With the first pro basketball game in four months to tip-off shortly, we compiled 22 random thoughts about the 22 teams that qualified for the NBA restart.
The NBA will resume action inside a bubble at Disney’s World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. Not every team earned an invite to the restart; only teams that locked up postseason berths or a handful of teams that were within striking distance. Teams will play eight games to conclude the regular season. At that point, the playoff seeding will be determined. At this juncture, the Milwaukee Bucks locked up the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference, while the Los Angeles Lakers are the top seed in the Western Conference.
The consensus top-three betting favorites include the Lakers, Bucks, and LA Clippers. If you gauge the mood in the room among media, fans, and gamblers, it’s not hard to read that almost everyone expects one of the LA teams to meet Greek Freak and the Bucks in the NBA Finals.
The Lakers are the outright favorites at 9/4 odds to win the NBA Championship. The Greek Freak has an inside track to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for the first time, along with back-to-back MVP awards. The Freak’s Bucks have the best record in the NBA heading into the restart, and they’re 11/4 odds to win the championship.
The safety of the NBA Bubble has held up thus far, but can the league stave off any outbreaks? At this point, the NBA’s future is looking very bright compared to the hellscape in the MLB.
Los Angeles Lakers (49-14) … The Lakers added JR Smith, who has yet to play this season. Smith and LeBron won a title with the Cleveland Cavs in 2016. The two are reunited for a potential pandemic-title run.
Milwaukee Bucks (53-12) … All eyes are on the Greek Freak at all times, but if the Bucks expect to win the NBA championship, other starters will have to step up and carry some of the work-load, including Khris Middleton (21.1 ppg) and Eric Bledsoe (15.4 ppg), whenever he recovers from COVID-19. The Bucks bolstered their bench this season and those sharpshooters will be essential to a deep run.
Los Angeles Clippers (44-20) … You can make all the “load management” jokes you want, but both Kawhi Leonard (26.9 ppg, 7.3 rebounds) and Paul George (21.0 ppg) are well-rested. Now let’s see if Kawhi can put on his Superman cape and win another title with his new team. If Lou Williams can just stay clear of strip clubs and those super-fire chicken wings, then the Clippers could make a run.
Contenders or Pretenders?
Boston Celtics (43-21) … Brad Stevens did his best work with the Butler Bulldogs during March Madness. The NBA Bubble has a similar vibe, so don’t overlook Stevens’ ability to make adjustments on the fly with the Celtics. It will be fun to watch opponents try to stop Kemba Walker (21.2 ppg) and Jayson Tatum (23.6 ppg).
Denver Nuggets (43-22) … The post-pandemic Nuggets include the slimmed-down Nikola Jokic (20.2 ppg, 10.2 rebounds, 6.9 assists) and the newly-added Bol Bol, who impressed head coach Michael Malone. The Nugs lost the thin air of Denver as part of their home-court advantage.
Houston Rockets (40-24) … We’ll finally get to see if James Harden (34.4 ppg, 7.4 assists) and Russell Westbrook (27.5 ppg, 8.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists) can work well together, or if they’ll blow up at each other over who gets more shots. Harden and Chris Paul nearly came to blows last season, which resulted in CP3’s exile to Oklahoma City.
Toronto Raptors (46-18) … Pascal Siakim (23.6 ppg, 7.5 rebounds) took over for Kawhi Leonard this season. Will he also pull a Kawhi and carry the Raptors on his back in the postseason?
Philadelphia 76ers (39-26) … Last season, Joel Embiid fought multiple injuries and Ben Simmons disappeared in the playoffs. This season, the Sixers have to figure out how to win on a neutral court. They had one of the worst road records in the NBA. How bad? The Knicks were slightly better (10-23 vs. 10-24).
Miami Heat (41-24)… With all eyes on Jimmy Butler, don’t overlook one of the NBA’s most-improved players with Bam Adebayo (16.2 ppg, 10.5 rebounds).
Good for TV, But Nah
Dallas Mavericks (40-27) … The Unicorn and triple-double machine Luka Doncic (28.7 ppg, 9.3 rebounds, 8.7 assists) will finally pop their postseason cherry with the Mavs.
Oklahoma City Thunder (40-24) … Chris Paul and the OKC Thunder surprised everyone with a strong performance this season. But will Billy Donovan’s three-guard offense work in the restart?
Utah Jazz (41-23) … A blasé Rudy Gobert was patient zero for the NBA. He apparently infected teammates, including Donovan Mitchell. The two recovered from COVID-19, but no one knows for sure if they moved on from the incident, or if a post-COVID rift will persist.
New Orleans Pelicans (28-36) … It’s Zion Williamson time. If you like NBA conspiracy theories, then you’ll love the one about how the 22-team restart is really an excuse to (potentially) get Zion into the playoffs to boost TV ratings.
Portland Trail Blazers (29-37) … The best backcourt in the NBA can’t wait to hit the floor. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum led the Blazers to the Western Conference Finals last year, but they ran out of gas against the Golden State Warriors. Dame and the Blazers are on the bubble, but would you really want to face them in the first round of the postseason?
Indiana Pacers (39-26) … Victor Oladipo opted out and Domantas Sabonis injured himself in the preseason, which leaves the team without its two best scorers heading into the NBA restart.
Orlando Magic (30-25) … The Magic can overtake the Nets for the #7 seed to avoid playing the Greek Freak and the Milwaukee Bucks. Evan Fournier, the Magic’s second-best scorer, recovered from elbow surgery and is expected to return to his old form.
Memphis Grizzlies (32-33) … Rookie of the Year front runner Ja Morant currently sits in the #8 seed in the west, but he has Zion and the Pelicans, and the Portland Trail Blazers eying that spot.
Brooklyn Nets (30-34) … The Nets are a hot mess. Interim coach. No Kyrie, no Durant. No Dinwiddie, nor DeAndre Jordan.
More Like … No Shots
Sacramento Kings (28-36) … The young Kings might win a playoff series someday, but for now, they’re mere cannon fodder.
San Antonio Spurs (27-36) … It’s hard to find a more compassionate coach in pro sports than Gregg Popovich. But Pops doesn’t have much of a team to make a run in the NBA Bubble.
Phoenix Suns (26-39) … The big tabloid fodder before training camp involved the courtship of Devin Booker and Kendall Jenner. Last year, Jenner dumped Ben Simmons to attend Coachella, and he had a rough postseason.
Washington Wizards (24-40) … The Wiz’s inclusion in the NBA restart seemed more like a formality. Once Davis Bertans opted out and Bradley Beal skipped the restart due to a bum shoulder, the Wiz were really doomed.