The 2019-2020 NBA season has been one of the most entertaining, competitive, and transformative seasons in the last five years of the league. From key injuries in the previous post-season, all the way to blockbuster trades, huge free agent signings, and franchise-ending buzzer-beaters, the season began with a ton of anticipation. For the first time in a while, no one could definitively say that only one or two teams were favorites to win the NBA Finals.
On top of that, the passing of Kobe Bryant was a scarring event for many players and fans, one which will, unfortunately, go hand in hand with the other memories from this season. After this year’s All-Star Weekend dedicated to Kobe and this tragic loss for the basketball community, we all look forward to the remaining 26-29 games left in the season.
Looking at the Eastern Conference first, the Milwaukee Bucks are tearing ahead of the rest of the pack with a league-best 46-8 record. At their current pace, it’s expected that the Bucks finish somewhere close to 70 wins on the season, giving them a chance to have the seventh or eighth-best record in NBA regular-season history, in addition to homecourt advantage in the playoffs. Despite this, many question whether or not Giannis Antetokounmpo is prepared to lead his team to the NBA Finals due to his lack of a highly consistent three-point or midrange jump shot. Not to mention, Mike Budenholzer has never reached the NBA Finals either as a head coach.
Currently sitting in the second and third spots are Toronto and Boston. While both are easily playoff contenders, neither possesses the star power or bench depth to seriously compete for a championship this year. More than likely, at least one of these teams will exchange their spot with Miami by the end of the season.
The Miami Heat are a “dark horse” pick for this year’s playoffs: Not only is their culture built for success through Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra, but all the way down their roster is also filled with fierce competitors. Led by Jimmy Butler, the Heat have a deep roster filled out with Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, etc. Then, Kendrick Nunn, Duncan Robinson, and Tyler Herro are also all Heat rookies that have blown expectations out of the water so far this year. Andre Igoudala is another great pickup for them and will surely provide more veteran leadership as well as shot-making ability. The pedigree to reach the Finals is there- so now the question is- will their lack of experience be what prevents a deep playoff run.
Moving over to the Western Conference, the race to sound playoff seeding is much, much tighter. As it presently stands, the L.A. Lakers hold the top spot, with the Clippers and Rockets most likely in hot pursuit. (the Nuggets and Jazz being either shorthanded or inexperienced) The Lakers are in a decent spot but failed to improve the roster before the trade deadline, and still have not brought in any buyout players for ballhandling in the second unit. If the Lakers want to get to the Finals this year, either both Lebron and Anthony Davis will have to bring the best versions of themselves every night, or they’ll have to address the Lakers’ general lack of depth very soon.
On the other side of Staples Center, the L.A. Clippers have the best odds to reach the NBA Finals. Acquiring Marcus Morris at the trade deadline, and then following it up with a Reggie Jackson buyout were two moves critical for success, arguably even more so than for the Lakers. From the top-down, the Clippers roster is filled with strong defenders, shooters, and quite frankly, savages.
Finally, we look at the Houston Rockets- this year has to be their year. Head coach Mike D’Antoni is in the last year of his contract, and owner Tilman Fertitta has stated he won’t be negotiating a new contract. As a result, he’s gone all-in on his small-ball system, popularized with Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns during the early 2000s. Similar to the issues that the Lakers face, the Rockets have a lack of depth, and will really depend on their two stars come playoff time. Regardless of what happens, this season has already given us a ton of unexpected surprises, more of which is sure to come.