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NBA: Season update - Milwaukee Bucks show promise

We're now over a quarter of the way through the NBA regular season and, after a relentless start to the 2022/23 campaign, we’ve seen plenty of shocks and struggles for some of the league's heavy hitters.

However, we’re not short of title contenders even at this early stage, with the likes of the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks already showing a lot of promise.

There are also recovering teams forcing their way up the standings as they try to gain some consistency ahead of the Play-offs next year.

With the NBA landscape constantly changing, here’s an overview of the season so far, along with some things to watch out for in the coming months.

Nets and Lakers on the rise

The Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers were widely mocked for their terrible starts, having floundered towards the bottom of the standings despite preseason title aspirations for both. However, the comeback is on for both teams, as they have started to turn things around.

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Both sides have a 7-3 record across their last 10 games and that’s been enough to lift the Nets into the top six. They’ve got a .542 record this season, with Kevin Durant looking locked in so far despite his offseason trade request.

The Lakers are still third-bottom of the Western Conference, but they’ve claimed seven of their nine total wins for the season in their recent run. They’re only 1.5 games off the Play-in tournament, so their price of +240 to make the Play-offs is one to consider.

Anthony Davis has hit his stride with seven consecutive 25+ point games, while LeBron James is back to full fitness and he’s boosted the Lakers’ charge. The front office were apparently holding off on trades until the Lakers could play .500 basketball, but their recent record is even better than that. That means a Russell Westbrook move could be coming this month.

Rebuild time for the Bulls

One trade target the Lakers are reportedly tracking is DeMar DeRozan, with problems mounting at the Chicago Bulls. The team sit 12th in the East with a 9-13 record, having started the season as one of nine sides who were said to be chasing a Play-off spot.

The Bulls are now +150 to make the Play-offs but their hopes seem slim, especially after closing off one possible route to change. They extended the contract of coach Billy Donovan, who has an 86-88 record in charge in the Windy City.

If they’re putting their faith in the coach, then it’s roster changes that the Bulls need to improve. They’ve put a lot on the line to assemble this roster, which never looked like peaking beyond a second-round spot in the Play-offs. If they have higher ambitions than that then this could be the time to lean into a full rebuild, especially given how well-placed the Bulls currently are in the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes.

Contenders on track

The NBA title contenders have had their ups and downs this season, but the frontrunners are all well-positioned heading towards the festive season. Beaten NBA Finalists the Celtics lead the league with an 18-5 record, with the Bucks not far behind at 16-6.

Those two look like the strongest sides in the league right now, but only one can make the Finals. Across the country, the Phoenix Suns are pushing for back-to-back first-place finishes in the West with a 15-7 start. Even the Golden State Warriors have recovered from a slump to move within three games of the Suns, but they don’t need a high seeding to contend in the postseason once again.

Concern for the Clippers?

The only preseason contender to be facing problems is the LA Clippers, who are seventh in the West with a 13-11 record. That’s not a bad return, but there’s concern that Kawhi Leonard has missed 19 of their 24 games so far this season.

The two-time Finals MVP was expected to return and that lifted the Clippers back into the title conversation, having lost in the Play-in without him last term. Leonard’s fitness has been an issue since his load management days on the Toronto Raptors, but the secrecy about his long-running absence this time around doesn’t bode well for the Clippers.

They are missing vital opportunities to improve the cohesion of their roster, forcing experienced coach Ty Lue to keep them contending while understrength. They’re in a good position so far, but the +800 shots for the title may well drift if Kawhi doesn’t reappear on the court sometime soon.

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