Who challenges Celtics in 2024-25 season? Top teams in East, West that could make Finals

The team to beat in the NBA’s Eastern Conference in 2024-25 is obvious.

The Boston Celtics, who just won the NBA Finals in a five-game series against the Dallas Mavericks, are loaded and in perfect position to become the first repeat champions since Golden State won back-to-back in 2017 and 2018.

The Western Conference is not so obvious. The West was deep in 2023-24, and the Mavericks were the fifth seed at 50-32 – one of five teams (Oklahoma City, Denver, Minnesota, Los Angeles Clippers, Dallas) with a least 50 victories. Two more teams (Phoenix, New Orleans) had 49 victories. The Mavericks beat three 50-win teams to reach the Finals.

Dallas has experience now that should help it next season, but it won’t be easy winning the West.

Who are the top teams to watch in the NBA’s East and West next season?

Eastern Conference

Boston Celtics

Boston enters next season as the favorite brimming with confidence. The Celtics bring back the core of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Jrue Holiday, Derrick White, Kristaps Porzings, Al Horford, Sam Hauser and Payton Pritchard. There are no guarantees but no one will be surprised if Boston returns to the Finals next year.

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Jaylen Brown (7) celebrates with Jayson Tatum during the Celtics' title-clinching Game 5 win over the Mavericks.
Jaylen Brown (7) celebrates with Jayson Tatum during the Celtics' title-clinching Game 5 win over the Mavericks.

New York Knicks

What if the Knicks were healthy in this season’s playoffs? Missing Julius Randle, Mitchell Robinson, OG Anunoby and Bogdan Bogdanovic for all or significant portions of the postseason prevented the Knicks from challenging. They need to secure the roster, including Anunoby who is a free agent, but a healthy Knicks team will make it interesting.

Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers were among the top teams in the East until Joel Embiid sustained an injury. He returned for the playoffs but was not 100% despite putting up big stats. Philadelphia’s roster requires improvement, and free agency will be an important part of that.

Milwaukee Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo has missed eight of 11 playoff games the last two seasons, including all six of a first-round series against Indiana in 2024. Damian Lillard missed two of six games against the Pacers. The Bucks don’t have a lot of roster flexibility so it’s on Doc Rivers, who took over for Adrian Griffin midway through this season, to make it work with Antetokounmpo and Lillard.

Indiana Pacers

The Pacers reached the conference finals by beating two teams (Milwaukee and New York), and while they were without Bennedict Mathurin, the Pacers were close to winning a game against Boston but were swept. Can the Pacers improve their defense while maintaining their offensive efficiency?

Worth watching: Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Miami Heat

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Western Conference

Dallas Mavericks

If Luka Doncic continues to improve – and there's no reason to think he won’t – and the Mavs are able to build around him and Kyrie Irving, there’s no reason to think the Mavericks can’t make another deep run.

Denver Nuggets

The 2023 champs with three-time MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray will be among the best teams in the West. However, like other teams, the Nuggets have roster decisions to make. The status quo won’t suffice.

Minnesota Timberwolves

After beating Denver in the conference semifinals, the Timberwolves had a big letdown losing to Dallas in five games. But they have Anthony Edwards, and that’s a great place to start.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder are young, talented and should only get better with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren and Jalen Williams. They will again be one of the best offensive and defensive teams in the league in 2024-25, and the first-time playoff experience for several key players will benefit the Thunder. They might be the closest thing the West has to the Celtics – minus the experience.

Phoenix Suns

New Suns coach Mike Budenholzer knows how to win the regular season and won a championship as Milwaukee’s coach in 2021. Can he get more playoff success out of Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal? The Suns didn’t fire Frank Vogel after one season for another early playoff exit in in 2025.

Worth watching: New Orleans Pelicans, Los Angeles Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers, Sacramento Kings

Follow NBA reporter Jeff Zillgitt on social media @JeffZillgitt

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA 2025 top contenders? Celtics shoo-in but what about West?