NBA teams will soon be headed to Orlando, Florida, and the Walt Disney World Resort where the league will complete the 2019-20 season. The league selected 22 teams to join the restart which will begin with games on July 30.
The teams chosen all had legitimate chances to make the top eight in their respective conference. In the West, there were five teams all within six games of current eighth-place Memphis. Any of the five could potentially replace the Grizzlies as the eighth seed in the West.
In the East, Washington is 4.5 games behind eighth-place Orlando. The Magic are just half a game behind Brooklyn, which is currently seventh.
Teams will play eight “seeding” games, which is essentially the remainder of the regular season. After those eight games, there will be the potential for a play-in tournament to decide the No. 8 seed in each conference.
If the ninth-place team is within four games of the eighth-place team, the two teams will play a two-game tournament. The No. 8 team must win one game and the No. 9 seed will have to win twice in order to advance to the postseason.
The question then is, “Who will win it all?”
Since the beginning of the 2019-20 season, there have been three teams that have stood out among the rest as favorites to win this year’s NBA title. Milwaukee, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Los Angeles Clippers were favored to win it all this year and the coronavirus pandemic has not changed this. The three teams are still heading into the restart.
The Bucks, who had the league’s best record last year, once again lead the NBA with a 53-12 mark. They have the reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, whose numbers this season are even better than last. Milwaukee is the league’s highest-scoring team and the Bucks are also a top-5 team in both points allowed and defensive efficiency.
The Lakers have the duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James, at 35 years of age, is enjoying one of his best seasons. He’s averaging 25.7 points per game and leads the league in assists (10.6). Davis leads the Lakers in scoring at 26.7 points a game and also averages 9.4 rebounds and 2.4 blocks.
The Clippers (44-20) trail the Lakers by 5.5 games in the Western Conference race. Last year’s NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard leads the Clippers with 26.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. Paul George, who should be completely healthy, adds 21.0 points a game and Lou Williams (18.7 ppg, 5.7 apg) is the best sixth man in basketball.
The Lakers will play the Clippers in the opener of the restart on July 30. The Clippers have beaten their rivals in two of three games thus far this season.
Tier 2 Favorites
Too many people want to overlook the Toronto Raptors, the defending NBA champ. The Raptors, of course, lost Leonard to the Clippers, but they are still a team not to be taken lightly.
Toronto will likely wind up the second seed in the East. Pascal Siakam, last year’s Most Improved Player of the Year, has taken over as the team’s star. He averages 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. The backcourt of Kyle Lowry (19.7 ppg) and Fred VanVleet (17.6 ppg) is as good as any and the Toronto bench might be the best in the league averaging over 44 points and 20 rebounds per game.
Boston (43-21) is another contender in the East featuring a young, talented lineup. Jayson Tatum (23.6 ppg) continues to develop as does Jaylen Brown (20.4 ppg). They are led by veteran point guard Kemba Walker (21.2 ppg, 4.9 apg).
The real threats to the Big Three of Milwaukee and the two L.A. teams come from the West. Denver and Utah both play outstanding defense which will keep them in games in the postseason. The Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic is one of the league’s most underrated players. He did test positive for the coronavirus but is expected to be fully recovered for the restart.
Jokic averages 20.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He also shoots 52.8 percent from the floor. He and point guard Jamal Murray will be the keys to the Nuggets success in Orlando.
Utah (41-23) is similar to Denver with its stout defense, an outstanding big man, and strong guard play. Defending NBA Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert (15.1 ppg, 13.7 rpg, 2.0 bpg) is a presence inside. Donovan Mitchell is the Jazz’s leading scorer averaging 24.2 points a game.
The other intriguing upset could come from Houston. The reasons why are simply James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Rockets backcourt is outstanding and can score at will. Harden leads the league in scoring with 34.4 points per game and Westbrook is in the top-10 averaging 27.5.
The big question for Houston is on defense. While the Rockets score in bunches, they also give up a lot of points. They rank 22nd in the league in points allowed per game (114.4).