With the NBA restart edging ever closer, many are wondering which teams are going to be making it to the playoffs, and which teams are the ones to watch for taking the title once the season resumes in a few weeks.
The long break due to the COVID-19 outbreak has thrown a spanner in the works, and considering all the games will be played at a neutral venue, and no team has had a competitive game in months, pre-suspension form may have become meaningless in the interim.
There are a couple of teams that may, and should, keep their pre-suspension from, namely the Lakers and the Bucks, both of who have been firm favorites for months to meet at the end and face off for the championship.
The Lakers may be a step ahead of the Bucks for one simple reason though, they have already beaten them and that is hard to miss as a true fan. Back in March before the break, Lebron and the Lakers beat the Bucks as well as the Clippers, two teams with very strong shouts for the title.
The Lakers were 11-2 before the break in March, and were well on their way to a finals berth, and Lebron, who leads the league in assists, and 11th in scoring and rebounding, isn’t letting his 35 years of age slow him down from claiming another title.
The Western Conference leaders have also been very vocal about wanting to get back to playing, with Lebron being the main voice. He has repeatedly spoken about him and his teammates staying mentally and physically strong during the suspension so that they can pick up where they left off when play was stopped.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Milwaukee Bucks have come out on top of the East, and are most definitely viewed as champions in waiting by fans and experts alike. Their incredible form before the break is hard to ignore.
What will be interesting to watch is how the Bucks come back when play resumes. The new look of the league will see the Bucks resume play on the 31st of July against the Celtics, which will be the first of 8 “seeding games”
At the end of the seeding games, the seven teams with the highest combined win percentage in each conference will be ranked 1 to 7 to then move on to the playoffs. This is where things could get tricky for the Bucks.
They are going to play the Celtics, Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets, Miami Heat, Dallas Mavericks, Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, and the Memphis Grizzlies. What makes this a bit trickier for the Bucks is that even though they dominated these teams before, they have no idea what the break has done for them.
The Bucks are also led by Giannis Antetokounmpo, who arguably was having a better season than the one when he was named KIA MVP. Even though the Bucks lost 4 of their last 5 games, they were still well on track to win a team record 67 games. Giannis can also quickly become the difference maker when it comes down to must win games for the Bucks.
The Lakers are the Lakers, they have a stacked lobby and are always at the forefront of a championship winning run, yet the Bucks are more of an unknown entity compared to the Lakers, and are therefore harder to predict.
Two teams that could pull out surprises are the Clippers and Celtics. Both were in great form before the break, and have unfortunately been overlooked due to the performances of the Bucks and the Lakers.
Since the break, the odds of the Celtics winning the Eastern Conference have also gone up, with some pundits believing they are going to come out swinging and give the Bucks a run for their money, an exciting showdown no matter who you ask.
On the other side in the West, the Clippers have been fighting and clawing to claim the spot as the Kings of LA, and have been getting close to potentially knocking the Lakers off the perch they have held for some long on the West Coast.
Considering sports across the globe are restarting and leagues continuing, it is important to note that pre-suspension form almost counts for nothing considering how long the break has been, it will almost feel like a whole new season starting.
This time has also given other teams the chance to gather themselves, rethink tactics, and see where they were struggling. Meaning, some of the “weaker” teams can definitely come back and pull out some surprises.
The conditions under which the league are going to be played is also going to be a major factor. Teams are going to be isolated, they will be playing on a new, neutral court, no fans, this is all new territory that no player, coach or team has experienced.
All of this culminates in a league that can become very unpredictable very quickly, and we can only wait until the season restarts to see just how the break has affected teams, how the new environment changes the league, as well as who comes out on top when all is said and done. Strap in folks, this ride is going to get very wild, very soon.