5 dark horse contenders for 2024 NBA championship

The Knicks and Suns are two of the possibilities.

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Will their be a dark horse team fighting their way to the NBA Finals this season?

Last year, the No. 8 Miami Heat eliminated the No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks, No. 5 New York Knicks and No. 2 Boston Celtics en route to making the ultimate stage.

Though Miami fell in five games to a stronger No. 1-seeded Denver Nuggets side, the astonishing run served as a reminder that regular-season play doesn't always matter if you have the quality and personnel to peak at the right time.

These five teams could pull off a similar dark horse run in 2024:

Phoenix Suns

The Suns were billed as title contender since the offseason, especially after they acquired Bradley Beal to pair with Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. But the team didn't resemble title-contending quality until mid-January when they finally had a healthy run. They've slowly crept up the standings and are currently fifth as the league resumes play after the All-Star break.

They have the stars who can help peak late, while role players like Royce O'Neale, Jusuf Nurkic, Eric Gordon and Grayson Allen will need to chip in where needed. Head coach Frank Vogel also has a title to his name when he coached the Los Angeles Lakers, so he has the experience factor.

New York Knicks

The Knicks also had an iffy start to the season but didn't carry the same expectations like Phoenix did with Jalen Brunson and Julius Randle leading the way. But, like Phoenix, the Knicks started turning things around in mid-January and made intriguing moves at the deadline that could help on the margins.

OG Anunoby, Bojan Bogdanovic and Alec Burks were the marquee additions -- one elite 3-and-D forward and two savvy offensive veterans with size. Precious Achiuwa can also put in a shift in the frontcourt, and that's before mentioning Mitchell Robinson's return from injury.

There may be doubts about Brunson being the team's No. 1 option for a possible title charge, but he's proven he can elevate above the criticism.

Miami Heat

Speaking of the Heat, they could be in for back-to-back deep runs. They're currently the No. 7 seed and haven't quite clicked as much as they did in the recent postseason. Injuries and changes to player personnel played a part, though rookie Jaime Jacquez Jr. has emerged as a reliable option while Terry Rozier was acquired in a trade with the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Kyle Lowry.

Rozier's start to life in Miami has been underwhelming from a shot-making standpoint, but if he figures it out, his dynamism can help the team string a run.

Duncan Robinson's playability in a playoff rotation will also be vital, as Erik Spoelstra has opted to bench him in previous runs due to his defensive woes. Robinson has been integral to the regular-season rotation thus far, so it'll be interesting to see how his situation develops.

Dallas Mavericks

Could this be the year the Mavericks finally make serious noise with Luka Doncic leading the way? Dallas currently is 32-23, good for the No. 7 seed out West. But the trade deadline provided optimism with P.J. Washington and Daniel Gafford arriving from Charlotte and Washington, respectively. They also won six straight entering the All-Star break.

The Mavericks have consistently failed to build a proper roster around Doncic since he was drafted, but there is real intrigue with how the current squad looks. Head coach Jason Kidd will also see his credentials tested yet again in what is a brutally tough conference.

Golden State Warriors

Never say never, right? The Warriors may be 27-26 as things stand, sitting in the No. 10 spot, but the current dynasty squad is not going down without a fight.

Stephen Curry is still dominating at age 35, with Draymond Green performing in his role. Klay Thompson may have also found new life off the bench, with Jonathan Kuminga, Brandin Podziemski and Dario Saric emerging as key options at the right time.

If Steve Kerr can get Andrew Wiggins, Chris Paul and Moses Moody more involved, the Warriors have all the heart and experience necessary to potentially end the season on a dramatic note.

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