That was a strange year.
The NBA season closed its curtains on Wednesday evening and ended the sometimes turbulent season without a league-wide game interruption and crowned the Milwaukee Bucks champions.
When Adam Silver took the microphone to introduce the champions, he actually said, “We did it, we crowned a champion.”
In the end, it just took rampant bans due to COVID at the start of the season and a rushed schedule which, depending on who you ask, may or may not have contributed to a brutal flurry of injuries that not only defined, but shaped, the playoffs will also be next season.
The Phoenix Suns defeated the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, who fell into the play-in area (!!!) after injuries to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, made the postseason and then lost Davis again due to injury. Then the Suns beat the Denver Nuggets without Jamal Murray and the LA Clippers without Kawhi Leonard.
It took the Bucks seven games to get past the Brooklyn Nets, who were without Kyrie Irving for 3.5 games and without James Harden for much of the series (and when he returned he wasn’t exactly the same Harden). They also beat the Atlanta Hawks with an injured Bogdan Bogdanovic, an injured Trae Young and no Deandre Hunter.
Every NBA champion was lucky. The Bucks and Suns played against the teams in front of them and beat them all. The crazy way this season played out doesn’t take anything away from a finals that basketball fans had a lot of fun with, nor does it put syntax next to the Bucks title.
Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images. Pictured: Giannis Antetokounmpo # 34 of the Milwaukee Bucks.
However, it shows that bettors should be extremely careful in taking lessons away.
Yes, the Bucks will return their title team on defense. No major changes are expected in the roster, and its core is firmly anchored. You have to keep in mind, however, that the Nets rose 2-0, bringing the Bucks to seven without two of the Superstars they depended on in full health. The Nets are understandably the favorites for the next season.
Likewise, the Western Conference title should run through the Lakers again. There are reasons to be skeptical: Davis stayed healthy for a deep playoff run and that came after a three month hiatus in a bubble. The Lakers have made it clear their intention to improve their guard rotation.
Even so, they still have two of the top ten players in basketball.
The Suns have Chris Paul with a player option. It is widely believed that he will decline the player option and sign it again, but he needs to think about how much he wants to go on the chase.
But the more general idea to keep in mind is that the league’s voices at the start of the season all said the same thing: “This is going to be a mess.” And it was.
It is difficult to draw meaningful lessons from such a mess.
However, the first preseason game is said to be tipping 73 days after this letter – less than 2.5 months. Players will likely still be tired and some may still struggle with injuries if they made the playoffs late.
The Clippers will do without Leonard for most of the season. The Nuggets will likely go without Murray until after the All-Star hiatus.
We haven’t seen a schedule yet, but it should be closer to the 2018-19 one. That favors teams that tend to rest their stars, especially teams like the Nets.
In the coming season there should be a return to normal at least to some extent. So according to the free agency, this season’s outlier results should be viewed with caution. It’s been a strange year.
Stacy Revere / Getty Images. Pictured: A general view of a basketball during the Fiserv Forum game from Milwaukee Bucks.
On the other hand … the pressure and difficulty of this season may just have bruised the trees of the fruit teams. The Lakers may not have as good a squad as we think, especially with James turning 37 next season.
The Nets star trio may not be as reliable as necessary given Durant’s fairly severe injury history, Irving’s fairly severe injury history, and the number of miles on Harden.
The Bucks will gain confidence from this playoff run. You now know how to do that and how to adapt and assert yourself. Giannis is only 26. The Suns roster will only improve.
Is the NBA wide open?
Will the league return to the super-team dominated fashion that we have known for most of its history?
It’s probably somewhere in between.
The NBA’s margin of error for the title fight could be lower than any season in its 15 years. That will add more value to Longshot than is common in offseason betting, and less value to the super teams.
The Nets and Lakers will be there later. But think about which teams could benefit from chaos again next season.
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