Michael Conroy/Associated Press
FanDuel gives these six teams the same impossibly long title odds as the group of cellar-dwellers in the last section. While it's true none of the squads here have even a semi-realistic shot to win the championship, each of them is either in playoff position or close enough to get there with a decent closing run.
In fact, it's not that difficult to imagine a couple of these teams giving a top-seeded opponent some trouble in a first-round series.
Charlotte Hornets (250-1)
LaMelo Ball pumped new energy into the Charlotte Hornets this season, and his presence on the roster is the biggest reason to believe in the franchise's future. Charlotte has been respectable (7-6) since Ball left the lineup with a wrist injury, though, and it remains a short hot streak away from the East's No. 4 playoff spot.
A championship? No way. But it sure seems like the odds here, which give the Hornets the same likelihood of earning a ring as the league's worst teams, are a little longer than they should be.
Chicago Bulls (250-1)
The Chicago Bulls should be more uncomfortable with their inclusion in this section than anyone else here. Having surrendered top-four protected first-round picks in 2021 and 2023 for 30-year-old Nikola Vucevic, the Bulls clearly advertised their focus on the present. After sacrificing so much future capital in exchange for what they hope are shorter-term gains, the Bulls can't be enthused about their position.
Vucevic was never going to put Chicago in the contender class. But the Bulls had to have been hoping for something better than a fight to hang onto the East's No. 10 spot and a 3-8 record since the trade deadline.
Memphis Grizzlies (250-1)
We may feel differently after the Memphis Grizzlies conclude a punishing seven-game road trip in Denver on April 26, but right now it feels like a naked affront that they share the same title odds as the rest of this (mostly) sorry lot.
This is a team with a winning record in the rugged West, a top-10 defense and some sneaky upside if Jaren Jackson Jr. ever returns to the lineup.
A squad that plays this hard and makes life so tough on the opposition (Dillon Brooks loves nothing more than irritating/fouling/face-guarding premier scorers) deserves more oddsmaker love than this.
New York Knicks (250-1)
It's an oversimplification to call the New York Knicks the East's version of the Grizzlies, but there are enough commonalities to apply the same level of indignation we gave Memphis' odds.
The Knicks own the league's third-stingiest defense. No, they can't score at all, but these guys have the No. 6 point differential in their conference. We've seen enough to dismiss the idea that their success at limiting opposing scorers is wholly the result of smoke and mirrors. New York's stopping power is real; only the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers have stymied opposing offenses more effectively, and those two are top-flight contenders.
San Antonio Spurs (250-1)
The San Antonio Spurs have the second-toughest remaining schedule, which justifies picking them to slide out of the play-in group by season's end. Still late to adopt the shot-type norms that have the rest of the league hunting threes and layups, the Spurs' effective field-goal percentage, dragged down by a hefty helping of two-point jumpers, ranks 25th.
Still, San Antonio takes better care of the ball than any team in the NBA and can always count on its bench to punish opposing reserves. On balance, this is a solid team that might not be remembered that way if its imposing stretch-run schedule results in a trip to the lottery.
Washington Wizards (250-1)
Theoretically, Bradley Beal gives the Washington Wizards a chance to win every game they play. But the team almost always loses when he puts up big scoring nights. The Wizards have won just one of the last 12 games in which Beal has cracked the 40-point mark.
Washington is on the outside of the play-in group, and it's not even the best team with that status in its conference. That honor goes to the Toronto Raptors (more on their odds shortly), who top the Wizards in net rating and championship experience.