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How is it possible that the Los Angeles Lakers just won the 2020 NBA title in October and a new season is starting two months later?
Oh right! We are in the middle of a global pandemic specifically known as the coronavirus (COVID-19) and it has dramatically changed the way we navigate life so the NBA has to fall in line as well. Therefore, the 2020-21 season is oddly beginning on December 22 and will be a 72-game campaign for each team unless the coronavirus alters that goal.
There will also be a play-in tournament for the teams in the 7-10 spots in both conferences which should add some intrigue before the playoffs and probably more entertainment than the No. 1 and 2 seeds versus the No. 7 and 8 seeds to be honest.
However, this preview isn’t going to jump that far ahead but focus on some of the familiar faces–mostly not superstar players–landing in new places for this abbreviated season. Now, let’s begin where last season (a very unique one at that) ended with the defending champions.
Los Angeles Lakers – LeBron James, who is still viewed as the best player in the game, and the best big man (Anthony Davis) have been joined by two of the best bench players (Dennis Schroder and Montrezl Harrell) in the league. LeBron and AD appear well positioned to repeat like Magic, Kareem and Worthy (1988), Shaq and Kobe (2000) and Kobe and Gasol (2010).
Miami Heat – Jimmy Butler with special moments from Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro took the Heat where few predicted they would finish last season–the NBA Finals. Now, they have to prove they can duplicate just as much success outside of a bubble.
Denver Nuggets – Don’t be surprised if Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic with their deadly pick and roll reach another level of success.
Boston Celtics – The Celtics went to the East Finals last season but is the combination of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker the right mix to go one step further?
Los Angeles Clippers – Last season, Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and the depth of the roster, had many believing the Clippers would reach the Finals. Now with head coach Tyronn Lue, the expectation should just be for the Clippers to at least reach the conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
Toronto Raptors – A few departures changed the Raptors’ roster a little more since their 2019 title run but key contributors Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet and Kyle Lowry should keep the franchise among the best in the East.
Houston Rockets – Once the organization traded Russell Westbrook for John Wall, who is returning from two foot injuries, the Rockets moved themselves closer to a rebuild, which will be fully underway this season once James Harden’s trade request is met.
Milwaukee Bucks – Giannis Antetokounmpo will not be in the running for a third consecutive MVP (that story line is shelved for now) but will the addition of Jrue Holiday help the Bucks extend their dominance of the conference past the regular season?
Dallas Mavericks – Luka Doncic put the league on notice in his first playoff appearance that he is going to be a problem for years to come so expect at least one of his weaknesses to cease to exist.
Indiana Pacers – With their similar cast of solid players returning, the Pacers should continue to be a playoff team under new head coach Nate Bjorkgren.
Utah Jazz – Upgrades to the roster at certain positions last season didn’t lead to the Jazz being a real contender in the West but those same players should produce a respectable winning record.
Philadelphia 76ers – The Sixers’ coaching decisions and outside shooting have regularly been questioned but those issues appear to have been addressed, starting with the hiring of Doc Rivers. The proof will lie in the results.
Portland Trail Blazers – Lately, the Blazers have proven too much can’t be expected of them and neither can too little so Damian Lillard will have them somewhere near the middle.
Brooklyn Nets – Kevin Durant is back but how much of his greatness did his Achilles injury take?
Oklahoma City Thunder – Few expected Chris Paul to lead the Thunder to the playoffs last season, and now that he is gone, there is less optimism for OKC this season.
Orlando Magic – The Magic have been winning just enough to qualify for the playoffs the past few seasons but will notable changes by other teams in the East end Orlando’s insignificant streak?
Phoenix Suns – Devin Booker has never been to the playoffs but a healthy Chris Paul will help him finally get there.
Washington Wizards – After being reunited with his former teammate, Russell Westbrook reunites with his first coach, who probably often questioned his point guard’s decisions. Scott Brooks will find himself in a similar frame of mind but at least the Wizards will be back in the playoffs.
Atlanta Hawks – With their mix of young talent and acquisition of veterans, the Hawks’ playoff chances appear to be on the rise.
Golden State Warriors – Unfortunately Klay Thompson (Achilles this time) won’t be shooting the lights out alongside Stephen Curry again but hopefully the Warriors’ season isn’t as forgettable as their last.
Memphis Grizzlies – Ja Morant did more than just impress with his athletic ability last season, the reigning Rookie of the Year almost led the Grizzlies to the playoffs. Now will he force defenses to respect his jumpshot a little more this season?
New Orleans Pelicans – If Zion Williamson can remain off the injured list this season, the franchise is winning even if the Pelicans aren’t above .500.
San Antonio Spurs – Last season, the Spurs saw their remarkable postseason streak (22 straight playoff appearances) come to an end, and it appears they will be officially eliminated from playoff contention again this season.
Minnesota Timberwolves – Even though it’s probably still too early to determine, it’s time to see if the Timberwolves selected the best player (Anthony Edwards) in the 2020 Draft with the No. 1 pick.
Chicago Bulls – Will Billy Donovan, who will not have a superstar on his roster for the first time, be able to produce much better results with this group than Jim Boylen?
Charlotte Hornets – LaMelo Ball, the No. 3 pick and younger brother of the overhyped Lonzo Ball, will bring more attention to this team than usual.
Cleveland Cavaliers – After leading the Cavs in scoring as a rookie, Collin Sexton will continue to be the source of offense but this team will spend another season at the bottom of the standings.
Detroit Pistons – If the Pistons were eyeing a durable and versatile wing during the offseason, they got one in Jerami Grant.