As gametime nears this October 19, teams have started to wind down their pre-season match-ups, even as fans all over the world eagerly wait to see a complete set of healthy stars on the court. The off-season has been a mad scramble as teams grabbed old and new players in an effort to make their rosters more competitive for the grind ahead. And as the strong winds from the recruiting storm settled, lo and behold…
The former champs and perennial contender Los Angeles Lakers underwent a major facelift, making them the top favorite for the crown once again. The defending champs Milwaukee Bucks are taking their chances with no major addition to their winning roster last year. The Brooklyn Nets, last year’s would-have-been champs before injuries felled the team, have built an even stronger ‘all-star’ team that could match up well against the Bucks or the Lakers.
Other teams contending would have to be last year’s regular season leader Utah Jazz, last year’s Western Conference champs Phoenix Suns, and previous year’s Eastern Conference champs Miami Heat.
The Lakers revamped their roster, kicking out everyone not named Lebron or AD or Talen (no surprise here). The team has 8 players with All-Star pedigrees in Lebron James, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Marc Gasol and DeAndre Jordan. This could well be the highest number of current and former All-Stars packed in 1 team. Ever!!! They definitely have talent, high basketball IQ and experience. The main issue against this team will be their age. Will this team of ‘young once’ be equal to the task of grinding out the regular as well as the rigorous playoff wars? Staying healthy will be their main problem.
The Bucks are ardent believers of the saying that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Being a small market team, they cannot rely much on acquiring stars who will look for more exposure and more moolah in the big cities. Instead, the Bucks will try their luck with finding diamonds in the rough – the same way they found a goldmine in Giannis – to beef up an already solid roster. They lost key defender PJ Tucker, but will rely on pug-nosed defender Jrue Holiday to lead the defense. With MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo and all-star Kris Middleton, the Bucks will remain in serious contention for the crown.
For Kevin Durant, there is good karma from having stepped up to fight for flag and country in the Olympics. For that, he was rewarded with a new contract on a team that is destined to slug it out for the NBA championship. The Nets have 6 current and former All-Stars in Kevin, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap; making them just 2 All-Star less than the Lakers. Their line-up however is much younger, speedier and more offensively lethal. If injuries do not derail their campaign like last year, expect them to be in the eye of the storm.
For the West, the Utah Jazz – with Donovan Mitchell, Rody Gobert and Jordan Clarkson leading the pack – will be the Lakers’ top competition. The defending Western Conference champs Phoenix Suns – younger, but now wiser with Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton – will also be giving the Western teams a run for their money. The LA Clippers, if Kawhi Leonard reports back healthy, could contend. So with the Denver Nuggets, should Jamal Murray return to the trenches fit and ready for action. And then there’s the Golden State Warriors, with Klay Thompson suiting up finally to renew a winning team-up with Steph Curry and Draymond Green.
For the East, the Miami Heat will be a major contender, having added Kyle Lowry, Markieff Morris and and PJ Tucker in the mix, 3 veterans with championship experience. They will have 4 players with All-Star pedigree in Jimmy Butler, Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo and Victor Oladipo. Add to that a solid list of young back-ups, this team will be a dangerous dark horse. The young, but now more experienced Atlanta Hawks – starring Trae Young – will also contend. The Philadelphia 76ers (minus Ben Simmons), and the Boston Celtics (minus Kemba Walker) will need quality point guards to boost their chances to compete in the playoffs; while the rejuvenated New York Knicks (with aging PGs Derrick Rose and Kemba Walker) will need younger legs in this crucial position.
This early, cage fans are already eager to see a clash of titans between the LA Lakers and the Brooklyn Nets. It could be a first time ever for a championship to be as loaded as this. This will be an all-out All-Star war played in a non-All-Star weekend. What can get better than that? Thirteen current and former All-Stars in a nuclear explosion-of-a-clash, and you get to see this in ordinary season games. At center stage: Lebron against KD. Then there’s Westbrook meeting Harden. Who will the Lakers match-up against Kyrie? Rajon, I suppose. On the other hand, can the Nets’ Griffin handle AD? In Blake’s place will be Millsap, just in case. But then, the Lakers have Melo? Who matches up against Melo? Who wins the battle of wily bigs: the Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan combine or LaMarcus Aldridge? What about the reserves? Who wins the battle of the second wave? The Lakers have the depth, the experience, and the bulk. The Nets have the speed and the scoring sock.
The match-ups pitting the Lakers and the Nets will be a heavyweight fight for all to see. There will be other storylines, other than the head-to-heads: KD and Harden meeting up with their former teammate Westbrook. In Cleveland, Lebron was Batman with a more-than-worthy Robin in Kyrie. Melo, previously the US Olympic team’s scoring leader, pits offensive prowess against KD, the guy who dethroned him just this year. The Lakers will have the size advantage, but the Nets will counter with speed and shooting skills. Lakers will lord over the defense, but the Nets will try to trump that with its high-octane offense. Yes, it could be like Marvel’s Avengers going mano-a-mano against DC’s Justice League of America. It will be Captain America and his gang of heroes pitted against Superman with his super-friends. But it’s not just the Avengers and the JLA that’s come to play either. The Utah Jazz have their own band of X-Men, and the rest have their souped-up versions of the Fantastic Four as well. Who will the gods of basketball favor?
I can’t wait for this season to start!
Cover Photo courtesy of: The Sports Rush. For a closer look, just click on the pics. Other pics courtesy of Fadeaway World, USA Today, Republic World, Bleacher Report, The Athletic, The J-Notes, Bright Side fo the Sun, min.news, Twitter, ClutchPoints and Sports Illustrated.