The Los Angeles Lakers breezed through the playoffs to win the 2020 NBA championship, but they should expect to have a lot more competition in the upcoming campaign.
While it's still early in the offseason, there are already more contenders for next year's championship. The Golden State Warriors will finally be healthy after a gap year that brought them the No. 2 overall pick and the Brooklyn Nets will also be back to full strength as they'll finally have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving on the court together for the first time. Add those two to the usual suspects, and the Lakers — who are the favorites to repeat in 2021 — have a treacherous road ahead.
Who are the biggest threats to steal the Lakers' crown? Here are our top seven candidates.
7. Miami Heat
To the surprise of many, the Miami Heat not only made it to the NBA Finals, but they blew right through the East with relative ease, dropping just three games. Jimmy Butler proved that he belongs in the conversation with the league’s elite as he single-handedly led the Heat to some of those wins.
Aside from Butler, Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, Tyler Herro and Duncan Robinson all made huge leaps this season. If not for the injuries to Adebayo and Dragic, perhaps the Heat could have taken down the Lakers. Alas, we'll never know. What we do know is that this team is going to be playing with some extra fire this season as they look to get back to the NBA Finals again and this time wins the title.
6. Milwaukee Bucks
The Bucks also had a disappointing end to a promising season when they lost 4-1 to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo was injured or not doesn’t matter anymore, it’s all about moving forward for the Bucks, who are the favorites in the East again this season.
The Bucks will be returning all of their major players next season with Kyle Korver and Pat Connaughton being the two major unrestricted free agents. This team has the makeup for a title run with the Greek Freak, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez, along with other supporting cast members. Expect the Bucks to be the big dogs in the East again this season, it’s just a matter of whether or not they can carry that over to the playoffs this time.
5. Boston Celtics
Aside from the Lakers, the Boston Celtics gave the Heat their biggest challenge in the playoffs. While Kemba Walker struggled and Gordon Hayward was lost to injury, one thing to take away from last season was how well Jayson Tatum played and for the Celtics' sake, hopefully, that momentum and confidence for Tatum carries over into next season.
With Hayward back, the Celtics will have plenty of talent on the offensive end. Add in players like Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis on the defensive end and this could be one of the more complete teams in the NBA. Tatum can take over the game and put up numbers like a James Harden or LeBron James but he also has enough talent around him that any number of players can step up if he has an off night.
4. Brooklyn Nets
Steve Nash is now the head coach in Brooklyn. Bringing in his basketball IQ to coach a team with this kind of talent is a smart move. Finally getting Durant on the court will officially put this team on track for a title.
3. Golden State Warriors
After a season that was plagued with injuries, the Golden State Warriors finished the season with a league-low 15 wins. Now healthy again, the Warriors will be looking to get back to competing for an NBA Championship.
Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green alone make this an NBA Finals-worthy team. Bringing in Andrew Wiggins last season could be a move that pays off huge this season. If Wiggins can play up to his potential, he could be the X-factor for the Dubs. With their Big Three getting most of the attention, Wiggins has a chance to do some real damage this season.
2. Los Angeles Clippers
The other L.A. team had an embarrassing elimination from the NBA Playoffs. Considered the most likely team to knock out the Lakers this past season, the Clippers never even got the opportunity as they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Clippers now have Tyronn Lue as their new head coach. There is no reason to think that Paul George or Kawhi Leonard will be going anywhere. In fact, it is more likely that the Clippers bring in one more big-time player like Chris Paul to help them make another leap towards winning a title.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers are coming off of a dominant performance from the start of the season all the way to their championship. It was never really in doubt who the best team was this season as it appeared anytime the Lakers really wanted to turn it on, they could basically do so as they please.
Heading into the 2020-2021 season, they are the obvious favorites to win again next season. Anthony Davis and LeBron James will be sticking around in Los Angeles and after that, it really doesn’t matter who their supporting cast is. This team is going to be hard to keep from repeating next season.
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