Examining 2021 NBA Futures As Playoffs Approach
The NBA season is almost at the playoffs. This has been an NBA season unlike any other. The season is unfolding in a pandemic, but unlike 2020, this postseason won’t be held in a bubble. It also follows a 72-game season compressed into a tight time window in order to give NBA players a chance to play in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. What we have seen is a lot of injuries and a lot of games in which teams have tried to rest their stars as part of load management. Many NBA teams have gone several weeks without playing their normal or preferred starting five. This has been a highly disrupted season, and when the 2021-2022 season begins next October, the NBA will go back to a much more normal scheduling plan. This season, however, has taken a toll on players, which is why the postseason might not have normal results in terms of high seeds advancing in either conference.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers will be no better than a No. 5 seed in the Western Conference, and there is a real chance thy could fall to No. 6. Yet, if LeBron James and Anthony Davis – both injured for several weeks – are able to be healthy and physically ready for the playoffs, there is no question the Lakers will be the favorite to win it all. The Lakers had a very short offseason because of the NBA’s attempt to cram in this season before the Summer Olympics. That inevitably meant the Lakers were not going to be physically fresh and rested in the early part of the season. No one should have expected the Lakers to be the top seed in the West for that reason alone. Yet, Los Angeles was in contention for the No. 2 seed before Anthony Davis and LeBron got hurt. If they are ready to go in the playoffs, this is the Lakers’ title to lose.
Los Angeles Clippers
The Utah Jazz and Phoenix Suns have higher seeds in the West, but the Los Angeles Clippers are still the second-most talented team in the West behind the Lakers. They lost in the second round of the playoffs last year to the Denver Nuggets, but they led that series 3-1 and had double-digit leads in Games 5 and 6. This team should still be expected to make the Western Conference Finals. Don’t focus too much on seedings in the playoffs, especially after the distorted regular season we’ve had.
The Sixers have Joel Embiid playing at an MVP level. That is enough to put them in the championship conversation, even though Ben Simmons’ lack of offense is likely to hurt them in the playoffs. Embiid covers up a lot of Philadelphia’s weaknesses, and it’s something the Sixers can rely on against the Brooklyn Nets, who do not have an elite big man. That is where Philly will have to do damage.
The Nets are a lot like the Lakers: hurt in the regular season, but owning the best talent in their conference if healthy. Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Kyrie Irving haven’t played many games together due to health and wellness problems for all three players during the regular season. If they are all healthy when the playoffs start, however, the Nets are the likely favorite in the East, especially if the Milwaukee Bucks can’t finally play well in the playoffs this year.