With the 2020-2021 NBA season a month in, teams across the league have begun to show their true colors in regards to championship possibilities. Some players and teams have drastically improved since last year, while others have seemingly taken a step back. Injuries and COVID protocols have played a role in the success of many teams already this season, but with a lot of games between now and the playoffs, there is definitely time to make up ground. Despite there being much more season ahead of us than behind us, it is never too early to take a look at which teams I believe have the best chances of capturing the Larry O’Brien trophy in July.
10. Dallas Mavericks
With their Slovenian-born superstar Luka Donic entering his third season, Dallas hopes to make the jump from playoff team to title contender. Donic is the clear leader of this team as he looks to add NBA Champion to his increasing list of accolades. Their title chances rely heavily on the health of Kristaps Porzingis, who if healthy would be the perfect pick and roll partner for Doncic. If Dallas can stay healthy and improve defensively, they will be a tough team to eliminate.
9. Miami Heat
Last season’s Eastern Conference champion, Miami came into this season looking to represent the East once again and this time finish the job by winning the NBA Finals. The road back to the finals will be challenging for the Heat, especially without a player capable of getting his own shot and scoring from anywhere. The playmaking and shooting abilities of Goran Dragic and Tyler Herro along with the athletic and defensive abilities of Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo will be vital to this team’s success. Coach Erik Spoelstra hopes his team’s defense and chemistry can overshadow their lack of shot creators.
8. Phoenix Suns
After trading for veteran point guard and NBA legend Chris Paul this offseason, fans of the Suns knew the team was going all-in on a championship. Pairing Paul with one of the best young scorers in the league, Devin Booker, is a recipe for success. With defensive anchor Deandre Ayton and veteran all-around player Jae Crowder, Phoenix looks to make a deep playoff run and secure the first championship for the organization and the first for Chris Paul.
7. Denver Nuggets
After losing in the Western Conference Finals last season to the eventual champion Lakers, the Nuggets believe an NBA title is within their reach. Led by possibly the best center in the league, Nikola Jokic, and one of the best all-around scorers, Jamal Murray, Denver expects to be one of the last teams standing. If Michael Porter Jr. can maintain his elite shooting in his complementary role, expect Denver to return to the Western Conference Finals.
6. Philadelphia 76ers
Philly has been one of the best defensive teams in the league over the past few seasons, and that claim remains true in 2021. Ben Simmons continues to be an elite defender and playmaker, despite never becoming the type of scorer fans had hoped. Joel Embiid is possibly the best center in the league due to his ability to score from anywhere while also being a defensive and rebounding menace. Offseason additions Danny Green and Seth Curry hope to bring much-needed shooting to this 76ers team. With veterans Dwight Howard and Tobias Harris also providing valuable minutes, Philadelphia looks to silence the doubters and make their first deep playoff run.
5. Milwaukee Bucks
After posting the best regular-season record in the league last year, fans of the Bucks were disappointed to see their team’s early exit in the playoffs. Led by arguably the best player on the planet Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee looks to prove they are not just a regular-season team. Jrue Holiday joins Giannis and Khris Middelton as a much-needed veteran floor general capable of locking down the other team’s best guard, and prior to this season Giannis signed a long-term extension, something fans in Milwaukee had been praying for. The Bucks have yet to win big with their current scoring duo of Giannis and Middleton, and if their playoff struggles continue this season it may be the end of an era in Milwaukee.
4. Los Angeles Clippers
With their disappointing end to last season, Steve Ballmer and his Clippers franchise look to prove they are legitimate title contenders once again. Boasting possibly the best wing player duo in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the team looks to improve upon a season that ended much earlier than expected. With Leonard and George’s combination of scoring and defensive prowess, the Clippers are never out of contention. New additions Serge Ibaka and Luke Kennard hope to fill the hole of Montrezl Harrell, reigning sixth man of the year, who left the Clippers this offseason to join their in-town rival Lakers.
3. Boston Celtics
Boston has three players capable of creating their own shots and scoring from a variety of spots on the floor, perhaps the biggest factor for any team in search of a title. Led by the trio of Jayson Tatum, Kemba Walker, and Jaylen Brown, the Celtics look to add another championship to their legacy. With these players also being great playmakers, the Celtics are certainly one of the best teams in the NBA. The issue for Boston is the drop-off after these three stars. The rest of their roster is composed of mostly younger unproven players, all of whom hope to make a big impact on this team. Tatum and Brown have both improved significantly from last season, and they look to bring Boston back to the promised land for the first time since 2008.
2. Brooklyn Nets
I could’ve only listed the top two teams and still have included all the teams I believe have a realistic shot at winning the NBA Finals. This is not to say the teams listed 3-10 are bad, it is just the fact that the top two teams are head-and-shoulders above the rest of the league. After acquiring James Harden early in the season, Brooklyn boasts possibly the best scoring trio of all time with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving already on the roster. Trading for Harden came at a cost, however, as the Nets gave up future all-star Caris Lavert and defensive anchor Jarett Allen. This team will have zero problems scoring points, as Durant and Harden are repeat scoring leaders in the NBA and Iriving has proven to be a phenomenal clutch shooter. If their defense can hold up, Brooklyn’s new Big 3 might win an NBA title in their first year together.
1. Los Angeles Lakers
The reigning champions are unsurprisingly the team most likely to win this season’s championship. Not only did the Lakers keep many key pieces from last year’s roster, but they also added several players who will help them be even better this season. Adding Dennis Shroeder, Montrezl Harrell, and Marc Gasol cemented this team as the clear favorites to repeat. With LeBron James at the helm and Anthony Davis as his running mate, I expect this team to face the Nets in the finals and win it all. While they might not have as much scoring as their east coast counterparts, the physicality of James and Davis along with their impressive supporting cast makes the Lakers my pick to win the 2021 NBA Finals.