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After a season that was interrupted due Covid-19 and another that featured just 72 games during the regular season, the NBA is back to the reality (If Soul II Soul’s Back to Life or Eminem’s Lose Yourself came to mind, then you know good music.) of its 82-game schedule and fans in all of the arenas since there is a vaccine to combat the coronavirus.
The 2021-22 season starts on October 19 with the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks literally beginning to defense of their title against the explosive offense of the Brooklyn Nets, who unfortunately resurrected the superteam era by trading for James Harden last season. Now, the Los Angeles Lakers have their own version of a Big 3 (LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook) but with just as many injury concerns then age not leaning in their favor.
Thankfully the league is finally doing something to help defensive players this season by not awarding offensive players foul calls or free throws when they make unnatural movements while driving to the basket (Harden), stopping for no reason after getting a ball screen (Trae Young) or seeking contact on jumpshots (Stephen Curry).
Hopefully, these points of emphasis are enforced all season by the referees, and the healthiest team or most stacked team doesn’t win it all but the best team concludes the season as the 2022 NBA Champions.
ATL – Not only did the Hawks make the playoffs last season, they unexpectedly advanced to the conference finals. How will Trae Young and his crew respond to the pressure of continued success this season?
MIA – By adding Kyle Lowry to the roster, the Heat’s defense will be tougher to score against.
WAS – Many want to free Bradley Beal from the minimal success in D.C. but Beal is set on continuing a rebuild with some experienced additions. The results will be another short trip to the playoffs.
CHA – If LaMelo Ball stays healthy and Gordon Hayward is healthier than usual, the Hornets will qualify for the playoffs and not just the play-in tournament.
ORL – Which young point guard will impress Magic new head coach Jamahl Mosley?
DAL – Can the return of Jason Kidd as head coach lead to Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis becoming a formidable duo?
MEM – Ja Morant, who mentioned the idea of being paid may convince him to participate in the dunk contest (How times have changed!), just led the Grizzlies to the playoffs in his second season but is someone from the supporting cast capable of becoming the other star consistently?
NOP – Can new Pelicans coach Willie Green guide the 1-2 punch of Zion Williamson, who unfortunately will miss more time now due to recovery from a foot injury, and Brandon Ingram to not just more buckets but more wins?
SAS – The Spurs didn’t make the playoffs last season but they did make the play-in tournament. If this roster accomplishes that task again, it will be surprising.
HOU – After Harden forced his way to Brooklyn and John Wall eventually became unavailable due to injury, the Rockets were painfully making their way to the lottery, which turned into No. 2 pick Jalen Green. Will Green’s time with the G-League Ignite last season make his adjustment to the NBA smoother than his peers?
PHX – It wasn’t a surprise to see Chris Paul help Devin Booker reach the playoffs for the first time but both of them reaching the Finals for the first time was seriously eye opening. If the Suns go far again but against healthy competition, it will be shocking.
LAL – Lebron is the centerpiece of another superteam and despite age and injury concerns, the Lakers will have a realistic chance to win it all if the right players (James, Davis, Westbrook) are healthy.
LAC – Coming off their first-ever conference finals appearance, the Clippers will now have to compete for most of the season without Kawhi Leonard. The team responded well to this adversity initially but doing so for possibly the entire season will be challenging.
GSW – The Warriors are scheduled to finally and hopefully have all of their star players back on the floor together. If all goes well, they will once again be one of the best eight teams in the West.
SAC – The Kings almost had a much-needed shake up to their roster, involving Buddy Hield during the offseason. Maybe a transaction will still take place before the trade deadline.
BKN – With Kyrie Irving planning to not get vaccinated and removed from the team until doing so, the Nets still have Kevin Durant and James Harden, and if healthy that is plenty to represent the East in the Finals.
PHI – After (self)checking out on offense in the playoffs last season, Ben Simmons is deciding to take the James Harden route to land on a new team. When this happens, a star in return for Simmons could finally push the Sixers to the East Finals.
NYK – The Knicks added some much-needed offense to their roster but Kemba Walker hasn’t been very healthy since leaving Charlotte and has never really been an efficient shooter. However, consecutive trips to the playoffs for the Knicks won’t be a surprise.
BOS – The pieces on the floor and on the sideline have changed around Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown but the results in the standings will not be much different from last season.
TOR – The Raptors didn’t get to play any home games in Toronto last season but instead in Tampa due to Covid-19 restrictions set by Canada and the results weren’t much to write home about. This season will be very similar despite a return to The North.
MIL – Now Giannis Antetokounmpo has a championship and Finals MVP to go alongside his two MVP trophies but the question still remains: Can the Bucks beat a healthy Nets’ team?
CHI – The Bulls traded for Nikola Vucevic last season but that wasn’t enough. Will the additions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball be adequate for a playoff spot?
IND – After 14 seasons, Rick Carlisle is back coaching the Pacers but this team is far from being a contender in 2021-22.
DET – As obvious as it is, Cade Cunningham plans to prove he deserved to be chosen No. 1 in the Draft.
CLE – The young Cavaliers will continue to travel down a path towards minimal success.
UTA – Last season, the Jazz were the best team in the West after 72 games but not in the postseason. If Rudy Gobert can punish small lineups (A consistent jump hook would help tremendously.), the Jazz are capable of being a bigger threat.
DEN – The Nuggets believe Michael Porter Jr. is a great option next to reigning MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray especially since Porter Jr. just signed a huge contract. With Murray out for a while, Porter Jr. will have plenty of opportunities to prove his newfound worth.
POR – The Blazers starting backcourt will continue to be of of the league’s best but can new coach Chauncey Billups inspire better play on the defensive end overall?
MIN – Anthony Edwards delivered a Hall of Fame worthy moment with his ferocious dunk over Yuta Watanabe last season. But the Wolves will continue to just enjoy similar moments while the losses continue to pile up.
OKC – Last season, the Thunder didn’t prioritize winning that much for the chance at a high lottery pick. They drafted Josh Giddey with the sixth pick and will eventually pick someone young again from the 2022 lottery based on potential.