With the 2019-2020 NBA season more than a third of the way done, we can all agree that the top teams—Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Houston, Boston, Philly—have already cemented their place in the standings.
That being said, the jury’s still out on the rest of the league. There are only a handful of games separating the teams holding on to a playoff spot and the teams looking to get into the postseason picture. And these four are the ones most likely to make a surprise run at this year’s playoffs:
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio currently sits at the 10th spot in the Western Conference with a record that’s not at par with what people are used to. Nonetheless, it’s hard to bet against Gregg Popovich and the Spurs—this is a team that has made the postseason for 22 straight years; they have the system and personnel to make a run and extend that streak to another year.
The Spurs are an efficient offensive team that likes to play inside the arc. They have two great mid-range scorers in DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, and their young bucks—Lonnie Walker IV and Dejounte Murray—are starting to get comfortable with their roles. With a bit of consistency, it’s not hard to imagine the Spurs going off on a winning run and vaulting back into the playoff picture.
Even with a less-than-impressive record, the Bulls are currently only a few games away from clinching the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference.
The team can do that by continuing to play solid defense, which has been their bread and butter so far this year. They’re currently the ninth-best defensive team in the league, the only non-playoff team in the top 10. That being said, adjustments must be made to improve their subpar offense. The burden falls on Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen—two extremely talented gunslingers who need more touches and consistency. Once these two find their rhythm on the offensive end, the Bulls can string up the wins they need to climb up the standings.
The Suns started off the season with a 7-4 record and were one of the best teams in the West. During that stretch, they ranked in the top 10 in the league in both defensive and offensive figures. Unfortunately, a slew of injuries and suspensions killed their momentum. The losses piled up, and they’re now four spots behind the playoff standings.
The good news is that things are looking up for Phoenix, with DeAndre Ayton returning from suspension and key players like Aron Baynes, Cam Johnson, and Dario Saric bouncing back from injury. The Suns have heavily relied on Devin Booker during this tough stretch, but with their roster at nearly full strength, they have more than enough time to go back to their winning ways.
The Pistons made a surprise run to the 8th seed last season, and they have the firepower and personnel to take that leap again this year.
Injuries and offensive woes are to blame for the team’s abysmal start, with Blake Griffin missing a significant amount of time very early on. While Derrick Rose and Christian Wood have picked up the slack on the offensive end, they will need Griffin and defensive center Andre Drummond to play like All-Stars in order for the Pistons to achieve the same success as they did last year.
If you’re curious to see how the rest of the season plays out, you might want to get the NBA League Pass. Subscribers can stream every game on HD on any device anytime and anywhere—from the regular and postseason games to the much-awaited NBA Christmas Day and All-Star games. The upcoming Christmas Day Games, in particular, are a must-watch—especially when you have matchups like the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Los Angeles Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers set to duke it out.
With Globe Postpaid, you can catch it all and get the NBA League Pass at a discounted price. For more information, visit the official website.
Polo Bustamante is a sports analyst for CNN Philippines.