We’re now just over halfway through the regular season in the NBA and the playoff picture is starting to look a little clearer in both conferences – although there remains plenty to play for.
The Boston Celtics continue to lead the way in the East with a league-best record, but they have had a tough spell and don’t appear quite as invincible as they did in the earlier stages of the campaign.
The West remains wide open but there are a couple of teams who have pulled clear of the pack in the battle for the top seed. Boston are priced at +350 to win the NBA Championship outright and holders Golden State are +850 to successfully defend the title.
The fight for the top seed in the Western Conference is now starting to look like a two-horse race as Denver Nuggets lead the way with a 33-13 overall record, a game-and-a-half ahead of nearest rivals Memphis Grizzlies.
The Grizzlies are five games ahead of Sacramento Kings in third spot and if the two frontrunners can maintain their form it is hard to see anyone else forcing themselves into the fight for the top seed.
However, the conference itself remains wide open and a Western Conference Finals series between the Nuggets and Grizzlies is by no means guaranteed.
New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves complete the top six but the conference remains incredibly close and the Los Angeles Lakers down in 13th spot are only five-and-a-half games behind the Kings, meaning that realistically there are still as many as 13 teams in the West who will feel they still have a chance of making a championship bid.
Golden State Warriors won the championship last season as they dominated throughout the playoffs, winning 4-2 in the Finals Series against the Celtics, but they endured a tough start to the current campaign.
The Dubs were outside the postseason spots altogether for large periods but they have now hit a bit of form and have a 23-23 overall record, with the Warriors currently in seventh spot in the West.
The champions may well be able to make another strong run for the title this year but their road form is still an issue and Golden State are just 6-18 on their travels – with their at Cleveland Cavaliers in their last trip their first success at a team currently on the playoff off spots.
The Celtics look uncatchable at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 35-12 overall record but they have had to come through a rough spell.
A 123-107 defeat at Golden State in December was the start of a 1-5 run but they have since recovered – and they claimed an overtime win over the Dubs in Boston in the final regular season meeting between the two teams recently.
The playoff picture is looking a little clearer in the East as Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets and Cleveland Cavaliers all look well placed to claim top six seeds.
New York Knicks currently hold sixth spot and they are in a three-way fight with Atlanta Hawks and Miami Heat for that final automatic postseason spot, while Indiana Pacers and Chicago Bulls are in the play-in places but they face pressure from Washington Wizards, Toronto Raptors and, potentially, Orlando Magic.
Boston’s Jayson Tatum had appeared to be the leading candidate for MVP honors/honours in the early stages of the season but Denver’s Nikola Jokic Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks are now the frontrunners.
Doncic, who led the Mavs to the conference finals last year, is the NBA’s leading scorer as he is averaging 33.7 points-per-game, alongside 8.9 rebounds and 8.8 assists.
Jokic is the two-time reigning MVP and it is worth noting that no player has won the award in three consecutive seasons since Larry Bird between 1984 and 1986, but it would be no surprise to see the Serbian center pick up the individual prize once again after his displays for Denver this year.