It ended how most expected it to – with the LA Lakers crowned NBA champions at the culmination of the 2019-20 season. LeBron James and co will take some stopping as they look to regain their crown in the new campaign, but with such a quick turnaround heading into the 2020-21 terms perhaps the champs are vulnerable to an assault from a rival from the East or the West.
With that in mind, let’s see if we can identify three possible contenders to the Lakers’ throne ahead of the new season.
Occasionally, there is a team that surprises everyone and goes on an unstoppable run against all the odds. That team during the 2019-20 campaign was the Miami Heat, who downed the Bucks and the Celtics with relative ease in the playoffs before going down to champions the Lakers 2-4 in the Finals.
To give you an idea of the Heat’s shock progress, they were priced at +6000 in the outright NBA betting on bet365 prior to a hoop being dunked, and so they were considered nothing more than a side that would be making up the numbers in the Eastern Conference.
But that didn’t account for career-affirming seasons from the likes of Goran Dragic and Duncan Robinson, while Kendrick Nunn – a highly promising youngster – delivered a rookie campaign far beyond expectations.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that franchises like the Heat tend to regress to their mean unless they recruit well in the off-season, and with Dragic now a free agent and rumored to be eyeing a move elsewhere clearly Miami could go into the new term weaker than they ended the last.
Portland Trail Blazers
Often, sporting events are affected by timing and consequence, and the outcome of the Trail Blazers’ mediocre regular season was that they were paired with the Lakers in the playoffs – less than ideal. The outcome was as expected, but Portland did themselves justice – indeed, with the series tied at 1-1 they really could have won the third game, and who knows what might have transpired from there.
There is more to come from the Trail Blazers, and the balance of their roster really appeals. Damian Lillard is an absolute stud, of course, but praise should go to expert defense leader Hassan Whiteside – who could yet re-sign despite entering free agency, the mercurial Carmelo Anthony and the reliable CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic.
There is the all-round quality for Portland to really kick on in 2020-21.
The Eastern Conference was ultra-competitive last season, and the feeling was that two of the leading franchises out in the East never really did themselves justice in the playoffs.
The Brooklyn Nets have the mouth-watering combination of Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant to consider, but the biggest surprise is that the Milwaukee Bucks didn’t kick on in the Conference semi-finals, where they were beaten 1-4 by Miami.
The temptation is to call the Bucks a one-man team – no matter, when that one man is Giannis Antetokounmpo, but they are far greater than the sum of their parts and one-dimensional teams don’t score more regular-season points per game than any other side.
The likes of Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez thrived in the pressurized air of the play-offs, while Eric Bledsoe contributed from a creative perspective too.
Defensively sound as well, you would have to argue that the Bucks are better placed than anyone to end the Lakers’ reign in 2021.