NBA Contenders and Pretenders

With a quarter of the season now in the books, who stands a chance at bringing home a title?

By Jonathan Garza Contributors

Graphic by Francisco Valladares/Athletics Editor


Don’t look now, but the Cleveland Cavaliers (17–7) have won 12 games in a row, and their streak may not be ending anytime soon. Five of Cleveland’s next six games will be played at home, making for an easy schedule to look forward to. The Cavaliers’ 111.5 points per game is also the best mark in the Eastern Conference.

On the other hand, the Boston Celtics (21–4) stand 3.5 games ahead of Cleveland, and will be getting ready for a must-see matchup on the road against the San Antonio Spurs (16–8) on Dec. 8. This matchup pits two defensive masters against each other, as both teams lead their respective conferences in points allowed, with the former allowing 97.5 points per game, and the latter giving up just 97.0 points/game.

Speaking of those Spurs, they are tied with the Celtics for the best home record in the league at 11–2. It has them three games behind the Houston Rockets (18–4), who are currently atop the Western Conference.

Speaking of the Rockets, they just might be for real. Their point differential of 11.4 points per game is only 0.1 ahead of the Golden State Warriors (19–6), making them a difficult matchup on the offensive end.


Life is tough for the Chicago Bulls (3–19), but one thing is positive: they’re in the race to grab the first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. The Bulls have lost nine in a row, and have a point differential of -11.6 points/game, but they can take solace in potentially landing a top prospect like Duke’s Marvin Bagley, Jr.

It may seem like the Clippers (8–14) and the Lakers (8–15) have it bad, but would you believe they aren’t the worst team in California? That title belongs to the Kings, who are pushing the Dallas Mavericks (7–17) for the conference’s worst record, and with a point differential of -10.0 points per game, it may be a mere matter of days before the West’s cellar has a new dwellar.

The Lakers haven’t been much better themselves. If it were not for the emergence of rookie power forward Kyle Kuzma, point guard Lonzo Ball, who was taken second overall, would be deemed a draft bust early on. Kuzma is averaging 16.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game, which looks much better than Ball’s 8.7 points, 7.0 assists and 6.9 rebounds per game.

This must improve if the Lakers stand a chance at competing for a playoff spot. Laker fans shouldn’t get their hopes up, as this team is still a couple years away from contending for a championship.


Watch out for the Jazz. They have won six in a row, and are up to the seventh seed out West. They just beat a pretty good Washington Wizards (12–11) team by 47 points! As long as Rudy Gobert is in the picture, the Jazz are a good bet to shut any offense down.

Unfortunately, they land as a sleeper and not a contender because of their upcoming schedule, which includes seven-of-eight on the road and matchups against top teams like the Rockets, Cavs and Celtics.