With the NBA 2020-21 season now a month old, we have a clearer picture of which sides look like genuine contenders and which were overhyped in preseason. However, there were also those sides that were given little chance of succeeding this year amid rebuilds or lacking star talent.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers knocked off the star-studded Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night, the Cavs climbed to sixth in the East turning heads on the way. With this in mind, we decided to compile a list of five teams that we believe have the potential to go the distance this season and end up in the NBA playoffs.
NBA 2020-21: 5 teams emerging with potential playoff hopes
#1 Cleveland Cavaliers
Expected to be cellar-dwellers by many amid a rebuild, the Cleveland Cavaliers have been one of the league's standout performers in the NBA's 2020-21 season so far. The Cavs currently have a 7-7 record and sit sixth in the East, one place behind the Brooklyn Nets, the most recent side to be humbled by coach Bickerstaff's team.
It was in Wednesday night's overtime win against the Nets' big guns that the Cavaliers very own star shone brightest - Collin Sexton. Returning from injury, the guard scored 42 points, bringing his average for the season after nine games up to 27 points. In his third year with the Cavs, it appears the franchise is now seeing the rewards of an offensive structure based around a player that can consistently put up shots and sink them. His ability to do so was no more apparent than against Brooklyn, scoring 20 straight points during both overtimes.
The reason for Cleveland's fine start does not rest on the young Sexton's fine performances but on a collective team effort. Currently, the Cavaliers have the fifth-best defense in the NBA and due to their size have grabbed the fourth-most defensive rebounds.
#2 New York Knicks
Staying in the East, we come onto another of the league's surprise packages having been written off by many before the NBA 2020-21 season tipped off.
Coach Thibodeau has transformed the psychology at Madison Square Garden and made fans believe that his young Knicks side can push for a playoff berth. One hurdle they may have to face compared to the Cavs is that inexperience, though they play with a freedom that can drive them against tougher opposition, such as in their wins over the Jazz, Pacers and Bucks.
The Knicks have the sixth-best defense in the NBA and sit atop numerous variables, such as fewest points allowed and fewest field goals allowed. On the other end of the floor, the Knicks have benefitted from their two stars, Julius Randle and RJ Barrett, having career-high years and will be further bolstered by the return of Alec Burks this week.