NBA General Managers Say It’s a 2-Team Race for the Title

Every year, NBA general managers complete a survey about a variety of topics. One of the questions? “Which teams will contend for the NBA title?” League general managers completed the survey before the season, and the results are in. Let’s take a closer look at the contenders in both conferences as well as who NBA execs think will emerge from each. 

(All standings are valid as of NBA games played on November 17, 2019).

Top contenders in the Eastern Conference

The East has a few viable contenders for the top spot in the conference, including the defending champion. It also has the team that won the most regular-season games last year. Let’s take a look at the top contenders below: 

Boston Celtics

Adding Kemba Walker at guard in the offseason is looking like a masterstroke. The Celtics appear as if they haven’t missed a beat after losing Kyrie Irving. They may even have gotten better. 

Milwaukee Bucks

They finished last season with the best regular-season record in the NBA. So far in 2019, they’ve shown no signs of slowing down. With Giannis Antetokounmpo in a contract year, expect big things from the Bucks. 

Toronto Raptors

Yes, they lost Kawhi Leonard. But they’re still the defending champs. And they’re still led by a solid core of Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and the always improving Pascal Siakam.  

Miami Heat

Jimmy Butler was the Heat’s big free-agent splash this offseason. So far, it’s paying off. Through 12 games, the Heat are only one game out of first place. 

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers bring back one of the best young cores in basketball. Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons look to improve on last year’s visit to the Eastern Conference semis. 

Top contenders in the Western Conference

While the East has its fair share of solid teams, it’s not as loaded as the West. The NBA’s Western Conference may not have netted a title last year, but it has plenty of great teams ready to jump at the chance in 2020. Here are the top contenders: 

Denver Nuggets

They don’t have some of the flashy names like the other Western Conference elite. But what they do have is a solid squad. Through 12 games played, the Nuggets are only 1.5 games out of the top spot in the West. Behind Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, the sky is the limit for Denver. 

Houston Rockets

The Rockets have looked great so far, but for this team, only a championship will do. The big question on everyone’s mind is still whether pairing James Harden and Russell Westbrook will work throughout a playoff run. It’s been rather smooth sailing so far, but check back in after 82 games and a deep playoff run to see if it truly worked. 

Los Angeles Lakers

NBA general managers believe it's basically a two-team race to the Finals.
Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and General Manager Rob Pelinka of the Lakers. | Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Lakers’ plan for NBA domination is nearly complete. After adding LeBron James last year, they now got the other star they wanted in Anthony Davis. As long as those two are healthy, you have to consider the Lakers serious contenders. 

Los Angeles Clippers

While the Lakers reloaded, the Clippers did anything but stand pat. They not only went out and acquired Leonard via free agency, but they also traded a boatload of first-round picks for Paul George. They may be mortgaging the future for the present, but the present sure looks good with Leonard and George in tow. 

Which two teams do general managers think will reach the NBA Finals? 

NBA general managers believe it's basically a two-team race to the Finals -- Clippers and Bucks.
The Clippers’ Lou Williams and the Bucks Giannis Antetokounmpo get tangled up. | Harry How/Getty Images

The NBA released its annual GM survey last month. The GMs were asked which teams would compete for the title. There were two overwhelming favorites: the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers.

For the Bucks, it’s evidence that last year’s terrific regular-season was hardly a fluke. Yes, they couldn’t hold onto a two-game lead in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Raptors. But that Raptors team is totally different this year. The Bucks have brought back essentially the same team. There’s no reason they can’t surge ahead to the NBA Finals. 

Meanwhile, the Clippers had probably the most successful offseason by adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. With head coach Doc Rivers managing Leonard’s load during the regular season, you can almost throw out those results as a measuring stick. If the Clippers qualify for the top four in the west (and they probably will), they’re a threat to go all the way.