The dark horse NBA teams getting less attention
Much of the attention before the NBA season starts is falling on Los Angeles, with the Lakers and Clippers having brought in superstar talent this summer. With the Houston Rockets also having strengthened, the top four or five looks easy to predict, especially with the Milwaukee Bucks having kept hold of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Who else is in the mix though? We take a look at the dark horse NBA teams who are likely to do better than everyone expects.
Long-time coach Erik Spoelstra has been in Miami for over a decade, but the Heat were in danger of losing some of their identity when Josh Richardson exited to Philadelphia. With Hassan Whiteside also heading to Portland, there was a worry around how Spoelstra would construct a new team.
With Jimmy Butler, they have a player who knows what it is like to build from scratch, and who is happy to lead a team when he’s supported. As he showed at the Philadelphia 76ers, he could be instrumental in their play, but he did not click with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid quite enough. With Whiteside gone, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk look set to run the front, with Butler playing as shooting guard. They should make the playoffs, and could do well, especially if they add another smart acquisition.
The Nuggets have kept the nucleus of what took them to second last year, and the likes of Jamal Murray, Nikola Jokić and Gary Harris still have plenty of room to improve. Adding players such as Jerami Grant will help, and there could be moments when they look like troubling both of the sports betting favourites from Los Angeles over the course of 82 matches and beyond.
The Pacers were flying last year until Victor Oladipo got that year-long injury, and he is not expected to return until Christmas at the earliest. They brought in Malcolm Brogdon from the Bucks, and he should be able to provide drive in the engine room. If they can keep it together until Oladipo returns fit and ready, then another push on the playoffs is possible. However, they will hope to go further than that crushing 4-0 whitewash in round one by the Celtics.
With Mike Conley now lining up alongside Donovan Mitchell, the Jazz are quietly assembling a solid team, having also brought in Bojan Bogdanović. Do not be too surprised if they seize a top four spot in the West, and landing a favourable playoff draw in 2020 could see them progress further.
Words: Josh Dixon