The seven teams with a real chance of winning the NBA title

A handful of NBA teams continue to jockey for position at the top of each conference as we approach the final two weeks before the Feb. 9 trade deadline, with real contenders already parting ways with contenders across the league.

Perhaps one of the middle teams will enter the small group of title contenders with a big name before the deadline, but for now it’s hard to imagine more than seven or eight teams with legitimate aspirations. to hoist the championship trophy in June. .

Here’s our late-January look at the teams that look like they could win the title as it currently stands:

1. Celtics (35-14)

After snatching a nine-game winning streak, the Celtics lost two in a row (to the Magic and Heat) ahead of Thursday night’s nationally televised clash with the Knicks. But the defending Eastern Conference champions still hold the league’s best record under Joe Mazzulla in his first season after replacing Ime Udoka. All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown are the NBA’s top-scoring tandem with a combined 57.9 points per game, and Malcolm Brogdon added depth as the sixth man.

2. Bucks (30-17)

Giannis Antetokounmpo has kept the Bucks near the top of the Eastern Conference even without Khris Middleton for most of the season.
Getty Images

Two-time league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo deserves to be part of this conversation again (at least in the top three) for leading the Bucks to a 52-win pace despite three-time All-Star Khris Middleton appearing in just seven games before to return to the rotation in Monday’s 150-point outburst against Detroit. The 2021 NBA champions took the Celtics to seven games in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals without Middleton, who could seemingly be considered the most impactful addition to any roster in contention before the trade deadline. .

3. Nuggets (34-14)

Nikola Jokic is one of the favorites to win a third consecutive MVP award, which would make the Serbian big man the first player since Larry Bird (1984-86) to win so many in a row. The only others to have accomplished the feat? Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain. Jamal Murray started slow after missing all of last season after ACL surgery, but he averaged 20.0 points and 6.1 assists over his last 36 games to help the Nuggets to a league-best record. West after being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. spring by the Warriors.

4. Nets (29-17)

Brooklyn will likely be without Kevin Durant (knee) for a few more weeks, but Kyrie Irving and the Nets have had back-to-back road wins at Utah and Golden State after losing their first four in KD’s absence. Health and availability continue to be issues for a team led by this duo and Ben Simmons, but they were riding with 18 wins from 20 games before Durant’s latest injury.

5. 76ers (30-16)

Joel Embiid #21 and James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers speak during the fourth quarter against the LA Clippers at Wells Fargo Center on December 23, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Sixers are hoping Joel Embiid and James Harden can get the 76ers through to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2001.
Getty Images

The Sixers haven’t made it past the second round with Joel Embiid as their star – that drought dates back to when Allen Iverson led them to the Finals in 2001 – including an early elimination by the Heat last year in the first post -James Harden’s season with the team. Philly is 18-4 after a 12-12 start, including five straight wins, all on the road, entering Wednesday’s home showdown against the Nets.

6. Warriors (23-24)

The defending champions have trailed around the 7-10 play-in range in the West all season despite stars Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins each missing at least 10 games through injury. The Warriors currently sit in 10th place, but only two losses separate the fifth-seeded Clippers (24) and the 13th-seeded Lakers in the Confused West. But with Jordan Poole averaging a career-high 21.2 points per game, no team will want to face this battle-tested core at full strength if the Warriors reach the playoffs. On Tuesday, in fact, FanDuel still listed the Warriors with the fifth-best odds (+850) to win it all, behind the Celtics, Bucks, Nets and Nuggets.

7. Grizzlies (31-16)

Memphis has lost three straight after an 11-game winning streak, and Ja Morant and Steven Adams missed Monday’s loss at Sacramento with injury designations. That group – also including underrated 20-point scorer Desmond Bane – won their first round of the playoffs last year against the Timberwolves before falling to the Warriors in the second round.

The rest

Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings heads for the basket against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 21, 2023 at the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento, California.
Domantas Sabonis is shooting 60.9 percent from the floor and 35.8 percent from the 3-point line, both career highs for the Kings big man.
NBAE via Getty Images

The Kings have become one of the most exciting offensive teams in the league behind De’Aaron PKB and Domantas Sabonis, reaching third place in the West, but making the playoffs for the first time since 2006 will have to be enough this year. The rising Cavaliers have added the Knicks’ sought-after star (Donovan Mitchell), but this top quartet from the East will be tough to beat. Zion Williamson and the Pelicans could also be a year out West. The Heat come in, 15-7 after a 12-15 start, passing the Knicks for now for the coveted No. 6 spot.

Today’s last page

The back cover of the New York Post for January 25, 2023.
New York Post


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Numbers to know: Knicks-Cavaliers

The Knicks escaped with a 105-103 victory over Donovan Mitchell’s Cavaliers on Tuesday night at the Garden. Here’s a look at the decisive win, which snapped a four-game losing streak and lifted their record to 26-23:

3️⃣6️⃣ Points for Julius Randle

8️⃣ Made 3 points for Randle, who had shot 28.9% from long range in his last 11 games.

4️⃣ Seconds remaining (4.4, to be exact) when Isaiah Hartenstein blocked Mitchell at the rim on a potentially equalizing layup.

6️⃣ Assists for Immanuel Quickley on his return to the line-up after missing a game with left knee pain. The Knicks outscored the Cavs by 14 points in 27 minutes for Quickley.

1️⃣1️⃣ Points for Obi Toppin in 10:22 of action, his second straight double-digit game after failing to hit that mark since mid-November.

Jonathan Lehman

It’s Hall, folks

Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Scott Rolen #17 throws the ball to first base against the San Francisco Giants during the game April 29, 2002 at Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, California.  The Giants won the game 8-5.
Scott Rolen was elected to the Hall of Fame in his sixth year of eligibility.
Getty Images

Scott Rolen will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer after barely passing the necessary 75% threshold of the BBWAA electorate, of which I am a voting member. The eight-time Gold Glove third baseman will join Contemporary Era Committee winner Fred McGriff at this year’s induction ceremony in Cooperstown.

I used seven of my slots this year, compared to a maximum of 10 a year ago. With David Ortiz elected and Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling dropping out of the ballot after 10 years of consideration, I added longtime Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins to my six remains: Rolen, Todd Helton, Andruw Jones , Jeff Kent, Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner.

Moving forward to 2024, the vote bodes well for Helton, the five-time All-Star first baseman with the Rockies, and Wagner, a former dominant closer who has spent most of his career with the Astros. the Phillies and the Mets.

Todd Helton waves to the crowd during the 91st MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard at Coors Field on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 in Denver, Colorado.
Five-time All-Star Todd Helton looks set to be elected in Cooperstown possibly as soon as next year.
MLB Photos via Getty Images

Especially considering Rolen has come so far from his first appearance on the ballot, when he won 10.2% of the vote in 2018.

Helton, in his fifth year on the ballot, rose from 16.5% in the first year in 2019 to 52.0% a year ago to 72.2% this year.

Wagner went from 10.5% in 2016 to 51.0% last year to 68.1% with two years left to consider.

The results of the 2023 Hall of Fame vote

Helton, Wagner and the rest of the remnants – including soaring Andruw Jones (58.1%), Gary Sheffield (55.0% in his ninth year of eligibility) and rookie Carlos Beltran (46.5 %) — will be joined next year by likely first-inductees Adrian Beltre and Joe Mauer.

Beltran has clearly been hurt this year by his involvement in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, but after a year-long delay, I plan to add the former Mets center back to my list in the next voting cycle. .

Unsurprisingly, however, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez gained little ground in their nominations. The two PED-suspended superstars received less than 36% of the vote, which is similar to last year’s totals.

Mikaela makes her mark

Race winner Mikaela Shiffrin of the United States celebrates on the podium after competing in the women's giant slalom on January 24, 2023 at Plan de Corones (Kronplatz), in the Dolomites, as part of the World Ski Championships Alpine FIS.
Mikaela Shiffrin’s 83 World Cup skiing victories are the most for any woman in history, and it may not be long before she holds the mark of any female skier in the world. ‘story.
AFP via Getty Images

Almost a year after a disappointing personal Olympic extinction, American skier Mikaela Shiffrin has set a record on the slopes with one more chance.

Shiffrin, 27, won her 83rd Alpine Skiing World Cup on Tuesday in Italy, eclipsing the previous mark held by retired American teammate Lindsey Vonn. Shiffrin also came within three wins of equaling Sweden’s Ingemar Stenmark’s overall mark of 86 wins.

“It’s hard to find words actually,” Shiffrin said. “I don’t think there are words to explain all the feelings.”

The two-time Olympic gold medalist was shut out in six events at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

Shiffrin has a chance to add to his tally of giant slalom wins early Wednesday and two more slalom races to come in the Czech Republic before the world championships start Feb. 6 in France.

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