The 2022-23 Regular season of the NBA starts on 18th October with mouthwatering clashes. The Philadelphia 76ers and eastern conference champions, Boston Celtics and the reigning champions, Steph Curry’s Golden State Warriors, will take on Lebron James and the LA Lakers. Here’s a quick peep from the top contenders and pretenders to the dark horses:
Contenders: Milwaukee Bucks
The 2021 champions struggled during the defence of their title last year and still just narrowly missed out on the Eastern finals after a seven-game series with the Boston Celtics. After Khris Middleton’s injury last year, they struggled defensively. Still, with him on the recovery path, Jrue Holiday and Jevon Carter’s ability to play a top supporting role, and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s ability to take the team to new heights, they are the firm favourites in the east.
There is an argument to be made that the 76ers are the team with the highest ceiling in the league this year. Joel Embiid has come into his own, James Harden remains an elite scorer, and Tobias Harris has everything to be the most impactful forward in the NBA. If they can stay drama-free, a task for a roster full of personalities, and perform better on the road, they can be real wildcards and breakthroughs in the east.
Pretenders: Boston Celtics
Last year’s Eastern Conference champions are still a stellar team, and they still have the potential to go deep in the playoffs. Still, they do not have a lot of bench strength, and their regular season is likely to be hampered by injury – Robert Williams is already hurt before the season even starts.
The Celtics have also had significant turmoil behind the scenes, with Coach Ike Udoka being suspended for having a relationship with a female subordinate. The distractions and inability to live up to last year’s achievements may take their toll.
Dark Horses: Atlanta Hawks
The Hawks have the potential to be the No. 1 offensive team in the entire NBA after they added Dejonte Murray to their roster to team up at guard with the exciting Trae Young. There are doubts about how they can make it work defensively, but if the chemistry in the group is there, the Hawks can be a real problem for the rest of the East.
For yet another season, the Brooklyn Nets boast of one of the most talented rosters in the NBA, and it is impossible not to have them in the fray. They would have been more decisive favourites without all the pre-season drama. Still, with Kyrie Irving, Ben Simmons and Kevin Durant leading the offence, the Nets have plenty of potentials to cause upsets if they do not fail to live up to their potential again.
Contenders: Golden State Warriors
Last year’s NBA Champions. Winners of four rings in the last eight seasons. Western Conference champions six times during that time. And with a lot of that same core intact. It is hard not to pick the Warriors for another championship this year. The Draymond Green episode – a video of him punching teammate Jordan Poole during training was leaked earlier this month – derailed their pre-season. However, that duo, alongside injury-free Klay Thompson and all-time great Stephen Curry, still form one of the most formidable sides capable of sweeping the West.
A team built around Kawhi Leonard and Paul George is likely to be one of the top teams in the NBA, but last year proved that bench strength can be just as valuable as star power, as the team’s new additions took time to get fully fit and integrate into the team
The Clippers have now added the experienced guard John Wall, and the 2020 MVP Leonard is still one of the league’s premier forwards when it comes to conversion rate. A lot to be excited about for the Clippers, but only if, like their Los Angeles neighbours, they can avoid injuries.
Pretenders: LA Lakers
Lebron James may have signed a record-breaking contract extension, and Anthony Davis remains one of the league’s best. Still, the problems at the Lakers, which saw them fail to even make the play-in tournament for the playoffs last year, do not yet have a solution. Injuries are the primary concern, with their star duo struggling to stay fit last year. Russell Westbrook is still causing problems after the team failed to trade him in the summer, and new coach Darvin Ham may not have any plans for him despite him being one of the highest-paid players in the league. Their overreliance on an ageing James and injury-prone Davis will likely make for another disappointing season.
Dark Horses: Memphis Grizzlies
The Grizzlies have shown in the recent past just how big of an advantage it can be to be an incredible home team, and their deep bench strength is likely to pull them through to a great regular season. The problem for them will be their lack of playoff experience, but with the talents of Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Danny Green, they can test themselves against the best in the West.
Any team that boasts of a player going for a third consecutive league MVP title, the first since Larry Bird back in the 80s, is a team that has good playoff prospects. Nikola Jokic’s performances have been stellar last year. With Michael Porter Jr and Jamal Murray’s return taking the pressure off the Serbian, especially defensively, he will concentrate on his elite playmaking and inspire his team to be clutch in the postseason.