Where Do Jazz Rank Among NBA Contenders In Orlando?
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The Utah Jazz will get a chance to compete for an NBA championship this season. When the league returns to Orlando in July, the Jazz will be one of the 22 teams fighting for playoff positioning. While the Jazz have guaranteed themselves a spot in the postseason, how do they rank among opposing NBA contenders?
NBA Rank: Tier One
There is a clear line between the top three teams in the NBA, and everyone else. Those three teams are the Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers, and Los Angeles Clippers. Two of these teams, the Lakers and Clippers, have stars with recent championship success.
Regardless of any data we can examine, one truth remains steadfast throughout NBA history. If you want to know who is going to win the next championship, look at who won championships most recently. Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors won a ring last year. Now, paired with Paul George and one of the best complimentary lineups in the NBA, Leonard and the Clippers are serious contenders. Likewise, LeBron James last won a championship in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now, teamed with Anthony Davis and a talented supporting cast, the Lakers have a real shot at a championship.
Meanwhile, the Bucks have been far and away the best team in the NBA this season. Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most dominant player in the NBA today and is the favorite to win his second consecutive MVP award.
The only problem, the same could be said about the Bucks last season. Antetokounmpo and the Bucks were the only 60 win team last year and were eliminated by Leonard and the Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Luckily for Milwaukee, Leonard and James both reside in the West. That means the Bucks can avoid either superstar until the Finals, giving them the best pathway to a championship.
NBA Rank: Tier Two
While the Bucks, Lakers, and Clippers should be the favorites to win the championship, they won’t be the only contenders in Orlando. Both the Raptors and the Denver Nuggets will be tough outs in a seven-game playoff series. Unlike the teams in tier one, these two teams need luck avoiding the top teams in the NBA to claim a championship.
Led by Nikola Jokic, the Nuggets have the third-best record in the West, and are one of the deeper teams in the playoffs. However, they lack the championship experience to be considered serious contenders. Their 4-3 record against tier one teams is promising, but how far can they advance without the altitude advantage on their homecourt?
Meanwhile, the Raptors are the defending champs and have the third-best record in the NBA this season. While the loss of Leonard, last year’s Finals MVP is impossible to overlook, their continued success is impressive. Pascal Siakam is a star in his own right and the recent experience of winning multiple playoff series is important. Most concerning for the Raptors? They are just 1-4 against the tier one teams this season.
NBA Rank: Tier Three
Tier three is made up of talented but flawed rosters that would be a major surprise to win a championship. This tier consists of the Jazz, the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and the Philadelphia 76ers.
The Jazz were near the top of tier three before the injury to forward Bojan Bogdanovic. Without their second-leading scorer for the rest of the season, the Jazz will have to hope there’s a miracle contingency lineup that is unbeatable over the final stretch of the season. Unless the team can find that, they simply don’t have enough teeth on either side of the ball to be true contenders.
The Rockets may be the hardest team to place of anyone welcomed back to Orlando. Houston saw a dramatic jump in play after committing to one of the smallest rotations in league history. However, after a 13-4 stretch, the Rockets went just 1-4 entering the league’s hiatus. Houston’s hopes for winning a championship rely solely on Harden’s ability to take over a playoff series. But, considering the Rockets recent postseason shortcomings, a Finals run seems improbable.
The Celtics have the best record in tier three but continue to play inconsistent basketball including a 5-5 stretch over their last 10 games. Jayson Tatum is a burgeoning star, but likely doesn’t have the experience to carry a team to the Finals at this point in his career. Unless Kemba Walker can channel the championship form from his time at UConn, the Celtics won’t see the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Miami Heat rank among the most pleasant surprises in NBA this season. Led by Jimmy Butler and breakout big man Bam Adebayo, Miami has earned the fourth-best record in the East. Furthermore, the Heat are a perfect 2-0 against the Bucks this season. However, the Heat have been inconsistent this season and lack proven talent down their roster. For that reason, a deep playoff run is unlikely.
If Miami has been a pleasant surprise, the 76ers have been the league’s biggest disappointment. After nearly earning a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, the 76ers slipped to the sixth-best record in the East this year. Despite a slew of top talent, Philadelphia’s rotations rank among the least cohesive in the NBA. The 76ers will be a tough matchup for any team in the postseason but ultimately will fall short of the Finals.
And The Rest
It’s probably unfair to loop the remaining 12 teams into one tier. After all, there is nothing similar about the seasons the Indiana Pacers and the Phoenix Suns have had. The Pacers have a better record than several teams in the above tiers. However, they lack the talent to make a serious push in the Eastern Conference. Furthermore, three blowout losses at the hand of the Bucks hasn’t helped their cause.
Truthfully, the Suns shouldn’t be traveling to Orlando. Sitting six games back of the eighth-seeded Grizzlies, the Suns have almost no path to the playoffs over the final eight games of the regular season. Likely, Phoenix was only welcomed to Orlando because seven of their next eight scheduled games were against opponents headed to Disney World. Had the Suns not been invited, the league would have had to find makeup games for the remaining teams in Orlando. That might have been more difficult than hosting Phoenix for two weeks to close the year.
There are several unknowns about the close to the NBA season. How certain teams will benefit from the campus-style of play remains one of the biggest question marks. However, talent traditionally wins out in the NBA, and these tiers reflect the league’s current talent dynamic.
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