LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 6: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts as he looks at the score board at the end of the first quarter against Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center March 6, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The 2015-16 NBA season, just like every other, has been a surprise.

Some may argue an unpleasant one – plenty of teams that were highly rated of at the start of the season have not performed, which may make for less competitive playoffs.

However, others maintain that the constant unpredictability and competitiveness of the lower halves of the conferences make for what should be an interesting battle for playoffs spots.

Either way, with not long to go in the season, we (almost) have 10 teams that have separated themselves as the 10 best in the league right now – but which of them are contenders and which are pretenders?

  1. Charlotte Bobcats

The Charlotte Bobcats have been a nice surprise in the Eastern Conference – they were once as high as second, and despite now sitting fifth, they have carved out a nice season on which to build on.

With no disrespect intended, this team was not designed to win a championship this year – and it won’t.

But they have proven if they can play their best, they are up there among the better teams in the East, and may be able to swing an upset or two in the playoffs.

Verdict – pretender

  1. Miami Heat

Around the All-Star break, the Miami Heat looked in a bad way. Chris Bosh, arguably their best player, was likely going to miss the rest of the season with another blood clot, and any serious title challenge looked over.

However, the man himself maintains that he is free of his ailments, and bravely aims to play again this season.

Whether or not he does will be crucial to what is a very open race in the East, so much so that it hinges on what pile they get sorted into here. Hopefully for them, Bosh returns, and Miami close out the season strong.

Verdict – contender

  1. Memphis Grizzlies

In a similar predicament to the Heat, the Memphis Grizzlies’ have lost their key man Marc Gasol to a season-ending catastrophe. If not for this, maybe Memphis could’ve mounted another Western Conference Finals run.

That’s not to say they’re completely cactus now – they’ve managed to maintain a solid level of play in the strong Western Conference since Gasol’s absence.

However, when it comes to the playoffs, an extra gear is required – an extra gear that will be missing without their Spanish centre. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, they’re unlikely to be a big-time threat this year.

Verdict – pretender

  1. Boston Celtics

Depending on which way you look at it, the Boston Celtics have been the most encouraging (or most annoying) surprise so far this year off the back of Brad Stevens’ well-deserved Coach of the Year campaign.

Whether or not will can overcome skill in the playoffs is not yet proven, and it’s unlikely they will come out of the East.

However, right now, their seeding of third offers them a favourable first round matchup. This will definitely be one of the better teams to watch entering the post-season.

Verdict – pretender

  1. Los Angeles Clippers

Right now, the Los Angeles Clippers are coasting in the Western Conference. Whilst that’s not mean feat, it is a danger come playoffs time, just like they have found out previously.

In their past few playoffs runs, despite an impressive coaching staff and roster, they have still failed to make the WCF, and time and patience will start to wear thin if they don’t get at least that far this year.

Off what we’ve seen, the Clippers look like a team that has no clue how to win in the playoffs, with Chris Paul attempting to fly solo in late game situations and Doc Rivers coming up with nothing convincing on the offensive end.

Verdict – pretender

  1. Toronto Raptors

After finishing with the Los Angeles Clippers, it’s fitting that we now move onto their Western Conference doppelgangers – the Toronto Raptors.

Whilst this may be a harsh assessment, Toronto is another team that, for all their regular season success, cannot seem to put it together in the playoffs.

Despite two division championships in a row – 48 and 49 wins, and another 43 so far this year, it remains to be seen whether the Canadians have cracked winning in the playoffs yet.

Verdict – pretender

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder

Despite the monstrous play of both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant this season, the Oklahoma City Thunder still have some unconvinced by their “new” play style under Billy Donovan.

However, I am not one of them.

Through sheer man talent alone, OKC have the ability to challenge any potential title contenders, most notably the Golden State Warriors. They certainly have a lot of work to do, but “pretenders” is a bridge to far for this mob.

Verdict – contender

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers

Now, for the biggest weigh-in of the night – the Cleveland Cavaliers are not contenders.

They certainly tick all the boxes in terms of talent, but they have (if possible) looked more vulnerable since the firing of David Blatt. Maybe a first-time head coach is not the answer?

It may finally be dawning on LeBron that a 17x European champion may be slightly overqualified to handle his ego. However, that has happened slightly too late.

Verdict – pretender

  1. San Antonio Spurs

Whilst their one matchup this season with Golden State has been less than encouraging, the San Antonio Spurs’ traditional apathy towards the regular season is no secret.

SA has found a way to almost match their Western Conference title counterparts this season, sitting only 4 losses behind them despite ordinary seasons from Tim Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Everyone who’s been following the NBA for a decent amount of time knows you can’t judge the Spurs until the playoffs role around. On that sole factor alone, they get the tag of contenders.

Verdict – contender

  1. Golden State Warriors

Forming a season similar to the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ of 2004 and the – dare I say it – Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls of 1996, the Golden State Warriors have given themselves no excuses not to win the championship.

Right now, they’re far and away the best team in the league, and whist cracks have shown as of late, they’ve rebuffed almost any challenge from another title contender that has come their way.

Their verdict? Contenders with a capital C.