The Milwaukee Bucks currently lead the NBA with 44 victories and have won each of their last three having lost just one in 10.
Right now, they look untouchable at the top of the Eastern Conference, and yet lurking behind them is a Toronto Raptors side boasting a 12-game winning streak.
Having lost reigning MVP Kawhi Leonard during the summer, last season’s NBA champions have since defied concerns over their ability to perform without him.
Pascal Siakam has led said response with an average of 23.7 points per game through his 40 outings so far this season, followed by Kyle Lowry’s 19.7 and team-high 7.3 assists per game.
Former Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger has backed the Raptors as the Bucks’ nearest challenger.
“To me, it should be Philadelphia as the biggest threat [to the Bucks],” said Joerger.
“They are the best built to handle it with their size across the frontline and the ability to switch and guard. But it is just not [the 76ers], so I am going with Toronto.
“[They have] the corporate knowledge and experience. Marc Gasol is a big part of that, he needs to be injury-free.
“They have got guys who have played together for a while, they play the right way and they have a little chip on their shoulder too. Everybody wrote them off with Kawhi (Leonard) leaving.
“They have had a terrific season and Nick Nurse will be a candidate for Coach of the Year. So I take Toronto.”
The Boston Celtics have meanwhile won five in a row amid a season in which the likes of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have shared the scoring responsibility, with all three averaging at least 20 points per game.
While Brad Stevens’ men have asserted themselves as worthy competition in the East, the Philadelphia 76ers find themselves in sixth and on a four-game losing streak.
Giannis Antetokounmpo dropped 36 points as the Bucks beat the 76ers 112-101 on Thursday having lost 121-109 in the Christmas Day matchup between the two sides.
Philadelphia did beat the Los Angeles Lakers 108-91 at the end of January but have seen their away record slip to a dismal 9-19.
Former Ball State University coach Ron Thompson has favoured the Celtics over the Raptors as the Bucks’ most notable threat, as well as citing a lack of identity as a key issue for Philadelphia.
“The reason I say Boston instead of Toronto is that, when you take away a guy like Kawhi Leonard, who was the focal point of things, it takes time for that adjustment to take place,” added Thompson.
“Boston seems the most ready, the most mature. They know who they are.
“When I look at the [Eastern Conference contenders], I look at Boston as an organisation and they know what they are going into the final part of the season.
“When I look at Philadelphia, night to night, I question if they know who they are.”
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