The NBA season will make its’ much anticipated return on July 30th. What can fans expect to see after a four-month hiatus? Simply put, you can expect the unexpected. Covid-19 hasn’t disappeared and could still play a role in the NBA playoffs. On the bright side, several NBA stars have used the long layoff to get healthy and reboot for the final playoff push. Nobody knows how things will ultimately play out in a scenario that we’ve never experienced before. Though, you should still anticipate the same twists, turns, and madness that the NBA always provides on a nightly basis. With that said, here’s a look at five bold predictions to keep an eye on in Orlando.
The Jazz fall apart
The last time we saw the Utah Jazz, Rudy Gobert tested positive for Covid-19. Now the question becomes how the team will respond after much has been made of the relationship between Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. Utah experienced some offensive shortcomings prior to the league shutdown in March. Now they resume action without the services of Bojan Bogdanovic, who averaged 20.2 points per game in 63 contests this year.
Mike Conley is still on the roster, but he hasn’t looked like Memphis Mike Conley for the majority of the season. Can players like Joe Ingles, Royce O’Neal or Georges Niang produce on a consistent basis to keep Utah in contention? It may sound like a bold prediction now, but the Jazz could very well slip to seventh place in a crowed Western Conference.
The Lakers finish the regular season undefeated
LeBron James must be licking his chops right now. The 35-year-old was never going to complain, but he may have benefited from the layoff more than any other player. The Los Angeles Lakers steamrolled everyone in their path this season not named “Clippers”. Coincidentally, they’ll meet the Clippers in game one of the restart.
Rajon Rondo will sit out because of a fractured thumb, but that just means increased minutes for the more efficient Alex Caruso. The Lakers schedule features several tough matchups versus the Raptors, Jazz, Rockets, Pacers and Nuggets. That’s quite a daunting road, but LeBron and teammate Anthony Davis will certainly be up for the challenge. If this team knocks off the Clippers on day one, they have what it takes to finish out the year with an 8-0 record. How’s that for a bold prediction?
The Rockets soar to third in the west
The Houston Rockets winning the NBA Finals was a bold prediction that some analysts had back in October. That didn’t seem promising for a while, but one could argue that James Harden and Russell Westbrook are the second biggest beneficiaries of the hiatus. Two of the league leaders in usage rate have received a much-needed rest just in time for the postseason. It remains to be seen if Westbrook will actually be ready for Houston’s first game after testing positive for Covid-19 last week. However, whenever Russ and Harden are back on the court together, you can expect to see the usual display of fireworks from this electric tandem.
The Rockets are currently sixth in the Western Conference, but sit only 2.5 games back of third place. The remaining schedule includes games against the Mavericks, Lakers, and Bucks, which won’t be a walk in the park. Nonetheless, this team has the pieces in place to finish out 6-2 or better en route to the number three seed.
Toronto punches a ticket to the NBA Finals
This is the point in the article where Bucks and Celtics fans stop reading. The Toronto Raptors may be Kawhi-less, but they’re still loaded with talent. Pascal Siakam was given the keys to the team and he hasn’t looked back. Before the shutdown “Spicy P’ cooked up 23.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. Add veterans Kyle Lowry, Serge Ibaka, and Marc Gasol to the mix and Toronto owns the championship formula, despite the departure of Kawhi Leonard.
The Raptors would have a very slim chance of defeating the Bucks if four of seven games were in front of the Milwaukee home crowd. That will no longer be the case with all games being played inside the NBA’s bubble. The Raptors and Bucks will meet for the third time this year on August 10th. If Toronto can win that one, it may just propel them to their second straight NBA Finals appearance.
Jamal Crawford drops 50… again
The last bold prediction is a fun one. The Brooklyn Nets are likely a first round playoff exit, but there’s at least one good reason to watch this team. It looked like Jamal Crawford’s career was over, but the Nets signed him as a replacement player on July 9th. The last time we saw Crawford was in April of 2019 as a member of the Phoenix Suns. On the final night of the regular season, Crawford smoked the Dallas Mavericks for 51 points in 38 minutes of action.
You may have heard that the Brooklyn Nets will be missing several key players for the season’s restart. Aside from Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn will also play without the services of Spencer Dinwiddie, Deandre Jordan, Taurean Prince, and Wilson Chandler. That should equal a lot of minutes and a lot of opportunities for an extremely well-rested player. Caris Levert will lead the charge for Brooklyn, but don’t be shocked to see Jamal Crawford have himself a night before the season concludes.
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