The Los Angeles Lakers are likely to repeat as NBA champions. LeBron James led the Lakers to their first NBA title in a decade last year, and Los Angeles only lost five games during its run. That has made the Lakers the team to beat in everyone’s eyes, as James is out to win his fifth championship.

There are only a handful of teams that have a legitimate chance to stop the Lakers from winning their 18th NBA title. The Brooklyn Nets are clearly the most talented team in the Eastern Conference after their acquisition of James Harden, and the city rival Los Angeles Clippers will be a tough out in the postseason. Utah and Philadelphia have a puncher’s chance too, but it’s tough to see Milwaukee beating LA four times in seven games.

BROOKLYN NETS

Brooklyn might not be the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, but this team has the highest ceiling. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden are the most talented trio of stars on a single team. It’s going to take time for roles to be fully flushed out, but the Nets are already starting to gel. Harden has emerged as the primary ball handler and might end up leading the NBA in assists this season. All three stars are averaging at least 24 PPG and all three players are also devastatingly efficient, making at least 50 percent of their field goals and 40 percent of their three-pointers. That makes the Nets the highest-scoring and most efficient offense in the NBA.

LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Clippers were the favorites to win the NBA title for most of last season. However, this team fell apart in Orlando. There were some major chemistry issues, and that led to a new coach and some new blood.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the two leaders of this team. Leonard is the best on-ball defender in the league, and George has done a much better job of knocking down shots. Serge Ibaka and Nic Batum give the Clippers two experienced big men, and Lou Williams can make things happen off the bench.

UTAH JAZZ

Utah is currently the hottest team in the league. The Jazz have the NBA’s best record at 24-5. They have won 20 of their last 21 games after a 4-4 start, and the Jazz have won nine in a row in February. Utah has yet to face the Lakers, but the Jazz have defeated the Bucks and the Clippers twice.

Rudy Gobert is playing at a high level, looking like the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year after a letdown 2019-20 season. The backcourt is what drives this team though as Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley have emerged alongside Donovan Mitchell to play excellent smallball.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

This is the most intriguing team in the NBA. Joel Embiid is playing at an MVP caliber level with 29.7 PPG and 10.8 RPG. Embiid no longer looks gassed late in games, and he has a whopping 30.82 PER. He is a force of nature in the low post, and he does a great job putting opponents in foul trouble by getting to the line over 11 times a night.

The X-Factor is Ben Simmons. Simmons is making 56.2 percent of his field goals, but he thrives in transition and stalls in the half-court. He is the rare guard that cannot shoot from downtown, and his failure to deliver at the free-throw line is concerning too. However, Simmons plays great defense and is an excellent passer. That played a pivotal role in the Sixers’ 107-106 win over the Lakers back on January 27.