The Memphis Grizzlies and 4 Other Legitimate NBA Championship Contenders No One Is Talking About

With only 20-ish games left in the regular season, the Eastern Conference standings are a jumbled mess, while the West’s No. 2 and 3 seeds are still up for grabs.

The usual suspects — the Milwaukee Bucks, Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, and Golden State Warriors — are certainly in the mix to win this year’s NBA title.

There are a handful of other teams, however, that have a compelling claim to be included in that conversation, but for one reason or another, are not.

Here are five teams, including Ja Morant‘s Memphis Grizzlies, that are legitimate championship contenders currently flying under the radar.

5. The Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies land at the five spot on this list because they have been mentioned as a possible title challenger, but only in passing. It’s been a case of “The Grizzlies theoretically have a chance to win the championship” immediately followed by “but ….

But should there be a but?

Memphis has the third-best record in the NBA. They’re only two games behind Golden State in the loss column.

Morant is now a bonafide, A-list superstar who can put a team on his back if he needs to — but the Grizzlies are so deep he often doesn’t.

Five other Memphis players score in double figures, and four others take at least 13 shots a game. Eight different players average more than 20 minutes.

The Grizzlies also lead the league in rebounding. They’re seventh in assists but only 10th in turnovers. They’re tops in the NBA in both steals and blocks.

And if nothing else, the team gets to the free-throw line the second most often in the NBA and converts at a 73.3% clip. So if shots aren’t falling, they can pound defenses inside and score from the line.

The Grizz are a complete team. Even with their youth and playoff inexperience, they have as good a chance as any to win this year’s title.

4. The Utah Jazz

The Utah Jazz have been one of the NBA’s best regular-season teams the past few years, but that hasn’t translated into actual playoff success. Yet.

Why should this year be any different?

The answer falls on the shoulders of Donovan Mitchell, and right now, Spida is proving he’s capable of carrying the offensive load the Jazz have to ask him to.

Small sample size alert, but Mitchell is averaging nearly 30 points a game since the All-Star break. He’s shooting 56.5% from three — his shooting splits in general sit at 50/55/80.

And even with an often offensively-challenged roster, he’s dishing out five assists per night and is also grabbing 1.5 steals.

In a larger sample size that goes back to the beginning of February, the 25-year-old is averaging nearly 28 points, four rebounds, five assists, and two steals per game with shooting splits of 50/47/85.

As a team, the Jazz are third in the league in scoring and ninth in points allowed. Rudy Gobert still anchors the middle as one of the best defensive players in the NBA.

Utah has been at or near the top of the West all season and currently sits fourth, still 2.5 games clear of the fifth-place Dallas Mavericks.

Even if the past few years show the team can fall apart in the postseason, the Jazz remain one of the most consistent teams in the NBA and feature one of the best offensive and defensive players in the league.

3. Dallas Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks may still be behind Utah in the standings, but Luka Doncic is playing the best basketball of his career, and Dallas is rolling.

The trade that sent Kristaps Porzingis to the Washington Wizards in return for Spencer Dinwiddie and Davis Bertans may not have been just addition by subtraction. It may have been plain and simple addition.

The Mavericks are 4-2 in the six games since the deadline-day trade, but signs are pointing to better things coming sooner rather than later.

Without Porzingis, Luka is scoring more than 37 points per game with shooting splits of 46/42/76 and adding 11.2 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game.

Dallas is a more balanced offensive team with the addition of Dinwiddie. Jalen Brunson is still the team’s second-leading scorer, but Dinwiddie is averaging 14 points a night in six games with the Mavs and is shooting better than 46% from deep.

Bertans seems to be finding his shooting stroke again as well, hitting 39.3% of his seven attempts per night.

What’s more, the Mavs are still second in the league in points allowed.

With the additions from Washington and Luka nearly averaging a triple-double since the turn of the calendar year (29.2 points, 10.2 rebounds, 9.2 assists), Dallas certainly has the ammunition to stay hot for another four months.

2. Boston Celtics

Upon first glance, this may sound like a way-out-there idea.

But — first and foremost — the Boston Celtics have two legitimate stars on the wing in Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum. That’s an immediate advantage.

Secondly, because of the mess at the top of the East, the Celtics are only 1.5 games back of the fourth-place Bucks (who are trending in the wrong direction) and could end up with homecourt advantage in the postseason.

Heading into a March 1 game against the Atlanta Hawks, Boston has won 11 of its last 13 games. That gives the Celtics the best record in the NBA since Jan. 29.

They’re outscoring their opponents by more than 15 points a game during that span — the Grizzlies are second in that department, nearly five points behind.

Boston has also been the best defensive team in the league since the end of January. The Celts’ defensive rating of 100.9 is tops in the NBA by almost six points, and they’re allowing a league-low 99.8 points per game.

Tatum, Brown, and Co. have been far and away the best defensive team in the league over the past month. If that trend continues, they could defend their way to a title.

1. Miami Heat

This is an incredibly strange one because the Miami Heat currently sit atop the Eastern Conference as of March 1. Even though the standings are bunched up, the Heat are two full games clear of the Chicago Bulls.

A team featuring Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, and Bam Adebayo is, of course, top five in points allowed. But Miami has also found an offensive rhythm to go along with it.

The team is sixth in the league in total assists, which means the ball constantly moves between a rotation of unselfish players. Butler leads the team in scoring at 21.7 points a night, but Tyler Herro — the leading candidate for Sixth Man of the Year — is averaging better than 20 points as well.

Adebayo has worked himself into a full lather since returning on Jan. 17 after a seven-week absence. Since then, Bam is averaging 19.1 points on nearly 55% shooting to go along with 10.3 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.4 blocks.

And Miami is deep. With Butler, Adebayo, and Lowry missing time at different points of the season, players like Gabe Vincent, Max Strus, and Caleb Martin have averaged more than 20 minutes.

Strus is shooting better than 40% from deep, Herro 37.8%, and Duncan Robinson 36.1% on a team-high 8.3 attempts.

The Heat can defend, shoot, adjust their rotation to fit any matchup, and have loads of playoff experience. And, again, they currently have the No. 1 seed in the East.

Somehow Miami gets lost in the championship shuffle, but there’s absolutely no reason they shouldn’t be one of the first few teams mentioned heading into the final stretch of the regular season.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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