With the 2021-22 NBA season less than a week away, fans are looking to fill up the arenas and cheer their teams to victory. The NBA will return to its 82-game schedule while retaining the play-in tournament, so there could be some surprise entries in the 2022 NBA playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets and LA Lakers are early favorites to emerge from the Eastern and Western Conferences, respectively. The Milwaukee Bucks and Golden State Warriors should also be in the mix, although the odds do not favor them as much as the Nets and the Lakers.
Kyrie Irving's decision not to get vaccinated against COVID-19 might have tipped the scale in favor of the Lakers to successfully come out of the West as champions. While the combination of Kevin Durant and James Harden could cause significant damage, Irving's absence could be acutely felt.
In the 2020-21 season, the Memphis Grizzlies sent shockwaves by beating the San Antonio Spurs and the Golden State Warriors to clinch the eighth seed in the West. There could be more such surprise entries in the 2021-22 season, as many teams have improved in the offseason.
While some teams may be content with making playoff appearances, others will look to contend for the championship. Even though there are early favorites to win the 2022 NBA title, a repeat of what the Milwaukee Bucks and Phoenix Suns did last season remains a distinct possibility. Unexpected teams could pull off big upsets to reach the NBA Finals.
On that note, here are five teams that could surprise by making deep runs in the 2022 NBA playoffs.
#5 Portland Trail Blazers
The Portland Trail Blazers have been starved of playoff success, reaching the conference finals only once since the turn of the century. Last season, they fell short against the Denver Nuggets despite Damian Lillard's record-setting performances.
A former NBA player with championship experience - Chauncey Billups - has now taken over at the helm. Billups' arrival might be the boost needed to rally the Blazers to a deep run in the playoffs. However, it is highly unlikely they'd go beyond the conference finals.
#4 Dallas Mavericks
The Dallas Mavericks have been eliminated by the LA Clippers in the last two seasons. They have failed to make it past the first round since the 2012 NBA season, so they will look to turn things around this time.
In terms of personnel, there haven't been many changes, except for their high-profile signing of Reggie Bullock to improve their three-point shooting. However, the Dallas Mavericks shook things up at the management level. They parted ways with their long-time head coach Rick Carlisle and brought in Jason Kidd.
Perhaps that is the change the Mavericks need to make a deep run in the NBA playoffs. Nonetheless, Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will have to be at their best if the Mavericks hope to move past the first round.