Top Five NBA Contenders in 2020-21

The NBA championship conversation is beginning to gain serious traction.

Sure, it's always on the peripherals of what's happening in The Association. The entire point of the regular season, after all, is to make the NBA Finals and compete for the Larry O'Brien Trophy. But for the first half or so of the year, it's more about figuring out which teams have a chance and whether anything can be done to improve the squads that don't.

Now, though, we've reached the point of no return. Teams are resting key players to keep them fresh. Other organizations have taken themselves out of the playoff race entirely. Visit the top NBA betting sites, and you'll notice they're really pushing playoff and championship futures.

All of which makes it a great time to take stock of the title picture. For our purposes, we're gauging the landscape by attempting to identify the five teams we believe are most likely to win it all.

1. Los Angeles Lakers

Picking the reigning champs is so novel, right?

To be clear, this isn't just about giving the Lakers credit for last year. They continue to have the league's best defense, and that's with both Anthony Davis and LeBron James missing a ton of time.

Despite the best efforts of the Denver Nuggets, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, and Los Angeles Clippers, this is still the team most likely to win the entire Western Conference when fully healthy.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

Slotting the Sixers in second place presents some risk. Franchise cornerstone and MVP candidate Joel Embiid is forever an injury risk and has already missed roughly one-quarter of the season so far.

Still, Philadelphia's roster makes so much sense on paper. They have two Defensive Player of the Year candidates between Embiid and Ben Simmons, and a host of other solid defenders in Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle. Seth Curry provides a ton of shooting, Tobias Harris is setting the world on fire from all spots of the floor, and the trade-deadline acquisition of George Hill will prove huge for their depth.

Go ahead and choose the Brooklyn Nets if you must. But the Sixers are the rare team built to gum up their offense.

3. Brooklyn Nets

Many will be inclined to stick the Nets in first or second place. We get the appeal. They have two top-seven players in Kevin Durant and James Harden and then another top-15 guy in Kyrie Irving. No offense in the NBA has a higher ceiling.

But there is another side of the floor, and it's not yet clear whether the Nets are built to hold up on defense. Some of their lineups will give up as many points as they score.

Beyond that, we have to factor in the spotty health bills of their three stars -- namely Durant. Though he remains a megastar, he's missed most of this year with injuries after missing all of last year with a torn Achilles. Brooklyn's championship stock carries more risk than advertised.

4. Milwaukee Bucks

Somehow, after turning in two straight historically dominant regular seasons over the past two years, the Bucks are now flying under the radar. It's weird.

Granted, they might deserve it.

They flamed out in each of the past two postseasons because they couldn't diversify their offense enough. But that's no longer as much of a problem. They acquired another high-end shot creator and defender in Jrue Holiday, and Giannis Antetokounmpo continues to play at an MVP level. This team continues to have a championship ceiling.

5. Phoenix Suns

The Suns still aren't getting enough championship attention at a national level. They are routinely mentioned behind the Clippers, Jazz, and Nuggets, even though they have the league's second-best record. That needs to change.

Chris Paul and Devin Booker arm Phoenix with two of the most deadly scorers alive, and the roster is chock full of supporting cast members who can drain three-pointers. While the Suns could stand to attempt more free throws and put pressure on the rim, the balance they strike on offense with their stars and role players is almost perfect.

Phoenix is also built to defend a bunch of different ways. Paul can lockdown premier guards. Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder are bodies they can throw at bigger wings. Both Deandre Ayton and Dario Saric have defended well at the five spot this year.

Others have been slow to board the Suns' bandwagon. Don't let yourself be one of them.

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