Updated Championship Odds for Every NBA Team

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistMarch 10, 2021

Updated Championship Odds for Every NBA Team

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Meaningful separation tends to permeate the NBA's championship odds around the midseason mark. This year is different.

    Title chances are always a little more up in the air before the trade deadline, but the Association's pecking order is more jumbled than usual even by that timeline. It has a clear plane of favorites and fringe favorites, like usual. After that, though, the middle of the pack is a logjam of could-bes and might-bes.

    As always, the Eastern Conference is the primary culprit. Fourteen teams are within 3.5 games of a play-in spot or better. Cake in the inherent uncertainty of holding a season amid a global pandemic, and reconciling the championship-odds landscape is an exercise that exists within a thick, smoggy gray area beyond the smack-you-in-the-face favorites.

    Let's assess the carnage of chance, shall we?

    Championship odds come from FanDuel, so please don't blame us for teams that are being undervalued (your favorite team) or overvalued (not your favorite team). Our job is instead to evaluate the provided hierarchy and see what does or doesn't pass the sniff test.

Chicago Bulls: +25000

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    Carmen Mandato/Associated Press

    One-third of the league is essentially working with rock-bottom championship odds. But even by that standard of commonality, this feels a tick too low for the Chicago Bulls.

    Yes, they are aggressively mediocre. And their most-used lineups are demonstratively in the red. But this team is deep with NBA-level talent, and Zach LaVine's All-Star ascension positions them to stick inside the Eastern Conference's play-in picture without too much hassle.

    That is not the same as flirting with contention. The Bulls are not winning a title this year. They're also unlikely to descend to the depths of the doldrums without a fire sale at the trade deadline.

    Such a midseason teardown seems unlikely. LaVine's name hasn't cropped up in the rumor mill with any real force, and league sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that Thaddeus Young isn't up for grabs, either. Lauri Markkanen is a name to watch by virtue of his upcoming restricted free agency, but seismic changes don't seem afoot.

    The flip side to that: Chicago is more likely to hold an auction than go a buying spree if it does anything. Executive vice president of basketball operations Arturas Karnisovas is still in his first full season on the job, and the Bulls' proximity to a lower-seeded playoff berth doesn't warrant short-circuiting what remains a rebuilding situation.

Cleveland Cavaliers: +25000

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Sharing the expansive worst-title-odds ground comes as little surprise for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They remain within striking distance of the East's postseason bubble, but that's akin to merely saying they play in the Eastern Conference.

    Spending the first part of the year toiling around .500 accelerated expectations a smidgen too much. Cleveland is still very much in the process of finding itself. After getting off to a 9-9 start this season, the Cavs rank 26th in offensive efficiency and 28th in defensive efficiency.

    That regression isn't necessarily by design, but it's eminently explainable.

    Larry Nance Jr. hasn't played since Feb. 6 while recovering from a fractured finger on his left hand. Kevin Love has appeared in only two games all year. Andre Drummond is out of the rotation ahead of the March 25 trade deadline. The Cavs have steered harder into the bigger picture by leaning on rookie Isaac Okoro and Dean Wade, and by playing Darius Garland and Collin Sexton more than anyone.

    Whether Cleveland makes any major changes at the trade deadline is almost irrelevant. (Teams are calling in droves about Nance, who remains unlikely to be moved, per Cleveland.com's Chris Fedor). The same holds true if the Cavaliers do catch up to the play-in festivities. They've made it clear, in numerous forms, that this season is not their top priority.

Detroit Pistons: +25000

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    Writing any team out of the Eastern Conference play-in race feels counterintuitive. The middle of the pack is nothing if not virtually universal.

    It's probably time to nudge the Detroit Pistons out of consideration anyway.

    The Pistons will return from the All-Star break seven losses behind the No. 10 spot and are as banged up as anyone. For some perspective: Dennis Smith Jr. has started at point guard over their last seven games while they wait out recoveries from Killian Hayes (right hip) and Delon Wright (right adductor).

    The Pistons might even have room to drop further down the leaguewide standings over the second half. They already traded Derrick Rose and parted ways with Blake Griffin (who wasn't playing), and they'll undoubtedly have suitors for Wayne Ellington and Mason Plumlee at the deadline.

    Jerami Grant's availability remains a factor as well. He missed some time with a left quad issue leading into the All-Star break, and the Pistons have zero incentive to rush him back. His rise into Most Improved Player territory is legitimate, and it's worth tuning in just to see how differently he's used on offense. But he's cooled off since a scintillating start, and his job won't get any easier so long as Detroit's rotation continues to want for consistent floor-general play.

Houston Rockets: +25000

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    Bob Levey/Associated Press

    If you believe the Houston Rockets will keep Victor Oladipo and that he'll recapture his All-Star form, and that P.J. Tucker will remain in town and play better at both ends, and that Christian Wood will return soon and without issue from his right ankle injury, they will have half of a puncher's chance at working themselves into the Western Conference play-in field.

    So, yeah, let's go ahead and count out the Rockets.

    Props to anyone refusing to deliver this verdict just yet. Your optimism is admirable. But even if Houston gets perfect health from here on out and everyone plays up to snuff, there's no escaping the winds of more change.

    "Houston's gonna burn the house down," an assistant general manager told B/R's Jake Fischer.

    Oladipo has already rejected a two-year extension, according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, and he hasn't shot the ball well since arriving from Indiana. He's good as gone this summer in free agency, so Houston would be wise to capitalize on his inevitable departure by acquiring whatever and whoever they can for him.

    Ditto for P.J. Tucker. He's turning 36 in May and is also headed for free agency.

    Wood's return should stem the tide a little bit, but it won't fix everything. The Rockets haven't won a game in over a month (the last time Wood played). They don't need to actively try keeping their top-four-protected pick away from Oklahoma City. It might happen organically, without making any changes at all.

Minnesota Timberwolves: +25000

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    Stacy Bengs/Associated Press

    It isn't hard to envision the Minnesota Timberwolves improving upon their first-half performance—mostly because it was that discouraging.

    Availability hasn't helped matters. Karl-Anthony Towns missed a bunch of time with a sprained left wrist and COVID-19. D'Angelo Russell is still recovering from left knee surgery. (Not-so-fun fact: KAT and DLo have appeared in only five games together since the former was traded to Minnesota last February.) Malik Beasley is serving a 12-game suspension after pleading guilty to a felony count of threats of violence. Jarrett Culver only recently returned from a sprained left ankle.

    New head coach Chris Finch has his work cut out for him even as the Timberwolves inch closer to full strength. They're terribly light on two-way players and exit the All-Star break with a bottom-four offense (29th) and defense (27th).

    Watching Towns remains a treat, and this roster has enough talent to climb out of its offensive pit. But their championship odds shouldn't actually exist. This season is too far gone for them.

    The rest of the year should be about player development (Culver, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Naz Reid, etc.), getting a better feel for the Russell-Towns partnership, sniffing around power forward options at the trade deadline and seeing whether their top-three-protected first-rounder conveys to the Golden State Warriors.

Oklahoma City Thunder: +25000

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    Eric Gay/Associated Press

    Breaking: The Oklahoma City Thunder never planned on contending for a title this year.

    Sincere apologies if anyone is caught off guard by that non-revelation. Oklahoma City cannonballed into a youth movement over the offseason by dealing Steven Adams, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder. Its timeline hasn't yet changed.

    The real question: Are the Thunder as not good as they need to be? Top lottery odds don't guarantee much, but they are important currency to any rebuilding squad—especially those who aren't marquee free-agent destinations.

    Oklahoma City's vitals suggest it's right on schedule. Only four teams have a lower net rating on the season, and no offense is averaging fewer points per 100 possessions.

    Then again, the Thunder are still somehow only six games under .500. Their 10-8 record in clutch situations is keeping their overall winning percentage afloat, and they can be frisky on defense. Any team with a ready-now cornerstone like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander—a could-have-been All-Star this year—can stumble into a few extra victories.

    General manager Sam Presti has some options if he wants to push Oklahoma City in an even more gradual direction.

    George Hill hasn't played since Jan. 24 while recovering from right thumb surgery, but he's offensive reinforcement the Thunder's lottery odds don't need. Nobody expects him to finish the season on the Thunder, per ESPN's Tim BontempsAl Horford should be equally gettable for anyone willing to bankroll the two years and $53.5 million ($41.5 million guaranteed) remaining on his contract.

Orlando Magic: +25000

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    The Orlando Magic are perpetually understaffed on offense. This year, they're just understaffed, period.

    Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are out for the season with torn ACLs. Aaron Gordon hasn't played since Jan. 31 because of an ankle sprain. Cole Anthony is recovering from a rib fracture. Evan Fournier (groin) and James Ennis (calf) are both banged up. Michael Carter-Williams missed a chunk of time with a foot injury.

    It would be very on-brand for the Magic to overcome these injuries and scrape together a playoff (or play-in) bid. Nikola Vucevic is a certified offensive star, and any team guided by head coach Steve Clifford is going to remain competitive by nibbling at low-hanging fruit—limiting fouls, grabbing boards, keeping turnovers in check, etc.

    Still, reaching any stage of the postseason seems like a reach. The Magic are only four losses out of play-in territory, but reinforcements aren't on the way. They will be overmatched even with a healthy Fournier and Gordon.

    This instead feels like a good time for Orlando to confront the sustainability of its core. Fournier and Gordon should both be on the table, and rival teams have "significant interest" in Vucevic, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor.

    Whatever the Magic decide to do—sell hard, sell lightly, stand pat—their championship odds are moot.

Sacramento Kings: +25000

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    Losing 11 of 13 games leading into the All-Star break torpedoed whatever chance the Sacramento Kings had at bagging semi-interesting championship odds. They are currently four games behind the 10th-place Memphis Grizzlies and forecast as no more than a paper tiger if they erase that not-insignificant chasm.

    Defense remains their Achilles' heel. The Kings have gotten torched at the rim and from beyond the arc during their recent rough stretch, which is a microcosm of their entire season. Opponents are shooting 67.4 percent from point-blank range (28th) and 40.2 percent on non-corner threes (30th) against them on the year.

    Sacramento is not without watchable value. Tracking the progression of De'Aaron Fox's step-back jumper is fun. Tyrese Haliburton is joy personified—a smart offensive decision-maker with a hyper-efficient jumper who party-crashes possessions on the defensive end.

    Richaun Holmes is a force to behold around the basket and can really run the floor. The Kings are outscoring opponents by 14.7 points per 100 possessions when he shares the court with Fox and Haliburton. Buddy Hield won't lay bricks forever. Harrison Barnes trailed off for a minute but has since resumed his career-best campaign that coincides with peak plug-and-playness.

    Margins for error just don't exist in the Western Conference. The Kings were a fringe play-in team before. They're flirting with complete non-factor status now. Their championship odds will only dip—or disappear entirely—from here if they part with Barnes and/or Holmes at the trade deadline.

Charlotte Hornets: +24000

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Shout-out to the Charlotte Hornets for laying better-than-the-worst championship odds halfway through the season. That is not tongue-in-cheek. Few had them billed to be anything more than a bottom-feeder. Hovering inside the Eastern Conference's top eight is a big friggin' deal.

    Rookie LaMelo Ball is receiving a lion's share of the attention, because duh. He's averaging 20.7 points, 6.7 assists, 6.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals while downing 44.9 percent of his threes since entering the starting lineup. Barely anyone in the league is as entertaining to watch. Ball's vision is actual witchcraft, he competes on defense, and his jumper is not the distinct liability it was expected to be (aesthetics be damned).

    Charlotte appears to have a transformative building block on its hands. And that isn't all it has.

    Question the Hornets' decision to sign Gordon Hayward all you must; he is piecing together his best season since 2016-17. (Stretching and waiving Nicolas Batum to make room for him remains tough to reconcile, though.) Terry Rozier has flames for fingertips and is doing more stuff off the dribble.

    Devonte' Graham underwhelmed before his left knee injury, but his three-point clip has rebounded. Malik Monk is shooting his way to a fairly large payday—and perhaps into Charlotte's long-term plans. The Hornets in general are unafraid to play small and entertaining as hell. They are fourth in transition frequency and eighth in efficiency.

    However, none of this is enough to peg the Hornets as a dark-horse contender. Maybe they grab a play-in spot. Maybe they even make the actual playoffs. But they aren't built to do anything more...yet.

Memphis Grizzlies: +24000

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    Congratulations to the Memphis Grizzlies. They might be undervalued in the championship-odds convo.

    As NBA.com's John Schuhmann wrote:

    "The Grizzlies have been at .500 or within one game (on either side) for more than a month. In the West, that keeps you in 10th place, though the Grizz have been better, in regard to point differential per 100 possessions, than four of the West teams ahead of them.

    "Now we anticipate the season debut of Jaren Jackson Jr., who could be the key to unlocking the Grizzlies' offense. He's a big, but he may be the team's most willing 3-point shooter (he led their rotation guys in 3-point attempts per 36 minutes last season). The Grizz are one of four teams (the Cavs, Lakers and Wizards are the others) that rank in the bottom 10 in both three-point percentage (35.5%, 21st) and the percentage of their shots that have come from 3-point range (33.3%, 28th). With some of their guards (Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones and Ja Morant) really struggling from deep, they could really use some floor spacing to keep defenses honest."

    Any team that can turn on the defensive jets for long stretches at a time has shock-and-awe potential. But Jackson's return won't remedy everything about the offense.

    Memphis still needs another reliable shot creator to play beside and without Ja Morant. It ranks middle of the road in efficiency on drives and is 22nd in effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers. No team in the league has a lower offensive rating in the clutch.

    Clawing back into the play-in tournament is absolutely on the table. Moving beyond it is a much longer shot.

Washington Wizards: +24000

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Consider this your eyeball-emoji alert for the Washington Wizards. They built up some traction entering the All-Star break.

    Washington has won eight of 11 games, during which time its defense ranks ninth in points allowed per 100 possessions. Bradley Beal is still doing Bradley Beal things (i.e. scoring in volume), but he's joined by more sprightly versions of Russell Westbrook and Davis Bertans and routine detonations from Garrison Mathews. Rookie Deni Avdija remains mostly solid and is worth exploring more as an on-ball option.

    How long the Wizards can ride this wave remains to be seen. They have the firepower to keep the offense chugging along. The recent defensive performance, on the other hand, doesn't feel sustainable. Opponents are converting well under 35 percent of their wide-open threes during this stretch, and Washington continues to get burned near the basket despite doing a nice job of limiting looks around the rim.

    Holding serve right around here feels like the Wizards' destiny. They don't have the asset equity to swing a monster buy at the trade deadline, and tumbling down the Eastern Conference pecking order mandates they move Beal, which they remain adamantly against, according to The Athletic's Fred Katz and Jason Quick.

    Confetti shouldn't be dropped by the metric ton for teams struggling to crack the play-in tournament, but Washington's season was speeding toward complete and utter implosion at the beginning of the year. Putting some distance between itself and a disastrous 6-17 start is a slight vote of confidence for a franchise that will have to answer a bunch of ridiculously tough questions over the summer.

Atlanta Hawks: +19000

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Long-shot lovers may want to take a look at the Atlanta Hawks.

    Midseason coaching changes imply disarray. And the Hawks have their fair share of behind-the-scenes warts that firing Lloyd Pierce won't single-handedly address. But they're also something of a mystery box.

    Kris Dunn has missed the entire season to date after undergoing right ankle surgery. Bogdan Bogdanovic is only two games into his return from a left knee fracture. De'Andre Hunter has been out with a right knee issue since Feb. 1. Danilo Gallinari is still ramping up after missing a bunch of time with a sprained right ankle.

    Rajon Rondo has been hampered by left knee and ankle problems—and generally lackluster play. Onyeka Okongwu has appeared in only 16 games while dealing with a left foot injury and the reality of being a rookie on a team with postseason aspirations. Cam Reddish's right Achilles recently starting acting up.

    "Investors Beware" is plastered all over this health check. They Hawks are a heartbeat outside the East's play-in gaggle, but being outside it at all matters. They are not guaranteed to reach full strength. But they have the depth and talent to throw a wrench in the conference hierarchy if they do.

    Hunter's return is the key. He made strides in pretty much every aspect of his game, and lineups featuring him, John Collins and Trae Young have predominantly steamrolled opponents.

New York Knicks: +19000

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    Elsa/Associated Press

    Every evaluation of the 2020-21 New York Knicks must begin with a disclaimer: Holy crap.

    Feel free to ponder the long-term viability of a team that needs Julius Randle (an All-Star!) or RJ Barrett to emerge as best-player-on-a-contender material to keep soldiering forward. Also feel free to worry about the seemingly tenuous dynamic ingrained into the front office.

    Definitely feel free to wonder whether the Knicks can continue levitating above .500 when they have one of the league's five hardest remaining schedules, according to TeamRankings.com. And you're certainly free to note that their third-ranked defense rates poorly in the share of opponent looks they allow at the rim (22nd) and from behind the rainbow (26th).

    Weigh all of that. It's fair game. But don't get consumed by it.

    Overthinking is no fun. The Knicks have an actual rhyme and reason to how they defend. Randle has transcended into offensive-engine territory. Barrett is shooting 47.8 percent from three—and 75 percent at the charity stripe—over his past 25 games.

    Mitchell Robinson's foul rate plunged prior to his right wrist injury. Nerlens Noel might look like he's trying to catch a marble on offense, but he's everywhere on defense. Immanuel Quickley is a shoo-in for All-Rookie first-team honors. Frank Ntilikina, ahem, leads the NBA in three-point percentage among every player who has attempted 20 or more triples.

    Progress is progress. The Knicks are making it. And while they shouldn't be painted as a left-field championship hopeful if they get into the playoffs, their mid-level title odds are not inflated relative to the 11 squads behind them. With all sincerity, that's not nothing.

Golden State Warriors: +16000

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Pouncing on 160-to-1 odds doesn't seem so egregious knowing Stephen Curry exists. Top-five players drive the championship discussion. The Golden State Warriors have one.

    And he needs help.

    Golden State has to get at least one other capable initiator to boost its championship stock. Curry could use a co-creator in crunch time, but more than that, the Warriors need to stop drowning while he's on the bench. The offense is mustering just 95.0 points per 100 possessions (0th percentile) with a shot profile that would make the 1990s blush without him.

    Expecting Golden State to swing a trade for another red-carpet scorer verges on pointless. The star-trade market is barren of readily available names, and the Warriors covet their top bargaining chips above anyone who will feasibly hit the auction block.

    A team source told the San Francisco Chronicle's Connor Letourneau they won't move James Wiseman or the Minnesota Timberwolves' 2021 first (top-three protection) for anything short of "someone generational such as Joel Embiid or Giannis Antetokounmpo" (h/t NBC Sports' Marcus White). At least Golden State is, er, realistic about the intrinsic value of their best assets.

    Victor Oladipo has instead stumbled across the Warriors' radar, according to The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor. The idea of him makes a lot of sense. The best version of Oladipo puts pressure on the rim, table-sets for teammates on his drives, bangs in off-the-bounce jumpers and hits enough of his set shots to coexist seamlessly alongside Curry and Draymond Green.

    It remains to be seen whether that Oladipo exists. He hasn't shot the ball well—or been fully healthy—since arriving in Houston. The Warriors also have to weigh the potential cost.

    Aside from the Minny pick, they can only trade firsts in 2022 and 2026 or 2027. The latter option isn't happening. Are they willing to ship out Kelly Oubre Jr., salary filler and a 2022 pick for Oladipo? Will Houston let him go without getting back a first-rounder? Pretty much every permutation is worth exploring if Golden State intends to do more than ruffle some feathers in the middle of the Western Conference this season.

New Orleans Pelicans: +16000

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    Buying the New Orleans Pelicans at 160-to-1 should have a greater pull. Zion Williamson is feasting at the rim and running more of the offense. Lonzo Ball has been an inferno from beyond the arc since his name first entered the rumor mill. Brandon Ingram's Most Improved Player campaign was not a mirage.

    Somehow, though, the Pelicans seem like they're wandering in the wilderness. They are sub-.500 since Lonzo initiated God mode (10-11) and tied with the Sacramento Kings for the league's worst defense.

    Giving up so many three-pointers has come back to haunt them, and they're not doing enough to maximize their offense when they get stops. The Pelicans are 20th in average possession time after forcing a turnover, according to Inpredictable.

    To their credit, this isn't a cardinal sin. Their personnel screams "Run dammit!" but they have a top-five half-court offense during this stretch and rank 10th overall in that department on the season.

    There is no clear answer for this team in the second half of the season. New Orleans might have the personnel to improve on defense. Might. It'll require an about-face from Eric Bledsoe. Any uptick from the Pelicans needs to at least include better showings against sub-.500 teams. They're 8-9 against squads with a losing record.

    Perhaps this is just who the Pelicans are for now—another run-of-the-mill sub-.500 team. They don't even seem to know. League executives told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that New Orleans has no discernible aim ahead of the deadline and "could be buyers or sellers, depending on what direction the trade winds blow."

San Antonio Spurs: +16000

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    The San Antonio Spurs have some of the fundamentals necessary to shake up the Western Conference's playoff bracket.

    They don't turn the ball over. They're limiting corner three-point attempts. They don't foul. Opponents are taking an unhealthy share of their shot attempts at the rim, but the Spurs contest them well and rank fifth overall in points allowed per 100 possessions.

    Something still needs to give on offense if San Antonio is going to register as more than a postseason blip. A mid-range-heavy shot selection comes with the territory of having LaMarcus Aldridge (when healthy), DeMar DeRozan and Dejounte Murray, but it needs to be paired with higher volume at another level.

    Pushing the pace after grabbing defensive boards is a start, but the Spurs don't reach the rim nearly enough for an offense that finishes 15 percent of its possessions in transition (11th-most). Imploring them to take more threes is at once an annual and unrealistic plea. That energy can be spent urging them to put more pressure on the rim and draw more fouls, but they need the personnel for it first.

    Acquiring someone to diversify the offense at the trade deadline would go a long way. It would also be atypical of the Spurs. And without breaking character in the coming weeks, they figure to be a mild noisemaker with a second-round ceiling.

Indiana Pacers: +8500

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    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Life after Victor Oladipo has not been kind to the Indiana Pacers. They're 9-15 since sending him to the Houston Rockets with a bottom-10 offense and a defense that allows shots at the rim more frequently than any other team despite playing a good amount of zone.

    Losing Oladipo is not the root cause of the Pacers' struggles. He may have helped the offense but isn't lighting it up in Houston and wouldn't reverse the struggles of others (i.e. Myles Turner's three-point shooting).

    Injuries are more to blame for Indiana's precarious position than anything else. Caris LeVert has yet to make his debut, and T.J. Warren has played in just four games before suffering a fracture in his left foot. Both players are mission-critical to the Pacers offense. LeVert offers both initiation and shot-making. Warren has been an offensive force since arriving in Indiana.

    Help is sort of on the way. LeVert is expected to join the rotation sometime in the second half of the season. Warren, however, remains months away, according to Fieldhouse Files' Scott Agness. Getting even one of them back will be huge. The burden on Domantas Sabonis (second in touches per game) and Malcolm Brogdon (10th in time of possession) is currently gargantuan.

    For the time being, the Pacers pose a limited championship threat relative to the tippy top of the field. But they have punch-you-in-the-mouth depth at full strength—if they ever get there...or within the vicinity of it.

Portland Trail Blazers: +8500

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Slotting the Portland Trail Blazers outside the top 10 feels a little bit wonky. It also might be perfect. Or too generous. They are that kind of team.

    Portland's season doesn't make a ton of sense. It sports a bottom-three defense. Jusuf Nurkic hasn't played since Jan. 14 after fracturing his right wrist and didn't look the same prior to his injury. Zach Collins has yet to suit up this season and doesn't have a concrete timeline for return following yet another left ankle surgery.

    The team's big-man curse has even claimed Harry Giles; he's missed the past nine games with a strained left calf. Enes Kanter is starting. And playing well. His defense included.

    Oh, and by the way: CJ McCollum has been sidelined since Jan 16 after suffering a left foot injury. That should have acted as a nail in the coffin of the Blazers' season. They've instead gone 13-9 with a top-seven offense heavy on Damian Lillard heroics, Gary Trent Jr. detonations, Carmelo Anthony adventures, Anfernee Simons flashes, Kanter binges and more Damian Lillard heroics. (Aside: Derrick Jones Jr. is shooting 37.8 percent—17-of-45—from deep since McCollum's injury.)

    Navigating so many key absences would seem to hint at a higher ceiling. The Blazers will get to test that theory. They're getting both McCollum and Nurkic back soon, according to The Athletic's Jason Quick.

    But this group still has a lot to figure out on defense, even at full strength, and has slid into the West's fifth-place spot by the skin of its teeth. Portland is 14-5 in crunch-time situations, an impressive record that also represents two-thirds of its total victories. It will take a trade-deadline surprise—or defensive 180—to move a notch higher on the championship-contender scale.

Dallas Mavericks: +5500

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    This is the proper application of the Luka Doncic effect. He has the cachet on his own to bring you within striking distance of the top 10, but teams at least one player short of sitting at the big-kids table really shouldn't be stationed any higher.

    And make no mistake, the Mavericks are at least one player away from catching up to the foremost favorites.

    Doncic's usage rate is down from last season but still ranks as the league's second-highest mark, trailing only Bradley Beal. That isn't proof alone he's overextended. Megastars use up a chunk of their team's plays. It happens. But the Mavericks have only one other name in the top 100 (Tim Hardaway Jr.), and Jalen Brunson is the lone player aside from Doncic who gets more than half of his points off unassisted buckets.

    Kristaps Porzingis has perked up on offense—21.5 points on 40 percent shooting from beyond the arc over his past 11 games—but he's not that genre of second-best player. Nor, for that matter, has he been Dallas' second-best player. Limited availability has skewed his sample, but that honor belongs to Brunson.

    The Mavericks offense is fine on balance. They have climbed up to 12 in points scored per 100 possessions, and their three-point shooting has recovered from its early-season malaise. But they need another bankable creator to successfully traverse the Western Conference's playoff gauntlet. Smarter defense around the rim and fewer fouls would go a long way, too.

    Don't count on anything getting resolved at the trade deadline. The Mavericks have plenty of workable contracts but aren't flush with a ton of desirable assets unless they put Brunson or their 2025 (or later) first-rounder in play. And even they do, they'll have to consider the opportunity cost of (potentially) eating into this summer's cap space for a crack at...what exactly?

    Everything depends on who they'd acquire. Would Victor Oladipo put them over the top? Probably not, but he's at least on an expiring contract. Are higher-end options available? Do the Mavericks have the assets to land them if so? This isn't meant as a pessimistic view on the future. Dallas has Doncic. It's going to be fine. But right now, it doesn't have the clearest path to making more than a mid-end playoff run.

Toronto Raptors: +5500

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Injuries and multiple entries into the league's health and safety protocols derailed what was a welcome-back stretch for the Toronto Raptors. They won nine of 12 games, were regaining some of last year's defensive swagger and ran opponents ragged with their relentless attacks in transition.

    Toronto now exits the All-Star break having lost four of five and facing a ton of questions. Or rather, they face a singular, defining question: What will they do with Kyle Lowry?

    The Raptors are good enough to keep him and try to make a thrilling playoff run. But they still don't quite measure up to Brooklyn, Milwaukee and Philadelphia without brokering a significant acquisition. And if a quasi-blockbuster is outside the realm of possibility, they have to take stock of the future.

    Lowry is the greatest player in franchise history but may not have a spot on the roster beyond this season. Fred VanVleet is ready to be the point guard of the present, and the Raptors cannot expect Lowry to accept a massive pay cut and role reduction to stick with a team that, at this moment, is contender-adjacent at best.

    Don't harp on Toronto's 6-1 record without Lowry this season as evidence he's less than necessary. Noise abounds in those samples, particularly this year, and the Raptors are still better overall with him on the court. He should only be moved if the return makes sense or he asks for it.

    If Toronto is on the fence, it should lean toward keeping him. Championship contention is never too far away in the Eastern Conference, and the trio of VanVleet, OG Anunoby and Pascal Siakam allows the Raptors to straddle both the present and future without moving on from Lowry. And if this core stays together beyond the trade deadline, Toronto automatically deserves dark-horse consideration in an Eastern Conference with only three true-blue contenders.

Miami Heat: +4600

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    Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press

    Looking only at the Miami Heat's .500 record culminates with an impulse to declare them a disappointment. But their rotation has been brutalized by injuries and COVID-19. The sample they've amassed with Jimmy Butler is likely more telltale of their state—and they're 14-8 when he's in the lineup.

    John Schuhmann elaborated further for NBA.com:

    "Since Jimmy Butler returned from a 10-game absence on Jan. 31, the Heat have gone 12-6 to climb from 12th to sixth in the East. They've had the league's third-ranked defense and wins over the Lakers and Jazz over that stretch."

    "Offense remains an issue and Butler's effective field-goal percentage of 34.0% on shots from outside the paint is the worst mark among 198 players who've taken at least 200 shots from the outside. But over his last three games (he missed a two-game series against the Hawks), he's averaged 29.7 points (on 57 percent shooting and 9.3 free-throw attempts per game), 7.0 rebounds, 9.3 assists and 2.3 steals."

    Miami's offense has the tools to improve from within. Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro have only been available for seven games together, and Kendrick Nunn regained his offensive mojo before hitting a cold(ish) streak leading into the All-Star break. Adebayo also has room to up his attack mode. He's had eight games in which he both logged over 30 minutes and attempted fewer than 12 shots.

    The Heat still seem a hair off last year's Finals trajectory with all of this in mind. Their options at the 4 are unspectacular after losing Jae Crowder in free agency. Pairing Kelly Olynyk with Adebayo is getting the job done now, but it won't be an every-series answer in the playoffs. Tagging Miami with top-10 title odds skews toward generous if no playable additions are made via trade or the buyout market.

Phoenix Suns: +3200

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Bargain alert.

    Laying 32-to-1 odds firmly entrenches the Phoenix Suns inside the second tier of championship contenders, creating measurable separation between them and teams like Dallas and Miami, but it still doesn't do justice to their actual title chances. They don't have the second-best record in the league by accident. They are deep. They have two superstars. They can defend. The Brooklyn Nets are the only team with a higher winning percentage against squads above .500.

    Phoenix may have one of the Association's two or three most complete rosters, bar none. And it hasn't even peaked yet. Its most important lineup—Chris Paul, Devin Booker, Mikal Bridges, Jae Crowder, Deandre Ayton—remains a net negative for the season. That'll change.

    Purchasing this much Suns stock requires faith in Dario Saric-at-the-5 arrangements and Cameron Payne's overarching performance. That's fine.

    Saric-at-center lineups are nuking opponents by 25.4 points per 100 possessions. He specifically is defending well enough not just to beat up on second units but also to close games when the matchup doesn't favor Ayton. Between Saric and Frank Kaminsky, the Suns have adequately inoculated themselves against Ayton's roller-coaster performances.

    Payne is the larger wild card at this point, and his minutes shouldn't carry as much weight in the playoffs. Booker and Paul will see even more court time together, and E'Twaun Moore exists.

    There might be something to Phoenix's relative lack of postseason experience. Ayton, Booker, Bridges and Cam Johnson are playoff newbies. That matters. With Paul in tow, it matters less. Treat the Suns as a real championship threat, because that's exactly what they are.

Boston Celtics: +3000

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    All-Star campaigns from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum have kept the Boston Celtics above water. That's not quite a ringing endorsement. Boston is supposed to have championship clout. Clinging to the East's four seed sounds good in theory, but much less so when it comes with a 19-17 record.

    Forecasting doom and gloom overstates the gravity of the Celtics' situation. Kemba Walker entered the All-Star break trending in the right direction, and Marcus Smart's return from a calf strain will considerably glitz up the rotation.

    Boston is still missing something. Or some things.

    Another combo wing would be nice. The Celtics' depth at the 3 and 4 trails off after Brown and Tatum. They've needed to play Tristan Thompson and Daniel Theis together a ton, and the returns are uninspiring. A Jeff Teague alternative should be on the wishlist. They can at once stand to de-clutter the big-man corps and use an upgrade over Thompson.

    Nothing Boston does this season stands to address its biggest question mark of all: a high-variance shot profile. The offense is 27th in the share of its looks that come at the rim and 21st in three-point-attempt rate. Only the Portland Trail Blazers attempt more pull-up jumpers per game.

    The Celtics are middle-of-the-road when it comes to knocking down shots from their most frequented areas. That could normalize in the right direction with a better version of Walker and the return of Smart. Hitting tough jumpers is likewise a prerequisite to playoff success. But it sometimes seems as if those are the only shots Boston generates—an exaggeration yet a genuine concern when coupled with a rotation that stretches seven dependable bodies deep on its best nights.

Denver Nuggets: +3000

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    Initial inklings point toward the Denver Nuggets at 30-to-1 as a slight to medium-sized negative. Inconsistency has been the story of the season for basically everyone other than Nikola Jokic, who projects to finish no lower than third on the MVP ballot.

    That's a reductive view of Denver's year upon diving deeper. Jamal Murray can also be looped under the umbrella of reliability. His start to the season was uneven, but not a dumpster fire—particularly given he's playing through injuries. His last 20 games have been molten. He's averaging 23.7 points and 4.8 assists while downing 44.5 percent of his threes, including 44.3 percent of his off-the-dribble triples.

    On top of that, Michael Porter Jr. is settling into his latest role with the starting five. After a rocky two games as part of the opening lineup, he's averaging 14.6 points and 7.6 rebounds while dropping in 40.5 percent of his treys. The MPJ-Jokic frontcourt has proved effective during this 13-game stretch, through which the Nuggets are 9-4. Denver is now outscoring opponents by 11.9 points per 100 possessions when they occupy the 4 and 5, respectively, with a defensive rating in the 70th percentile.

    Continuing to get by on the less glamorous end will play a pivotal part in shaping the Nuggets' championship stock. They're eighth in points allowed per 100 possessions over this 9-4 tear and up to 16th on the season.

    Aspects of this rise feel flimsy. Opponents will hit more than 31.9 percent of their threes moving forward, and they're still without a go-to wing defender. The latter is more concerning when looking at the playoffs exclusively and all the different teams they could have to go through—Dallas, both Los Angeles squads, Phoenix, etc.

    To nutshell this back-and-forth: The Nuggets' championship odds actually seem about right. Their defense doesn't yet deserve the benefit of the doubt, and acquiring a wing who can be part of the closing lineup would be ideal, but they'll retain breakthrough potential so long as they enter the playoffs at full(ish) strength.

Philadelphia 76ers: +1200

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    Welcome to zero-qualm country. No one should take exception with the Philadelphia 76ers turning in top-six odds. And if they do, they better be prepared to argue for better placement. Downgrading this team is a non-option.

    Joel Embiid has worked his way up the MVP ladder by dominating at both ends. He has opposing ball-handlers running scared before they ever hit floater range, and his offensive bag is reaching all-time depths.

    Seven-footers aren't supposed to shoot so well on off-the-bounce jumpers. He's burying 47 percent of his pull-up two-pointers (71-of-151) and 47.6 percent of his pull-up threes (10-of-21). His crunch-time efficiency has been equally off the charts.

    Ben Simmons joins Embiid in finding his offensive groove. He's averaging 20.5 points and 7.2 assists since Jan. 31, a stretch that has seen him not only finish around the hoop but also punish defenses with a nifty hook shot.

    Tobias Harris' shot-making continues to be divine. He's converting a career-high 55.4 percent of his twos and draining 40.2 percent of his triples. Working within open space looks good on him.

    Philly still only ranks 15th in offensive efficiency. It doesn't attempt nearly enough threes and needs another trustworthy shot creator. Tyrese Maxey and Shake Milton are chancy safety valves over the course of a regular season. Relying on them in the playoffs probably isn't going to cut it—not against the offenses in Brooklyn and Milwaukee.

    Standing pat past the trade deadline wouldn't displace the Sixers from the contender circle. They can win a title as currently constructed. They just stand to go from fringe favorite or top-three favorite if they swing a deal for another multilevel scorer.

Utah Jazz: +850

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Is it disrespectful to have the Utah Jazz at No. 5 when they own the league's best record at the halfway point? Is it an overreaction to their three losses in four games ahead of the All-Star break?

    Or is it—gasp—just right? Let's go with this one.

    Poking holes in the Jazz's championship candidacy has become a rite of passage. We can all, collectively, stand to tone it down. The Jazz are really good. Like, really, really good. They have an abundance of shooters, a tidy collection of creators, a transformative defender in the middle and depth for days. They are more than just a great regular-season story.

    That doesn't shield them against all concerns.

    Some will spotlight an absence of superstar shot creation, a fault that depends heavily on how you view Donovan Mitchell but can still persist when looking beyond him. This isn't the route to go. Utah has Bojan Bogdanovic, Jordan Clarkson, Mike Conley and Joe Ingles in addition to Mitchell and ranks first in effective field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers. The offense can withstand playoff defenses.

    Does the Jazz's own defense ideally translate to the postseason? It looks like a dumb question at first read. They are second in points allowed per 100 possessions, and Rudy Gobert remains a top-three Defensive Player of the Year candidate who cannot, despite claims to the contrary, be readily played off the floor.

    Utah's perimeter rotation accounts for all of the iffiness. It has formed a top-tier defense without employing a lockdown wing defender. That's at the very least worth monitoring when the Jazz will probably have to go through one, if not both, of the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers.

    Nobody is going to entirely neutralize the Anthony Davis-LeBron James and Paul George-Kawhi Leonard partnerships. Every opposing team is to some extent in the Jazz's boat. But others have no-brainer options to throw at them. Utah's roster is such that Georges Niang or Miye Oni may need to get reps when it matters most.

Milwaukee Bucks: +750

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    Brandon Dill/Associated Press

    The Milwaukee Bucks seem a touch overvalued with top-four title odds. Their depth has thinned out since last year, and more problematically, they've gone from owning the league's best defense to placing 13th in points allowed per 100 possessions at the midway mark.

    Experimentation has cost the Bucks some ground. They're switching more. Jrue Holiday, an All-Defense candidate yet again, also missed 10 games in the Association's health and safety protocols. Milwaukee still allows an uncomfortable number of threes but could be better suited to make mid-series adjustments once the postseason tips off.

    There will be a Brook Lopez conundrum if the Bucks modify their defensive scheme. He isn't made for switching, and dropping back, while a surefire way to protect the rim, invites a barrage of threes. Opponents are shooting 3.7 percentage points better from distance when he's on the floor, the second-worst swing on the team, behind only Thanasis Antetokounmpo. This differential was not so pronounced last year.

    Question marks are even peppered throughout their offense. Will walling off Giannis Antetokounmpo prove as doable for opponents in the playoffs? Does stashing someone in the dunker's spot help? Does he have other reliable counters if the half-court machine bogs down?

    Go ahead and call these what they are: 1 percenter problems. The Bucks added another high-end shot-creator without compromising their overall defense in Holiday. They are theoretically better built to navigate the postseason gauntlet than before—not as the near-title favorites they were last year, but most definitely as one of the next most likely options.

Los Angeles Clippers: +550

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Calls for the Los Angeles Clippers to upgrade the point guard position remain ubiquitous. It would be condescending and foolish to dismiss them. The Clippers were at least somewhat thinking along the same lines over the offseason.

    They gave up Landry Shamet to acquire Luke Kennard, a broader playmaking threat who they extended. He entered the All-Star break barely in the rotation. This idea that they need another creator isn't terribly off-base. Their crunch-time offense has so far failed to impress. Another playmaking vessel can't hurt.

    Getting worked up about the Clippers offense still rings a tad too hollow. They are third in points scored per 100 possessions and own the league's highest three-point clip. They could stand to put more pressure on the rim, but they also have the off-the-dribble shooters (Paul George, Kawhi Leonard, Lou Williams) and collective outside marksmanship to spit fire without getting all the way to the basket.

    Shoring up the defense registers as the more pressing priority. That...doesn't sound right. The Clippers have George, Leonard and Patrick Beverley. They are built to play big. They can play small. And medium. (Whatever that means.) They don't allow too many shots at the rim. They are matchup-proof on paper.

    Entering the second half of the season, they're also 21st in defensive efficiency and struggling to get stops when players actually reach the basket (20th in opponent field-goal percentage at the hoop). Diversifying their big-man rotation might help, but they're getting burned by above-the-break shooters, too. It behooves them to look at the defense-first guard market ahead of the deadline so Beverley isn't saddled with the bulk of that responsibility.

    This is all a roundabout way of saying the Clippers' biggest problems are prospective hiccups, not full-on choke jobs. Top-five title odds is a natural sweet spot.

Brooklyn Nets: +300

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Adding Blake Griffin has not rendered the Brooklyn Nets odds-on title favorites everywhere. They're all the way down at No. 2 here. The disrespect, right?

    Spotting flaws in the Nets' setup isn't hard. They need reliable defenders for the postseason. Griffin doesn't help at that end of the floor even as a backup center. DeAndre Jordan isn't moving like he did in Los Angeles. Nicolas Claxton should officially be on your "Kiddies to watch" list, but he's not going to be entrusted with high-leverage minutes so early into his career. He's also not quite strong enough to rumble with many pure 5s, let alone actual behemoths.

    Personally, I'm at the point of struggling to care about the Nets defense. They could use an alternative frontline option to Jordan and Jeff Green in crunch time, but their offense so accurately mirrors a raging inferno it might not matter.

    Brooklyn has yet to even experience the full Kevin Durant-James Harden-Kyrie Irving experience. The trio has played in just seven games together—one of which was a loss to the Toronto Raptors that saw Durant deemed ineligible to start but get cleared for bench duty only to then be ruled out later on due to contact tracing protocols.

    Take this with a fistful of salt, but the Nets are pumping in nearly 127 points per 100 possessions with their three future Hall of Famers on the court. Playing them in tandem with Joe Harris' shooting is a recipe for annihilation.

    Never mind who's sponging up the most important center reps. Claxton, Green, Griffin, Jordan, Andre Drummond Durant himself—whoever. Good luck beating this team four times in seven tries.

Los Angeles Lakers: +280

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    Tony Dejak/Associated Press

    Conflict is almost unavoidable when looking at the Los Angeles Lakers' championship odds.

    Riding with the favorite can feel like a cop-out. The field is statistically more likely to win it all. Payouts floating around 3-to-1 don't really increase the attraction, though they're certainly eons better than even money-or-worse scenarios.

    Skeptics can find issues with the Lakers' repeat bid. Chief among them: When will Anthony Davis return from his right calf strain? And is his Achilles tendon actually in the clear?

    Beyond that, the Lakers offense remains vulnerable when things slow down. They are 20th in half-court efficiency and even worse off when LeBron James is on the bench. Is Dennis Schroder the right safety net to carry them during those stretches? How much do these samples even matter in the postseason? The Lakers had the same problem entering the playoffs last year and then it evaporated, largely on the heels of supernova three-point shooting.

    Their half-court offense, both with and without LeBron, looms as their biggest, non-injury-related obstacle to another title.

    That doesn't render their championship odds a mistake. This team has earned the benefit of the doubt after last year. "Because LeBron" is also an acceptable rationale. Spin it any way you please. They should be one of the two or three foremost favorites until the results dictate otherwise.


    Unless otherwise noted, stats courtesy of NBA.com, Basketball Reference, Stathead or Cleaning the Glass. Salary information via Basketball Insiders and Spotrac.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale), and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast, co-hosted by B/R's Adam Fromal.