The NBA returns after the shortest pre-season in US sports history

Typically, the break between the NBA finals and the new season lasts roughly 130 days. This is even longer for the teams that did not make it to the finals or the playoffs. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic impacting the second half of the 2019/20 season, the 2020/21 season began on the 22nd of December, just 72 days after the LA Lakers defeated the Miami Heat to win the 2019/20 NBA championship. This new season will also be a shortened one, consisting of only 72 games, instead of the usual 82.

Whilst the return of basketball will see our favourite hoopers return to our screens, fans will also be intrigued to see how teams continue to highlight social injustices. This is after athletes used the restart in Orlando to campaign for the Black Lives Matter movement. Last season, players wore anti-discrimination slogans on their jerseys replacing their names after the death of George Floyd. Despite slogans not appearing on jerseys this season, NBA teams have put in a lot of work to speak up against discrimination and social injustice.

Will LeBron’s Lakers go back-to-back?

After winning his fourth championship in Orlando, LeBron James is still considered by many to be the best player in the league, despite now entering his 18th NBA season, aged 36. LeBron delivered on his promise to return the Lakers to their championship days. Paired together with Anthony Davis and a refreshed roster, the Lakers are arguably stronger than last year, resulting in many to view them as favourites to collect another ring.

The Lakers’ biggest threat this season could be their arena-sharing rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers. Four-time all-star Kawhi Leonard and six-time all-star Paul George have a point to prove after their disappointing showing in the post-season in September.

Could the Bucks show up in the post-season?

The Milwaukee Bucks have led the NBA regular season for the last two seasons but failed to convert it to a championship. This season, the Bucks will be determined to turn their outstanding regular-season form into their first NBA championship since 1971. They took one giant step forward in continuing their dominance in the regular season by signing second year-running MVP and defensive player of the year Giannis Antetokounmpo to a five-year contract extension worth $228.2m (£170m); the richest deal in the history of the NBA.

Many critics have argued that if Giannis does not bring glory to Milwaukee, he cannot be regarded as one of the all-time greats. However, it should also be pointed out that it was not until Michael Jordan and Lebron James were 27 that they won their first NBA championship. So, with Giannis at 26, Bucks fans should be very excited about the next few seasons.

Curry and Durant return

One of the best shooters in the game Stephen Curry returns from injury, having only played once since breaking his hand during a game on the 30th October 2019. The three-time NBA champion will be critical to the once-dominant Golden State Warriors.

Curry’s former teammate, Kevin Durant also returned from a serious achilles tendon injury, which saw him sidelined for 552 days. Kevin Durant was and may still be one of the greatest scorers the league has ever seen, pairing his outstanding ball-handling skills with his deadeye accuracy to be able to score from anywhere on the court.

The achilles tendon injury has seen many great players fail to return to their former selves, or, in many cases, fail to return to an NBA court altogether. Famously, hall of famer, Isiah Thomas retired one month after he tore his achilles tendon. This has led many fans to become eager to watch Durant’s NBA return. He will play alongside the dynamic, six-time all-star, Kyrie Irving. Fans will also be keen to see if these two great players can bring the Brooklyn Nets’ first NBA championship.

The 2020/21 NBA season looks to be set for yet another exciting year of basketball. The Lakers remain top favourites, but a surprise could be on the cards. Many did not predict that the Miami Heat would be challenging the Lakers for the title at the start of last season. This is proof that nothing is ever certain and a few teams could surprise everybody this year. For example, the Denver Nuggets, who surprised everyone by knocking out the Clippers in the Western Conference semi-final, will undoubtedly be going into the new season full of confidence.

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Drew Murphy

March 2021
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