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10 Teams With the Best Chance To Dethrone the Warriors

Stephen Curry, Warriors

The defending champion Golden State Warriors are the favorites to win the NBA championship once again when the 2018-19 NBA season gets underway. Having acquired All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins this offseason has made the Warriors a more daunting challenge for the entire league.

Though he may not be available for at least the first two to three months of the season, Cousins’ presence in the playoffs just made the climb to the top that much more difficult for every other contender.

Contrary to what many believe, a title is never a given even for the Warriors, especially with chemistry issues, injuries, teams gunning for them every night, and the monotony of another championship run weighs heavily on the shoulders of those who wear the crown. This means that there is a chance for a team, whether from the West or the East, to win the championship.

Warriors, Stephen Curry, DeMarcus Cousins

There are only a handful of teams that have a genuine shot at this point to challenge the Bay Area Squad but that doesn’t mean that a team on the rise can’t upset them. I’ve included my dark horse picks that have a shot at making next year’s Finals more interesting.

Check out the top 10 teams that have the best chance of dethroning the Warriors:

10. Indiana Pacers

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Myles Turner

Forward – Thaddeus Young

Forward – Bojan Bogdanovic

Guard – Victor Oladipo

Guard – Darren Collison

Bench: Cory Joseph, Aaron Holiday, Doug McDermott, T.J. Leaf, Alex Poythress, Domantas Sabonis, Ike Anigbogu

Victor Oladipo


Victor Oladipo led the Pacers to a Game 7, winner-take-all-game versus LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. Despite losing to the Cavs in that fateful game, it was the perfect audition for the Pacers who are now looked at as a contender. More than that, Indiana may have positioned itself as a major threat to the Beasts of the East such as the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors.

The Pacers defense was in full display in their lone playoff series last season but it was enough to give us an idea of what they are capable of. They had a defensive rating of 105.6 in the regular season, tied for 12th overall, but in the playoffs, the Pacers took it to another level with 103.0 which was second best in the playoffs to the Warriors.

Speaking of the Warriors, this Pacers team has the personnel to stifle Golden State’s vaunted offense with excellent individual defenders in Oladipo, Darren Collison, Thaddeus Young and Myles Turner. Offensively, Indiana could be better but they are a good enough offensive team to win ballgames with regularity.

Domantas Sabonis

However, they are still a couple of impact players away from truly challenging the elite from both conferences.

9. Milwaukee Bucks

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Brook Lopez

Forward – Giannis Antetokounmpo

Forward – Khris Middleton

Guard – Tony Snell

Guard – Eric Bledsoe

Bench: Malcolm Brogdon, Brandon Jennings, Matthew Dellavedova, Donte DiVincenzo, Sterling Brown, Ersan Ilyasova, D.J. Wilson, John Henson, Thon Maker, Tyler Zeller

Giannis Antetokounmpo


A seventh seed in the Eastern Conference as a title contender? Yes, the Bucks may not have had a good regular season but the postseason showed the potential of what this young team can really do. Giannis Antetokounmpo was an early MVP candidate last season as he improved his play for the fourth consecutive season.

The 23-year old forward has steadily become one of the top 10 players in the NBA and he is on the verge of taking over the league in the coming years. Last season, he posted season averages of 26.9 points, 10.0 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.4 blocks and 1.5 steals. The only thing he needs is a consistent jumper and a 3-point shot.

Having a player of this caliber gives the Bucks a chance to win any game and series. They took the Boston Celtics to the brink of elimination in the first round of the playoffs with terrific play from Antetokounmpo as well as Khris Middleton.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Malcolm Brogdon

Middleton is an excellent offensive and defensive talent and has become a fringe All-Star with the ability to get even better. Coupled with Eric Bledsoe, Thon Maker, John Henson and Tony Snell, the Bucks have the potential to be a lockdown defensive team. Unlike last season when they were 19th in the league on defense, an entire training camp with coach Mike Budenholzer will help shore up that deficiency.

If they were to face the Warriors in the Finals, they can match up favorably against them defensively as well as offensively where the Bucks were third in the league with 107.7 points per outing. The only thing that can keep the Bucks from a date in the championship is their youth, chemistry and inexperience playing together for their new coach.

8. Washington Wizards

Dwight Howard, John Wall, Wizards

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Dwight Howard

Forward – Markieff Morris

Forward – Otto Porter Jr.

Guard – Bradley Beal

Guard – John Wall

Bench: Tomas Satoransky, Austin Rivers, Troy Brown Jr., Jodie Meeks, Jeff Green, Kelly Oubre Jr., Jason Smith, Ian Mahinmi, Thomas Bryant

It’s unrealistic to believe that the presence of Dwight Howard will instantly transform the Wizards into championship contenders. That was the Howard of eight years ago. But Howard showed last season at Charlotte that he can still be a force in the league, albeit a less powerful one than the defensive monster that he was during his Orlando Magic days.

Dwight Howard, Wizards

Regardless of what happened in the Hornets locker room, his recent on-court performance was a successful audition for this Wizards team that’s just itching to take another step in getting to the Finals.

Coach Scott Brooks knows what it takes to make it to the championship round in the Western Conference with the Thunder back in 2011 and he has proven that he can still coach with the best of them.

John Wall and Bradley Beal are as unstoppable as any backcourt tandem can be. They only needed another player or two who can help take the load off of them. The addition of Austin Rivers and Jeff Green, as well as the further development of Tomas Satoransky, should make the Wizards an improved ballclub. At the very least, they have become better defensively.

Dwight Howard

A Warriors Finals matchup would be very intriguing provided that the Wizards can get past the rest of the East. If they can, then they could make the Finals a little more interesting. Howard vs. Cousins in the Finals, anyone? This I’d love to see.

7. Utah Jazz

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Rudy Gobert

Forward – Derrick Favors

Forward – Joe Ingles

Guard – Donovan Mitchell

Guard – Ricky Rubio

Bench: Dante Exum, Raul Neto, David Stockton, Alec Burks, Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neale, Jae Crowder, Ekpe Udoh, Tony Bradley

donovan mitchell

Rookie Donovan Mitchell was better than advertised and that led to the Jazz discovering their next great superstar. The 21-year old incoming sophomore nearly nabbed the 2017-18 Rookie of the Year Award if not for Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons who played for the first time in the league a year after his draft class due to injuries. Nonetheless, that doesn’t take away from Mitchell’s extraordinary rookie season which saw him lead the Jazz in scoring.

Not to be forgotten, 2017-18 Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert anchored the team’s stingy defense which was first in the league at 100.8. These two players led the team to heights it had never known since the John Stockton and Karl Malone era and the slightly successful Deron Williams and Carlos Boozer years from a decade ago.

The Jazz will be much better after their extensive playoff experience and they have some of the best role players in the game.


Though they were eliminated by the Houston Rockets, they showed enough promise to warrant a place among the league’s top contenders next season. Facing the Warriors will be tough but the Jazz are the league’s ultimate dark horse to pull away from a packed Western Conference and enter the Finals for the first time since 1998.

6. San Antonio Spurs

Projected starting lineup:

Center – LaMarcus Aldridge

Forward – Pau Gasol

Forward – Rudy Gay

Guard – DeMar DeRozan

Guard – Dejounte Murray

Bench: Manu Ginobili, Lonnie Walker IV, Bryn Forbes, Brandon Paul, Jakob Poeltl, Davis Bertans

demar derozan

It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for the Spurs in 2018. The Kawhi Leonard saga ended for San Antonio on Wednesday when they sent their superstar forward to the Toronto Raptors in a trade for DeMar DeRozan. Danny Green was included in the Raptors deal while Toronto also sent center Jakob Poeltl to the Spurs along with a protected 2019 first-round pick.

Though Leonard is the better player by far, DeRozan will fit in nicely with the Spurs. He will have a chip on his shoulder in the upcoming season after the Raptors blindsided him with the trade. That will be good for the Spurs who need their newly acquired All-Star to play with that fire if they want to return to being title contenders.

The team had already lost 17-year veteran Tony Parker to the Charlotte Hornets, giving the keys to the franchise’s starting point guard position to Dejounte Murray who looks ready to take charge next season. Murray is the perfect playmaker for the Spurs who don’t need a traditional point guard in their system.

Gregg Popovich, Kawhi Leonard

LaMarcus Aldridge was sensational last season and should continue to lead the Spurs to a better season. They would need a couple of big men to help him and Pau Gasol in patrolling the paint and they should be able to bring in a veteran big so before the season begins.

If the Spurs have any chance at all against the Warriors, Gregg Popovich will have to do his best coaching job ever. San Antonio has an outside chance against the Warriors especially without a player who can consistently contain Kevin Durant.

5. Toronto Raptors

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Jonas Valanciunas

Forward – Serge Ibaka

Forward – Kawhi Leonard

Guard – Danny Green

Guard – Kyle Lowry

Bench: Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, Malachi Richardson, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, Alfonzo McKinnie, Pascal Siakam

Kawhi Leonard


The 2018 playoffs may have shown the Raptors’ vulnerability to a certain number 23, but with James firmly entrenched in the West, the East can be taken by any team capable of taking the reins from the defending champion Cavaliers who are no longer a threat.

Toronto used to go only as far as Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan could take them, but the Raptors brass apparently didn’t want to take the risk by fielding in essentially the same team it did the past few years. With the Spurs deal, the burden of leadership falls squarely on Lowry’s broad shoulders. Leonard is an upgrade defensively for Toronto as he starts life anew in a different city and country. When healthy, Leonard is one of the best players in the league and he can take this Raptors team to the next level.

New coach Nick Nurse has his work cut out for him by giving Leonard the chance to shine in a city that he didn’t request to be traded to. If he can help focus the 6-foot-7 forward on winning in Toronto, then this team will be dangerous.

kawhi leonard

Jonas Valanciunas and Serge Ibaka have a lot to make up for after poor performances from both players versus the Cavs in the playoffs. But if they were to face the Warriors in the Finals, the Raptors have the necessary pieces to defend their top players while having the offensive firepower to score with the best of them.

The only question is whether their dismissal from the playoffs the past few years have taken their spirit. If they show any kind of competitive fire left, the Raptors have a good shot at leading the East once again and the opportunity to play in the Finals for the first time in franchise history. Once there, they have someone who can match Durant who has been the Finals MVP the past two years.

4. Houston Rockets

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Clint Capella

Forward – Ryan Anderson

Forward – P.J. Tucker

Guard – James Harden

Guard – Chris Paul

Bench: Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, Chinanu Onuaku, Nene Hilario, Zhou Qi

chris paul

Chris Paul is back with the Rockets to finish off what they started. Unfortunately, Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute are no longer going to join them. Add to that the fact that Clint Capella is still unsigned and the Rockets’ summer is turning out to be a horrible mess so far.

If they can keep Capella and add a few key veterans on their roster, they could salvage the offseason and possibly get back to their championship track, one that abruptly ended when Paul was injured in the conference finals. With a year of playing together with the perennial All-Star point guard, the Rockets are going to be more comfortable playing with him and that spells trouble for the rest of the league.

If the players they get to replace Ariza and Mbah a Moute are as good, or even better, then the Rockets could finally supplant the Warriors as the West’s best.

chris paul, clint capela

The only problem they have is the Warriors are going to be better in the playoffs with Cousins and that could spell trouble for Houston. Not only will they need Capella back, they need extra hands that can handle Golden State’s big guns defensively and offensively. The offseason is not over yet and GM Daryl Morey will not be satisfied until they have a better roster from last season.

3. L.A. Lakers

Projected starting lineup:

Center – JaVale McGee

Forward – LeBron James

Forward – Brandon Ingram

Guard – Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

Guard – Lonzo Ball

Bench: Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart, Lance Stephenson, Isaac Bonga, Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, Luol Deng, Moritz Wagner, Kyle Kuzma, Ivica Zubac

magic johnson, lebron james

The arrival of LeBron James made the Lakers a championship contender immediately. Everyone took notice as James led a not-so-talented team to the Finals last season. If he can take that team to a showdown with the league’s best, even though the Cavs are in the East, carrying L.A.’s young but gifted squad to the playoffs and beyond should be a much easier job for him.

The core team of Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma was bolstered by the addition of Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson and JaVale McGee. They also re-signed 3-and-D player Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

James will make this team better and the lineup looks like it has just leaped over the Rockets in the West, making them the favorites to face the Warriors in the west finals. General manager Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson carefully chose their free agent signings to match up well against Golden State with more playmaking and better defense than any of James’ recent Cavs teams.

LeBron James, JaVale McGee


It’s an experiment that could either make Pelinka and Johnson look like geniuses for figuring out how to stop the Warriors juggernaut or they’ll be hailed as gamblers who bet too much on an unproven product. With the four-time Most Valuable Player on hand, there’s a good chance that their experiment will be a success.

2. Philadelphia 76ers

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Joel Embiid

Forward – Dario Saric

Forward – Ben Simmons

Guard – J.J. Redick

Guard – Markelle Fultz

Bench: Jerryd Bayless, Landry Shamet, T.J. McConnell, Justin Anderson, Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, Zhaire Smith, Robert Covington, Nemanja Bjelica, Amir Johnson, Richaun Holmes

Dario Saric, Sixers

The Sixers fizzled out of the playoffs just when everyone thought that they were on the verge of a Finals appearance in Ben Simmons’ rookie year. Unfortunately, they ran into a Celtics squad that was hellbent on proving that they had what it took to win the whole thing until they got bounced by the rampaging Cavs. Simmons and Joel Embiid showed that they needed one more year of playing together before they can play with the big boys.

That year is now.

Sharp-shooting guard J.J. Redick is back and Markelle Fultz looks to be fully healed from his injuries by training camp. If Fultz is anywhere near the player that the Sixers believed he could be when they drafted him last year, then they have a good shot at taking down the Warriors. Skilled big men have been Golden State’s weakness but they usually don’t come in threes like the Sixers have with Simmons, Embiid and Dario Saric. Even with Cousins in tow, the Warriors will be hard-pressed to deal with this talented trio down low.

ben simmons, dario saric

It will be interesting to see how Philly fairs against Golden State in the regular season as a preview of how far they will have come by then.

1. Boston Celtics

Projected starting lineup:

Center – Al Horford

Forward – Gordon Hayward

Forward – Jayson Tatum

Guard – Jaylen Brown

Guard – Kyrie Irving

Bench: Terry Rozier, Brad Wanamaker, Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye, Marcus Morris, Robert Williams, Guerschon Yabusele, Jabari Bird, Daniel Theis

Danny Ainge, Celtics

Last year’s Celtics team was decimated by injuries to its top two stars, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, and yet they nearly pulled off the impossible by coming within one game of the Finals. With both players expected to be healthy by season’s start, Boston will be loaded at every position.

Young players Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have the potential to be All-Stars in the future. Then, there’s the steady and reliable Al Horford who was named an All-Star once again last season.

This team has the makings of a championship team that only needs the time and experience of playing together to make it to the Finals. Had it not been for James’ conference finals heroics, the Celtics would have been fighting for the Larry O’Brien Trophy last season.

Boston Celtics


Instead, they will have to settle for battling the Warriors in the Finals next year. After a fantastic rookie season, Tatum is going to soar all the way to All-Star status whether he gets voted in to the All-Star Game or not. Playing with a healthy Irving and Hayward this season, the Celtics are locked in and ready to go toe-to-toe with the Warriors.

If there is any team that can dethrone the league’s biggest bullies since Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers, it’s coach Brad Stevens’ Celtics. Should things go right for Boston in the East, the Finals will showcase a new rivalry between them and Golden State.

The post 10 Teams With the Best Chance To Dethrone the Warriors appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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