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NBA Tier List: Wizards, Cavaliers highlight season of parity so far

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Is it just me or are there seemingly a lot of good teams around the league this season?

Though often reviled for what’s often a very top-heavy small group of contenders that can realistically win it, the 2021-22 NBA season has been one defined by parity so far.

Sure, there’s the talent-laden teams such as the Brooklyn Nets you might expect at the top, along with the return of royalty like the Golden State Warriors, but teams that many predicted to be mediocre at best have looked pretty good so far, such as the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards.

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Perhaps it’s the new rule changes allowing for a more physical brand of defence allowing more teams to be more competitive or even just the fact that a lot of the expected powers are either dealing with injuries or are just plain old, but it’s made for a much more balanced regular season so far – and a more entertaining one.

The Wizards lead the East

Props to the league-leading Warriors, who look like their old juggernaut selves and should only get better when Klay Thopmpson returns, but as great as they’ve been, they’re not the best story in the NBA right now.

That distinction goes to the Eastern-Conference leading Wizards, who sport a 9-3 record and, thanks to the editions of players they got from the Russell Westbrook trade – such as Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma – they have some real depth and complementary talent to around superstar guard Bradley Beal, who actually hasn’t been too great this season, shooting the ball poorly despite still continuing to score a ton.

The Brooklyn Nets look to be rolling right now, having won eight of their last 10 games, so odds are this time at the top won’t last for much longer for Washington, but full credit should be given when it’s due, and the Wizards have been awesome so far.

Chicago and Cleveland. Who woulda thought?

Another pleasant surprise this season has been the exceptional play of both the Chicago Bulls and, especially, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

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For the Bulls, we probably shouldn’t have been quite so surprised as the star wing duo of DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine has been nigh-unstoppable. They might hit a snag now with Nikola Vucevic testing positive for COVID-19, but with Coby White also returning as a boost to their bench, there’s also a good chance they’ll just keep rolling.

The Cavaliers are much more of a mystery. Who could’ve predicted that the frontcourt combination of rookie Evan Mobley and Jarrett Allen would prove quite so formidable already on the defensive end. Plus, the star turn third-year guard Darius Garland has taken has appeared to unlock an offensive potential in Cleveland no one could’ve thought possible.

Elsewhere at this tier, there’s a good chance that we might see the Philadelphia 76ers drop down a level next week if they keep up this pace. Philly has dropped four games straight, all without Joel Embiid in the lineup after he reportedly entered health and safety protocols. Without their stud five-man, Philly is very vulnerable.

Lakers, Bucks treading water

With injuries to stars such as LeBron James and Khris Middleton on both the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks, these two expected championship contenders have been disappointing, but it’s not like they’re out of things yet.

Still, given how strong both conferences appear to be this season, they’ll need to start picking things up sooner than later, lest they find themselves in an awkward play-in spot come the end of the season.

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In positive news around this third tier, the Los Angeles Clippers have appeared to hit their stride having won seven of their last eight contests as Paul George is beginning to emerge as an early MVP favourite.

And in some Raptors news, they’ve lost four of their last five and sit at 7-7 on the season. Pascal Siakam had a strong showing in defeat their last time out, but things could get real tough as they’re about to hit six games straight on the road.

Hawks turning the corner?

The Atlanta Hawks had lost six straight games until Trae Young erupted for 42 points and 10 assists against the Bucks on Sunday.

Given how good Atlanta looked in the post-season last season, they seemed like they would be an easy lock for the playoffs again this season, but it’s been a struggle for them so far and it’s mainly been because of how poor they’ve been defensively.

However, picking up a big win against the defending champs might be just what the doctor ordered for this talented club, so maybe they’ll begin to turn things around now?

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Pathetic Pelicans

The New Orleans Pelicans picked up just their second win on the season Saturday after Brandon Ingram returned to the lineup after a seven-game absence.

That was nice, but it all might be too late already for New Orleans, particularly because Zion Williamson remains out with a foot injury and could still be weeks away from a return.

Sure, the silver lining for New Orleans is likely a high draft pick coming its way, but this is a team that should be looking to try to make the post-season at this point with the duo of Ingram and Williamson leading the way.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like that will happen.



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