at center. Lowry is still one of the top defensive point guards even at 35, and Tucker has the ability to guard all five positions at 6'5. The reason why I rank them no. four is because their offense will have to step up come postseason time.
5. Memphis Grizzlies
After a slow start to the season, the Grizzlies responded by winning 11 of their next 12 games and have since been one of the NBA's top teams. Their franchise cornerstone Ja Morant has finally made the long anticipated leap into an All-NBA caliber player with averages of 27 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds. Their other draft picks such as Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson have all took noticeable steps in their young careers. They have made such a significant contributions that Memphis has been an amazing 16-2 without Morant. Their only flaw is three point shooting, particularly Morant who's subpar numbers behind the arc will have opponents preparing to exploit that weakness during the playoffs.
6. Golden State Warriors
After competing for first with Phoenix for the first two months of the season, Golden State has fallen to the third seed. Part of that has to do with injuries, most notably to Draymond Green and now Stephen Curry. Nonetheless it's still surprising to see how much Golden State has been slumping. Offensively, Stephen Curry was the only player who playing at high level since all star break. The defense has struggled mightily since Green's injury. Klay Thompson, despite some brilliant outings, is still trying to fully regain his form. Andrew Wiggins, arguably the team's X-factor going into this year's playoffs has been slumping since the all star break.