Seven games were on the docket with another nine played Friday.
Under the new playoff format, there are very few teams that do not have a shot at making the playoffs.
All but five teams in the league are either in a playoff spot, play-in tournament spot, or within five games of the play-in tournament.
And while everybody seemingly has a shot at making the playoffs, there are still only a handful of serious contenders for the Finals.
Last year’s Finals contenders are both in the running with Phoenix leading the league and Milwaukee in fourth in the East.
They are joined by the likes of the Miami Heat, Philadelphia 76ers, and Golden State Warriors.
But this year there are a handful of surprise Finals contenders in the mix.
Two were projected as playoff hopefuls but the other was almost certainly lottery-bound.
These three teams have far exceeded expectations already this season.
3. Chicago Bulls
If the season were to end today, the Chicago Bulls would be tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Caesar’s Sportsbook had their pre-season win total set at 43.5 and +6000 odds to win the title.
They are already 39-21 with 22 games remaining.
Chicago was clearly not satisfied after swinging a blockbuster deal during last season’s trade deadline for Nikola Vucevic.
They also went out and signed Alex Caruso.
Franchise cornerstone Zach LaVine was no longer a one-man show; he now had legitimate help.
While most thought the Bulls would definitely be improved, nobody thought it would be this dramatic.
Ball and Caruso have both missed time this year but have brought some defensive prowess to Chicago.
LaVine has continued to improve his game but it has been DeRozan who has stolen the show.
7 players in NBA History have had 8 straight 35-point games:
– Michael Jordan
– LeBron James
– Kobe Bryant
– James Harden
– Wilt Chamberlain
– Elgin Baylor
– DeMar DeRozan (!!!)
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 25, 2022
The 32-year-old guard is having a career year, averaging 28.3 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting from the field.
He has paired that terrific scoring with 5.2 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game while only missing four contests.
DeRozan’s play has earned him some potential MVP chatter.
If Chicago can get healthy for the stretch run, they will be a problem come playoff time.
2. Memphis Grizzlies
Next, we have one of the most exciting teams in the league this year, the Memphis Grizzlies.
The second youngest team in the league in terms of average age has followed up their surprise playoff appearance last year with a more impressive showing.
Memphis is third in the Western Conference with a record of 41-20.
One more win will put them clear of their preseason win total at Caesar’s Sportsbook that was set at 41.5.
Moving up to No. 10 allowed Memphis to snag Ziaire Williams, a rangy athletic power forward who has played serious minutes this season.
Other than that, the Grizzlies have mostly relied on the internal development of their own guys.
Ja Morant is blossoming into a superstar and earned his first All-Star appearance this season.
Updated NBA MVP Ladder:
1.) Nikola Jokic
2.) Joel Embiid
3.) Giannis Antetokounmpo
4.) DeMar DeRozan
5.) Steph Curry
6.) Devin Booker
7.) Ja Morant
8.) Luka Doncic
9.) Chris Paul
10.) Jimmy Butler
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) February 25, 2022
Jaren Jackson Jr. has continued to flash what he can do on the offensive end while swatting away anything in sight at the rim (2.2 blocks per game).
Those three are the headliners for this roster but the depth is what makes them truly dangerous.
Nine players average more than 20 minutes per game, which has been huge since two-way wing Dillon Brooks has only appeared in 21 games this season.
The Grizzlies may have been a surprise team in last year’s playoffs, but teams will have their eye on them this time around.
They are young, feisty, and “want all the smoke” – they won’t back down from anybody.
1. Cleveland Cavaliers
Finally, we have the team almost nobody predicted to be a serious playoff contender, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Last year’s Cavaliers squad went 22-50 and scored the fewest points per game in the league.
They used that selection to draft Evan Mobley, the seven-footer out of USC who had the potential to score from all levels while providing rim protection on defense and also be able to switch onto smaller guards.
There was more potential on the roster but the play-in tournament was seen as the best-case scenario with Caesars setting their win-total at 26.5.
The Cavaliers hit their preseason win projection well before the All-Star break and are looking to make noise now.
Collin Sexton went down early in the season but the Cavaliers have pushed right through.
Darius Garland has become one of the most promising young guards and earned an All-Star nod because of it.
Allen joined him and has anchored a defense that is the stingiest in the league in terms of points allowed per game.
Smile if you're averaging career-highs in:
— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) February 24, 2022
But the most promising part of it all has been Mobley, the poleman in almost all Rookie of the Year races.
His three-point shooting needs work.
But that hasn’t stopped him from averaging 14.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per game.
Mobley and Allen lock down the paint on a nightly basis.
With the East seemingly wide open, the Cavs could turn some heads with a Finals push.