The most impressive thing about the Brooklyn Nets in the 2021 NBA season so far? They look like the best team in basketball and they’re not even fully healthy yet. After two years of big-name roster moves and league-altering trades, this Nets squad finally has the look of a title contender despite all three of its big names missing time in 2021.

Kevin Durant, inactive for half the season so far, has averaged 29 points per game when healthy, looking like his former MVP self after a year on the sideline last season. Even in his absence, the Nets have continued to score in bunches, thanks to Kyrie Irving and James Harden putting up big numbers – they average 28 and 25.4 points respectively this campaign. Harden, who joined the team in a blockbuster trade with the Houston Rockets earlier in the year, has been the main scoring option at times with Irving also missing a string of games with a knee injury.

But the Brooklyn Nets strike fear into their Eastern Conference rivals even with only one or two of their Big Three dressed for action, and that’s because the Nets have something that drove many title-winning ball clubs of the last decade ­– depth from the bench. The Nets are stacked across the board, with starting center DeAndre Jordan leading the team in rebounds and dead-eyed wing Joe Harris shooting nearly 50% from beyond the arc. Jeff Green and Bruce Brown have also contributed big numbers as part of the starting rotation when the Nets’ superstars have been ruled out.

Now, with former All-Star power forwards Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge joining after agreeing buyouts with the Pistons and Spurs, the Nets look like a modern superteam without on-court weaknesses. Griffin and Aldridge have been very forthcoming with their motivations in wanting to compete for a ring, and surely on this Nets squad they will get their chance; they sit +250 favorites in the NBA betting at bet365 to win a first title in modern franchise history. In fact, in Brooklyn’s surge to the top of the Eastern Conference, there has been only one question remaining around their title chances – can they stay healthy?

There is still plenty to play for in the Eastern Conference heading into the final stretch. The Nets are joined by the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks in a top three that has pulled away from the other Eastern contenders in the race for top seeding and home-court advantage in the playoffs. Possibly most important is the number one seed, who will avoid playing the other two teams until the Eastern Conference Finals at the latest, while the second and third seeds could meet in a tough second-round matchup.

Elsewhere on the Nets, Harden and Irving will be hoping to shake off nagging injuries in time to inject themselves into the MVP conversation. Harden in particular has made it clear he believes he should be the clear frontrunner, but could fall in the eyes of voters after a slow start to the season while trying to orchestrate a trade out of Houston. For now, he remains an outsider in betting odds behind LeBron James and Nikola Jokic, but a strong finish to the season and a top seed for the Nets could change the complexion of the race.